I think the penis thinks more or less along the same lines these days. When you’re young, of course, a penis is a wonderful way to have a good time, but as middle age creeps up on you other things start to grow in importance and the penis’s needs tend to take second place to the priorities of work, family, and how you’re going to pay the electric bill and the kids’ tuition this month, so at this point the penis and I have agreed to more or less live amicably together, but our lives are more or less separate at this point. It was not always thus, of course, but time passes and the caravan moves on, as they say.
The penis, however, retains its power to embarrass, but this does not happen very often anymore and the last time it did happen the whole unfortunate matter was not the penis’ fault; I should have known better. A few years ago, the brothers and me set off for Saratoga during the racing season. I don’t usually go along on these fraternal debauches; it’s not that I don’t like my brothers, far from it; it’s just that I have never seen the point of gambling. If I go to a bookstore and give them money, I get a book in return, and both they and I are happy and content. If I go to a racetrack or buy a lottery ticket and my horse does not come in, then I am out the money with nothing to show for it. This means that I, a person who is usually happy and content as only a confirmed pessimist can be, is neither happy nor content, but rather surly and snappish, and therefore rude to small children who can’t beat me up.
Be that as it may, however, I suspect that the invitation to Saratoga had less to do with some brotherly guilt at leaving me behind—they all remember in detail the time I decided that I was sick of having little brothers and ditched them all in the toy department of Alexander’s Department Store when we were all little kids, and then tried to tell my mother that they’d run off to join the Marines. My mother did not believe this excuse for a moment; she thought it unlikely that the Marines would accept three recruits ages five, three, and two, even at the height of the Vietnam War. Maybe I would have had better luck if I’d said the French Foreign Legion, but at the time I didn’t know such an organization even existed or if the Legion spent much time trolling through department stores in the Bronx searching for underaged recruits; than it did with my knowing the way to Saratoga, having attended a library conference there once a few years ago.
I delivered the brothers and the sister-in-law to the racetrack, where they left me to my own devices while they bet money they couldn’t afford on horses that would be dog food by the end of the year. I stood by the fifty dollar window and watched the races on the giant Jumbotron screen located in the track’s infield directly opposite, and as I stood there I started to think about the one hundred and one other things I could be doing instead of standing by the fifty dollar window thinking that I’d just driven eighty something miles just to stand on this bare concrete floor and watch television.
The less said about such nonsense the better, I think, after they had lost the last of their money and told each other how much fun they’d had losing it, we all went to the sister-in-law’s aunt’s house for supper and libation. The aunt was ready for our enthusiastic crew of unsuccessful horseplayers, with plates of food, desserts, wine, soft drinks, and great conversation in abundance for everyone. Looking over the tables groaning with food and drink, I was happy for the first time all day, and I sat down to enjoy this Lucullan feast just as any hearty trencherman would. I partook copiously of the food and drink, skipping the wine and beer; I was, after all, the designated driver for one part of this merry expedition. Steak, pizza, lasagna, sausages and peppers, garlic bread, cherry pie, apple pie, and pineapple upside down cake all disappeared down the gullet with the swiftness of embezzlers caught in mid-audit, and all of the above washed down by a tidal wave of Coca-Cola Classic, then the beverage of choice. I was the happiest of happy campers when we finally left the aunt’s domicile, intent on returning to our happy little burg just as soon as possible.
Then things started to go wrong. Before I go on with this, permit me to say that my brother’s stories of what happened tend towards the exaggerated, if not the utterly hyperbolic. Yes, I did point out to another motorist that I had the right of way in the lane I was traveling in; I don’t think anyone who looks objectively at the facts can really dispute this, but I did not accelerate, drive up onto the sidewalk and down a block just to make sure I cut him off at the next light. I don’t know how or why he came up with this story, but it is definitely not true in all of its particulars. Neither is it true that I screamed obscenities at other motorists, back up on a crowded highway at sixty miles an hour to get back to a missed exit, or try to run down a group of kids who didn’t get out the crosswalk fast enough to suit me. I’ll have you know that I’ve only gotten two tickets in my entire life and I have an excellent driving safety record, no matter what the brother says.
