The Big Pants (part one)
The Big Pants
“Someone has got a watch.”
They all knew it. Two, in point of fact, green as well as blue light bumping from the floor, modest hemispheres glowing where the exercise demanded pitch dark. The lights rose, converged, shed themselves on Toby’s face; apologetic voices came murmuring from the whiteboard area, where Toby could be made out, sitting on his stool.
“No, no,” he said. “Well”—louder, he was addressing them all—“that spoils things. But it’s all right.”
He got rid of the watches, and it was then very dark. Tom touched knees with someone to his right. He was hating this…something had always been weird to him about touching people. He had spent most of his life never doing it. Soon Toby was going to say, “Everyone hold hands.”
Toby was rustling out there.
Yesterday, Tom had been commanded to his feet in front of twenty others. Two eighty-three…he had squeaked the number onto the whiteboard, and put his name next to it. That was not so bad. Perry was 508. Well, he really, manifestly, was.
“No judgment, no judgment,” Toby kept saying it. Tom was not judging. Maybe Perry, held back by his oxygen tank, had the easier gig.
Coming to the cafeteria from the morning hike, Tom had been a little concerned to find breakfast a buffet. He had gone on a diet once that was all portion control, little packages of pretzels and cookies. Stuff you could stand to eat, but no discipline. A handful of days later, he found he had crunched through a hundred dollars’ worth of stuff he could have got store-bought for a few bucks. Here were boiled eggs, fruit salad, almond milk smoothies…but seconds, thirds…couldn’t you overdo eggs? Wouldn’t four pieces of toast with organic fruit puree still be a lot?
“That would be,” he told Jackie, who sat opposite and had spilled his orange juice, knocking her tray against his, “four hundred calories, maybe more like five.”
“What?” She was splitting her egg with a fork. “No, why should it? Maybe I won’t have an egg then.”
“And what have they got against coffee, I wanna know? No, I’m talking about, if you had four pieces of toast. You could.”
“But you know, it’s the setpoint. You’re supposed to find it.”
They had got this far along. He would not normally have lit into conversation with a woman. In a bar, he couldn’t have done it. Toby Messerman, who charged four thousand eight hundred and sixty-three dollars for a seven-day retreat, might yet offer a bargain.
They were—although right away Tom had learned the rules, sincere in trying (because he would like to make friends) to keep his language in accordance with Toby’s directives—fat, every one of them. He was fairly certain, to judge…no, to gauge, by the sound of breathing, that he was holding hands with two men. Toby would have language for this occasion too…but Tom could coach himself.
“Grow up,” he said, under his own breath.
“Can we truly feel ourselves equal to all beings, faceless, disembodied, communicating via mind alone, all our worth measured in spirit and intellect? I can’t see your faces. I suspect you are somewhat abashed.”
Toby asked them why this was so.
“Because…” Tom found complete darkness had tampered, for one thing, with that self-consciousness that would have kept him from thinking aloud.
“Um…intellect.” He meant nothing by this. But Toby, with enthusiasm, said again, “Yes, yes!”
“Um. That’s all I got.”
He heard Jackie’s voice. “I guess, you would feel sort of okay, just being stupid…or being rude to other people, even. Because, I mean, when you’re fat, everyone is rude to you. They treat you like you’re stupid. But…intellect…”
“I want to thank you for that,” Toby took her up briskly. “This is all very productive. You’ve got to the point at once. It’s difficult, isn’t it? Having no shell to scuttle back into? You find it challenging, this idea of being anyone’s—everyone’s—intellectual equal?”
Toby’s next act was to make certain of their faces, however hidden from scrutiny, coming over abashed. “I will tap one of you to begin. Envision yourself wholly empowered, no longer the prisoner of other people’s opinions. Become that physical ideal you seek, the you that you have joined our fellowship to find. As of this moment, you are empowered to achieve your life’s passion.”
Tom saw where this was going. He groaned, hunched his shoulders, and bowed his head, stopping his ears against the embarrassment of auditing someone else’s. He hoped that if he must be tapped, he would be tapped last…after braver subjects had given him the trend of things.
Fingers came to rest for an instant on the back of his neck.
He was second. How, Tom wondered, could Toby get around in the dark without kicking anyone…maybe he took secret pleasure in kicking people…
(2017, Stephanie Foster)