A Natural History: John W. Evans


A Natural History of My Husky Frame

By John Evans

I am a Husky.

I will never be a Slim.

Slim wears a smile.  He knows that everything fits him.  He stares modestly into the distance, just over your left shoulder, head held high.

Unlike Slim, Husky rolls his shoulders forward and frowns.  He struggles to right his spine against so much girth.  In profile, he resembles a frustrated and top-heavy Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

Fig. 1

[Figure 1.  Slim (far l.) to husky (far r.) diagram, as recreated from the Sears and Roebuck mail order Clothing Catalog, circa 1987.  Despite no actual change in physical expression, the exaggerated head, stomach, and calf features of husky’s body make him seem naturally more irritable and less mentally capable than his more slender predecessors.]

Slim shops at vintage clothing stores.  Slim buys suits and jackets off the rack at the Men’s Wearhouse.  Slim returns shirts he has received as gifts from J. Crew with the certainty that he can find something else in the store to make an exchange.  The greeters at Nordstrom do not know Slim by name.  They do not point Slim regularly to the same two racks of over-priced, billowy Italian dress shirts in the back of the store.

When I was twelve I learned that if I called the factory directly, Sears and Roebuck would custom cut an item to Husky, then deliver it to my home within 4-6 weeks, for an extra 15-20%.  I understood from the tone of the operator’s voice that, really, I should get outside more often, run around, skip desserts.

On a cold night, if I stand at slight right profile, dim my bedside lamp, and suck in my belly, I can just make out the vague suggestion of abdominal muscles and triceps.

My thyroid functions normally.

Fig. 2

[Figure 2.  Human thyroid.  An underactive human thyrod can be corrected with regular doses of synthetic hormone, or “synthroid,” resulting in immediate weight loss, concurrent upon said diagnosis.]

Growing up, I did have my Husky heroes.

The basketball hero I most closely resemble is Oliver Miller, the erstwhile Suns and Pistons near-star who ate himself out of the NBA in his mid-twenties.

Fig. 3

[Figure 3.  Oliver “the big o” miller .   Drafted 22nd overall in the 1992 draft, miller has played domestic and international pro basketball for 17 teams during his 18-year career.  Commentators and fans often cite his unusually large frame—6’9”, 345lbs.—as the reason why he never achieved the superstar nba status that seemed a given early in his career.  Note also that miller’s nickname suggests a zero.]

Like The Big O, I stand on my tiptoes to trick scales.  I am apt to insist that, actually, I am quite athletic for my size.

Failing to make the varsity basketball squad my freshman year, the coach took me into the locker room, pointed at my belly, punched a table, and exclaimed, “THAT’S why you didn’t make squad!”

The next summer, I devoted myself to training for cross country, legging out long runs through the suburbs while listening to Jane’s Addiction and London Beat on my Walkman.

There is a scene in the book, Tales Of A Fifth Grade Nothing, where the overweight heroine works out all summer, loses weight, and sees her toes for the first time when she stands upright.

Fig. 4

[Figure 4.  Sony Sports Walkman with FM/AM radio.  The walkman radio and cassette player predated the iPod as the dominant portable music player of the 1980s and 1990s.  A standard TDK audio cassette could carry 31 songs and required manual rewinding and fast forwarding to play and replay songs.]

But really, what changed was that I grew six inches.  For the first time I could remember, I gained weight more slowly than I grew.

On a bet with my coach (stakes: three slices of pizza and a Peach Snapple), I sprinted out to first place at the beginning of a junior varsity race, collapsed, composed myself, and finished second-to-last.  A Korean exchange student from the other school had gotten lost in the backwoods of the course.

I won the team spirit award and that winter I made my first foray into musical theater as the porter in Anything Goes.

Fig. 5

[Figure 5.  Poster from 1956 movie adaptation of Cole Porter’s Broadway musical, Anything Goes.  Despite accidentally walking across the ocean during a missed cue of his high school performance of Anything Goes, the author went on to perform the lead roles in several musicals that played naturally to his large frame, including Lil’ Abner, Once Upon a Mattress, and Barefoot in the Park.  The latter featured his first kiss, onstage, after which his costar suggested he try not to tilt his head so far to the left.]

In 2003, I ran the Chicago Marathon in a respectable 4 hours and 32 minutes.  At the 24th mile, I passed a thin man with bleeding nipples and a woman limping on a turned ankle.  Both were stragglers from a local running club that had declared collectively they would finish under 3:45.

Between 2001 and 2004, I completed one marathon, one half-marathon, two 10Ks, seven 5Ks, and four triathlons.

After having surgery on both feet in 2005, in a failed attempt to correct congenital arthritis, I now do pilates four times a week.  I go for long walks and hikes.

Recently, I became a vegetarian and stopped eating white sugar and white flour.  A list of ten easy weight-loss tips from a hypnotherapist is taped to the plant stand next to my desk.

Fig. 6

[Figure 6.  The author and his wife.  Note, in this seemingly casually-posed photograph, three strategies for minimizing the author’s husky frame: his shoulders are rolled back, his head juts slightly forward, and his arms extend widely in either direction.]

I can dunk a basketball with either hand, stretch into a competent downward facing dog, and sing the harmonies for most of Avenue Q.

Still, I remain a Husky.


John W. Evans was expelled from three preschools, and won the Rye High School cross country team spirit award in 1991 and 1992.



“A Natural History of My Husky Frame” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>

John W. Evans will be the Jones Lecturer in poetry at Stanford University this fall, where he is previously a Stegner Fellow.  His poems appear in The Missouri Review, Boston Review, The Southern Review, Gettysburg Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere.  RockSaw Press published his chapbook, Zugzwang, in November 2009.

You can find some of John W. Evans poems online at the Boston Review’s Poet’s Sampler feature.  Find out more about him at his blog How to Like It, and read his Pro Wrestling & Politics column at The Faster Times.


One comment

  1. […] John W. Evans wrote “A Natural History of My Husky Frame” […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s