Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"The Urban Hermit" by Sam MacDonald

April 24, 2000 was probably the first day of the rest of Sam MacDonald's life. It was the first full day of his Urban Hermit Financial Emergency Rotgut Poverty Plan, something that he most emphatically does not advise others to try. At the time, it looked like the only way out of his nightmare; he was very overweight and very underfunded, owing money to just about everyone, the IRS included. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and thus, the Urban Hermit was born.

MacDonald has definitely had a life, I'll give him that much. I don't know if I'd call it a good life, at least, not before he became the Urban Hermit. Sounds like he was drinking way too much and basically coasting through life, bringing to mind that awesome quote from "Animal House" - "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life". Maybe not, but MacDonald sure gave it a go. All but the stupid part, that is; the man is a Yale graduate, after all. (Not that that's a guarantee of intelligence, but it's certainly nothing to sneeze at, either.)

Once he undertakes the Urban Hermit Plan, his whole life changes. 800 calories per day, $8 per week, leaving him very few options for foodstuffs. His entire diet begins revolving around hard-boiled eggs, tuna sandwiches and lentils. Lots and lots of lentils. Enough that after reading this book, I seriously doubt I could ever eat one of the evil things. 800 calories isn't much, and according to his cousin, it's actually very dangerous. Thus the emphasis on protein in his diet from the eggs, tuna, and - you got it - the lentils. One of the things he discovers is that when you give yourself a very limited menu, it simplifies your life in a way you never imagined. You don't have that "what's for dinner?" question looming over you - you know exactly what dinner will be, even if you're not crazy about eating it. And the Urban Hermit can't go anywhere near a bar, seeing as how his alter ego, Sam, can't stop at just one beer. No, Sam drinks at least $20 worth of $1-a-bottle Rolling Rocks, and several shots, and usually ends up putting it on his tab which he eventually pays with a credit card. One of the many credit cards that now want him to pay up, thank you very much. The credit card debt, the money he owes to his parents, and the big one, the IRS debacle, have all led him to this point. April 24, 2000. The day the Urban Hermit began his life...

This is, without a doubt, one of the funniest books I've ever read. It shouldn't be, but it is. MacDonald has an awesome voice, and I felt like I was really there with him, living his adventures as the Urban Hermit. I was scared for him, too; it really is insanity to try to live on 800 calories a day, even if you've got "fat of the land" to live on. I was shocked that he didn't have to go to the hospital at any point, although it also looked like there were a few close calls. The saddest part about the book is that the people in his life seemed to miss all the great things he was accomplishing by being the Urban Hermit. He got some sweet assignments as a journalist, went some very interesting places, met some very cool people, and - don't forget this - managed to get his life back in order after pretty much hitting rock bottom. What did most of his friends and family focus on? You got it - how much weight he lost. In almost every chapter, he talks about how someone sees him and says "How much weight have you lost?!" It really speaks volumes about what we as Americans focus on in our daily lives. It doesn't seem to matter what you succeed at, as long as you succeed at having a great body. Hell, look at Oprah - the woman is richer than anyone needs to be, does a butt-load of charity work by donating her time and money to various causes, has helped authors become famous (and some infamous) - and she is still obsessing over her inability to keep her weight at a "desired" number.

My hat's off to you, Sam MacDonald, for putting your mind to something and sticking with it. Even when you thought you'd never be able to choke down another lentil. Get this book, read it, laugh your ass off - but for gosh sakes, please notice something other than how much weight he lost!

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