Consider the penis.

All right, quit laughing. And there's a reasonable chance that you are laughing; the very first issue of National Lampoon, back in 1970, had a piece that began: "What's the funniest thing in the world? Right, but we can't show an erect penis in this magazine." Viewed out of context — hell, viewed in context most of the time — this is one goofy-looking body part, certainly not the sort of, um, thing that is invested with a whole sackful of mystique. Even the name sounds faintly silly, though whether this is due to a failed attempt at onomatopoeia (itself a silly-sounding word) or simply having heard it uttered by four-year-old girls (or forty-year-old feminists) must be considered highly arguable, and the traditional third-declension-Latinate plural form, "penes", is even worse. Playboy, noting this lack of euphony, once suggested that we might as well just say "dick" and be done with it.

Whatever its nomenclature, though, the one-eyed wonder worm (one of Robin Williams' dozens of dick descriptions) does strange things to the mental processes of its owner. By my ongoing (and, needless to say, highly unscientific) survey, 85 percent of men report possession of a larger-than-normal penis — I guess it's probably 100 percent in Lake Wobegon, though I really can't bring myself to ask Garrison Keillor — and 95 percent wouldn't object too strenuously if the Creator would bestow another inch or three, since 100 percent, give or take John C. Holmes, believe that women prefer such things. (I have asked no women about this, mainly because of a, uh, speech impediment. Yeah. A speech impediment. That's the ticket.) Hard-coded into the Y chromosome somewhere, I suspect, is the belief that every female over the age of nine remembers every single penis she's ever seen, and keeps the memories on file for instant reference — in order of length, of course.

Then there's that whole circumcision business. The Judeo-Christian tradition of plastic surgery at the tender age of a couple of weeks has always struck me as more than a little odd; on the other hand, ritual is one of the more defensible characteristics of organized religion — if your life has somehow become screwed up (and whose hasn't?), there can be comfort in falling back on the familiar — and I'm pushing fifty and would hate like hell to have to have it done today. The question of which looks better, cut or uncut, I leave to the connoisseurs; I won't even speculate on any variation in functionality.

As the owner of one of these odd devices, I am often at a loss. When I was a boy, I understood it hardly at all, and since the standard parental advice of that era was "Go away, Bonanza is on," I still hadn't learned much by the time I got married. Some might argue that even today I haven't learned much, though the available evidence, pro or con, is depressingly sparse. I have learned that there's a place for the penis in Presidential politics; no one can imagine George W. Bush — and no one wants to imagine Al Gore — getting a hummer in the Oval Office. I have learned that pointing and laughing is surprisingly effective as a means of birth control. And I have learned that, in my case anyway, the penis is like an old, hyperexpensive sports car: except for the rare special occasion, there's damned little opportunity to take it out.

The Vent

#244
8 May 2001

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 Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill