"You know, I think that was the first time I had ever seen a black penis." She said this with a mixture of reflection and surprise and from the look on her face you could tell she was mining her memory for some other instance when she might have stumbled across such a thing, that male anatomical member belonging to a person of a different race. "Really?" I asked a little shocked at her realization, she being one of the worldlier of my friends. Melissa sat there, on the stool, green Ani DiFranco t-shirt and jeans, one knee pulled up to her chin, short black hair, hip black eye-glasses, in a state of concentration. "Really. Now that I think of it. That was definitely the first one. I've never seen one in real life and I think that was even the first photograph I've ever seen of one. Isn't that strange?" The other women sitting around the table all agreed that it was strange. All of us married, all of us mothers, all of us way past the age where we were regularly saw any new penises, this was our semi-regular gathering and we were talking about a previous discovery of mine, The Big Penis Book. I had mentioned it as a sort of show-and-tell item at our last potluck knowing that these women, some preternaturally square, most formally wild, would have an appreciation for the concept: a giant coffee table book of photographs of men and their penises in various situations. The book was wildly expensive and none of us really wanted to have one on display in our living rooms. That thought was just a little too out there even for the most adventurous of us, what with the small children we all had running through our homes. I had found a website though that showed several sample pages, just so you'd get an idea of what the book was all about. Those sample pages were enough to convince us that we really didn't want to own this book. As people who have a shared appreciation of the absurd, however, we loved the idea of a person actually buying such a thing. A two foot square picture book of men in cowboy hats sitting in their pickup trucks, their flaccid member flopped over the steering wheel. Naked men stretched out on a bed, sheets wadded up underneath them holding freakishly large organs that when fully erect were too big for even two hands to encompass. And a black man, bearded, sitting in a grassy green field, blue sky above him, legs splayed open, penis flopped over to his left side. At our friend's revelation everyone slowly flipped through the card catalog in their mind trying to remember when and in what situation they had seen a black penis. All middle-class Caucasian women, a couple of our group had dated black men before; the rest had various experiences watching pornography and had seen such a variety that they could have compiled a print campaign for United Colors of Benetton. Of the group, it is very clear that I am the squarest. My husband and I have been together since high school, I had very limited dating experience before him, and, in general, I'm typically the one that blushes first when these sorts of topics arise. So it was a surprise to even me when very quickly I called to mind an encyclopedia's worth of penises and remembered why in the world I had them in my head to begin with.
I'm not sure which of my college roommates had found them but they rapidly became the most fun thing any of us owned. An entire deck of playing cards, one side of which was the ordinary random blue print typical of a deck of cards, the other side a wild and colorful array of naked men proudly and crudely holding their erect penises. Every size and shape and ethnicity was represented. It was a United Nations of pornography. We weren't sure what year the pictures were taken but every man looked distinctly frozen in 1981. Mustaches, mullets, jungles of chest hair. All of the men looked very angry and all of them were very sweaty. We were horrified by them. We found them hilarious. We played a few rounds of spades with them, spades being our game of choice that year, and then they got put away and we forgot about them. For awhile anyway. A couple of months after they were first introduced into our home a game both fantastic and terrible was begun.
I was the first. Going to bed one night, I pulled back the covers and there, waiting for me with that terrible and sweaty leer of his, was Mr. Four of Hearts. He had been carefully placed under my blankets, just below my pillow where I would have no choice but to see him when I went to bed. I shrieked. "What the fuck? That is disgusting! Who put him there?!?" I could hear two of my roommates standing outside my door laughing at their cleverness. I laughed too because it had really worked. I had been properly startled and surprised. And disgusted. It was a good one. And now I had my own ammunition. I just had to decide who was going to get Mr. Four of Hearts first. I decided on one of my roommates and her birth control pill pack. Unlike the typical clamshell variety, her birth control pills came in a blue, rectangular case, the perfect size for a pornographic playing card. The next night staying at her boyfriend's apartment she was horrified to find Mr. Four of Hearts staring back at her when, after brushing her teeth for the night, she popped open her pill pack. It was a whole new form of birth control, having that nude man, head thrown back in ecstasy, staring at you, hands wrapped around an enormous and fully vertical penis. The game was officially on.
