Quantcast

'The Urban Hermit'

In the mid-’90s, while enrolled at the Connecticut university, Sam MacDonald was a one-man Animal House.



"Party school" is probably not a term most people associate with Yale University (tweed party, maybe, but not keg party). But in the mid-’90s, while enrolled at the Connecticut university, Sam MacDonald was a one-man Animal House, seemingly on a mission to help Yale break onto the annual “biggest party school” list.

Though he was unsuccessful, his high jinks did not go unnoticed. At graduation, the master of his residential college suggested that perhaps MacDonald could trade in his diploma for a six-pack. This was Sam MacDonald’s legacy, and he had earned it.

The problem was he carried this party mentality with him from college to the “real” world. And a few years after graduation, MacDonald’s lifestyle had manifested itself physically—his waistline had ballooned from 32 inches to 44—and he had basically drunk himself into debt. He was on the fast track to becoming a professional barfly, and he might have been seen as a big fat broke loser.

OK, so I’m inferring the part about being a loser, but in his memoir, The Urban Hermit, MacDonald does not paint himself in the best of lights. He was, by his own admission, a “booze-soaked idiot who loved drinking and spending money.”
But how did he let his life get so out of control? He was not from a broken home. He was not so stupid as to be duped by crafty advertisers into eating too many McRib sandwiches. He was in good shape when he entered college, and he was a Yale graduate, for crying out loud. He should know better. And yet, by his own doing, he was fat and broke.
The key word here, though, is “was.” Past tense. And it is this transformation—from fat to thin, from broke to free of debt—that is the focus of The Urban Hermit.

Around the turn of the new millennium, MacDonald realized he needed to do something. This was a self-inflicted quagmire, one he was determined to fix himself. He needed to do something drastic, and he needed to do it quickly.
Thus was born the “Urban Hermit Financial Emergency Rotgut Poverty Plan.” The plan: live on a budget of $8 a week and 800 calories a day for an entire month. That’s right. No more fun. No more expensive nights out at the bar. And most important, no more food—at least none of any substance or variety. The menu would be nonnegotiable: two hard-boiled eggs for breakfast; one serving of lentils for lunch; and a tuna sandwich, boiled cabbage and another serving of lentils for dinner. MacDonald would have to survive on his body’s deep reservoirs of fat and tenacity—and failure was not an option.
As MacDonald is quick to point out, this plan is not for, well, anyone, really. The book’s cover is adorned with a disclaimer, and the epilogue is titled “Don’t Try This at Home.” This is not a Hollywood diet. Demi Moore and Cameron Diaz will not be pitching the Urban Hermit diet in Us Weekly. The contestants on the “The Biggest Loser” will not be urged to partake in this weight-loss experiment. This is not a get-rich scheme. There will be no late-night infomercials preaching the wonders of this plan. This is a desperate plan created by a desperate man trying to escape a desperate situation.

This is a book full of wit, candor and self-deprecation. This is the opposite of the fast-food-filled documentary Super Size Me—it’s an experiment in temperance instead of indulgence. This is a book that, whether intentionally or not, illuminates the repercussions of our culture of mass consumption and economic decline. This is a book full of drama, adventure and redemption. This is a book about a man waging a year-long battle against hunger pains, faulty transmissions and an adult-video store; a man working for libertarians; a political journalist traveling to post-civil-war Bosnia and to a drug-addled hippie festival in Montana; and a man emerging on the other side anew—a man with a job (teaching creative nonfiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh), a wife and minus 160 pounds.

This is a book about one man, bettering his life one belt notch at a time.


The Urban Hermit by Sam MacDonald; St. Martin’s Press; $24.95 (Hardcover).

Hot Reads

7 Things You Need to Know About the Pittsburgh Marathon

7 Things You Need to Know About the Pittsburgh Marathon

Before you head for the course, brush up on etiquette for the race.
Best Doctors 2014

Best Doctors 2014

We present to your our list of the 608 leading regional physicians across 77 specialties.
Review: Crested Duck Restaurant

Review: Crested Duck Restaurant

Crested Duck is a prime place to enjoy cured meats, pickled plates and European-inspired bistro dishes, such as chicken roulade.
Crazy in Love, Even at 40

Crazy in Love, Even at 40

As PittGirl approaches her 40th birthday, she rekindles her love for Pittsburgh.

The 412

7 Throwback Commercials From Pittsburgh’s (Weird) Past

7 Throwback Commercials From Pittsburgh’s (Weird) Past

Come for the nostalgia, stay for KDKA’s John Cigna being kidnapped via helicopter.
Iron Worker Relaxes on I-Beam at the Top of PNC Plaza, Takes Bonkers Photo

Iron Worker Relaxes on I-Beam at the Top of PNC Plaza, Takes Bonkers Photo

This man is not to be trifled with, you guys.
Pittsburgh is the 15th-Best City in America for Millennials, According to Millennials

Pittsburgh is the 15th-Best City in America for Millennials, According to Millennials

Half a million college students can’t be wrong.
Here's How Bad This Neverending Winter Stinks, Visualized With Zoo Animals

Here's How Bad This Neverending Winter Stinks, Visualized With Zoo Animals

Bummed about the April snow? Here's a friendly reminder that it could always be worse.

Hot Reads

7 Things You Need to Know About the Pittsburgh Marathon

7 Things You Need to Know About the Pittsburgh Marathon

Before you head for the course, brush up on etiquette for the race.
Best Doctors 2014

Best Doctors 2014

We present to your our list of the 608 leading regional physicians across 77 specialties.
Review: Crested Duck Restaurant

Review: Crested Duck Restaurant

Crested Duck is a prime place to enjoy cured meats, pickled plates and European-inspired bistro dishes, such as chicken roulade.
Crazy in Love, Even at 40

Crazy in Love, Even at 40

As PittGirl approaches her 40th birthday, she rekindles her love for Pittsburgh.
Warhol Redux

Warhol Redux

The Andy Warhol Museum has turned things upside down.
Top 10

Top 10

The best things to do in Pittsburgh in April.