Originally published April 25, 2019.
Contains: long-term weight gain, behind-the-scenes encouraging.
Something I’ve noticed when I shop at Best Buy (a store that specialized in tech, in case you don’t have it where you are) is that there are always a lot of chubby guys working there. Someone on Grommr who lives in another area of the country made a post making the same observation, which was followed by several comments confirming it. That gave me the idea: what if that wasn’t an accident? This story is the result.
Synopsis: Ben is a new hire at Best Tech, where they offer free food for employees at lunch and dinner time and have company polos that go up to 10XL. Initially, he’s frustrated by the fact that customers not only don’t seek him out for help, but ignore his advice, often acting against it outright. It’s only when he notices that the customers seem to take his heavier coworkers more seriously than he starts to think, maybe they’d take him more seriously if he looked the part. So he starts partaking of the free food, not knowing just how far he’ll go to make the customers take him seriously.
Ben sat wringing his hands under the table as his suit made him sweat even more than his nervousness could alone. He was interviewing for a position at Best Tech, one he felt he was more than qualified for as a general aficionado of all things technological. However, the interviewer, Court, polite as he was, seemed to be treating him with a mild lack of interest, making Ben feel like he was continuing the interview largely as a formality.
“Well, it looks like we’ve gone into lunch time,” Court said. He was a portly man, his button-down shirt wrapping around a potbelly that was nearly two feet wide. It was the kind that only older men like him seemed to have, the kind that was accompanied by a surprisingly small amount of body fat over the rest of his frame. And yet, he didn’t seem ashamed of it. If anything, it contributed to his intimidating presence. “Would you like to grab lunch in the food court? The sandwich place there is surprisingly good. My treat.”
“Sure,” Ben replied, trying to avoid stuttering even though he could feel his hands getting clammy. In comparison to the interviewer, he was but a twig, and extended unemployment hadn’t helped his figure. His suit hung loose from his scrawny frame, having fit him better when he had a little meat on his bones. But if anything, that meant he couldn’t turn down the opportunity for free food.
Both men stood up and walked out of Court’s office, with Court swaying more from side to side as he moved, accommodating his gut. “Have you been to Bonny’s Sandwiches before?”
“Can’t say I have,” Ben replied.
“Oh they’re great. Real delicious options, and healthy too. I don’t know how they manage to make their sandwiches so good and low-cal too, but I’m glad they do. You know,” he said, before patting his belly. “If I’m ever going to get rid of this.” He chuckled as he said it, but his tone was surprisingly self-effacing for a man who seemed unashamed of his size.
“Yeah,” Ben chuckled awkwardly. “Most of my family members are pretty big too, so I try to be really careful about what I eat.”
“Oh really?” Court said surprisedly. “Wouldn’t have guessed.”
“Yeah. Some of my uncles tell me it comes with age, but others say they’ve always been big, so who knows.”
“Hmm,” Court acknowledged. “So your résumé said you were part of the tech support program at your alma mater, right?”
“And you mentioned working with Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, right?”
“What sort of brands and models did you work with specifically? Older or newer ones.”
Ben was caught off guard. Court hadn’t asked him such detailed questions before. Was he just cranky and needed lunch? Maybe that was it.
Indeed, Court seemed more and more interested in Ben as they approached the food court, ordered their lunches, and ate together. By the end, Court’s disposition had entirely changed, and he seemed way more enthusiastic about the interview. No wonder he had so much trouble losing the weight, Ben thought. Dieting seemed like it was making him miserable, and eating had turned him into an entirely new man.
“Well, Ben,” Court said as he stacked his paper plate and napkins to throw away, “I have a really good feeling about how today went. I can’t make any promises at this stage, but well,” he said as he leaned in toward Ben. “When can you start?”
Ben’s face lit up. “Whenever you want me to start!”
Court smiled before wiping his mouth one last time. Extending his hand to shake Ben’s, he promised, “I’ll be in touch.”
While Ben was still on his drive home, he got a phone call from Court offering him the job. Next Monday, he was at Best Tech, having worn jeans and just an undershirt, as Court had requested. After walking through the sliding front doors, he was met by Court, who’d promised he’d meet him up front. “Ben! Congratulations,” he said as he extended his hand to shake Ben’s.
“Thanks! So, uh, I understand you wanting me to wear jeans for this kind of job, but why the undershirt? I feel a little underdressed here.”
“Why, so we can fit you with a Best Tech company polo, of course,” Court answered. “We’ve found new hires prefer to wear an undershirt on their first day, rather than a shirt they’ll have to take off and throw in their car. Now, follow me.”
