DECEMBER 2005 – NO. 1
A thing to remember.
An overwhelming majority of European males are uncircumcised. Of course, I know this now but in the autumn of 1981, I was unaware that my peers hadn't gone under the knife. I had undergone the surgery the year before, somewhere around my fourth birthday. Though I was fortunate enough to be under general anesthetic for the procedure itself, the events leading up to and immediately following the operation are among my earliest memories.
At this time, a new store selling frozen foods was opening in Corringham town center. I was particularly conscious of the opening because of the glitterati who had signed up to commemorate the event in person. These A-listers included Darth Vader, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Spiderman. The man wearing the Darth Vader costume would actually be David Prowse, fresh from the set of The Empire Strikes Back!
I had known about these unlikely and wonderful arrivals in my universe for what seems like years prior to the grand opening of Freezer World. I also knew that when my mother crouched down so that she could talk to me at eye-level, it could only mean bad news. "Grant," she said in a soft tone, tilting her head slightly. Dropping the bomb had to have been made more difficult by my jubilant disposition and exemplary behavior in the days leading up to the grand opening. A bright child, I knew what was happening immediately. I was going to be missing out on seeing the characters that loomed largest in my little existence because of a foreskin that just wouldn't do. Anything she might have said after that would have been totally drowned out by my wails, so I shan't deign to misquote her here.
If the operation had been mentioned before this moment, my preoccupation with the grand opening had relegated it to mere background noise. This time, it sunk in. I was suddenly being dealt a massive double blow. Her eyes welled up as she saw my expression confirm that I was beyond distraught, and she held me close. I squeezed her back even though I knew she was half of the duo who had decided to have the end of my penis cut off. And at four years old! Most ritual circumcisions may be carried out by non-licensed and wizened old sages wielding rusty blades, but at least the procedure takes place long before it could ever be recalled. At four years old I was already a rather well-rounded human being; I had a dress sense, a certain way I liked my hair to be combed, and even a vocalized penchant for southern Italian cuisine. Christ, I had already tried to run away from home at age three: I was actually headed to New York City to investigate the city's seedy underbelly. I knew it then as Gotham; I was on my way to be Batman. I made it a hundred yards before the milkman spied me clutching my wicker suitcase, resplendent in my miniature cape and cowl, and returned me home.
I might have asked for a reason for the mutilation of my genitals back then but the answer has since been lost in the annals of time. I was temporarily relieved of my ill will towards my parents with the removal of the sutures, and shortly after the surgery, I decided I had been given a fait accompli and swiftly moved past it, resolving to keep all penis talk with my parents to an absolute minimum for the next twenty years, until it transpired that, against my wishes, they became avid readers of my sex column for Nerve.com, "I Did It for Science." But once I turned five, my new penis with its little pink berry tip was unfortunately under scrutiny once again.
Corringham primary (elementary) school had an outdoor heated pool, meaning that we had weekly swimming lessons during all but the very coldest days of the year. Four feet at its deepest and heated to around eighty degrees, the pool was really more like a heavily chlorinated Roman bath and a welcome respite to coloring, spelling, and quaffing down creamy, unhomogenized milk. A couple of volunteer mums would be helping the less bright or "independent" kids in and out of swimming trunks, hats, and the occasional rubber verruca (plantar wart) sock in the decidedly chilly outdoor changing rooms.
Though it wasn't actually Barbara, an auxiliary "mum," who started the pointing, she certainly didn't rush to save my blushes when one of my douche-bag school-mates screamed, "There's sumfink wrong wiv Grant's willy!" Barbara, who now that I think about it was then slightly younger than I am now, stooped over and took herself a ganders to the shrieking delight of my colleagues. I stopped toweling my head and quickly covered my shame. Hatchet-faced Babs did a fairly shitty job of disguising how confounded she was by my modified member and I was mortified. Mortified enough to break the self-imposed omerta and ask my parents precisely why I had to be the buck-toothed five-year-old with the comedy penis. And just who else was cutting up their kids?
The Jewry was mentioned. This was contextualized when my mother told me that her friends Francine and Clayton were, in fact, of the tribe. "Does Clayton have a, y'know?" I asked pointing downwards. "No," I was told apologetically. "He converted." It was then explained that the operation was de rigueur in America. America, home of Kermit and Miss Piggy? America, home of Spiderman, Batman, et al.?
My uncle Philip, I was told, had had the procedure at birth. In 1981, Phil had moved to Houston, Texas. Incidentally, he attended an almost exclusively Jewish high school in north London. It seemed that the circumcised in Britain were either being unwittingly groomed for the yarmulke, the colonies, or both. Consequently, I had an affinity for Judaism, a longing for America, and an unhealthy obsession with my own penis by the age of five. It seems fitting then that here I am in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, living with a nice Jewish girl and having made a decent, if intermittent, living reporting on the behavior of my penis in the New World.
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