circumspection

What’s the big deal with foreskins? Why are so many people obsessed with removing them from the undeveloped organs of young children? Why are so many other people so concerned with preserving them on the undeveloped organs of young children? In short, why all the ruckus? Yes, I’ve heard the argument for health. Yes, I’m aware that some vague and widely referred-to studies show that there is a nominal advantage to circumcision, that it prevents AIDS and other STD’s, that it is cleaner and less prone to skin disease, etc. I don’t care. To put it simply, I think it’s perverse that an entire society cares about what happens to that little arguably extraneous flap of skin of the tip of my penis, before I even know what a penis is, let alone a foreskin. I think everyone should just lay off the –

Sorry kind reader, I don’t mean to snap (snip?) at you. I think I’m upset. Let me explain to you why I am upset.

It was 1990. I wasn’t old enough to know this at the time but The New Kids On The Block were getting ready to release their album Step By Step. Even though it would sell a lot of albums, it would not be well received by critics. I didn’t care. I didn’t know music. I didn’t read newspapers. I didn’t even speak English, apart from that one phrase I heard my father utter once or twice: “sunofabitch.” I was just an almost-five-year-old immigrant Russian boy eating my mother’s reesavaya kasha, sitting atop a phone book and dangling my feet gaily.

The grown-ups knew. There were signs. The men kept yelling merrily at each other, laughing, raising their eyebrows and lifting mock shot glasses of vodka in my direction. The women spoke to each other in muted tones, my mother occasionally shooting worried glances in my direction. Meanwhile, I sat and dangled my feet like the little fucking idiot that I was. I was oblivious; if I had known how to whistle at the time, I probably would have whistled. It was in this state of reckless bliss that my father stomped toward me, thrust his giant leathery hands under my armpits, bumped me against a nearby crossbeam, and placed me on this shoulders. He might have said something like, “Opa – maybe I drink too much. Yan, you drive!”

Being a small child, I loved drives. I loved piling in next to my father in circa-1980 Oldsmobile holding on to the red plush bench seating for what dear little life I had. Seat belts? Never. Adventure was the name of the game. Drives were play time. But not on this day. This day, I was ushered with prods into the waiting arms of my mother in the back seat of the car. A large pile of ragged Soviet towels sat next to my mother on the seat. In the drivers seat sat my uncle Yan, with my tipsy father sitting shotgun. This unfamiliar configuration upset me and I cried out. My mother held me, stroked my little blond curls, and whispered “shhhh” into my ear. She kissed me lightly on the temple now and then. If I had been anything but a stupid immigrant child, I would have recognized this as the classic pattern of behaviour surrounding a sick pet being put out of its misery. But alas, I missed the signs.

We arrived at the hospital. White lab coats and green nurses’ scrubs filled my vision. Then one of the lab coats spoke. He said something in English, but I couldn’t make out what it was behind his operating mask. He kept making snipping signs with his hand. I must have looked confused, because he pulled down his surgical mask so that he could be heard better. As he did, I noticed the pencil mustache teetering along the bottom of his giant upper lip. If I knew then what I know now, I would immediately have identified the doctor as what he was – a child molester. The child molester pointed to his chest and said in his best Russian accent something that sounded like “Teeber Juda” It took me a moment or two to realize that this was his name.

We were walking down the crowded hospital hallway, my mom holding my hand while the Doktor and my father strolled ahead of us, seemingly talking shop. “I have Ph. D.,” he probably said, “it is kind of doctor, yes?” My mom, meanwhile, was making up a silly song to distract me. Teeber Juda! On syel chetyri blyuda!, she kept repeating in her motherly falsetto. This roughly translates to Teeber Juda! He ate four dishes! Normally, my mother’s irreverent silliness was comforting. But today I was scattered and overstimulated. Wait, what? I thought. Why? Why is he eating four dishes? And four dishes of what? Is it, like, a four-course meal? Appetizer, salad, entree, and dessert? Or was he eating the actually dishes? How did he do that? What was going on here?!

This was not a productive train of thought. I couldn’t think with all these bright lights. I was in the gurney. My small body was held down by a mountain of rough heated blankets and the casual hands of a large Jamaican lady, presumably (and hopefully) the nurse. I looked around the room. No one seemed to be paying attention to me. Everyone was busy tinkering with this valve and adjusting that reading. The nurse made a tsk-ing sound at a passing coworker, laughed, then yelled something about “disjuboi”. Then the Doktor filled my vision. (Teeber Juda! On syel chetyri blyuda! Teeber Juda! On syel chetyri blyuda!) He signaled that he was going to go to sleep. I was confused (why was a grown-up asking me for permission to nap?), but I was pretty okay with it. I was so okay with it, in fact, that I would to take a nap myself. With all these people around me working and joking, I decided that I was tired and wanted to sleep. So I did.

