Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bulging Saddles

The New York Times rings in the New Year with a report that "The Coast Guard in December formally put into effect rules requiring certain passenger vessels to comply with its new Assumed Average Weight per Person. That new weight, 185 pounds, is a full 25 pounds more than the previous average, 160, a figure put in place about half a century ago — after French fries were invented but before billions and billions had been served."

  American Progress 

But good old Yankee ingenuity will always step into the breach. We rely on it, whether to fix real problems or convince ourselves we don't have a problem. As we Americans continue to expand our bodily frontiers, edge ourselves further into new spaces, outgrow our clothing, furniture and ships at sea, our inherent national inventiveness grows apace.

No one needs to hear another sanctimonious jeremiad against the steady growth in our Gross National Avoirdupois (GNA). Obesity need no longer be a matter for temperance sermons or fruitless appeals to our strength of character; it's just another temporary obstacle, like global warming, that technology will eventually solve. Look at the beginnings we've already made, this legendary nation of technowizards. When a simple chair becomes a chairful . . .

 Americans Without Borders

 . . . someone will build a better chair.

In the U.S. of A., that likely means a wider, sturdier chair, preferably one with a cup holder for your Big Gulp, which you can order from a Chinese company. Ordering things from Chinese companies is a further demonstration of our American know-how, since we've figured out (or someone else figured out for us) how to get things on the cheap without actually having to make anything ourselves. How much smarter do large primates get?

Or another case in point. Well upholstered as we are, we're still a nation on the go - our mobility is of paramount importance, something we take for granted. If freedom of motion isn't listed in the Constitution, it's simple oversight on the part of its Divine Author and surely was intended to have at least a passing mention. If you can't walk there, goes the old adage, your Medicare will buy you a "personal mobility device." That ain't socialism, it's your right. Meanwhile, have another donut?

The technological adaptations occasioned by our median national size (MNS - see also GNA) are numberless and ingenious. There's even a company that builds toilet supports ("finally!") to avert nasty spills (as in the photo, not the kind you're thinking). Who would have thought? And yet American manufacturers can meet any contingency with the help of their Chinese counterparts.

Nasty spill

In the commercial and social arenas there are now websites and blogs imparting etiquette advice for interacting with obese people in varying circumstances - airlines have a particular problem with disgruntled passengers, since airlines are notorious for "maximizing" saleable space and tend to annoy entire planeloads of regular-sized passengers. (Predictably, the Transportation Safety Authority has publicly complained about having to "pat down" obese travellers, though it has not yet added them to its growing list of proscribed items like gels, large sausages, drums of fertilizer, shoe bombs, cupcakes, etc.) 

Not surprisingly, there are also blogs for obese equestrians. I mention this because NPR, probably not coincidentally, carried a news item this New Year's morning similar to that in the Times, reporting that owners of dude ranches and resorts offering a "Western experience" are finding themselves under the necessity of replacing their stock of normal-sized saddles with larger ones. Saddles generally range in width from 12 to 17 inches, a typical 15-inch saddle accommodating a normal adult, 16- and 17-inch saddles accommodating "large people." Resort owners are now buying stocks of 18-inch saddles, a size unheard of 30 years ago, according to the report. An inch across a saddle may not seem to amount to much unless you're the horse.

Perhaps at a slower rate, horses are following suit. There are even blogs about obese horses. The prospect of a fat rider on a fat horse adds a certain thunderous decibel to Fred Foy's venerable "Lone Ranger" radio intro: "From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Sil-l-l-ver! The Lone Ranger rides again!"

 The Biloxi Biscuits and Gravy Stakes

In all of this, the American saddle horse seems to be the loser - it hasn't kept pace with the American rider. Resort owners are trying to compensate for this size gap by replacing their riding stables with larger breeds of saddle horse. But there seems to be a genetic parameter here which we cannot violate even with the best of ingenuity or will, breed them how we may. Unlike people, the horses will only get so big.

 The Philly Cheese Steaks

There may be an answer, however unwieldy, to this widening gap between rider and ridee. Take a good custom-made leather saddle, like the model pictured here . . .

. . . and strap it to this.

Here's your cowboy. Add a cowboy hat and Bob's your uncle.

Update - April 18, 2012: A recent article in Der Spiegel records a growing trend in global warming linked to bereavement services for the increasingly plump Germans: "As the number of obese Germans rises, the funeral industry is scrambling to make adjustments in how larger bodies with more fat can be safely incinerated. A number of crematoriums have suffered severe damage when burning fat overwhelmed their emergency measures." ("Severe damage" includes melted metal smokestacks, and ovens destroyed from the heat of corpses suddenly bursting into intense, fat-fueled flame.)

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