Finally, A Movie About Circumcisions

[Headline, Huffington Post, 01/30/12]

This blog existed, originally, to host movie reviews. I expected to write many a word about foreskins. I was ready to write about afterskins as well, if any such should be found and filmed.

Imagine my disappointment at the dearth of material. How many reviews can you write about Moolaadé? And that’s female circumcision, which is not what I had in mind at all.

Eventually then, this site became a hangout for soreheads who wanted to ban circumcision, and for circumcision queens (don’t ask). Scuffles broke out. A pecking order developed, based on foreskin square-footage. It was an outrage.

So I cut and ran. I sliced off that part of the blog.

Sure, when a movie like “Neanderthal Cut” came out, I spilled a little ink over its depiction of Mankind’s first (inadvertent) circumcision, by chert. And “The Shame and the Glory,” about the artist Graarbeaart, who would paint only ripe tomatoes and the circumcised penis.

Are circumcisions making a comeback? They were so big during the silent-movie era! Can this blog finally stop temporizing and take the subject in hand? I’ve heard that the combination of IMAX and 3D has many directors interested in movies that compare and contrast the circumcised and uncircumcised member. Polling as audiences exit the theater indicate that 85% of men are indifferent to the images, cut or uncut. The other 15% have strong feelings. Matters are more confused with female audience members. Confronted with a 50-foot “thing” in its original wrapping, many were not sure just what they were looking at. Whatever it was, however, most agreed that it wasn’t worth the $14 ticket.

Character Sketches

Jamie Hernandez

Jamie Hernandez fought a lot as a kid. He wasn’t a bully, or always angry. He learned to fight from his older brothers, like a kitten might as it wrestled with its litter mates. A  punch to the face didn’t shock or stun Jamie; he punched back without paying the blow any attention, other than to note how it was thrown, so as to avoid any more like it in the future.

He began fighting professionally at eighteen. He married Maria at nineteen.

Their first big argument happened six months later, about having a baby.

At its peak, Jamie went into the bedroom and brought back a padded sparring glove.

“Put this on,” he said.

“Why?”

“I want you to hit me.”

“I’m not going to hit you. Are you crazy?”

“Have you ever hit anyone?”

“Of course not.”

“Your words are worse than getting hit for me. I get hit all time. Use up some of your anger before we go on.”

Maria paced, fuming.

“Just pull on the glove.”

She did, but without conviction.

“Are you going to hit me?” she said.

“Never.”

He gave her a little shove.

“Stop it,” she said.

“Think about that baby.”

Maria closed her eyes. Her breath was heavy. Jamie gave her another little shove and she swung her arm awkwardly and tapped the side of his face.

He shoved her again, lightly, and she swung harder, this time with her eyes open, and hit him in the nose. He stepped back and sat down on the couch. Maria stood looking at him. He reached out and took her hand and pulled her down beside him.

“I don’t know how I feel about this,” she said.

“That’s how you’re supposed to feel,” he said.

Mary Emiliano

Mary at fifteen was one girl in a group of girls at high school. She fit in. She shared the same interests and activities with the other girls. They were all attractive, bright, socially active, and cliquish.

This changed one Wednesday night when Mary had a vivid dream, or, as she thought of it – experienced it – a vision. A man in white told her that she was an extraordinary individual, that she was destined to accomplish great things, that she mattered. In the morning, the dream did not fade.

At school that day, she saw her friends in a different way. Each seemed distinct, different from the others. Her notion that they comprised a select club had evaporated. Her interest in fitting in, merging with the girls had evaporated.

She began to notice that many of her classmates moved in orbits alone, relatively unattached. There seemed to be a great deal of loneliness in the school. She spoke to some of these students. She developed tangential, fleeting, daily relationships with more and more of them.

By the time that she graduated, her vision still as bright in her mind as the night that it happened, she was part of, perhaps the center of, a complex web of human emotion and insight that connect most of those in her class, with each other, and with the world.

