The Reality Institute

Stanley Has a Weight Problem

Mr. Stanley Tolstoy is a forty-six year old human sponge. Now, this isn’t a figure of speech. Stanley’s an actual, genuine sponge. A surprising fact, really. His mother was especially surprised. The day her water broke, she didn’t see any water because her baby had absorbed it all. She just went right into contractions. Stanley’s anomaly stemmed from the fact that his mother ate various carpet squares and bathrobes and things because she suffered from an iron deficiency during the pregnancy.

In the delivery room, everyone was shocked to see a baby with such delicate skin. Of course, babies do have soft skin, but this was a different kind of soft. I guess it was a sort of sponginess for lack of a better word. Pretend you were a magnifying glass and you were looking into the skin of our hero. You’d see a webbing of stretchy pink stuff. Skin and muscle all interconnected together and everything. You could imagine a hundred million little dish sponges wrapped around bones and nerves and organs. From the surface, he didn’t seem too different, but he had enormous pores (especially for a baby). When he came out, he weighed in at 36 pounds and two ounces because of all that water weight. The nurse just rang him out over the sink.

It was a very rare disease that he suffered from. In fact, he’s the only case to this day. They call it Freidman’s Disease. The name came from a cruel prank that the other doctors played on Dr. Freidman, the doctor who delivered the boy. Every baby Freidman helped deliver seemed to have some physical ailment (like color-blindness, or chubbiness, or now Freidman’s Disease). His procedures always went smoothly and the doctor was the most educated in the country, but he just had this Midas touch. But, anyways, he’s a different story altogether. What’s important is that Stanley was an anomaly.

The newspaper headlines read: “Iron Deficient Woman Gives Birth To Spongy Baby With Large Pores”

And Stanley suffered from the usual troubled childhood you’d expect from a boy with sponge for skin. Imagine a small, thin Stanley playing with a few of the neighborhood kids on a particularly hot summer day. They went over to the local dollar store and bought some water balloons. Next thing you know, one of the boys nails Stanley hard in the crotch with one of the things. Not only does the water balloon to the crotch hurt like no other pain a boy can experience, but the water starts seeping into Stanley’s legs and everything. While the other boys ran off, Stanley’s lower half became so heavy with water that he couldn’t run to catch up. He tried though, but it was no use. Stanley sat on the curb and rang out his legs, letting the water drip into the gutter. He didn’t tell anyone about the water balloon fight though.

This was Stanley’s first experience with the problems of being a sponge, but it wasn’t the worst. For example, one morning, he woke up late for school. He didn’t want to miss the bus, so Stanley thought of a nice short cut. See, the only thing that separated his backyard from all of his neighbors’ backyards were his neighbors’ various wooden fences. So Stanley figured he’d just hop all those fences and cut through their backyards to make it to the bus stop in time. The problem was, on the very first fence he hopped, one of his shin pores snagged on a nail. It didn’t hurt much, but he had to carefully lift his leg off the nail without tearing any sponge. Stanley just barely made it to the bus stop to see the madman bus driver pull away. His only other option was to just make the thirteen block trek to William Howard Taft Elementary.

If he had listened to the weather report that morning, he might have heard the weatherman say, “Expect weighty morning showers and one sad, spongy, boy.” As the weatherman predicted, the rain poured like a thousand crazy ball bearings into Stanley’s skin. He tugged along and the poor boy felt heavier and heavier. Each step was like walking through wet cement and his back couldn’t take the weight.

The principal called Mrs. Tolstoy around ten thirty that day, letting her know that Stanley didn’t show up for school. Although the rain had let up, Mom found him lying on the sidewalk, the side of his face pressed against cold suburban ground. His eyes were focused on an ant hill that he happened to collapse next to.

His mother exclaimed in the car, “What were you thinking? What were you thinking walking to school in the rain like that?”

And Stanley replied, overwhelmed by his mother’s behavior, “It’s okay, Mom, I got to just watch the ants play anyways.”

That night, his parents had a “talk” about Stanley’s little “problem”. Stanley sat at the kitchen table with them. He heard his mother’s voice tremble quickly with frantic tones. His father tried to soothe her with slurred, calm speech.

“Well, I don’t know what to do. He could have died out there,” she repeated as her hands moved neurotically through the air.

“Now, Megan, just relax a bit.”

“I don’t know how you can expect me to relax when our little boy just nearly drown in the rain. I don’t know what to do.”

His father left the room and promptly returned with an umbrella.
“Why doesn’t he just carry this around?”

The look of concern slowly vanished from his mother’s eyes as she realized that that was a viable solution.

If you were ever to see a grown man walking around today, carrying an umbrella when it’s perfectly sunny out, in the middle of July, in Tucson, Arizona in the middle of a drought, you could guess that it was Stanley Tolstoy.

