Hose: Something Something Something Phallus Joke
Sitting in an oddly spotless dorm room on the sixth floor of the Centro de Treinamento dos Missionarios in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I was amazed to find my friends engaging in an open discussion on masturbation. Our open window invited a breeze, but only the sound exuded from the busy streets below entered in. I’d never actually discussed masturbation with anyone before, and I was taken off guard that such a conversation would take place in a church building as we prepared to serve two-year missions for the LDS church. Five other nineteen-year-old boys, who were also studying in preparation for their deployment, populated my dorm. I hadn’t said a word in the conversation; I just listened and tried to fill in the gaps between the conversation and my own understanding.
I thought of the spring of my sixth grade year. I’d stumbled onto the 1998 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Video broadcast on TNT. I had seen breasts before; this, however, was entirely unlike any experience I had ever known. One of the few previous experiences I’d had was a very early memory of walking in on my mom as she dressed. I nudged open the unlatched door to ask her a question. Her back faced me as she looked for something to wear in her closet. I would have seen her back, which looked much like my brother’s or my dad’s or anyone else’s, were it not for the mirror atop the dresser on the far wall. I saw the reflection of her topless form and instantly became quiet, trying to ease back out of the door so she would never know I had entered.
I was old enough to know that something was amiss, but I didn’t know why I snuck away like a raccoon absconding from a garbage can with a morsel of cheese torn loose from an otherwise empty pizza box. There are at least a couple of things wrong with that simile; first, the link between me and a raccoon seems fair but the comparison of my bare-chested mother to refuse seems a little harsh. The simile also fails in that the raccoon would have set out to pillage the rotting remnants in the garbage can; thus the cheese would have been the actual intended reward. He would have told stories to his grandkids about the fierce aluminum garbage can lids he wrestled for his trophy, whereas the sight of my mother’s exposed body was not my intention and was at least partially scarring. Perhaps a more fitting comparison for the raccoon would be if he went looking for cheese and accidently got his head caught in a mayonnaise jar. The simile succeeds however in showing that I was as sneaky as a raccoon. She never saw me, and I never opened another door without knocking, except for the time I took the garbage out and barged into the garage without knocking and saw a topless raccoon’s exposed breasts.
“I know you’re not supposed to do it,” started the boy on the top bunk across from me. Three sets of bunk beds with accompanying footlockers furnished each dorm room. I didn’t know the boy’s name yet, but he was from Arizona. We had all just moved in, and it was easier to remember people geographically rather than by their names. “But I don’t think it’s that bad to do. It’s like a substitution for doing something worse, like getting a girl pregnant,” he continued. I knew this was wrong. It was simple justification.
“But it’s still a sin,” said Nielson, the boy in the bunk below me. His was the only name I could remember. “Stealing a thousand dollars might not be as bad as stealing a million dollars, but it’s still a sin.”
I thought again of my experience as a twelve-year old alone in my parent’s basement with only the company of the beautiful Sports Illustrated models. One can imagine my surprise when, trying to smooth down the lumpy front of my ridiculously oversized XGames-inspired blue jeans, my hand bumped my penis, producing a feeling I had theretofore not known. All of the blood in my body seemed to warm my crotch and my ears. I flexed my buttocks out of instinct, slightly thrusting the entire pelvis region upward, off the couch.
I was in the sixth grade, still four years before I would mistake the gas pedal for the brake in Dad’s Suburban and smash the garage wall down into the basement. The basement had, thus, not been remodeled yet. It had originally been finished in a time when chestnut carpet and brown wood paneling on the walls, cradling a khaki couch could be referred to as comfortable. The couch was in good shape, but looked like something that might have been purchased out of the back of a van. Two recliners in yet more shades of brown, copper and mahogany, accompanied the couch in pointing at the TV in a large oak entertainment center.
My heart leapt as the girls on the TV struck unnatural yet strangely pleasing poses. I used my hand to press down on the front of my jeans again, hoping to produce the same sensation. My buttocks clenched, sending my apparatus again skyward.