Walter Hanaway

Up to his thirtieth birthday, Walter Hanaway appeared to be a  normal guy, a typical member of his small-town community. He was a loving husband, doting father, dutiful son, hardworking middle-class fellow, born and bred in the county.

Walter participated in church, kept up his home, and got along with his neighbors.

He had hunted and fished since childhood. He killed a variety of animals, dressed his kill, and shared the results at the dinner table with his family. Dead eyes never bothered him.

On his thirtieth birthday, as he drove home from work, a girl darted in front of his car, out of nowhere. He hit the brakes, but the car struck her full on, throwing her off to the side. When Walter jumped out and ran over to her, he recognized immediately the death in her eyes.

He was upset of course. Called in the accident and waited for the police and an EMT truck to arrive. Answered questions, watched the officers measure the skid marks, watched the girl’s body taken away.

What bothered him later was that, looking down on the girl, he felt the same as  he did when looking down on a dead deer, or rabbit, or fish. That did not seem right to him.

Later, when a friend invited him fishing, he said no without thinking. He did not renew his deer license. One day his wife came into the kitchen and found him standing with a fly swatter, staring at a fly walking across the front of the refrigerator.

“What’s the matter with you?” she said. She took the swatter from him and killed the fly.

Word got around that Walter was not normal. There was something wrong with him. Rumor had it that he had sold his deer gun and fishing tackle out of town.

Shirley Washington

My mother raised four of us by herself. She had little schooling and worked at a series of clerking and other such jobs while we were growing up. We spent a lot of time at our grandmother’s house before we were in school.

Mother was not a warm woman. She didn’t smile much. I guess we knew she loved us, but you couldn’t tell just by looking.

After we had all grown up and left home, she went to school and finally became a nurse. She spent the next twenty-five years working in the ICU. She never asked for help from any of us. Every spare cent she had went to charity.

Late in her life, I asked her why she had spent the whole of it doing for others, never giving herself anything, including time? Why had she devoted her life to others, but with such a hard and unrelenting attitude?

“My life was ruined early on,” she said. “Ruined beyond fixing. After that, there wasn’t anything left to do but try and help as many others as I could while I still drew breath, including you and your brothers and your sister. It wasn’t happy work, but it kept me satisfied enough and gave my anger someplace to go where it wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

Michael Childers

Michael was slight of stature and wispy of soul. His personality touched those around him as lightly as thistledown. Hardy boys felt moved to sock him on the arm, just to see him wince, and speak to him with loud, rough voices, to try and move him by sound alone. These rough classmates did not injure him, in flesh or spirit, unless bruises to his mental world counted.

One day Michael climbed the hill behind his school. He was full of doubts. He knew that he could never share himself with anyone. Life was hard enough every day without talking to anyone about his feelings. At the top of the hill, he could look out at the countryside in all directions. A wind laid the grasses over and caused a quiet roaring in the copse down the far side. The sky was tangled with clouds, a colorless sun behind them. Michael looked up. A hawk soared in the wind overhead.

In that moment, he understood, as if someone had opened his head and insert the thought, that every individual on the planet was as small and as insignificant as was he, and that contrariwise, he could take in all existence just by looking and listening and smelling and touching the world around him. He stretched his arms out and came up on his tiptoes and let the wind wash over his face. When he came back down the hill, he moved with a strength that would carry him forward though life like a strong river current.

Joseph Ostrowski

At seventy, Joseph Ostrowski was retired but felt jobless. He spent a lot of time thinking about the past, which had smoothed out in his memory to a gray plain; the highs of his personal history were no longer so high, the lows not so low. He kept returning to those moments in which he had made bad choices. The others involved were probably all dead, senile, or unrecognizably aged. His old neighborhood had been razed years ago.

Then Ostrowski got up one morning and said to his wife, “I’m going to walk around the world.”

“Are you all right?” she said. “What day is it?”

“It’s Monday. I’m not having a stroke. I’m going to walk around the world. It’s a big place and I probably won’t make it back alive.”

His wife was a volunteer at the hospital. She gave him his breakfast and left for work.