And after that bus stop thing, his mother became quite over protective. She hardly let him go out anymore and when he did go out, he had to bring the umbrella. This meant he couldn’t have any friends. He didn’t have any friends anyway, but now he definitely couldn’t have any.

When he was at school, the kids asked, “Why do you carry that stupid umbrella around, huh?” and when little Stanley explained it to them, the physics and everything, they just kind of laughed at him, screaming, “Stanley has a weight problem!” Their laughs were of an unnaturally high frequency, known to shatter the dignity of boys like Stanley. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he wore thick framed glasses and had his hair parted on the left. Every cool kid then knew that you part your hair on the right, but he didn’t seem to listen.
The principal even thought all of this was funny in a way. He told Stanley it was something to be proud of though and to make the kid feel special, the school changed their mascot from the Raging Water Buffalos to the Damp Sponges. Stanley thanked the principal kindly and went home (He was a very polite boy.)

But when life gave him lemons, he’d make lemon meringue pie (Lemonade makes him feel a bit heavy. Most food is too big to get caught in his pores though). So he had as normal a childhood one could have sitting around his house, away from the other kids. You know how kids are always pretending to be super heroes when they’re little? Like, Batman or The Green Lantern… or Super Kitty… or a Frankenstein or whatever. Well, although he had a super power of his own (the sponge thingy), Stanley pretended to be these things too. He found that being Sponge Boy was not the most impressive hero one could come up with, unless, of course, you wanted to wash all of the cars of the world or clean dishes with ease. So he pretended to be The Folder, a man who solved all the world’s problems (Why limit yourself to one fictional city?). I know, it sounds like a pretty pathetic hero, not much better than Sponge Boy at least, but there was a simple beauty to The Folder’s powers. He’d take an obstacle, fold it neatly, and tuck it away in his dresser drawers. From the woman who was savagely mugged on the street corner to the butcher who savagely has his meat stolen by an alley cat. He’d simply place his hand on their hand and remove all the bad feelings from their body, fold them, and tuck them away. He had eagle vision too and whatever animal can hear really well, he had the hearing of one of those. He took in all the sights and sounds and textures and breezes, folded them, and tucked them away. And all the world loved him for it.

What’s odd about the kid (aside from the sponge thingy) is that even when he wasn’t playing pretend, he took in the world just the same. His favorite things to do include: listening to the refrigerator motor running or the second hand clicking, watching the trees cast shadows on the grass and the sun cast different shades of warmth on the bricks of a house or specific flowers or the spokes of a bike or his hands, and letting the wind into all of his open pores. The breezes seemed to come in his pores (which acted as open vents) and fill every inch of his spongy body, coating the insides and outsides with a pleasant feeling of an inner summer. The wind even wrapped his heart and mind tenderly, relaxing each one of his nerves (which there happen to be a lot of in the human body). He enjoyed hammocks especially because they reminded him of him and they were perfect for such windy days.

Besides the breezes and things, he enjoyed other sensations of the world as well. Much like any other adolescent boy (when he was an adolescent), he was delighted by the sight of a girl. This is exactly why he got a telescope for his birthday. Well, his body shook when he looked at the stars at night too, but he also used the thing to watch neighborhood girls undress. Now, we can’t say that this is that awful, he is human for Christ’s sake. Anyway, he thought girls were some of the most beautiful sights in the world because he loved people and girls were some of his favorite people. He liked watching the actors on TV too, especially their smiles. Also, he liked when his mother or father smiled at him, or at each other, or when kids in school smiled. He had an impeccable memory too, so he never forgot a face or anything.

Even to this day, Stanley loves taking in the sights, watching the world around him. In fact, people don’t change much over the years. They feel like they change, but they’re basically the same. For example, Stanley still has an impeccable memory and still likes seeing smiles and the leaves shine. His visual memory is enviable at best. For example, right now, Stanley could remember his childhood like it was still happening.

Often, when Stanley was still a young boy, he would come home to see his mother stressed and weeping. See, his mother was a “stay-at-home-mom”, which meant she was lonely during the day with her boy at school and her husband at work and few, if any, friends. Mothers aren’t usually friends with mothers of boys like Stanley. So, she’d be there when Stanley’d get back from school (umbrella in hand). Naturally, he’d ask, “What’s wrong, Mom?” (He was a very curious boy.) And this is the part where Stanley would have to sit down with her at the kitchen table and listen to her sob into her hands (the salty water pouring down her cheeks and wrists) and tell him all the things wrong with the world her boy lived in and everything. Stanley was a good listener, so he listened and listened, taking in every word, and he never lost interest for a second. Finally, his father would come home and make himself a Tom Collins. He did it everyday after work. He’d put the exact same number of ice cubes in and a little cocktail parasol (to feel like he was on vacation). This whole routine would break up the sob fest. Mom would hug Stanley and then go and talk to Mr. Tolstoy, while he relaxed in his recliner.