I woke up to something amiss. The enormous stack of blankets still pressed me down to the bed. The lights were still too bright. The large Jamaican lady smiled at me from nowhere in particular and hummed some happy tropical tune. My parents and uncle were no longer in the room, but I could hear the umistakable din of Russian conversion in the hall – a sound like the crackling of birchwood in an old rusty samovar. The situation had largely not changed, except that I could not feel my crotch. The area between my knees and my hips was a dead-zone, the unlikely site of some tiny nuclear war. My crotch now suffered from post-apocalyptic nuclear winter. I tried to poke myself through the blanket, but felt nothing. Naturally, I understood that they had removed my penis. This was okay. I had never really known what it was for, anyway – just this dangling piece of flesh where my weewee came out. Or, that’s where it used to come out, I thought.

I continued absentmindedly punching the area where my thing used to be until the nurse grabbed my hand and cuffed my ear. “Dontchabedoinat”, she said. My parents walked in. My father grinned and tussled my hair. He kissed me on the forehead, muttering something about being a Jewish boychik, and handed me a small golden star. I held it in my hand, turning it and examining it from various angles. I licked it tentatively, at which point it was taken away from me. My mother made small grunting noises. I was then wheeled into a private room. The afternoon sun shone in through the teal shutters and made vertical stripes along my bed. I swatted at them. This was nice; this was quite, peaceful. A cat or a raccoon plodded along the windowsill and stopped briefly to look at me. It nodded approvingly and dashed away.

Then Dr. Teeber Juda marched in. He presented my father with a clipboard, which he signed, and proceeded to point at a particular spot on the clipboard. My father nodded and said to me in Russian, “We are done! All you have to do is pee in the toilet over there,” he gestured towards the door in the corner of the room, “and they let us leave. So, go pee!” I considered appraising my father of the fact that my peeing organ was no longer available for use, but he was already ripping off the blankets and yanking me onto my feet. I swayed and grabbed onto my father’s pant leg, then slowly shuffled to the bathroom. There I was presented with a unique problem: how to pee? I lifted my gown (when did they put that on me? I thought), and examined my mutilated self. In fact, they had not cut off my penis. It was still there, wrapped in a stained bandage, with its scared and retreating tip poking out the end.

“Pee!” yelled my father through the open bathroom door. Okay, I thought. Pee. But I couldn’t remember how. Suddenly, the only skill that I thought I had perfected seemed impossible. I stared at the gleaming white toilet bowl, willing it to fill with (my) urine, but nothing materialized. Pee, I thought. I braced myself against the nearby sink, scrunched my eyebrows, tightened my malnourished body, and thought, Pee! Nothing came out, but something definitely happened inside. It felt as though a throwing knife had somehow lodged itself inside me and the only way to get it out was through that little hole poking out from the tip of my khui (a naughty word, according to my mother). I sighed in despair and started waddling back to my bed.

On queue, Uncle Yan ran in shouting, “Hurry up! I’m double parked outside and I don’t want a parking ticket!” Back then, the worst thing that could happen to an immigrant was to get a parking ticket. His house could burn, his wife could spontaneously combust, a small child could be frightened to death by his malfunctioning penis, but a parking ticket would still be the worst thing that happened that day. And so I was shoved back into the bathroom and told once again to pee.

I squeezed and writhed and relaxed and jumped and thrusted, but nothing came out. I kneeled down, stood up, shook my shoulders, held my breath and clenched my buttocks, and still the taps remained dry. Finally, after crying and pleading for several minutes, I was able to coax a drop, a single crimson drop, from my insides. Then another, and another, more painful than the last, dripped from the tip of my weewee, and finally a small stream, as from a water pistol that has run out of ammunition, cascaded into the bowl. I dutifully flushed the red-streaked toilet bowl and ambled back out to impatient hands. While my uncle peered out the window and craned his neck to see if he had been towed, my mother whisked me onto the bed and wrapped me in those old Soviet towels from the back of the car. As if I didn’t look ridiculous enough already, she then slipped a hand-me-down Spiderman(TM) shirt over my head and placed me into a waiting wheelchair.

My father pushed me out of the lobby and called for my uncle to bring the car closer. My uncle was busy making obscene hand gestures at an ambulance driver, but quickly abandoned this task (after a final game-winning flourish) and pulled the car up to the curb. Again, I was whisked into the backseat; clearly a lot of whisking was happening on this day. The car sped off. I sat in the back much as I had earlier that day – confused and with my mother coddling me in her arms. I looked down at my crotch, wrapped in a slowly staining towel, and thought, this is very strange. My father kept saying that I had a done good thing, even though it felt more as if something had been done to me. He kept saying that he was very proud. He said that god (who?) was very proud. I found it strange even then that someone was proud of me for having the tip of my penis removed.

I didn’t say anything, however, because at that moment my uncle was walking out of a McDonalds (a McDonalds!) with that coveted of American delicacies: the McDonald’s apple pie. The one that comes in a cardboard wrapper. He handed it to me and patted me on the head.

So there’s that, at least. At least I got pre-packaged pie. Was it worth the trauma of my privates being handled roughly by a child molestor with a funny name and a doctor’s uniform? Maybe?

Six word novel, yes it is.

Six word novels

I’m not feeling particularly prolific at the moment; I can’t seem to eek out a insightful or even substantive sentence. But I still want to write: quite the conundrum. So I thought to myself, self I am forcing you to write. No, I said emphatically. But you must, I thought. Fine, I replied, I will write a piece of fiction, but it shall be the bare minimum of what is considered fiction. As such, here is my attempt at some six word novels. Six, in fact. It’s more elegant that way.