Ostrowski put on his walking shoes and his hat and set out. By noon, he was out in the countryside. He refused several offers of a ride, although he felt hungry. When his children were young, he had spent a lot of time outdoors with them. The sun, heavy on his shoulders, reminded him of this.

He accepted a ride when lunch became more important to him than his future. The couple that picked him up stopped at a coffee shop in a village. The three of them ate and chatted and Ostrowski stepped out onto the sidewalk feeling better than he had in a long time. The new town and new friends energized him.

He took his own sweet time walking back and got home after dark. His wife took his supper out of the oven and sat with him while he ate it. They planned a trip.

Ivana Ivanov

Ivana Ivanova is mentally ill. She has been institutionalized. Getting a fix on her character is not easy.

As a child she was often angry. She threw tantrums and her parents beat her when she did. The punishment did not change her. She kept to herself but did not seem lonely. She was brighter than the children around her.

She did well in school, except for incidents. These were occasions when she flew into a towering rage. No one could control her then. The adults restrained her until the fit passed. They kept her in school because her test scores boosted the school average.

As an adult, her paranoia became clear, as did a split in her personality that was labeled paranoid-type schizophrenia. Her closest friend was imaginary. She got along well with him. She felt affection for him. She treated him with respect.

When not threatened, Ivana led a quiet life, following the pursuits that interested her. She processed economic data for a major university. She was regarded as attractive, bright, and rather strange.

Several fellows approached her but this never ended well. The last of them, having been drinking, became aggressive. Ivana responded with an attack that left him in the hospital and lucky to be alive. Ivana’s personal freedom ended then, for good.

If we imagine Ivana in a perfectly benign setting, we can appreciate her as an unambitious, curious, productive human being – unacquisitive and moderate. Mix in the realities of the world, however, and this person can transform, in a blink, into a killing animal.

Arnold Jones

Arnold Jones signed on with a ranch in southwest Texas right out of high school. He spent a lot of time in the saddle alone, down in Big Bend country. He was a lean young man with skin headed for leather if he worked long enough. He was twenty-five before he met a young woman at a church dance in the town of Beeman. He had no idea where the past seven years had gone.

“I can’t marry you till I know what kind of man you are,” his new girlfriend told him. Her name was Angelina. “What kind of man are you?”

Arnold scratched his head.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I never thought about it. I hardly feel like more than a boy anyway.”

“You don’t talk much, but you aren’t slow,” Angelina said.

“Out where I’ve been, there’s not much to talk to,” he said. “I never learned to drink or smoke. I can tell you that. I’m not much of a fighter, except when I have to.”

“I don’t mind your quiet,” Angelina said. “I’m no chatterbox myself. What about children? How are you with children? I’d expect to have a few.”

Arnold thought about that.

“I know something about calves and foals,” he said. “For the rest, I guess you’d have to teach me.”

“I imagine you’d be away a lot,” Angelina said.

“Not if we marry. The ranch would let me stay close in most of the time.”

They did marry, and Arnold handled his new responsibilities much like he handled his ranch job. He accepted the guidance of his wife, he took the position of husband as seriously as that of cowhand, and he found nothing to regret in his family or in the wide, spare land in which they lived.

Rebecca Sullivan

Rebecca Sullivan was a pleasant young woman who always had plenty of friends. Through high school and college, I never heard her ask any of them for anything.

“Is it just me, or is it hot in here?” she would say. Someone would open the window.

She ran with a group of kids who learned to interpret her comments and recognize the requests hidden within them. She wasn’t manipulative, she was just… Well, I guess she was manipulative, but mainly, it was just hard for her, or impossible, to ask someone for something. But her methods were a workaround, not social thievery.

Fortunately for Rebecca, she had the great good luck to meet Tommy O’Malley.

“Is it hot in here?” she would say.

“Are you asking me to open the window?” Tommy would say.

“Not at all,” Rebecca would say.

Tommy would sit looking at her and finally she’d say, “All right. I was.”

Tommy would wait.

“All right,” Rebecca would say. Long pause. “Would you please… open the window for me?”