Most of the guys in my dorm were from Utah or Idaho. I on the other hand had grown up in Lamar, Colorado. Geographically, Lamar is in the southeast corner of Colorado, but geologically, culturally, economically, and politically it’s more similar to Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, or New Mexico, all of which can be reached in fewer miles than the nearest Colorado mountain. Lamar is, however, a place of some note: this is where the very first telegraph communication originated. That heritage still runs in the blood of the people of Lamar. Dr. Samuel Morse stretched a copper wire all the way from Lamar to the Whitehouse so he could tell Teddy Roosevelt how much he liked his moustache. Unfortunately, Dr. Morse forgot to familiarize the president and his staff with Morse code, so the first message ever sent was, “Dammit. I forgot to teach you Morse code.” And the first message interpretation when President Roosevelt heard the dots and squawks of the machine was, “Dammit, he forgot to teach me Morse code.”
Two thirds of the yards in Lamar are nothing but weeds and dirt, mowed down irregularly. My dad, however, always kept a plain yet exquisitely groomed yard. I remember perhaps only two or three summers when he didn’t have the best yard in the neighborhood.
While earning my five dollar weekly allowance during the summer after sixth grade, I failed to notice a sprinkler head that had failed to retract into the ground, and succeeded in splintering it with the lawn mower and scattering plastic across the grass. Usually Dad would have called Mr. Schlott, the physics teacher at the high school who moonlighted as a sprinkler repairman, or Mr. Harbert, the sprinkler repairman who moonlighted as a high school woodshop teacher. Mr. Harbert always brought his son TJ, who was my age, along to help. I always hid in my room until they left.
Hiding out of shame for not knowing something manly was actually invented in Lamar. This dates back to the days of the Confederacy, when my great-great-grandpa Silas Anderson spent an entire summer in his room while his father spent the summer bonding with a slave boy that Silas had sent out in his stead to build a wooden race car for the father-son pinewood derby. The task intimidated Silas since he didn’t know how to use the tools. Silas’s father and the slave boy came in first in the race. They won a year’s supply of Old Doc Murphy’s Health Elixir and Nerve Tonic, which consisted of ninety percent cocaine and battery acid, and most likely killed Silas’s father within days of the race. His death was accounted to witchcraft; but on the plus side the tonic tasted like peppermint. Their car made it down the ramp in a record time: 11.2 seconds, a track record. Silas developed a slight inferiority complex toward the slave boy who enjoyed the company of his father’s last few days. Only two short years later, Silas, having never learned proper use or safety of tools, would trip on his own unfinished and shoddily crafted pine wood derby racer at the top of the stairs and fall to his death. His time in reaching the bottom of the stairs: 11.3 seconds.
The boy from Arizona mentioned wet dreams. At this I remember looking at the floor and waiting for someone to change the subject. The dorm had white ceramic tiles. The bed had left marks on the tiles where people had scooted it closer to the window to keep cool during the night. Even though the humidity made the day seem even hotter than it was, the tile chilled my feet anytime I jumped off my bunk, so I put socks on. I said nothing and waited for Neilson to admonishment the boy from Arizona again.
This brought memories of the many confessions I had made in my adolescence to religious leaders after each wet dream, usually sitting in the same blue paisley wingback chair in the Bishop’s office. “I’m having trouble with… masturbation,” I would say. Each time I confessed, seeking help in conforming to the commandment to abstain from masturbation, I received words of comfort and encouragement. Nielson started to say something in response to the boy from Arizona. I hoped he would steer this conversation to something more befitting missionaries.
I thought back to the time when I shattered the sprinkler in my dad’s lawn. Dad didn’t call either Mr. Schlott or Mr. Harbert. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t we just fix it ourselves? It’ll be a good learning experience for you.”
I presumed that it would be a relatively simple task. My presumption was largely based on the assurance my dad had given me that it would be a relatively simple task. Hours later, we had turned off the water, cut up the sod, dug deep enough to get under the sprinkler head, accidently cut the water line, dug up more sod to reveal the line I had cut, added “ten inches of sprinkler line” to our shopping list, and removed the broken line and head. With this done, we were ready to purchase the parts we needed and reverse the entire process. We drove in Dad’s red Ford pickup to Gibson’s, a local mercantile store.