Don’t, said God. Do, said Satan.

Stole my girl. Killed his dog.

Speedy murderer arrested. Radar gun found.

Glass ceiling shatters; fatal bleeding ensues.

“I didn’t know she was gay.”

Think, said Satan. Obey, said God.

Here are some better ones. Please read mine first so that they don’t seem so limp in comparison.

the room

You wake up in a room.

The room is an almost entirely unremarkable room; its only remarkable feature is how thoroughly unremarkable it manages to be. The dirt-beige of the wall might remind you of a cheerfully clad and irritatingly shrill hardware store employee’s recommendation of “earth tones” and their supposed timelessness and economy. It is equally likely to remind you of the ancient tortured walls of a 16th century dungeon, anguish and despair having been caked into the stone slabs, creating an ambiguous and intuitively frightening hue. The point is that the colour of the room’s walls belie its purpose. It is equally likely to have been an inner city high school guidance counselor’s smallish office as it is to have been a recovery room for new mothers at the fancy new hospital uptown.

There are no doors in this room. You might have wondered why this was the case and asked, of no one in particular, how one can fill a room with no door and, more to the point, how you ended up in such a room. You might have, but you don’t. You don’t feel the desire to ask these questions because you don’t want to deal with the answers, in this meager and claustrophobic room. That is not to say that there is anything really unpleasant about the room. On the contrary, the lack of any door gives the room a cleaner line, a simple fluidity, perhaps even a minimalistic elegance.

Still, there is something depressing about this room. You cannot focus your mind on what exactly is causing it, but a stagnant restlessness permeates the space like the musty aroma of a middle-aged bachelor who has long ago given up all sanitary activity, having decisively asked the question “what for?” Others have definitely been in this room before and, you feel, they have observed it as listlessly as you observe it now. You look around at the furniture and notice nothing about it. A second glance produces the same result, so you decide that the furniture, like the walls, is probably generic, unimportant, just something to fill the space. It is not particularly sad furniture or happy furniture or despondent furniture or functional furniture or stylish furniture. It’s the kind of furniture one would find in a dead person’s home – faded paisley patterns and nicked wooden corners – or a prison break room – bolted down aluminum-framed couches and donated bookshelves.

You find yourself asking why, indeed, the space needs to be filled at all when the light, of which you can find no discernible source, flickers and dims. It is at this point that you notice there is a window in the far corner of the room, with a subtly different luminescence emanating from whatever is on the other side. Thoughts of leaving the room don’t even cross your mind. It’s not so much that there are bars or plate glass to prevent escape, it’s just that you feel a strange certainty that this is the only room. There are no other rooms, and even if there are, they are not for you. You feel no desire to leave, but wouldn’t mind glancing out the window, perhaps. As you stand up, the light reappears with a popping sound that could also have been the sound of yours knees creaking.

You saunter over to the window, which, you notice now, is not so much a window as a watermelon-sized (and similarly shaped) hole in the wall. You expect to see something, an object, a shadow of a face – something. Nothing materializes. Seconds or hours pass, and still nothing – just an ubiquitous darkness. You get tired of standing and sit down. You notice now that you are sitting in front of a desk with a piece of paper and a generic Bic-like pen on it. You’re not sure when or where from the desk and the piece of paper and pen appeared, but you accept them as part of the room just as surely as you are a part of the room.

You feel an overwhelming desire to fill the paper with words, pictures, scribbles, and colour the spaces with anger, elation, and this same desire itself, but nothing is happening in this room. Nothing has ever happened, nothing will ever happen, but you are here and that is something. You stare at the window, cross your eyes and smash the butt end of the pen into your temple – still nothing. Your nostrils flare as your anguish fills the air. Just then, images appear in the darkness in the window. Ghosts, faint outlines of lives, and wisps of conversation, all drift through the window. Pirates, nurses, and morbidly obese women reach out towards you pleadingly. You don’t want to concentrate too hard on these welcome intruders lest they disappear, leaving you alone again, so you start to scribble.

You write down everything they say. You draw every beard, eyelash, and nostril of every face that whispers hoarsely at you from the chasm in the window. You draw the rainbow of human emotion – rage, happiness, complacence, and passion. You have taken it upon yourself to record this room and all that occurs in the window therein on this piece of paper. It is important to record, you decide.

For whoever awakes bleary eyed again in this room, you must record.

Caltrain writing

Today, I wrote on the train on my way to work.  That is, I wrote while riding on the train.  I did not write on the side of the train with a can of rust-proofing spray-paint.  I don’t have a laptop portable enough to take on the train right now, so I was writing in a notebook I had swiped from work.  Yes, that’s correct, I was writing with a pen and paper.  Apple geeks seemed none too impressed with my lack of an electronic writing device, as if my avoidance of technological advancements was the worst possible crime against humanity.

Anyhow, I was having writers block, so I decided to write a story about it.  Try reading that sentence again.  It’s quite humorous.  This is what I came up with:

The Old Man