Soon both men were in a back room, standing in front of a row of boxes filled with Polos. They lined the wall and seemed to range from small to 10XL, a size Court wasn’t even aware existed. What surprised him was that the biggest boxes were the ones in the XL to 5XL range, with small, medium, and large being as underrepresented as the 8, 9, and 10XL.
“What size shirt do you wear, Ben?” Court asked.
With a nod, Court reached in the medium box, seemingly needing to reach down to the very bottom to grab one. “We need to order more of these,” he grunted, even though Ben could see that the small and large boxes weren’t any fuller. Soon Court stood back up with a polo in hand, and handed it to Ben. “There you go. Now, at the end of the day, feel free to come back here and take as many polos as you need for how many days you’ll be working a week. We work with an honor system on these shirts, so they stay here for you to take as you need to. So if you stain one, or if you need a new size, feel free to come and take another one.”
“Good to know,” Ben said as he slipped the polo on over his undershirt.
“Oh!, I almost forgot! Here’s your nametag,” Court said, passing it to Ben. “Now, follow me to the back. We usually train new hires for about three days before they hit the sales floor, but with how much you already know about tech, you might be able to hit the floor before Wednesday ends. Anyway, let’s start by introducing you to some of the rest of the team.”
It was about 9:10, and with the store set to open at 10:00, the team didn’t have to be in their positions just yet. Picking up a nearby phone, Court pressed a few buttons and said, “Will all employees please make their way to the break room for a quick but important team meeting. Don’t worry, it’s not bad news.” Ben could hear Court’s words echoing over the intercom, before he hung up the phone and said, “Come on. Can’t have the star of the show miss his own meeting.”
“Star of the show?”
But Court didn’t offer any clarification. He just walked ahead through the back rooms as Ben followed, clipping his nametag onto his polo’s front pocket as he did.
Soon Ben had his answer. Once they reached what seemed to be the break room, with its water cooler and comfortable furnishing and large, flat screen television playing some show about cars, Ben saw about two dozen people in the same shirt as him standing around, chatting with each other.
“Everyone, can I have your attention momentarily,” Court called out, quieting the group and making them turn toward him and Ben. “I would like to introduce you all to your new coworker, Ben. Now, Ben will surely meet more of you as you work together. But I wanted to make sure to give him a proper introduction, so you all can introduce yourselves individually.”
“Hi Ben,” one person in the group shouted out, prompting the rest to parrot him, chuckling as they did.
“Hi everyone,” Ben said, laughing nervously.
“Be sure to introduce yourselves as they day goes on. Anyway, that’s all for today.”
A quiet hubbub overcame the crowd as they shuffled out of the room. One particularly hefty employee, whose massive belly hung well over his belt, said to another, “I walked all the way across the store just for that? I’m still out of breath,” goading a chuckle out of the other, who was also big guy in his own right. Though his belly stayed above his belt, it did stick out a solid foot from his chest, round and firm like an exercise ball. He also had quite a round face emphasized by his closely trimmed beard.
It was then that Ben realized something peculiar about his coworkers: not only were they overwhelmingly male, but the men he worked with were by-and-large quite fat. Given how hefty his coworkers were, he understood why the XL to 5XL shirts were the most stocked, while the smaller sizes were more sparse. “Say, Court?”
“Is there anyone here big enough to wear the biggest shirts you have? The 8 or 9 or 10XL?”
“Not right now. But we’ve definitely had guys that big work here in the past, and there’s no sense in throwing out the shirts we have in those sizes when we’ll probably have to use them again.”
Ben’s first morning passed more quickly than he expected, and before long, it was time for his lunch break. As he and Court walked toward the break room, Court told him, “One of the benefits of working here is that we provide complimentary meals in the break room during lunch and dinner period. You’re more than welcome to go buy your own lunch or dinner wherever you like during your break, or bring one to work with you. But, the free food is something most of our employees do take advantage of.”
“Well that’s awfully generous.”
“It helps boost the team morale, which is priceless,” Court said with a smile. “Now, we provide enough food that you won’t have to worry about it running out before you can get there, but the room does tend to fill up with people fast, which is why I want to make sure we get there early.”
As the two entered the break room, there were already three employees standing near the large table by the back wall. They were all among the heaviest men that Ben had seen there, arching their backs as they chatted, causing their guts to push out even farther. If they consistently arrived early and stayed late during lunch period, Ben could imagine how they would have gotten that big.
The table behind them was empty, but not for long. Soon two other, less heavyset employees came in through the side door, pushing carts stacked with pizza boxes and what seemed to be several takeout bags of food. Ben looked back to Court with a perplexed expression. “How does the company pay for all this?”
“We don’t have to. We have an agreement with a bunch of the food stores in the mall that when they’re having tech problems, either with their own devices or the equipment they work with, we help them out for free. In return, they help us keep our employees fed and happy.”