Tommy wasn’t being mean. He told me that his mother did the same thing as Rebecca and by now he just automatically responded the way he did to any question that seemed like a hidden request. He didn’t hold it against Rebecca; it sort of seemed natural to him that she behaved that way.

Later, when they were married, my wife and I went out to dinner with them.

“It’s so wonderful that you have a new baby boy,” Rebecca said to us. “I think having a child must be the most wonderful thing in the world. What do you think, Tommy?”

“I think it’s too soon,” Tommy said.

“Let me rephrase that,” Rebecca said. “It’s time that we had a baby and I want your help.”

.

Can Men Hear When You Have Your Period?

[Headline, Huffington Post, 1/27/12]

I broke down and called Arianna Huffington on this one. I know that she sold her periodical to some company or other, but she is still the managing news manager. She keeps her ear to the ground. I asked her what she had heard about this, period.

What would  her mother say, back in Greece, if she read this article? Or wait, are young women actually asking their mothers questions like this today? If I looked into a high-school classroom during third period – or any period – would I see teenage boys chatting with the girls and then impulsively resting their ears on the girls’ stomachs?

My hearing is none too good. I almost got run over by a truck this morning and I couldn’t make out one word that the driver was shouting at me. A woman at work cut her finger and I heard her squawk, but I didn’t hear the bleeding.

The other thing is that a gentleman does not acknowledge, or even notice, any sound that might emanate from a woman’s body – or any odor either, of course. You’re sitting at dinner in a fine restaurant, or in your loge at the opera, with Lady Betsy, and no matter how violently your senses are assaulted, no matter what mutters or actual cries of outrage are to be heard from those around you, you remain oblivious, the slightest smile on your lips, and you bend toward her and offer her a mint and your opera glasses, clouded though they may have become.

Whoa! A Sheer, Tassel-Covered Dress?

[Headline in the Huffington Post]

A lady down the block wore a dress with two tassels on the front when I was a kid. It was the start of my interest. I thought that there was a tassellated woodpecker; it was why I liked birds. But there wasn’t. Tessellated darter, tessellated moray, tessellated cheese, tessellated fundus. No good. I’m not interested in tesssels.

When my wife was planning the wedding was when she learned of my particular interest. I can be quite demanding and fussy and precise on the subject. Not just about tassels on the bridal gown, but on the underthings as well. There is a honeymoon, isn’t there?!?

If you bend over, the tassels hang out under you. See, they don’t change position; they were hanging down before and they’re still hanging down, only now you’re bending over. In the same way, if you bend to the right, the tassels sway to the left. No they don’t, though. They just keep hanging down; you’re bended, not them. You can learn from tassels. That’s how they do.

Get yourself some tassel earrings, a tassel necklace, some tassel Uggs. You are sending a message, making a statement: don’t tread on me! Question: How is a tassel like a snake? Answer: If you step on your shoe tassel, your shoe is upside down.

There is a tassel fern. If you come over, you’ll see a house full of them.

The Big Ones

I woke up on the first day of July knowing that something big was coming. Very big.

I have a gift. I’ve always kept it a secret. My wife has an inkling and my kids have inherited a part of it, but otherwise, I’m alone with the knowledge that I am different. Perhaps I’m a mutant. Perhaps I’ve taken an evolutionary step. Whatever the reason, I see things and know things that others don’t.

I lay still in bed. My wife had already gone to work and the kids had already left for school. I lay waiting. I didn’t have long to wait. My cell phone tweeped on the end-table.

They called me in. Jane Forsch was in the hospital with a case of appendicitis. I was her replacement.

The launch protocol ran three full days. I called home each day, called my folks, call a couple of buddies. Everyone knew that I was on the list for a trip to the space lab. Finally, after two years of waiting, it was my turn to go up as part of a crew.

We were busy the three days, but the time seemed to crawl anyway. My strong sense of an impending event did not decline after I was notified. Instead, it grew.

