Stewart had a way with words. You pretty much had to if your name was Stewart Slonimsky and you were the nerdiest kid in your class. He was a little bit of a lot of things you didn’t want to be: a little bit awkward, a little bit overweight, a little bit short, a little bit shy, and a little bit funny-looking because of his coke-bottle-thick horn-rimmed glasses.
Kids made fun of his name early and late. Even in the first few grades the boys would mock him as he walked by. Small groups made a sibilant “ssssssssss” sound under their breath, imitating the S.S. initials that Stewart’s parents Steve and Sonia Slonimsky stuck him with. It was just loud enough for Stu to hear it, but not loud enough so that teachers and other adults would catch on. Then, when TV taught everyone the meaning of “SS,” Hitler’s Schutzstaffel corp of war criminals, Stewart would get lots of “Heil Hitler!” shouts on the playground, as the bullies shot their right arms out at him in the Nazi salute.
Stewart’s superior brain saved him. As time passed he learned to disarm his oppressors with a few words. When Dominic Dallessandro, all brawn and no brains, gave Stewart a hard time, Stewart nicknamed him “Dim Dom” and threatened something worse, ending Dom’s taunts; and when Frank “Julie” Julianovich did the Hitler SS thing, Stu called him “Family Jewels,” and alluded to inadequacies pertaining to his sexual equipment that got big laughs even from “Julie’s” buddies. Yes, Stewart had perfected the art of flaying his opponents with his tongue, inflicting injuries greater than any physical harm they might threaten him with. By the second year in high school no one messed with Stu anymore.
Ironically enough, Stu was a passably likeable person if you were on his good side, willing to help if your homework was too challenging. But the praise he got from teachers and the admiration of his intellect from his peers went to his head. By the last two years of high school, Stewart could be fairly described as rather full of himself. His opinions sounded like proclamations from on high. Fools were not suffered gladly. If you didn’t have as much brain power as he did, Stu could be disdainful and dismissive, rarely willing to give you the time of day; the kind of kid who, just with a look, communicated “I can do something really hard and you can’t.”
My friend’s parents kept his ego pretty well pumped-up. Both were graduates of the University of Chicago, an elite school known to attract people who were both super-bright and rather odd. Humility didn’t come easily to them and they believed Stewart was just as special as they were. Moreover, mom and dad Slonimsky talked publicly about unconventional ideas that, for the 1960s, were pretty shocking. One dinner at their home featured a discussion of nudist colonies and “free love.” Mr. Slonimsky even asked me what I thought about the latter. The only thing the 16-year-old virgin version of myself could say was, “You mean it usually costs something?”
As I said, most instructors were enamored of Stu. He made their classes exciting and, if the teachers were smart enough they enjoyed the intellectual repartee he triggered — the back and forth jousting between people who see things from different and novel angles. All this only encouraged his willingness to offer ideas that no one else dared to utter.
An English class essay topic gave Stewart’s imagination free rein. We were required to write about anything that “would make the world a better place to live.” It was the kind of question that one heard asked to finalists in the Miss America Pageant. The teacher was Miss Elvira Thompson, a throw-back to the nineteenth century who had clearly given up even the pretense of teaching creatively some years before. She was hardened, straight-laced, priggish, close to retirement, and obviously hated her job. She looked a little bit like this:
Predictably for 1963, most kids wrote about nuclear disarmament, better race relations, a cure for cancer, and the like. But not Stewart. We knew something had happened when Miss Thompson made an announcement as a prelude to handing back the papers, just a few minutes before the end of our next class.
“Class, usually I don’t like to single out one student for special comment, but this is an exception. One of you has written an essay so different and unorthodox that everyone in the class should know of it as an example: an example for you not to follow. It is possibly the worst paper of its kind I’ve had the displeasure to read in 40 years of teaching.”
Thompson took a deep breath and paused, her face contorting as she searched for adjectives disgusting enough to describe her visceral reaction to the essay. Apparently, words failed her. She began to pass the papers back to us and then said, “Mr. Slonimsky, see me after class. The rest of you are dismissed.”
I waited outside the room for Thompson to finish with him. We walked to lunch together, though Stewart looked like he’d already eaten it — eaten something really unappetizing. His expression was blank and his skin, never full of color, more pasty than usual.
“She said that she thinks I’m sick, crazy, and disturbed; actually, the sickest, craziest, and most disturbed student she has ever had. She said it’s the most offensive paper she’s ever read. She wants me to go to a shrink.”
“What could you have written to get her so upset?”
Slonimsky looked straight ahead and jammed his left fist toward me. I extricated the crumpled paper from his hand. At the top of it, in red pencil, was the grade: F-. I started to read it as we sat down to lunch.
SOMETHING TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE
I believe the world would be a much superior place in which to live if every school, office building, home, park, and recreation area were equipped with a masturbation machine. The device would resemble a Coca-Cola dispenser from the outside. It would be self-cleaning and self-sterilizing. Once having inserted the price of $1.00 in coins into the machine (and depending upon your sex, height, weight, and age) you would then insert…
Stewart interrupted me and began to sputter.
“See! She didn’t like it. She didn’t even get to the part about it relieving frustration; lowering the rate of mental illness, venereal disease, and divorce; minimizing violence and cutting down on out-of-wedlock births and abortions. She ignored the fact that it would make the world a happier place! What’s with her, anyway? She probably thinks masturbation is a sin, makes you go blind, and crap like that. I mean, look at this: all these big red ‘Xs’ after the word ‘insert.’ A lot of nerve she’s got!”
I could not argue with Stewart. No one could ever successfully argue with Stewart. Doubtless, there was something worthwhile about the idea. But expecting Miss Thompson to appreciate it, a woman who probably hadn’t permitted herself a sexual impulse since before the Great Depression, represented a big misjudgment. That was Stewart. His ideas, he thought, were self-evidently brilliant and everyone should accept them without any hesitation.
Stewart’s parents supported him, of course. They even complained about the teacher to the principal. But, those were the days before parents felt empowered to make demands and engage legal counsel. Miss Thompson was on her way to retirement by the end of the year anyway. Elvira Thompson survived and so did Stewart, who was already seen as peculiar if brilliant by his classmates. He wasn’t required to go to a psychiatrist in the end. But every so often Stewart would comment at lunch about “that bitch Elvira Thomson.” He didn’t forget and he didn’t forgive.
I lost track of Stewart after graduation. We went to different colleges about a thousand miles apart. He proved to be an engineering and technology guy. I was more into psychology and history.
If you do some research you will discover that Stewart was ahead of his time when he wrote his essay. A number of manufacturers do make masturbation machines today. They started about 20 years after Stewart first had the idea, with crudely assembled rubber hoses and vacuums that were converted from floor-model home vacuum cleaners.
In thinking back to that time, I actually searched Stewart out on the internet. It turns out the Stu had the last laugh. He became an inventor and made a fortune. As you’ve probably guessed, one of his products is indeed a masturbation machine, although much smaller, portable, and less public than the “coke machine” version he first wrote about. It looks pretty sleek, actually. On the side of it there is the picture of a sexy and alluring woman, the sort of female, I suppose, that a man might fantasize about “in the act” of using the device.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention that the machine has a name. It is called the “Elvira T. Dominatrix Masturbation Dream Maker: Pleasure Dome Model.”
In case you are wondering, there is no “Stewart Slonimsky.” What you’ve just read is a work of fiction. The top image is Berlin Masturbation Machine art exhibit, 3/27/11 by user:Ctac. It is followed by Head of an Old Woman, probably a nurse, ca. the third or second century B.C; artist unknown, photographed by Jastrow. Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.