And indeed, as the employees started unboxing the food on the carts, Ben could see that the selection would make most people very happy. In addition to the pizzas that came in the recognizable flat boxes, there were containers of chicken wings, tacos, Chinese takeout, doughnuts, and other decadent foods that Ben saw as being an occasional treat. And yet, it was seemingly available for these employees to take at every meal.
By the time the employees were done unloading all the food, the early birds had already filled up their plates and were chowing down in relative silence. Only the sound of their chewing, along with grunts of enjoyment, soundtracked their feast.
But as Ben looked over the table, he noticed something seemed to be missing: healthy options. There were no fruits or veggies, no sandwiches like those at Bonny’s, not even a salad, something Ben thought of as standard for a catered lunch. Leaning in toward Court and speaking in a subdued voice, he said, “Hey Court?”
“Where are the… you know… salads?”
Court let out a belly laugh a lot louder than Ben had asked the question, mortifying Ben, as he was hoping to not draw attention to himself asking it. After all, he didn’t want his coworkers to think he was judging them. But Court did at least lower his voice before answering, “I did say this was for team morale, didn’t I?”
“No one ever gets excited over free salads.”
It was Ben’s first day on the sales floor. Though his duties were mostly to stock inventory, he also wanted to take the opportunity to make a name for himself as a tech expert. As he found himself walking back to get another box of inventory to restock, he passed by an older woman who was looking at computers. “Can I help you find anything?” he asked.
“Oh, no thanks, sweetie,” she replied. “I’m just browsing for now.”
With a nod, Ben turned back toward the back of the store and started walking. But he didn’t walk quite fast enough to get out of range of the woman’s voice in time, and he heard her ask one of his coworkers, “Excuse me. What computers would you recommend for someone who’s… technologically challenged, let’s say?”
Ben stopped in his tracks and turned around. He saw the same woman he’d talked to before now asking his coworker Ryan for help. Ryan smiled and nodded as he listened to the woman’s concerns, his smile framed by a closer trimmed beard and chubby cheeks from which hung a meaty double chin. He looked quite approachable, Ben had to give him that. But why would the woman turn down his help and then seek Ryan’s immediately after?
Ben shook his head side to side. Customers could be strange, and he couldn’t spend his time dwelling on one old lady who didn’t want his advice.
But it ended up not being just one old lady. Later that week, he passed by a young man looking at headphones, picking them up and comparing the specs on the back. “Sony is really good, if you’re looking at earbuds,” he told the man.
In reply, the man merely grunted, “Mm,” before grabbing a box of Skullcandy headphones and walking off.
Occurrences like those kept happening. A month into the job, Ben found a woman browsing the game section. “Looking for anything in particular?”
“Well,” she started hesitantly. He knew this kind of customer: unwilling to admit the gaps in their technical knowledge. “My daughter’s birthday is coming up, and I’m looking for a game console for her.”
“Well, if it’s in your budget, I’d recommend either a PlayStation 4 or a Nintendo Switch. The PlayStation has more games, although the Switch has the benefit that she can unplug it from the TV and keep playing it, leaving the TV free for you.”
“Hmm,” the mom said, looking through the display cases. “I’ll take that,” she said, before pointing at the shelf to her right.
“You want… the XBox One?”
“Yes,” she said, sounding surprisingly resolute in her decision.
“Ma’am, if I may,” Lucas said, approaching from behind Ben and having to graze Ben with his gargantuan belly to pass by. “The XBox One really isn’t all Microsoft cracks it up to be. I’d say ‘all it’s cracked up to be,’ but pretty much everyone agrees it’s a dud. If your daughter knows anything about games, I have to agree with Ben that you’re better off getting her a PS4 or Switch.”
“Oh, okay,” she said, her stubbornness having melted away. “Will she really be able to detach the Nintendo from the TV and keep playing it?”
“Yes ma’am. That’s a standard feature on the Switch.”
“Alright, I’ll take that then.”
By then, Ben was getting sick of these customers not taking his seriously. He wanted to get in the woman’s face and say, “Since you trust his advice so much, I’ll let him get it for you.” But he bit his tongue, knowing he needed the job, and bent down to unlock the Nintendo display case, mouthing obscenities as he did so. Before he stood up, he put back on a fake smile, handed the box to the mom, and said, “Here you go.”
“Thank you,” she said, looking at Lucas as she did so, before walking to the register.
Ben’s hands turned into fists, something that Lucas must have been oblivious to as he said, “We really saved that kid.”
“All these customers keep ignoring my advice, going against it like fucking contrarians, or asking someone else for help when I offer it. What is it? Do I just exude not knowing what I’m talking about?” Ben’s voice was quiet, but the anger in it was unmistakable.
