Pete Wells Remembers the Time He Let Himself Go

New York Times restaurant critic shares some colorful memories of his days as Details articles editor.

PeteWellsDetails2007In late 2006, Pete Wells wrote a piece for Details titled “Go Ahead, Let Yourself Go.” The first paragraph sets up the theme beautifully:

The first time I got fat, I was 26. As often happens, it started with a girl, or, to be more accurate, it started with a girl who went away. I stopped sleeping. When I paid attention to people other than myself, which was almost never, I noticed that my friends were finding me hard to take. Only one thing in the world could temporarily drain the swamp of my self-pity: Cinnabon rolls. A franchise had opened near my office, and each morning I swung by for my fix of Indonesian cinnamon, margarine, sweet dough and cream-cheese frosting. All my life I’d been able to eat whatever I wanted without showing it, but under a relentless assault of 730 calories and 24 grams of fat each day before I’d even had lunch, my metabolism buckled. Soon I was fastening my belt in a new hole. And then my trousers wouldn’t button. None of these flashing lights penetrated the thick fog of my misery until the day I looked into a full-length mirror and saw John Goodman’s ass.

With the news this week that the December/January issue of Details will be the last, The Observer’s Matthew Kassel has rounded up some memories from folks about their days working at the magazine. Wells leads things off; after praising the talents of creative director Rockwell Harwood, he gets to the funny genealogy of the Let It Go piece:

Dan [Peres] would go with a story if he felt the truth in it. You couldn’t argue him into it, he had to feel it in his gut. I wrote a short essay on the virtues of letting yourself go. Then Dan went to the fashion shows at Milan and hung out with a bunch of fashion-world sparrows with 22-inch waists. When he came back he said, “We’re holding that piece. I don’t believe men are letting themselves go.” Then, maybe a year later, there came a time when he started walking into the office unshaven, with his shirt untucked. One day in that phase he said, “Whatever happened to that story on letting yourself go? Let’s run that.”

The rest of the original Wells Details essay is wonderful. At one point, he writes that when a man embraces Goodman territory, it also can mean “shoes that would horrify a German tourist.” There are usually echos of “Elvis at Graceland, Jim Morrison in Paris, Hemingway in the Keys.”

Wells was articles editor at Details from 2001 to 2006. If for no other reason, be sure to click into the Details item to see the hilarious photo snapped by Lisa Kereszi.