I did miss a couple of exits, though, that much is true, and missing them perturbed me deeply, since I don’t like driving at night on roads I hadn’t driven on in at least ten years, and that the idiot in the next lane kept blocking me whenever I tried to get over into the right hand lane to catch my exit did not improve my mood any; his blocking began to irritate me no end and I contemplated the risks of simply smashing into his side and forcing him off the road entirely. My brother, however, believed this a bit extreme, and suggested instead that we take the Massachusetts Turnpike to that thoroughfare’s intersection with the Taconic State Parkway and then take the Taconic south to hearth and home. This seemed an ideal suggestion, though I hadn’t thought the brother still capable of rational thought after all the wine and beer he’d imbibed with his dinner, but a good suggestion is a good suggestion, no matter what its source, and soon we were heading east towards New England.
The drive went well, I thought; we didn’t miss our exit this time around and the drive south was fairly mundane, except for the guy who passed us going north in the southbound lane; the brother and I both thought that somewhat odd, to tell the truth. We had just crossed over the Columbia County line into Dutchess County, home of Vassar College, the Smith Brothers, Trade and Mark, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the thirty-second President of the United States, when we began to acknowledge that we, or rather, I, had a problem.
The problem, of course, was the full spread awaiting us at the aunt’s house, as well as the large amount of junk food I’d already eaten at the racetrack. I mean, if you don’t gamble, and I don’t, then the only thing for you to do at a racetrack is to consume the overpriced food and drink, said food and drink being high in sugar, salt, fat, and carbohydrates, four of my favorite things in the world. Now, I know that many of you, remembering my youthful misadventure with a statue of the Blessed Mother, have already jumped to your conclusions and said that I should have gone before I left Saratoga. The trouble is, I did. I am also pretty sure that some of you who have been reading these rants for some time now are scratching your heads at the descriptions of gluttony written above and saying to each other, isn’t he a diabetic? How can he stuff his face with all of that crap and still be alive? It’s silly for him to take chances with his health like that, you know. I agree, it was silly to take those kinds of chances with my health, but at the time I didn’t know I was taking any chances; I was, like a good many people with my problem, undiagnosed. So I dug in and fed like a pig at a trough, armored in my own ignorance. My penis, however, knew the full extent of my problem and tried to warn me of the dangers, but, as I said previously, we’d more or less drifted apart over the years and I no longer paid much attention to what it had to say about anything. I should have known better, and I have no excuses for not knowing better; I chose to ignore the penis' warnings.
The drive south was, as I’ve said, largely uneventful save for the wrong way driver and a growing urge to go to the bathroom. I thought little of the problem, deciding that I could wait till I got home to relieve myself. I totally ignored the warning signals my penis sent me, which was a big mistake. The penis, while not the liveliest wit in a social situation, has many interests, including stamp collecting, Spanish language and culture, pinochle, and medicine, a subject he reads widely in. The penis knew, as I did not, that diabetes derives from a Greek word for a spout, and that while I was not a little teapot short and stout; I am six feet tall, too large for any teapot designed for home usage; I was filling up like a teapot at full boil. My ongoing efforts to ignore the problem did not work, and I shortly had to tell my brother that I was stopping the car. I tried to tell him this in as calm and collected a tone as I could manage under the circumstances, and then tried to put the car in park while it was still moving at fifty miles an hour. The resounding metallic screeching sound that resulted roused him from his drunken stupor and he demanded to know what the hell I thought I was doing.
I’d like to say here to all the inhabitants of North Carolina that I am sure the Tarheel State is a fine place to live and I would like to assure all of you that New York is a fine place to visit and spend your tourist dollars. Just remember that accidents do sometimes occur here, just as they must occur in Raleigh or Asheville or Charlotte or the Great Dismal Swamp, for that matter, and that sometimes these accidents are an unavoidable part of life, and that wanting to help your fellow man is a noble thing and something that society should foster, even in the face of the occasional negative reaction from those whom we would assist. There may be factors involved that you are unaware of in the situation; there are no omniscient human beings, after all, except for my mother; I know that because she told me so.
