A clergyman grown fat is a clerical error, for fatness is a sure sign of dissipation, whereas being a clergyman leaves a modicum of doubt. I know very little about the clergy, but I'm an expert in fatness-the lesson for today-having been fat for at least one-third of my life, although the third, as I, was spread around. I've gone for five and six years at a clip thin as a rail, as they say. Now I'm fat as a pig, as they say, though I'm about to slim down again, much to my disgust.

Well, not really fat as a pig. If you saw me walking down the block, coming out of the International House of Pancakes, for instance, you wouldn't say to yourself: There goes a pig. You would say: There goes a man who injured his back a year ago, and who, in spite of unimaginable bravery in the presence of excruciating pain-pain that he never allowed his family or friends to see, his being that sort of fellow-still was never able to take the proper exercise, and so through no fault of his own, put on 20 extra pounds. That is what you would say, and you would be wrong. True, I did hurt my back, and I haven't been able to work out much. But as for putting on 20 pounds against my will, fat chance.

You see, I kind of like being fat, at least being as fat as I am. I don't think I'd like to be as fat as Orson Welles, because I wouldn't know where to buy those odd black shirts, and I don't have the rich, fat voice. Yet clearly Mr. Welles is content as he is, or he'd be back doing the Charlie Kane dance in the newsroom, instead of filling the TV screen like the wave in the "Poseidon Adventure," recollecting the maxims of Paul Masson. At some point in his young, sprightly life, Mr. Welles simply said, "All right, I'll go to hell," just like Huck Finn. I've said so too, plenty of times, and I'd say so now if it weren't for the heat.

But with summer coming on, I'll have to shed my pounds, which will be all too easy, and all to dull. It isn't that I mind the idea of health. What hurts is the self-righteousness I'm bound to acquire, and worse, the loss of sin. I will deeply miss my 20. For the past year I have nurtured them like orchids, thanks to a brilliant diet of my own invention; and I will hate to see them go.

The diet, by the way, is clean and simple, like the Scarsdale, and I commend it to anyone who wishes to remain exactly 20 pounds overweight:

Monday. Breakfast: two orange slices. Lunch: one grape (seedless). Dinner: three glass, water. A carrot.

Tuesday. Breakfast: one okra. Lunch: one endive (or celery stalk). Dinner: nothing.

Wednesday. Breakfast: four glasses, water. Lunch: a cucumber. Dinner: fruit cup with extra sherbet; two sirloin steaks; sweet potatoes with marshmallows; mashed potatoes with butter or margarine; bread, rolls; Stove-top stuffing; pizza (anchovy); milk shake (chocolate); Haagen-Dazs vanilla; two Twinkies; plus a late night snack of tapioca pudding; two more Twinkies; and a peanut butter and banana sandwich, with brown sugar, on English muffins.

Which is to say, it takes monumental perseverance to stay fat, just as it does to stay evil. And while I would not deny that it also takes monumental perseverance to stay thin, and thus virtuous, still the perservation of virtue is not as valuable as the preservation of vice, primarily because virtue knows no moral restraints.

Need I draw the example of Jerry Brown? Not an ounce of fat on him; and so, unencumbered by any outward sign of mortality, he traipses about the globe in dead earnest recitude, telling every-one where to get off-something he certainly wouldn't do if gadding about took more effort. Ditto for slim Jane Fonda. Ditto twice for Dick Gregory, whose virtuousness increases in direct proportion to his fasts. On the other hand, take William Howard Taft or Boss Tweed, both big as blimps. One look at a picture of the casual, carefree Tweed, as opposed to a picture of, say, Senator Carl Schurz, who cleaned up the Grant administration by standing for the straight and narrow-being straight and narrow himself-and there can be no doubt who was the happier man.

I don't want to belabor the point, but I firmly believe that one's stomach is like one's conscience. And a conscience is good for nothing unless it is in a state of constant violation. The peasantry of Western Europe could pay no higher compliment than to tell someone: "You've greatly fallen into meat"; and "fallen" is the word. I cannot know what Adam and Eve looked like in Eden, but I'll bet they blew up like balloons once outside the gate, and not on apples, either. The burden of virtue lifted, they become-what?-human. And this is the great solace of fatness, the gift of 20 pounds of flesh.

Yet mine will go. I'll run and starve and do all the necessary humiliating things so as to be able to fit into the old, thin clothes, having worn out my fat pants and jackets. That is the principal reason for this reformation-not discomfort, and no vanity either, which is a pale vice compared with gluttony. But if I had the choice right now of meeting my maker by becoming so thin as to disappear, or eating so much as to explode, I'd make for the kitchen on all fours; there to eat Twinkies until everything snapped, and I dwelt among the fat, white stars.