Dad liked to get in and out. He didn’t spend time walking up and down aisles looking at cleaning supplies and Rubbermaid containers like mom did. He came with a product in mind, grabbed it, paid in cash and headed home. This time, we needed sprinkler parts, so he headed straight to the garden section. Since we didn’t know exactly which part we needed, Dad had brought the splintered stump of the old sprinkler to use as a measuring guide on the pieces in the store. We arrived at the sprinkler aisle without delay and began perusing the selection. Dad looked like he had more on his mind than sprinklers. His eyes darted as frequently to me as to the sprinkler rack, as if he suspected me of something.
The dorm room grew warmer as the late afternoon sun penetrated the still open window. A fan oscillated back and forth, but its cooling breeze was spread too thin amongst the six boys with cold feet. “Wait, what did you say about wet dreams?” I asked sheepishly, having lost track of the conversation. Another boy from the third bunk who wore dark-rimmed glasses and had a depreciating sense of humor clarified something about liking wet dreams since he couldn’t get any girls to go out with him.
“I think I should…” Dad started as we stood in the lawn care isle, but then stopped, looking at a few more sprinkler parts before picking one up and starting again. “This is a female end,” he said, pointing to the top left corner of the label which said in bold red letters, FEMALE. I nodded appreciatively, my eyebrows feigning interest.
“It’s like the male’s dong that goes in the female,” he squeezed out.
My attention jerked back to my dad. Neither of us had ever spoken of the male reproductive organ before. The “dong” hung between us on the sprinkler aisle. As he said it, he slid the male end of the sprinkler we had brought from home into the female end, zip-tied to a piece of cardboard packaging. In and out once more to illustrate his point.
His eyes squinted from discomfort as he looked at the sprinklers hanging from the wall. If there had been other people on the aisle, I could have searched out any stranger to communicate with my eyes, through that unspoken language as old as fatherhood, that I was ashamed of him. But there were only the two of us: He, checking my face intently, through his own uneasiness, for comprehension; and I, casting my eyes to the floor in aversion.
The birds and bees speech, unbeknownst to many, was given for the very first time just outside of Lamar. On a rock wall, called Picture Canyon, which dips below the endless flat plains, the Anasazi carved a deer and a buffalo and a man with pointy things on his head. While some translations of ancient pictographs vary, experts agree that this pictograph translates most correctly to: “It’s like the male’s dong that goes in the female.”
“I thought we weren’t supposed to have wet dreams,” I said carefully, hoping it would be Nielson that responded. “I thought they were a sin.” I felt my face turn red as I said the word, “sin.” Even at the Missionary Training Center, the word stumbled off my tongue. I thought of how sincerely I had tried throughout my adolescence to abstain from masturbation as I had been directed. In repeated talks with religious counselors, I used the scientific term masturbation out of respect because the slang synonym for what was happening felt too dirty to say in a church: wet dream. My mind worked more aggressively now, trying to assimilate this somehow into my paradigm.
Having not even yet learned from my dad that “the male’s dong goes into the female,” I hadn’t intended on coming down to the tanned basement to gratify myself. I had intended on watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show on Nick at Nite. This was the night, however, that I stumbled upon the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Special. I leaned forward on the brown couch, sitting at full attention, amazed at the beautiful, nearly naked women, bending and pointing their breasts, asses and crotches like I had rarely or possibly never seen on Nick at Nite.
My ears burned as did the center of my chest, and my breathing deepened. I gripped the remote very securely in my left hand. My hearing seemed more acute, so I turned the volume down, knowing innately that Mom and Dad should remain unaware of this. I listened for the sound of my parents’ weight on the floor as an early warning system should they decide to come downstairs.
The ladies on the screen displayed themselves so invitingly, as if they wanted me to touch them. They looked into the camera as if they wanted anyone to touch anything they could get their hands on. I had never touched myself before. I had never before heard that touching one’s self was a reasonably common or enjoyable occurrence. On the playground, one of the more streetwise kids, taught us to chant, “In the jungle you must wait, till Kendra starts to masturbate,” at a classmate. I had no idea what it meant, but I wanted to encourage any teasing that was not at my expense. I learned not ever to ask questions about anything that I didn’t understand after Travis Hall made the mistake of asking what someone meant by their use of the term “hard on,” which I also did not understand, and spent a month labeled as “Baby Dick,” which, once again, I did not understand.