I say this because I’m sure those people from North Carolina meant well when they pulled up in front of my car. The Taconic is singularly devoid of lights for most of its length, and so I am sure that we must have looked like stranded wayfarers to these good people. I am not a Randian objectivist—I believe that altruism is a good thing when altruism is a personal response to a situation and not a government requirement—but the fact of the matter was that I did not want them to stop at all; rationally explaining to a good Samaritan that you do not really need their help while trying to relieve yourself is not the easiest thing in the world to do, and this is that much harder to do when your urinary system is performing the biological equivalent of the Johnstown flood. Like that disaster, there was no turning this flood off in order to politely explain that no, I did not need any assistance, thank you very much; there would be no quick shoving of the penis back into the trousers and then telling them to please move on, there was nothing to see here. No, the sphincter was wide open now and there was half digested sugar water backed up all the way into the kidneys and beyond, and I would have to stay rooted to the spot until my urinary tract was empty.
No, the disaster was general and ongoing, well beyond the ability of any normal sphincter to control, and so I had to wave one arm at a time behind my back to indicate to these people that I did not need their help. They, however, did not get the message. The window on the passenger’s side came down and a woman’s voice said something; it may have been, do you need a hand, but I wasn’t really paying attention. You may imagine for yourself how profoundly embarrassing such a moment can be and things were only going to get worse, as hard as that may be to believe.
You may not know this, but embarrassment and profound humiliation last for only a short time, and then having to experience these emotions makes you angry. There is only so much embarrassment you can take before you become enraged at the person putting you through this ordeal and I was no exception to this rule. I started screaming at these people to leave, to kindly get lost, to go to hell by the shortest route available, while at the same time questioning the South’s moral right to exist, what with their genetic predisposition to mate with close female relatives and their fondness for intimate contact with barnyard animals. Unfortunately, none of these insults seemed to make an impression on my would be saviors, and the light came on in their car and I was under the impression that the driver was about to pop out any second now with a cheery howdy do, neighbor, need a hand here? I tried to put an end to the urinary flood, to dam up the works, as it were, but to no avail, so I could tell this yahoo to go pound salt in as polite a tone as I could manage under the circumstances. This was not to be. My sphincter, an otherwise witty and intelligent muscle with no vices I know of beyond a tendency to hum Orff’s O Fortuna from Carmina Burana over and over again in a singularly monotonous tone of voice, refused to cooperate, and the flood proceeded as before. This weighed on my mind, causing me to lose sight of common courtesy, goading my rage and humiliation on to ever-greater heights. Finally, I could bear the psychic weight of this oppression no longer, and I turned and charged the helpless Tarheels, shrieking oaths, imprecations, and anathemas while soaking their vehicle with urine, my genitalia flapping wildly about like a gushing fire hose with no one holding the nozzle.
Needless to say, the Tarheels fled, their vehicle tearing away from the side of the road in a cloud of pebbles, grass and other roadside debris.
At length, the flood finally crested and subsided, leaving me with a terrible sense of shame for having so shabbily treating those poor people and for humiliating myself and the Empire State. My brother had sat in the car the whole time, watching the sequence of events unfold the same way nightmares unfold as we dream, slowly, conscious of impending catastrophe, but unable to avert the coming doom. We traveled on from there in silence, as men who have lived through a great trauma will, and as soon as I pulled my car into my driveway he informed me that he was never, ever, not under any circumstances then or forever after imaginable going to ride in a car with me at the wheel ever again. He still tells stories about that night, and I always point out that he got home safely, didn’t he, but I must say that the one thing I do regret about those events is what I said and did to those poor family from North Carolina. I do hope they will come back to New York someday. New York is a beautiful state with a host of interesting things for people to do, and I would hate to think that anyone would not come back here simply because I was having a bad day. We’re not all crazy here, you know, and the insulin does help a lot.