I lived with seven women that year and everyone became a participant. No one was safe. No target was off-limits. In line at the dining hall when you would pull out your wallet, there, in the little plastic window where you were used to seeing your student ID was instead Mr. Eight of Clubs. Sitting in Art History, you would open your textbook and onto the floor would fall Mr. Ace of Diamonds and Mr. Two of Spades. As weirded out classmates looked on with their mouths hanging open you would scramble to collect them and stuff them back into your bag knowing that you were now officially labeled A Freak. Open your notebook in the library and there, scotch-taped over yesterday's notes would be a royal flush of depravity arranged very carefully and lovingly in the shape of a heart. We got creative. Slipped into the plastic sleeve of a cigarette pack, taped to the underside of a car sun visor, placed into the case of your favorite CD. The locations chosen for maximum surprise and the highest odds of being in a crowd. The game went on and on. Week after week we lived on edge because you never knew who you would be standing with or who you would be talking to when a penis card would be revealed. I was the first victim, and mercifully, I became the last. I think it was because nothing could possibly top what was done to me and how long I had suffered unknowingly. That year I had a job at my school's archaeology lab. It was an incredibly good job in my field and I took it very seriously. My advisor was also my boss and I had nothing but respect and admiration for him. He was a lion of a man, younger than most of the other professors, married and with a kid, but still possessed of the wildness inherent in every archaeologist I have ever worked with. As far as academics go archaeologists veer towards the outlaw type. Hard partying people who revel in their ability to spend all day digging holes and troweling features in the name of a more robust and accurate historical record. My advisor was that brand of archaeologist. He had spent his younger days working the most fantastic of sites and often after a particularly enlightening lecture my classmates and co-workers at the lab would all go out with him to discuss archaeological theory over a couple of beers. We were friends, my advisor and I, and I could tell that he was always possessed of a wistful attraction to what our lives must be like as college kids, still reveling in the novelty of our youth and growing intellectualism. I viewed this advisor of mine as a person of respect and authority and I know he viewed me as nothing more than a student and employee. Still. There always seemed to be a hint of the knowledge that if he was twenty years younger and we were digging holes at the same site there would be a world of different possibilities. As it was, he was not twenty years younger, and we were both content in our roles as student and professor. My advisor was a good guy.
The archaeology lab at my college was at the extreme end of campus. It was a twenty minute walk back to Trinkle Hall which housed our department but only a couple of minutes if you drove. One afternoon, when my work was done at the lab I offered to drive him back to the department since my car was parked out front. I had given him rides before so this was no big deal. We walked out of the building and across the parking lot to my car. I got in the driver's side and reached across to unlock the passenger side while he walked around the back of the car. I should have known as he got in and buckled his seatbelt that was something was up. He was always a laughing guy and we had worked together for a couple of years so we had a very casual jokiness about us. There was something a little different about his demeanor though that I couldn't quite place. He looked like he wanted to say something but instead just made a couple of innocuous comments and laughed to himself. I drove out of the parking lot and took him back to our department, wondering why he was being so odd. I dropped him off and drove home. It wasn't until I got out of my car and walked around to pop the trunk that I realized what they had done. There, between the obnoxious liberal bumper stickers that were the primary feature of my little black Volkswagen was an assortment of penis cards. At least seven of them placed very carefully between every sticker. There, waiting for the world to notice them, were a collection of naked men holding their disgusting naked penises, all on the back of my car. Dear god, I thought to myself. How long have they been there? How long have I been driving around like that? Holy shit. I was horrified. He saw them. I knew now why he had laughed so strangely in the car. My college advisor, my boss, the man I respected in my field of choice more than any other I had met or would ever meet had just seen my car decorated with pornography. Did he think I had done that? Oh shit. He has to know I didn't do that. As I ripped them off I realized that they had been taped on very well. Whoever had done this had taken their time. I gathered them up and ran into the house where my roommates were sitting in the living room watching Montel Williams. When they saw me come in with the cards in my hand and saw the look on my face they all burst out laughing. They fell on the floor. They pointed and laughed and congratulated each other on their victory. I couldn't help but laugh too as I told my humiliating story about my advisor and what he must think of me now. That just made them laugh harder. I was mortified. But. It was a very funny joke. I was kicking myself that I hadn't been the one to think of it.
After that nobody tried to hide the cards anymore. It seemed to be a silently agreed upon reality that there was nothing that could top my public humiliation in front of my advisor, not to mention whoever else happened to be stopped behind me at a red light. They had been there for days so there was no telling how many people had noticed them and had subsequently registered me as a freak. As I sat at the table with my friends, all of whom were trying to recollect the number and styles of penises they had encountered over the years I laughed at the twenty-one year old me. How innocent and bold we had all been. How clever and funny. My advisor then wasn't much older than I am now. I wonder what he really thought when he saw those cards. He knew me well enough to know that it was probably just some prank. But still. Maybe he did think I was some sort of freak. I liked that. The idea that someone could have potentially viewed me as a bit of a wild one. At most of the tables I have sat at over the course of my life I have been the squarest one. The one who has been attached the longest to her mate and who is the quickest to blush. That I could ever have been viewed as anything but that person charmed me a little bit, as well as the knowledge that among this group of wild women I had not been the one who had just seen her first black penis.
About the author:
Jenny Poore is a former archaeologist and coffeeshop owner who currently works for a company that imports/exports antique globes. She is a wife and a mother who should more properly spend her time dusting and folding laundry but prefers instead to put words to the pictures and experiences that exist in her head.
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