Then there’d be dinner and, because of Stanley’s anomaly, his mother would ask him to do the dishes. He’d gotten very adept at cleaning the dishes, pouring dish soap on his spongy hands and scrubbing the grime away, but they kept an old sponge around anyways, sitting right beside the sink. One particular time, Stanley stared at the empty glass that once contained Tom Collins. He watched the droplets fall so carelessly from the tainted ice cubes, collecting in the bottom of the glass. Then took his delicate hands and removed the parasol from the glass and stuck it into the old sponge, dusting his hands off after completing the process (a job well done).

At the end of nights like this, he might have walked silently to his room after performing his bedtime duties. As if it were part of the routine, Stanley would crawl into bed, tears already building up in his eyes (because it’s hard to keep those things in all day). He’d remember what his mother said, feeling badly about her state of affairs. Then he felt bad about lots of things that other people went through in life and everything. Meanwhile, he let the tears flow and sink into his eyelids. The salt water would build up so he couldn’t much keep his eyes open anymore, so he let the weight close them for him and fall into a deep sleep.

Many nights, he’d have dreams of drowning while visiting the zoo. The zoo patrons would see the tigers fighting over their red meat or the polar bear lying on the concrete of his exhibit, staring blankly at his walls (painted light blue). Maybe they’d see the anteater, the golden Tamarins, and various birds living awkwardly in the same wildlife simulation. Then, the patrons would begin to cry, the children first, then the adults, then the sky. Stanley would find the whole situation to be very overwhelming. So overwhelming that not even The Folder could fold all these sad thoughts.

As the older Stanley recalled these things from the younger Stanley’s life (sound for sound, sensation for sensation, pigment for pigment), his memory pulled him back to one specific event.

Once, while Stanley was watching the actors on TV, he heard a sound with a decibel level so high that it shook the lives of every family in the neighborhood. Stanley became calmly alert upon hearing the noise and went outside to take in the sights. The ambulances and fire engines approached and the boy’s eyebrows took on a position of concern. Down the block, fire licked the sky high above a particular house. And the firemen said that it was a flash fire, the kind that happens fast (Like when you go down a water slide). Some kind of a leaky gas main and rebellious spark or something, leaving the house a black and fragile mess. A shiny Cadillac pulled up to the sight and Mr. Berkeley and his little girl stepped out (they happened to be residents of the house). As they approached, Mr. Berkeley had a feeling that the family would now be minus one, but the young Berkeley girl didn’t quite feel it yet. However, she did feel it when a terrible thing happened. The EMTs on site unexpectedly stumbled over a curb and the body they were hauling (Mrs. Berkeley) fell onto the street beside the ambulance. Before anyone could do anything, the little Berkeley girl had managed her way over there.

Well, you should know what happened next. Stanley knew what would happen next, at least. The young girl was pulled aside and sat down on the curb. One concerned adult ran to get some ice cream (you know, to heal her mental anguish). Others stood awkwardly and talked about what all had happened. Stanley, on the other hand, walked shyly up to the young girl and asked her what she saw (He was quite a curious boy). She carefully explained, in detail, what she had seen a few moments ago. During the process, tears began to form in the Berkeley girl’s eyes, while she looked down at her feet. And then she asked him, “Can I have a hug?” And then he said, “Sure you can.” (He was also a very polite boy)

As was expected, she cried into his shoulder and Stanley allowed her tears to sink in, they dripped down his spongy skin into his arm and chest and legs and everything. After the hugging and crying was complete, the little girl got up and said thank you and walked over to Mr. Berkeley. The neighbors gradually went back into their houses and the remaining Berkeleys went to the police department (never to return to the house). Stanley remained tied down to the curb by an imaginary force for the entire night. Finally, his parents returned from a play that had run long and found him (soaked with salt water) and carried him to his bed. They had to grab hold from both ends due to the weight. He explained what happened and they feigned interest. All the while, his father drank his Tom Collins.

And Stanley still remembers all of this stuff because he has an impeccable memory, especially visual. He’s still much the same as before, but grown up and all fit into society. In addition to his wife and (non-spongy) kids, he is actually the United States diplomat to Portugal. Stanley and Portugal don’t have much to talk about, but he still listens anyway.
And if you were to see Mr. Stanley Tolstoy in a bar or something today and you offered him a drink, he’d politely decline and tell you that it makes him feel heavy. And if you told him your life story, he’d listen with all the attention in the world. And if you happened to pass him on the street and gave him a smile, well he’d never forget you for the rest of his life. And maybe you’d never forget Mr. Stanley Tolstoy either.

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