'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).

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Sports media company Whistle Sports documented Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon's recovery workout regime.
Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

The Heinz History Center’s World War II traveling exhibit focuses on western Pennsylvania’s ties to history.
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

The nonprofit's founding President and CEO will leave her position early next year.
Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

After a Stanley Cup-winning season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, one player’s wife is working on her own claim to fame.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

The latest restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group brings Texas-style smoked meats and more to Downtown.
Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Go subterranean at Laurel Caverns, the largest cave in Pennsylvania.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Sports media company Whistle Sports documented Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon's recovery workout regime.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Dish Osteria and Bar To Close

Dish Osteria and Bar To Close

The beloved Pittsburgh institution will serve its last meal in April.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

Voodoo Brewery is an enticing alternative to the many chains in and around the Waterfront.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Even as they entertained Dont’a Hightower for nearly seven hours during a free-agent recruiting trip to the South Side, the Steelers never lost sight of who they are or what they’re all about.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

The miniature bath- and shower-oil collection from Aromatherapy Associates makes every shower a luxury experience.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

Reviews of two films appearing at the 2017 Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival: "I, Daniel Blake," and "The Eagle Huntress." Plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Combating the Cold: How This Couple Pulled Off Their Winter Wedding

Combating the Cold: How This Couple Pulled Off Their Winter Wedding

Happy to see warmer weather? This gorgeous winter wedding may actually have you missing the snow.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Auction Alert: Own a Piece of Artistry

Auction Alert: Own a Piece of Artistry

Looking for a unique piece? Inventory from Artistry, which closed up shop in the Strip District after more than 25 years in business, will be sold at auction this weekend.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

The Outdoor Recreation Club becomes the newest student organization at the college.

Comments