“Uh, well…” Lucas stammered, caught off guard by Ben’s rant. “I mean… customers can be… stubborn, you know?”
After a lengthy exhalation, Ben said to Lucas, “I’m going to take my break before I rip a customer’s head off.” With that, he stomped his way to the break room, passing right by a man browsing the computer cables in a clear state of confusion.
To Ben’s surprise, he was the only one in the break room. The remains of that day’s complimentary lunch littered the table. Walking up to them, Ben found a doughnut that looked good enough to pacify his anger, and ate it in only a few enraged bites. But he was still livid, so he stormed over to the couch, picked up a pillow, and screamed into it.
“You, uh… you okay, Ben?” he heard a familiar voice ask. Lowering his pillow, he was mortified to see Court standing in the doorway to the room, his body tense and one hand on the door frame.
“Court… I uh… didn’t think anyone was in here with me.”
“You were probably right about that when you started screaming.”
With a sigh, Ben put the pillow down and told Court, “Sorry. I’ll figure out a more… professional way to deal with my frustration.”
“I’m sure you will,” Court said with the tone that was much more sympathetic than Ben expected. “What I’m more concerned about is what drove you to this point, and if there’s anything I can do to help.”
“Well, unless you can change the nature of your customers, I’m not sure you can.”
Court chuckled a bit, before saying, “I wish I could. What’s eating you specifically, though? You said you had retail experience, so this can’t be a surprise for you?”
“I’ve never had the customers so consistently discount my advice anywhere else before this, before following my advice once another associate agreed with it. Do I just look like I have no idea what I’m talking about?”
Court was quiet for a while, his silence not helping Ben’s frustration. Why couldn’t he just say “no”. “Well… I’m not out there with you on the store floor, so I can’t say what it is that makes the customers take your coworkers’ advice more seriously.” His voice was shaky, clearly lacking in confidence as he tried to string together the right words for the situation. “All I can say is… try observing your coworkers and see what they have in common, that you might be lacking.”
A hundred or so pounds and facial hair, for one, Ben thought, though he knew better than to say it out loud. It was a sarcastic thought, though one he couldn’t quite shake. So he looked toward Court and said, “From what I’ve seen, their demeanor on the sales floor doesn’t seem all that different from mine. Do you think maybe I don’t look the part?”
“I… don’t know if I’m allowed to comment on that,” Court stammered. “What with workplace discrimination laws being what they are. Not that that’s a bad thing,” he was quick to follow up. After failing to string together a coherent collection of words for a few seconds, he said, “Look, I need to go,” and ran off, leaving Ben just feeling more confused and frustrated. With a sigh, he grabbed a slice of pizza from the lunch table and returned to the store front.
Ben couldn’t shake the idea that his appearance was why the customers weren’t taking him seriously. It couldn’t have been his clothes, since he and his coworkers all wore the same thing. Maybe it was the facial hair? It seemed silly, but with all reasonable explanations exhausted, he couldn’t dismiss it. He’d never let his facial hair grow out in his life, as he didn’t think it would flatter him, but he was willing to try if it might help him.
Ben’s beard was slow to grow in, but after a week, it finally looked like something he grew intentionally, rather than like he’d just forgotten to shave for a while. It wasn’t as nice as he’d hoped, the hair curly, wiry, and black, not matching his straight, brown head hair. But it was what he had to work with, so he left it alone so it could keep growing. After about a month, he had a bushy beard adorning his chin that could rival those of his coworkers. He still wasn’t thrilled by its resemblance to steel wool, but he was happy that it seemed to be having the effect he intended.
While the customers didn’t seek Ben out for advice over his coworkers, they did at least take his advice when he offered it. He wasn’t having any more cases of customers outright going against his recommendations. Some of them would debate him about the merits of one brand versus another, but at least that meant they were taking his suggestions seriously. He even got a few “yes” answers when he asked customers if there was anything he could help them with.
Things finally were finally moving up for Ben. Not up as high as he would have liked, but up nonetheless. For a few months, it stayed that way, with Ben not being sought out by customers for advice, but at least no longer being defied when he offered it. That was enough for Ben for the moment, he thought as he sat in the break room scratching his itchy chin.
“Hey,” Lucas greeted as he waddled into the room.
“Hey,” Ben returned as Lucas made his way over to the table, where there was still a decent selection of food. After picking up a plate, Lucas loaded it up with two slices of pizza, some chicken wings, a few egg rolls, and a chocolate cupcake.
As Lucas turned around, he asked Ben, “You having better luck with the customers?”
“Yeah, actually. They don’t really come up to me looking for help–”
“Sounds like a great problem to have,” Lucas chuckled as he approached a free chair.