Reclining in my launch chair at the end of the three days, sitting on top of a rocket, my dream was about to come true. But then, I had always known that it would. I joined the Air Force and entered the space program because somehow I knew, from earliest age, that I would leave the planet on a journey that would change everything for me.

The trip up was exciting but uneventful. Still, I was almost overwhelmed by my continuing foreknowledge that my life was about to change.

In orbit, I was so busy during the first hours that I didn’t have time to look outside. When I finally did, all I could do was stare at what I was seeing. Finally, I tore my eyes away and glanced back at the other crew members. It was obvious that none of them saw what I saw. I looked back out, then away, then back. I rubbed my eyes. I closed them and counted to ten. Opened them again.

The Earth was resting on an elephant and the elephant stood on a turtle, which stood on another turtle, which stood on another turtle. Of course, I immediately thought of Terry Pratchett and Bertrand Russell.

“Welcome, John,” said a voice in my head. I knew that it was the elephant.

“Am I still sane?”

“Quite sane. You can see what others can’t. That’s all. You’re something new.”

“How is this possible? I’m imagining it.”

“No.”

“But… what about science?”

“Scientific explanations always seems reasonable, until some new facts come up. Before the discovery of plate tectonics, professors in geology classes would explain how mountains are built. They sounded quite reasonable, but their explanations were baloney.”

“Well, yes,” I said, “but an elephant? You’re bigger than the planet.”

“You think I’m big? You should see what the galaxy is sitting on… Never mind. Look down at the Earth.”

I looked down. The blue and sandy and cloud-streaked globe seemed fuzzy to me, transparent. Looking closer, I saw that it was layered somehow. If I focused, I could pick out individual Earths, uncountable multitudes of them, perhaps an infinity of them, one upon the other.

“Are they alternate versions?”

“All the same world,” said the elephant, “but at different times. From creation to destruction. Concentrate and you can see the continents move. You aren’t far enough along to make out the alternate versions. That’s a whole different thing.”

I wrinkled my brow and picked out one instance of the world where humans had not yet appeared. Another where the lights of cities sparkled on the night side.

“You’re holding the whole thing up?” I said.

“Of course. I’m outside time. Although somebody has to hold me up, too.”

“It’s turtles, all the way down, like they say?”

The elephant laughed.

“All the way down,” he said.

“Can I talk to the one you’re standing on?”

“You’re not ready for that, John. He’s hard to talk to, even for me.”

I looked back at the planet. Time felt like a string stretched taut down there, a torus running through the core of the stacked worlds.

“You can check out the past,” the elephant said, “but I wouldn’t advise any future-gazing. That never works out well.”

I knew what he meant, that I shouldn’t look, but I did anyway, and as I did, I was reminded of a time when I sat in a doctor’s office and, after a series of routine tests, was told, incorrectly, that I was fatally ill. I remembered again the feeling that I had had, sitting in a chair in that office, the doctor saying something that I didn’t hear, me sitting and knowing that I was a dead man. It felt like that again, now, in space, as I gazed into the future of humanity. Only, this time, the doctor was not making a mistake.

Paco

The discovery of fire changed the course of human history. So did the steam engine. So did the Internet. And so did the programmer known only as Bob. Bob counts twice.

With Bob’s implementation of virtual reality in this imperfect and unhappy world, most of us traded our lives for that of our avatars. A few at first and then in a torrent (literally), our minds were downloaded to cyberspace and our bodies were composted. Why not?  In the virtual universe, we could live forever. Who wants to risk walking around in a body that could get hit by a car tomorrow? But Bob stayed behind.

As the human population shrank on Earth, physical resources became more abundant. The planet began to repair itself. The few maintained the many – until the population shrank past a tipping point, that is. Then, there were not enough folks around to keep the wheels turning. The living began to lose interest in the billions of us existing within the world’s networked machines. Someone needed to save us before those still walking the earth faded back into the forest and our computers, and our virtual universe, went dark.