I reclined on our old brown couch, having just discovered the reaction of nudging my pants while watching ladies bend at uncomfortable angles. I quickly became incredibly efficient, making a cyclic pattern of nudging my jeans, and thrusting my buttocks. I was amazed that I had never thought to make myself feel this way before, and that I’d never seen such beautiful women in so little clothing before. Breathing quickened. My hand and buttocks moved in perfect synchronization. Faster and faster they ran like pistons, sliding up and down, rotating on the carefully measured dimensions of a crank shaft.
The feeling was more whimsical with each moment, augmenting itself again and again, until it was perfect, until it was over, until it was broken.
I sat, moving nothing except for the involuntary trembling in my hands, lips and arms. My stomach felt empty but not with hunger. My breathing was shallow and quick, as it had been moments before, but now it was more labored and I became conscience of it. The women positioned themselves in increasingly sensual positions, but I had no desire to watch anymore. I turned off the TV with the remote still clenched in my left hand, my forearm and knuckles stiffening with fatigue from their anxious patrol. The hand convulsed as my thumb found its way to the power button.
I continued shivering, utterly confused about what had just happened to me. I knew that seconds ago I had felt life in myself like never before, until I had pushed too hard and now it lay limp and lifeless. I had broken it, squeezed the life from myself like a toddler with a newborn kitten. Had I left the TV on, I would have learned that it wasn’t broken, but I didn’t leave the TV on.
Nearly a quarter of an hour passed while I stewed in my confusion and impotent frustration. As the minutes passed, the ejaculate that had found its way to my underpants, having originally been the same temperature as my body, began to cool, and I noticed it for the first time. I wondered with terror what liquid coagulated in my pants, and prayed it was not blood.
I stood to check for the blood. I felt lightheaded, and my thighs felt thick yet weak. My hands still quivered as I turned to see a wet spot on the couch. I felt where the liquid had soaked through the back of my jeans. At this moment, I heard the floor squeaking under the footsteps of my parents. I knew they were coming down the stairs, where they would find me with wet pants and a broken penis. I had no time to scrub the spot or even dry it. I positioned a throw pillow on top of the stain and ran down the hall to my room. Months later, with my father at Gibson’s, I would wonder if the savage rape of the sprinkler, bound and gagged to its package, by the ravaged remains of the sprinkler head was inspired by the spot I left.
“A wet dream isn’t a sin,” one of the other boys said. I felt shaky and lightheaded, on my top bunk, just like I had in my parent’s basement years before. As my past was reluctantly pried from me, the boys in the room started to laugh. One explained to me through an unbelieving smile that a wet dream could not be helped or planned or even intended and was therefore not masturbation. I felt instantly as if I had been cheated, not out of wet dreams or self-stimulation, but into such unnecessary self-hatred. I tried to hide my trembling by holding the solid wooden bedframe. My head and chest grew hot again. My mind instantly recalled countless nights suffused in the minuscule red light of a digital alarm clock, waking up to a groggy orgasm that shifted swiftly and consistently to rage at my inability to control my basest self, arriving even at the point to strangle my penis between my fingers the instant I was awoken by the beginnings of a wet dream to stifle the sin from coming out. I sat as my friends laughed at my needless penance. I wanted to tell them to shut up. I wanted to tell them not to laugh because somebody should have fucking said something years ago. Each of my friends rolled on their beds or fell to the floor in the kind of exaggerated exuberant laughter found in bored post-adolescent boys trying to convince themselves of the fun they’re having.
Slowly, I forced a sly smile across my lips. “Are you kidding me?” I said, carefully controlling my intonation. I knew I had to encourage the attention to control it or else be branded Baby Dick or something like Travis had been. My knuckles stiffened as I continued holding the bedframe to conceal my tremor “That would have saved me some time waiting outside the Bishop’s office,” I added. They all got a good laugh out of it.
At least I learned how to repair a sprinkler.