“Yeah, I guess,” Ben chuckled as Lucas plopped down into the chair, his belly bounced like jello. Soon it settled down, and he put his plate down on it. “I think it’s because I didn’t look the part,” Ben continued.
“What do you mean?” Lucas asked before popping a wing in his mouth.
“Well, I was clean shaven when I started. Once I started growing out this beard, that was when they took me seriously. It has to be connected.”
“Nah,” Lucas said through a full mouth. “You probably just got more confident as you kept working here, and the customers can sense that.” His words were garbled by the chicken in his mouth, making it quite a relief for Ben when he swallowed before continuing. “I know that’s what happened to me. I had similar problems when I started working here, but once I had more experience, they took me more seriously. It took me about two years, though. And you’ve been here, what, a couple months? It’s probably because this was my first retail job, and you must have retail experience.”
“Well, I do…” Ben said, wondering how to delicately ask his next question. “How long have you been here, Lucas?”
“Over 15 years.”
“Did, uh, did you… go through any other changes in your time working here?”
“Yeah, I gained about 200 pounds,” Lucas laughed, patting his belly with one hand as the other held his plate so it didn’t spill. “I used to be skinny, if you can believe it. But the free lunches here did a number on my waistline. I don’t mind, though. Life is short, right? ‘YOLO,’ as the kids say.”
Ben kept his musings about whether the kids still said that to himself. “And the customers started taking you seriously two years in?”
“Well, it wasn’t like an overnight thing. The longer I stayed here, the more I learned about tech, and the more the customers started taking me seriously, and coming to me for advice. I think they could sense my own growing confidence in my knowledge.”
Ben suspected that wasn’t the growth that had made the customers trust Lucas more. He wanted to ask if two years in was when his weight gain had become noticeable. But he knew that wasn’t an appropriate question to ask. Moreover, he realized, that would imply that gaining weight would make him look the part more and be taken more seriously, a possibility he didn’t want to consider. “Sounds like it,” Ben agreed, though he didn’t really agree with Lucas’s assessment.
Lucas had polished off quite a bit of his food by then, and seemed quite satisfied with his selections. “I think it was, like, a positive feedback loop. As I got more confident, the customers came to me for help more, and as they came to me for help more, I got more confident.”
“So which started the loop? The confidence, or the customers?”
“I guess the confidence. Gotta fake it ‘till you make it,” Lucas said before he shoved the second slice of pizza in his mouth.
“Right,” Ben replied, his eyes coming to rest on Lucas’s belly as they gazed into the distance. It seemed silly, but he couldn’t shed the thought, like an insidious earworm that kept replaying in his mind. He didn’t want to put words to it, as that felt like validating it, but it forced itself into consideration: maybe the customers took his coworkers more seriously because they were fat.
It seemed silly. Everywhere he went, he saw ads for diets, gyms, exercise equipment, clothes that promised to make you look slim, all sorts of things that reinforced the idea that fat was bad. He saw stories about extremely heavy people who couldn’t lose weight and were treated as objects of pity and disgust simultaneously. Not that he agreed with that treatment, but it seemed to him that people generally hated fat people. Why would that be any different beyond the sliding doors of Best Tech?
No, the idea was silly. He told himself it was silly as he eyed the greasy food on the table. He told himself it was silly as he stood up and walked toward the feast. He told himself it was silly as he browsed the selection. And as he picked up a slice of pizza. And as he walked over to his chair to sit down. He stopped telling himself it was silly after he took the first bite.
“I thought you didn’t eat that kind of food,” Lucas correctly observed.
“I’m hungry,” Ben lied through a mouth full of pizza.
Ben had just traded in his large company polos for XLs. The large polos officially no longer fit, so he’d washed them and returned them to the large box, knowing that they were a rare commodity that would be better not disposed of. There were plenty more XLs for him to take, making replacing his work wardrobe easy. At least, replacing the shirts was easy. Having to replace all of his pants was less so, but he did it without complaining. After all, he was doing it to himself.
Months of letting himself enjoy the complimentary lunch foods in the break room like all his coworkers was starting to have its impact on Ben’s waistline. His once thin frame now carried a significant amount of heft for the first time in his life. His scrawny arms had thickened out with a nice layer of flab like the sleeves of a sweater. His chest now stuck out above his new pot belly, round and bouncy like a ball. The novelty of his weight meant he was hyper aware of how it bounced and jiggled as he walked. He was also glad Best Tech didn’t put any products on low shelves, because bending over was no longer as trivial as it used to be. Finally, his face had rounded out as well, giving him a countenance that even he had to admit looked more approachable.
And it seemed the customers agreed. On the same day that Ben traded in his large shirts for XLs, he found himself doing inventory in the camera section, when an older man approached him and said, “Excuse me young man. I wonder if you might be able to help me pick out a camera.”
