Fat Kid: a chubby twenty something from Yonkers with a mop of reddish-brown hair. Fond of wearing seal-gray chamois shirts over band T’s. Photographed one night at an Inveterate Villifier show, at Brooklyn’s Club Dump. Orff, Villifier’s front man, growls at the left edge of the frame, hair slicked to his shoulders, right arm a sleeve of mail, mic doublefisted. He is half-turned from the lens, which points crowdward, at Fat Kid and his ilk. Fat Kid: his right fist raised before him in arm-wrestling position, mouth wide, cheeks flushed, eyes button-black. He is incandescent with rage. He is in The Zone.
We started seeing that picture whenever we opened our emails or got a text. In a matter of days it had become our avatar of choice. It surfaced in random YouTube vids, Fat Kid, but cropped from his original surroundings, like an icon for our veneration. He mutated as he grew, went grayscale, chiaroscuro, Warhol; he countered familiarity with abstraction, Cubism, stick-figure, synechdoche (a clenched fist, an open mouth). And then one day the original photo, Orff and all, popped up on the tickers of the big internet newsfeeds. Fat Kid was now a bona fide phenomenon, if not yet a proper name. Yahoo earned the distinction of the first easily-traceable use of the words fat kid (in “Fan’s Musical Rage Goes Viral”), which appeared once, uncapitalized, and inside of a quotation. The source went unnamed; it could have been any of us. A Facebook page was born, where our newly-christened Fat Kid could be poked at will, and left cryptic messages. If we image-googled Fat Kid, we were faced with a wall of thumbnails, like windows in a virtual skyscraper where Fat Kid was the only tenant. It was pages and pages before any other fat kids appeared.
Soon Fat Kid grew bigger than the net, as websites all claiming to be the official Fat Kid store started hawking T-shirts, posters, key chains, wallets, lighters, mugs, stickers, you name it. There was a table at every show covered with Fat Kid merchandise, and it became all the rage to come wearing a Fat Kid shirt, no matter who was on the bill, because Fat Kid was always on the bill. There were so many variations on the Fat Kid design that you never went to a show without spotting a cutting-edge Fat Kid on some preening fellow fan; and there was no better way to one-up the guy next to you than to show up in a Fat Kid shirt more obscure than his. Bands even started to feel the pinch at their own merch tables, or at least they felt threatened enough to circulate a petition, where fans would pledge not to consume any more Fat Kid products. The petition was called Fuck Fat Kid.
It never got any traction. But who was counting? We didn’t need Fat Kid products to feel Fat Kid. We started saying things like, Fuck, I went totally Fat Kid at that God Forbid show last night, or, Holy shit, I saw you up there—you were mad Fat Kid! We would get texts at shows expressing the hope that it was Fat Kid, and we would respond with the initials F.K., followed by several exclamation marks, to communicate that the set was, indeed, Fat Kid. Buzz around some new something-or-other? #fatkid went bananas. Songs were Fat Kid, albums were ranked on a scale of 1 to Fat Kid, bands were either Fat Kid or not-Fat Kid, and sometimes went from one to the other. If you nudged your friend at a show and shouted “Fat Kid,” it meant you were about to freak the fuck out. Because Fat Kid couldn’t sell out, he couldn’t break up, he couldn’t grow old, he wouldn’t go gently, and he absolutely would never ever die. The music, the ambience, the sound, the whole scene was Fat Kid. He was our ideal child, the spirit of metal incarnate, made the hulking, epic flesh we always knew it to be.
Fat Kid’s friends told him he needed to get a hold of himself, that he should copyright and merchandise himself, shit, he should be making millions, instead of letting a bunch of assholes he didn’t even know make money off of him. This made sense to Fat Kid, but the more he thought about it, the more a muddle it seemed. After all, he was only Fat Kid because of the picture, he had never been Fat Kid until the picture, so what more claim did he have to Fat Kid than anybody else?
He, too, started wearing a Fat Kid shirt to shows. Maybe he thought he could hide behind it, but we all recognized him, we would say, Hey, it’s Fat Kid, we would take pictures of ourselves with him, make him make the face, strike the pose. Fat Kid would quip that he was going to rent a booth and charge a nickel a shot. He never did.
It wasn’t long before he was walking around telling everybody he wasn’t really Fat Kid, he just looked like him. And who could blame him? There were precious few perks to being Fat Kid, this though we all claimed to envy and admire and even worship him, to want to be him. It’s not like he ever got laid for being Fat Kid. Hell, he never even got kissed for being Fat Kid. The most he ever got to do was slip his arms around a couple of girls’ waists; they would purse their lips a hair from either cheek, so close they grazed the skin, and their warm breath tickled him when they told their boyfriends to hurry up—and then the flash would go off, and it would be over, just like that.
He stopped denying he was Fat Kid, and instead started to claim that he was more than Fat Kid. But who wants to hear from Fat Kid that he’s more than Fat Kid? Who wants to make it a philosophical discussion? Fine, Fat Kid thought, and started to ignore everyone who asked him to be Fat Kid. We started calling him Hey. Asshole instead. Yet, on the rare occasions that he did stop, and that he decided to humor us, he could no longer muster the energy to be Fat Kid. We would say, Wait a minute, you’re not Fat Kid after all, or, Are you sure you’re Fat Kid? or, Man, that is the weakest Fat Kid I ever saw. He recognized our disappointment—kids at a fair who find out the rides are all closed—but what could he do to assuage us? Better to silently admit he was an impostor, and move on.
