How The Electoral College Made Me Fat

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

You ever remember the moment where you first truly felt like an adult?

I do. It was at a diner.

Because there I was, with my friends, at my favorite diner in Westport. And I was in total control of the meal: I’d chosen my company, I could eat anything I wanted off the menu (even the desserts!), and at the end of the meal I paid the check with my own money, which I had earned.

I remember sitting there, eating my open-faced turkey sandwich with two buddies as they drank coffee and traded stories, feeling the pride of realizing I’d made this meal happen.

I was all of nineteen, but I’d already integrated the idea that Grown-Ups Go Out To Dinner.

Which, in my household, was honestly the metric. My mother and Uncle Tommy both loved fine dining, so at least twice a month we’d go out to a restaurant to see how it was. We’d experiment with different foods – back in the early 1980s, the idea of “sushi” or “salsa” was still alluringly transgressive – and gush about the idea of mole sauce on steak, and compare meals to see who had won.

So eating out was always an event – family-style, with Gramma and Tommy and Mom and Bruce all sipping wine and asking about the daily specials.

Was it any wonder I became a foodie?

Which drove a lot of experiments in life – I became relentless in seeking out new experiences, in part because of my mother and Uncle’s dinners at the latest joint in town, which translated into other wild adventures like me playing Frank at the Rocky Horror Picture Show and me setting people on fire for fun (safely, of course) and me keeping bees and me moving to Alaska to marry a woman on the Internet –

Just crazy stuff after crazy stuff, but it mostly worked out.

But I didn’t realize all the knock-on effects until I was driving home from dropping Gini off at the airport yesterday. She’d made delicious Chicken A La King last night, which was still in the kitchen with fresh rice, ready to go for my lunch….

Yet all the way home, I kept thinking, Gini’s gone. I can treat myself. My eyes would linger on every restaurant, thinking, I could get myself something from there before realizing, “Wait. One of my favorite dishes is waiting for me, for free, in my fridge, and you want to go somewhere else to get a meal?”

Yet part of my brain went, But it’s special.

And a problem with my diet snapped into focus: Because my mother and Uncle Tommy had taken me out to dinner for special occasions, I’d come to think of dining out itself as a special occasion, even if it was something as trivial as stopping by Five Guys. Eating at home was all good and well, especially when Gini’s a good cook and I’m no slouch myself, but…

There I was, nineteen, at that diner.

For me, “eating out” was part of how I defined myself as a functional human being. I mean, not every night. But more nights than I should, because if all else was equal, I’d rather go out to Aladdin’s Diner than I would eating an equivalent meal at home –

And if I’m out, am I eating healthy food? I mean, no! I’m a grown-up. Part of the thrill is getting to choose the special food this place has! Why would I go out somewhere and not try this special milkshake, sample the cool appetizer, see how their take on chicken-fried steak is?

And all that was pretty much subliminal until one car ride snapped it into focus.

Now, I’m almost fifty. And my parents made some decisions when I was seven that, it turns out, still have some pretty weird ramifications decades down the line. They didn’t mean to – they just liked trying new restaurants – but here I am, realizing that part of the reason I eat unhealthy is because I have linked “dining” to “being a grownup” –

  • and let me tell you, considering that I know some folks will be moaning, “I’ve never felt like a grownup” in response to my opening question here, being rooted even temporarily in an identity as an adult is a powerful experience. Especially when all you have to do is give the waiter money when they come round with the check.

And all that’s had ramifications – how I look certainly inspires differing social interactions, my heart was always going to be bad (genetically, I have severe issues) but that contributed to the triple bypass, the sweets may have contributed to my gum disease, which may also have contributed to the heart issues….

That’s a pretty elaborate chain of events. And I don’t anyone back in 1982 would have anticipated where we’d get from here – that’s just how complicated life is.

Which brings me to the electoral college.

Now, some of my Democratic friends are considering abolishing the American electoral college, instead electing Presidents by “Whoever gets the majority of the popular vote.” And both those for or against are saying, quite confidently, that getting rid of the electoral college either will or won’t cause politicians to turn away from less populated rural areas, and it certainly won’t (or will) cause Presidential candidates to exclusively campaign in big cities, and they all know what will happen so they’re very for or against it.


Well, I’m thinking of a comparatively simple decision – “Let’s take little Ferrett with us to the new Italian place!” – and all the weirdo effects that’s having years later. And I’m thinking of how complicated life is, and of all these people who seem extremely certain that they can predict all the ramifications that will spring from a decision that literally affects the overarching strategy of every Presidential candidate from now on, and the ways that voters will react to those strategies, and the counterstrategies that will be formed….

And I think of how the first effective female contraceptive was created only fifty years ago and how it’s led to a wild growth in women’s rights, followed by a conservative backlash because people were freaked the fuck out about independent women, and that’s threaded through all our politics and been amplified by the Internet and led to a societal upheaval where all the old courtship rituals have been upended because women are on a more equal footing and now both men and women are often confused as how to find a partner, whereas others are just fine without partners, and some are finding new ways of creating partnerships that don’t rely much on traditional marriage or commitment as we know it at all….

And I don’t think any of that would have been predicted when Margaret Sanger first started funding The Pill.

And as I watch the arguments over the electoral college, I see everyone being very certain that the future is this easily predictable metric, that people are this homogenous mass that will respond sanely to these new incentives, and while I recognize that life is too chaotic and fast-moving to wait for perfect data before we make a choice, I’m shocked at just how casually these people say, “Oh, we know what will happen.”

Whereas I’m at home alone tonight. I have some leftover Chicken A La King still. And I feel this strong urge to get some takeout, an entirely useless takeout, in a home I own with a loving wife who I once moved wildly out to Alaska to marry because of the unexpected results of a set of very small decisions made decades ago.

And I’m thinking how very hard it is to understand how things will turn out in the long run. Some people do it. And I respect them.

But the ones who seem to get it right the most often are the ones who aren’t quite so certain about their predictions.


  1. Anonymous Alex
    Mar 22, 2019

    Although I wasn’t yet familiar with the term, when I first was introduced to the concept of the Electoral College (fourth grade?), I immediately tagged it as antidemocratic. I don’t claim to know how people will campaign or react to a popularly-elected President, but I do know it’d be more democratic.

    Since I think that’s pretty much true by definition, it seems to me the ball is in the EC defenders’ court to argue that being antidemocratic is good.


  2. Wes
    Mar 22, 2019

    I used to think getting rid of the ec was the answer. Now I lean more towards states assigning delegates proportional to the votes in that state. The argument of protecting minority rights doesn’t apply to the way most states have a winner take all approach for their delegates now.

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