Been almost didn’t know how to answer it first. He was so used to having to approach customers before they’d accept his help that the idea of a customer approaching him seemed like a pipe dream. And yet, it had finally happened. Maybe he’d be able to make a name for himself as a tech expert, like he’d wondered since day one of the job, after all. “Sure! What are you looking for in a camera?”
As Ben and the man talked, Ben looked around and saw that there were no other employees anywhere near the camera section. It seemed that was what it took for a customer to approach him rather than one of his coworkers. But it had finally happened, and maybe now it would happen more.
Indeed, Ben was approached by two other customers that week, a paltry number compared to his coworkers, but a record for him. It left him ending his Friday that week feeling better than he’d felt in months, and not just because it was the end of his work week. Though he’d spent quite a bit of time that day helping his third customer of the week, and had to have a late lunch as a result, he strolled into the back room with his head held high, paying barely any attention to the bounce of his belly. He was so excited that he had two donuts to celebrate, before digging into the real food.
With few other employees in the back room to compete with for food, Ben let himself eat as much of it as he wanted, returning for seconds and even thirds once he’d cleared his plate. After finishing his third round of food, he found himself wobbling a bit as he stood up, and swaying side to side as he walked due to how full he felt. With that, he walked to the trash bin instead and tossed his plate inside, letting out a satisfied sigh. He didn’t feel quite ready to return to the sales floor, feeling so full that even thinking was more difficult. So he decided to take a lap around the back rooms before he went back to the front.
Ben strolled past shelves of inventory in the hopes of shaking off the fatigue he felt from how much he ate, a fatigue that he had to fight to keep his eyes entirely open. He walked unhurriedly, taking his time as he tried to walk off his meal. The back of the store was surprisingly vacant. It seemed all his coworkers were on the floor. Which was fine by him; if they were out there making sure the customers were taken care of, then he didn’t have to worry about doing that himself.
As Ben continued his back-of-the-store stroll, he found himself near Court’s office. It felt so long since he’d had his interview in there. The conversation going on in the office presently didn’t seem to be quite as civil as his interview had been, though. While the voices were muffled, Ben could still make out that whatever was happening inside wasn’t something Court was happy about.
Ben knew he should probably keep walking, that it wasn’t any of his business. But he couldn’t help his curiosity getting the better of him. So he tiptoed toward the door and listened in.
“I know what you’re trying to get at, Jenkins,” he could hear Court say, “and I’m not changing a damn thing about who we hire.”
“Court, listen, I’m not trying to disparage any of our employees. But being overweight or obese does tend to correlate with more health problems, and that’s driving our insurance premiums up. All I’m saying is, maybe try to hire a more… diverse workforce, in terms of size.
“Now you listen to me, Jenkins. We are one of the highest ranking Best Techs in the country in terms of total profits per employee. Now why do you think that is? We sell the same products as every other Best Tech. We train our employees the same as every other Best Tech. Our location isn’t any more desirable than any other mall location. So why do you think we consistent rank so highly?”
“Court, I know where you’re going with this, but–”
“It’s the people we hire, Jenkins. Anyone can learn tech, and even how to sell. But the more you can make the customer believe in our employees’ expertise, the more they’re going to be willing to part with their hard earned money. And do you know how we make the customer believe in our employees’ expertise?”
“I have a guess,” Jenkins said bitterly.
“By hiring guys who look like the part, Jenkins. By hiring guys who look like nerds. And you and I both know that means hiring fat guys.”
The time between when Court laid it out so plainly and when Jenkins next spoke felt like an eternity to Ben. He flashed back to all the times customers didn’t take him seriously before he started letting his beard grow out and putting on weight. He remembered how Court seemed unwilling to deny that he didn’t look the part. He remembered watching the employees gorge themselves on free food, and how he’d done the exact same thing.
And then he remembered his interview, and how Court had seemed uninterested in him at first. And how it seemed like Court took more of an interest in him once they went off for lunch. What had Ben told him? Something about how his relatives were all more heavyset than him, and he struggled to keep weight off?
Ben’s eyes opened wide, expanding like his belly over his belt when he overdid it at lunch. Court had hired him expecting him to get fat.
Jenkins let out an aggravated sight and said, “That’ll be all,” clearly having more to say but knowing it was pointless to say it.
When Ben heard Jenkins’ footsteps, he scuttled away from the door as quickly as he could and hid around a shelf, managing to get out of sight just before Jenkins opened the door and walked straight out onto the sales floor. Ben let out a quiet sigh of relief through his nose, thankful he hadn’t gotten caught. Deciding he was better off pretending he hadn’t heard that conversation, he made his way back toward the break room, certainly thinking much less about how full his stomach was.