Enter Bob the genius again. He realized what was happening when he could no longer hire an adequate number of technicians to maintain the system. It was up to him to save us. To pull us back out of our dreams. To return us to the real world, into bodies that approximated our avatars, not our original selves. Bob did this by reversing his original process – by allowing the virtual to become real again. Not just our bodies, but everything else in our world as well. The Earth now became a planet of fantastic landscapes, castles, and dragons. Bob loosed total Minecraft on Earth itself. Fortunately, our composted bodies were still available as raw material. Bob also used up all of Antarctica and a piece of the Moon to build what his imagination, and ours, had created.

We lost our immortality with the transition back, but none of us had had it long enough to make its absence matter. Nobody missed it.

At this second moment of triumph in his life, Bob fell ill. He lingered and then he died, without telling us about the one big string attached to humanity’s return. Paco.

For years, Bob owned a pet chihuahua. Paco. A feisty beast. When everyone began immigrating to the virtual universe, Bob sent Paco along with one of his sons. The dog was growing old and Bob wanted the dog to go where he could live forever. Later, when Bob became convinced that he could safely convert anything from the virtual back to the real – to the physical – he began by re-materializing his dog.

Six months passed as Bob globalized his techniques and prepared for the re-physicalization of all the rest of us. During that time, he tested and retested the mutt. Paco showed no ill effects. With that, Bob announced his new process to the world, not that many on Earth at the time were interested. Within a year, we were all back, and the better for it.

Bob’s last words were “Keep an eye on Paco.” Naturally, we took that to be the concern of a loving dog owner for the future welfare of his pet. In retrospect, Bob had probably noticed, there at the end, that Paco had grown a little. Not so much that anyone but Bob would notice, but some small amount that tickled the borders of Bob’s perception.

There is evidence in the analysis of Bob’s final work, as recovered from the computers in his lab, that he had begun an attempt to calculate Paco’s rate of growth. Whether or not he lived long enough to deduce that it was exponential, as opposed to linear, we don’t know.

Bob had no family. He willed his dog, along with a big chunk of his fortune, to my  sister Greta. I often thought that I saw a glimmer in his eye when he looked at Greta over the years, but it never went beyond that. It took Greta a month to notice Paco’s growth. By the time the pet was the size of a collie, the world knew. What the world did not know was whether Paco’s growth would continue and whether the rest of us would follow suit at some point.

Visiting my sister, I quickly learned that a chihuahua the size of a collie is a menace if his personality remains unchanged. Paco had to be caged.

Before long, as he grew, the dog was transferred to a lion cage at the zoo. Then he was transported, tranquilized, to a desert island in the Caribbean. The distribution of Bob’s immense fortune was dependent upon the care provided to his beloved canine, not just by Greta, but by the world. Otherwise, the dog would have been put down. A chihuahua the size of a tyrannosaurus would take down the tyrannosaurus, strictly because of its crazy attitude.

Paco was growing at a fantastic rate by then. Bob’s protocols replaced the virtual with the real, but his boundary conditions must have been marginally unstable when he did so. If he had waited for a year, say, rather than six months, before bringing us all back, he would have realized this. His disease didn’t provide him with that luxury, however.

The world watched via video, in horror, as Paco dog-paddled from his island to Florida and came ashore at Boca Raton. By then he was three stories tall at the shoulder. He was nettled and he was hungry. The Air Force took him out with a cruise missle, but not before he cleared the beaches. Some tourists ran; others were consumed. Paco still considered himself Man’s best friend, but he didn’t regard these little sausages on legs as men, or women either.

That was six months ago. When I dressed this morning, my trousers seemed a little tight.

…you bought her what…

You bought her what?”
“I, as I told you, bought her what she needs.”
“Well, I bought, unlike what you bought, her what she wants.”
“Humph. I bought her, unlike what you bought her, what was best for her.”
“Tell me what you bought her. What?”
“Ha. I will tell you. Bought her…” What?”
“For her dog. Better than what you bought.” “Her what?”
“Her dog Betsy. Remember when you bought her? What a pet.”
“So wrong. You bought her what her pet wants.”

[100-Word Challenge for Grownups]