Growing up, I spent all of my summers at the Jersey shore. While writing the standard “Have a great summer!” in my yearbook at the end of the school year, most of my peers would vocally portray their jealous hatred of my good fortune to be able to spend a full three months at the beach. I shrugged my shoulders, generally, telling them to make sure they contacted me if they were lucky enough to be able to get down there for a week’s vacation.
Inwardly, though, I was the envious one. I was the outcast – forcibly shipped off in the Station Wagon to spend a summer away from my friends, only to hear whimsical whimperings of what was “the best summer ever” on the first day back at school.
“I got to go to the beach every day,” I contributed. It was a lie. It took entirely too much effort to prepare for a day at the beach, with the getting changed, and the multiple applications of sunscreen, and the preparation of the cooler with all the drinks and food, and the hosing of the sand off of your body afterwards… it was all simply too much. But my classmates didn’t need to know that I despised my summers at the shore and I was content with them envisioning me splish-splashing my glorious summers away.
The fondest memories I have of summertime were my trips to the Cape May County Zoo. It was free to the public, yet my family only went once a summer. By the time I was twelve, we stopped going altogether, but I still fondly remember happily scurrying around the zoo like the monkeys behind the bars.
Darting away from my family, I ran to the first thing I saw: the black and white striped phenomenon known as the zebra. A horse with a design. Big deal. For some reason, though, I sprinted ahead of my family, desperate to see the animal up close. Parting the sea of human observers, I stood, mouth agape, looking at the creature boringly munching on hay. Turning back to my family, I excitedly yelled, “Mom! Look at how big his penis is!”
Let me just insert a three part parenthetical comment in my defense: I was six; I had just learned names of certain anatomical parts; and it (the muscle in question) was at my eye level. Needless to say, the sea of human observers parted the rest of the way, as offended mothers quickly shooed their children away to see other, less-endowed creatures.
But why should mothers feel the need to hurry away their children? Why was my own mother so embarrassed at my vocal observation? And why, in the course of retelling this story, did I feel the need to interject with a three-part defense for myself? I mean, it did have a big penis. Six-year-old-me simply stated a fact. Is it the vision of a male animal’s anatomy that is the call for concern? The hairy sight of animals in their smelly natural habitat? I don’t believe so, because the mothers were perfectly content watching elephants lift their tails to unload a ground-shaking pile of yesterday’s chow.
If it is not the sight of the Twig and Berries that makes people uncomfortable, then perhaps it is the actual mentioning of the word itself.
It does have a certain ring to it. Whether or not it is a nice ring, I am unsure.
I can’t help but recall another story that my father recently brought to my attention. It was around the same time in my childhood, when, walking through a department store, I had my hand down my pants.
Embarrassed, my dad asked me what I was doing, and I offered the straightforward explanation that I was “adjusting my penis.” To me, there was nothing embarrassing about it. I was uncomfortable for whatever reason and a quick maneuver or “adjustment” solved the problem, akin to tying my shoe if the laces came undone, or fixing my hair if it got into my eyes.
So when does this word transform from nothing but a location on the body to an unmentionable combination of five letters that sends giggles through our grammar school classrooms? When did “The Penis Game” come into existence, where middle schoolers take turns saying the word louder and louder in a public place, until someone is too “chicken” to scream it? What about the word makes us turn our heads nervously, like at the eerie sound of an old door slowly creaking open? Peeeeee—eee—ee—nnnissssss.
In middle school, I prided myself in my ability to Cry Penis louder than all other participants. “Penis” was my battle cry. If there were a Member’s Only club, I would be President. I must admit, however, that I have deviated from that innocent six-year-old who was unafraid and unembarrassed to say the word. The Penis Game would sometimes pop up in college, but by that point I had lost my edge, always wondering if someone was within the reaches of my yelling who would think less of me for yelling that word.
I suppose that being embarrassed is nothing to be embarrassed about. It is simply human nature, after all. Someone who isn’t even slightly taken aback by mentioning of that odd word must clearly not be as refined as the rest of us. Right?
I sometimes wonder if this animalistic mentality might not be such a bad thing. Putting myself in the zebra’s position, I realize that I probably made him smug.
“Mom!” he hears a little boy yell, “Look at how big his penis is!”
He goes on eating his hay, pretending not to have heard. But really, he is thinking, “Thanks for noticing, kid,” and wondering if it was loud enough that the Lady Zebras heard the news that he is hung like a horse.