But that was because he couldn’t get his mind off the conversation. Had Court really hired him with the expectation that he’d give in to his genetic predispositions and get fatter? Was he just a sellout because he had let himself get so heavy? And if him gaining weight was Court’s intention, did he really want it?
So many questions, and no clear answers by the time Ben found himself back in the break room. He stood in front of the table and looked at all the free food stacked on top, thinking about the times he’d stuffed himself silly with it. He looked down at his belly with one side of his mouth curled inward in contemplation. He then shrugged, took a doughnut from the table, and took a bite from it, letting out an, “Mmm,” before he took another. Once it was all down, he licked his fingers clean and went back onto the sales floor, to see if he could help one more customer before his day was over.
“Short team meeting today, everyone,” Court said with the whole team assembled in the break room. “We have a five year anniversary to celebrate today,” he continued, causing a few of the team members to go, “Ooh.”
“These always catch me off guard. It’s amazing how quickly five years can pass. But, the records don’t lie. Five years ago today, Ben was hired to do inventory, and now he’s one of our best sales associates.” At the mention of Ben’s name, exclamations of surprise and praise started coming from the crowd. “Ben, could you come up here, please?” Court asked.
The crowd parted to make room for Ben as he waddled over. Sporting his 5XL company polo with pride, he was among the biggest of the employees at Best Tech. He still had some trouble adjusting to his weight gain, which was why he moved with such an obvious mindfulness of his movements. He took short steps as his arms swung widely at his side, sticking out like cables jutting out from behind a cable box. Underneath that 5XL polo was a massive belly, round and firm on top with a border of soft, jiggly fat shaking around the bottom. His snug polo left nothing to the imagination about the size and shape of his gut. His khaki pants were also snuggly wrapped around girthy legs, widened by flab and the muscle required to support his new weight.
Once Ben had made his way to the front of the crowd to stand by Court, the rest of his coworkers were all clapping for him. He looked back to them and smiled, his mouth still open as he breathed through it. He hadn’t gotten rid of the beard, which now framed his delighted smile, but he had started trimming it. He didn’t need it to be lengthy and scraggly to look the part of a nerd anymore.
“Congrats, Ben,” Court said as he patted Ben on the back. “Here’s to, hopefully, more.” Ben waddled back into the group, feeling his hefty gut bounce with each step. “That’s all, everyone. Feel free to stick around for a little while, as long as you get back to your sections by 10:00.”
Ben left a little before everyone else, wanting to be sure he was in the front of the store before it opened. As soon as 10:00 hit and the doors were unlocked, a young man came in and said, “Hi, I’m looking for a laptop for college, and you look like you could help me.”
Ben’s chubby cheeks rose up as he smiled and said, “Sure, what do you need?”
It was like a vicious cycle, though Ben admitted that “vicious” wasn’t the right adjective for it. Around the time he started wearing 7XL polos, people would come in and ask for him by name. “I heard you’re the person to ask for help here,” customers would say.
“Well, I’m a person you could ask for help,” he would say. “Anyone here could help you, I’m sure.”
“Yes, but my friend/sister/boyfriend/mother/grandfather/son had such good things to say about you. You helped them so well, and I’m hoping you can do the same for me.”
“I’ll certainly do my best,” Ben would say.
And so it continued, with yet another month of Ben being named Employee of the Month because of all the good word customers would put in for him. Those Employee of the Month plaques would be displayed in the store, where the customers could see them. Thus every customer wanted this guy who’d won the award so many times to help them. And so the process fed into itself, like Ben feeding himself the fattening treats in the break room for the entire hour of his lunch break.
He wondered if when those customers looked at his photos in the now ten Employee of the Month portraits he had, they saw that he was a little bit fatter in every one. It was a subtle change from month to month, but as he kept racking them up, he knew it would get more obvious with time. But even if they did notice, they were still coming to him for help. And that was what he wanted most.
Looking at his new smart watch, Ben saw that it was lunch time. He stuck to the edge of the store as he waddled his way to the back room, wanting to avoid running into any inquisitive customers who would delay his lunch. By then, it had happened a few too many times for his liking, where he could feel his stomach growling and wanted to satisfy it, but on his way to the break room, a customer would stop him and ask for help. A few were polite, and when they heard his stomach audibly growl at being denied its satisfaction, would offer to ask someone else so he could take his lunch break. Most were not that considerate.
But Ben knew that a guy his size couldn’t exactly hide from customers. So he navigated his way through the sections that they frequented least, trying to keep large displays between him and them as much as possible. He saved what little haste he had left for those stretches of the trip where he was visible. Otherwise, he took his time, taking short step that didn’t require his girthy legs to move too quickly. Still, his thick arms swung with gusto at his sides, helping to move all his newly acquired heft that he was still adjusting to maneuvering as it grew. After all, navigating the world with a belly as gargantuan as his was far from trivial.
