The first time I ever saw a urinal was in the Yale Art Gallery.
Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain.
Blurry memory serves to tell that I cracked open a bathroom years later and was shocked to find the urinals were backwards! And copious!
A vomitorium’s worth of bowls for men to stand by. I was curious in a wordless way. How capitalism’s necessity manufactured peen-staring awkwardness. Sideways queues more awkward than the Communist bread lines I escaped.
What I’m trying to say is, I’m a special breed of prude. Stronger than the Catholic guilt kind.
The post-Iron Curtain Russian Jew. Secular, but ethnically Jewish enough have it marked on my passport. “Cultured” in upbringing, turning our nose up at Adam Sandler movies. Shelling out for a ballet or museum, but not reading the reviews first.
The first time I ever heard of a “hard on” was watching Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. A dark prison play put on in a suburban barn for a 40 some odd pile of old intellectuals. Carefully dressed in mothy red get ups, turtleneck dresses and broaches, perhaps trying to forget their own drawing room drama with equally stuffy psychological drama.
A prisoner sits in a carefully dusty corner, doing the nostalgia monologue. He remembers a dream where he was walking and his cellmate jumped on his back. You “grabbed my wad” and “gave me a hard on and I liked it” he says.
A mournful, jazz voice, probably a fragile Blossom Dearie-style white vocalist sings the title song in the background. And 11 year old me grieves for this tatty prisoner whose “hard on” must have been someone hopping on his back, grabbing his genitals and squeezing.
Anxiety is something I now know I also learned from plays. I left this one, and Miss Evers’ Boys, and other fanciful horror scenarios with confused wistfulness.
The dirt beige set was supposed to be extreme. Three men facing off, tearing each other down in isolation where they’ll face entropy.
When we stood up and looked around the audience, we were supposed to feel relief. In our neat get ups, still seated in a suburban theater in a converted barn, not a prison. “Look at those poor historical sods,” we might think.
But, I felt fearful watching the old people file out of the theater. Relieved we were middle class, noticing I wasn’t old or a prisoner. They bring their psychologist sons in tow, file out for a healthy dinner of braised haddock and broccoli rabe.
They and their urologists are separated by a thin fourth wall against three thirty somethings languishing in a cell. I shuddered and I knew it. I imagined myself as an 80 year old when I was ten, sighed about time passing by. All the while, sorry for the guy who enjoyed getting his genitals scrunched in someone’s fist.
And guys wonder why I can’t orgasm.