He remembered wanting us to think he wasn’t Fat Kid. Now he had his wish. But how could he convince us he was more than Fat Kid when we didn’t think he was Fat Kid to begin with?
One day somebody said to him, You know, it’s fine you’re not Fat Kid, but you don’t have to bag on Fat Kid while you’re at it. It occurred to him that only Fat Kid could kill Fat Kid. He decided then and there to ham being Fat Kid in front of Fat-Kid enthusiasts. He would give us Fat Kid until we choked. He would make us believe he was Fat Kid and murder Fat Kid in one stroke. As soon as he thought he had been recognized, he would rush up and shout, Hey, look at me, I’m Fat Kid, and lampoon the pose, up-yoursing with the fist, and contorting his face into a simpering travesty of the original. Sometimes we snapped pictures of him anyway. All the better, Fat Kid thought. Let it proliferate, let it multiply like the seeds of patriarchs. It will be Fat Kid’s undoing. He even started to vandalize Fat Kid merchandise: all variety of mustaches on the face, graffiti penises ballooning from the fist, or prodding into the open mouth. He felt guilty, but he was a man on a mission, a suicide pact with the scene.
As it turned out, there was no such thing as too much Fat Kid. The words “too much” and the words “fat kid” simply did not belong in the same oration. Nor could he combat with mere images what had already blossomed into an idea. And so the cult of Fat Kid only grew.
Fat Kid lost weight. He cut his hair, grew a mustache, and started wearing glasses. We still recognized him, or at least we thought we did. We would ask that question, a meaningless, convictionless question, cautiously approached: Are you Fat Kid? To which he might nod wearily, or pretend not to understand.
The truth was he had begun to doubt he was Fat Kid. It had been somebody else in that picture; he had just taught himself a convincing impersonation, and then gone around a false prophet. He kept going to shows; he told himself that there he would find the real Fat Kid, or perhaps prove to himself that he was Fat Kid after all. Instead, he found himself staring around at the crowd, our phones all held up. Flash, flash, flash … who would be immolated next? He ducked, he cringed. It was like dodging bullets in a blind alley. Ridiculous, for what could we do to him we hadn’t done already? He lost more weight; he lost more weight, his skin turned gray, sagged like old sail from a shipwreck of bone. Too tired to stand, he stayed at the bar, never even bothering to swivel around and face the stage. He only watched himself, if there was a mirror over the bottles, trying not to move a muscle.
And he asked his image, silently, a sneer in his voice: Are you Fat Kid?
Said the image: You’re a monkey’s uncle.
One night he happened to let slip to the stranger beside him that he was Fat Kid. He heard himself say it, and, clearing his throat, he said it again, a little more loudly this time. He even did the best he could, yes, the very best he could, tired, tipsy, and without standing: the pose; the face. Held it: one, two, three, four, five. The stranger, regarding him over one shoulder, said, Wow. I guess you are Fat Kid. But the position of his body, and the tone of his voice, convinced Fat Kid that he was being patronized. He opened the fist into a dismissive wave and turned back to his drink.
I just imagined you …
Bigger, the man corrected.
I lost weight, Fat Kid said.
They faced each other at the bar.
The thing is? Even when I was Fat Kid? I never felt … that … fat.
Oh, but I did.
Sure. Everybody did.
Everybody but me, Fat Kid pouted. And then: How did it feel?
When I was Fat Kid? When I was Fat Kid, the man said, in the voice of someone recalling a youthful love, a battle in which a brother had perished. Deep breath through the nose. I felt … like I weighed eight hundred pounds. No: a ton. Not that English shit, either. I’m talking metric.
Like that dude they buried in a piano case.
In the Guinness Book of World’s Records?
Yeah. Remember him?
That dude was my hero.
Mine too. We used to hide that book in our desks at school.
The dude with the fingernails always creeped me out …
Fat Kid sighed. Like they needed a crane to move you. Right?
Two. But they always snapped. Like masts in a hurricane.
The Grand Canyon must have looked like a crack in the sidewalk.
There’s nothing grand about it, my friend.
The crater left by the K-T meteor must have looked like … like pockets on a billiard table.
The Pacific basin was my duck pond.
The world was too small for you, Fat Kid whispered.
Some claim to have seen Fat Kid since, slinking around the murkiest corners of our favorite clubs on particularly brutal nights. A figure so pale he approaches transparency, a spar of his former self, receding even were he to stand still, halving himself without ever quite perishing, dissolving into the dank, hot air like a sugar-cube. If someone thinks they have spotted him, a cry goes up from the crow’s-nest of the balcony; we look up to see a pointing finger, we all turn its direction with our phones cocked. A cannonade of flashes. It could be a rumor, a mistake, a ruse. The pictures have all been uploaded, you can judge for yourself. Like pictures of Nessie, or Bigfoot. Like any other community we have our believers. But then there are those of us who say there never was a Fat Kid, that the whole thing was a fable from the start, a collectively-scripted fiction. Through it, we affirmed and continue to affirm ourselves; and perhaps this makes believers of all of us, after a fashion.