That day, Ben was able to make it to the break room for lunch without any customers asking him for help. As he walked in, he saw some of the more slender employees setting up the meal, and a few of his heftier coworkers standing by the table and chatting, waiting for lunch to begin. One looked over as Ben came in and turned to face him, saying, “Uh oh. I hope you guys brought enough food today.”
“I’ve been enjoying my lunch here for the better part of a few years, Ryan, and I’ve yet to eat so much of the food that there wasn’t enough let for everyone else. Cut me some slack.”
“Those clothes are looking kinda tight,” another observed. “Some slack would serve you well.”
“Har har har,” Ben said as he walked toward the group. “For that, I’m going to go first,” he continued, pushing past his coworkers with ease, considering he had at least 100 pounds on all of them.
“Ah, let him,” Lucas said. “He’s right, there’s plenty of food to go around.”
“Thank you,” Ben said, before he filled the first of what would be many plates of lunch he ate that day.
Even Ben’s heftiest coworkers only spent part of their lunch breaks eating in the break room, with the rest of their time dedicated to running errands, going for a walk, fulfilling their end of the free food trade, or just relaxing. But with Ben’s appetite increasing as he grew, he’d moved up to spending his entire lunch break eating. By the end, he often felt a good deal bigger.
That day was no exception. By the time 1:00 rolled around and Ben had amassed an impressive stack of paper plates, he also found himself wobbling even more as he approached the food table. His already gargantuan belly had grown even wider with all the food that he’d stuffed in his stomach. And yet, he felt nothing but satisfaction as he rubbed his packed gut, hard as a rock on top from everything he’d eaten, yet still soft and warm on the bottom. It was the best of both worlds.
But it was time for Ben to get back onto the sales floor. So he tossed all his paper plates in the trash and slowly turned to face the exit to the break room. Only a few employees remained, those who were late to start their lunch break, but Ben didn’t have to worry about them. Experience had taught him that they would move out of his way well before they could be an obstacle.
No, at his current size, maneuvering such a massive, engorged gut was its own obstacle. He was mostly used to navigating the world as a man his size when his belly wasn’t so full that it had visibly expanded. Of course, the shapelessness of the polo kept it from being obvious that his gut had grown since lunch, but Ben could certainly feel it. All that extra weight made all of his usual walking motions even more exaggerated as he tried to get all of his new girth, along with the girth he was used to, back onto the sales floor. His steps were shorter, his stance was wider, his arms swung farther, his back arched more, and his mouth hung open as he breathed through it, trying to get all of himself back out there.
At the center of it all was Ben’s mountainous belly. With every step he took, even the gentle steps he was taking to avoid upsetting his packed stomach, a ripple traveled up his belly, like he was a pond and his foot landing on the ground, a stone. He was certainly vast like a pond, and growing like the rain kept flooding it. His upper body swayed as he moved, while his gut was almost still, gliding forward slowly but surely as it pulled him ahead. Those days, it felt like he was being led by his belly, physically and perhaps in what he ate too. He was okay with that.
Joyce was looking to upgrade to a new TV, now that she and her wife had moved out of their cramped apartment and into a nice, cozy ranch house that gave them exactly as much space as they needed. And as such, the tiny TV that they kept on top of their dresser would no longer do; they wanted one they could mount on the living room wall and watch from the comfortable couch on the opposite side of the room. As she entered Best Tech, she remembered the words of her wife, who had recently gone there to buy a new laptop: “Ask for Ben.”
After entering the store, she asked the employee by the front door, “Excuse me, I’m looking for a new TV, and I was told to talk to Ben about advice on which one to buy.”
“Sure, let me check if he’s busy,” the short, portly guy said, before speaking into his phone, “Hey Ben? A customer wants you at the front door.”
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
“Where are you now?”
The greeter nodded and put his phone down. “He’s going to be a little while.”
“But… why? He didn’t sound like he’s helping anyone else.”
“He’s not. But he has to walk all the way across the store to get to us, and that’s going to take a while.”
“Oh,” Joyce blurted out, not sure how to react to that news.
“If I were you, I’d meet him in the TV section. Along that wall on the right.”
“O-okay,” she said, still a bit confused.
Talking into his phone, the greeter said, “Change of plans: meet her in TVs.” After putting his phone down, he warned her, “You’ll still have to give him some time.”
Joyce merely nodded, before walking toward the wall of wide screens that shined through the shelves. Over the displays, she could see a particularly gargantuan man who was also moving toward the TVs, albeit more slowly, and she quietly said, “Ah,” to herself as she finally understood what the greeter meant.