Wednesday, October 27, 1999

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A little red book about a big (so he says) object of obsession.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 1999 at 12:00 AM

There are three good quotes, 36 pictures of naked guys contemplating their snopps, 25 pieces of trivia we never asked for (Did you know that "eunuchs of the Chinese Imperial Court often carried their pickled testicles in jars which they displayed around their necks?"), 92 terms for masturbation, and a penis-stand-up-comedian (the Jerry Seinfeld of jockstraps) in Joseph Cohen’s The Penis Book.

The acknowledgment page is worth a second glance, mainly for the bit about the author’s mother, who asked, "Why would anyone do a book about peanuts?" (A nostalgic Pleasantville moment is in order here, the scene in which mom asks remote-controlled daughter, Reese Witherspoon, "What is sex?")

But enough sentiment! Nostalgia is a disease and we should stay away from it, especially while leafing through the potent pages of this little red book ... (which reminds me of a friend who used to date this large, impotent man, God knows why, ’cause smart he was not, nor was he good-looking, rich or kind. The only time they went out, they ended up at the corner deli where he ordered "the special," a bowl of soup, a pickle and half a sandwich which he devoured in a second – "I’m ravenous!" – pleasantly surprised by the cheapness of their magical evening ... )

So: this little red book. Why is it out there, adorning the opulent windows of our neighborhood bookstores, winking coyly at new customers, sporting a ripe banana on its cover, ready to be peeled by a soft, caressing hand also capable of "tickling the Elmo," "spanking the frank," "seasoning the meat," "playing with the noodle," "wrestling the eel," or, simply, "flogging the log" while indulging in a mellifluous "flute solo?"

(Too much detail for you? Then stay away from American Beauty and its wet suburban dreams which might shatter your marital illusions).

And now for something completely different: the – extremely sparse – witticisms. "God gave us a penis and a brain, but only enough blood to run one at a time" (Robin Williams) and "The good thing about masturbation is that you don’t have to dress up for it" (Truman Capote).

Which, of course, reminds me of my friend and her impotent companion who claimed they went to the deli so that she wouldn’t have to worry about evening wear ... Did I say three good quotes? Sorry: I meant to say two.

Anyway, this guy, the deli lover, read only Ford Madox Ford, which should have clued my friend in – but didn’t – especially since he was buying 90-cent copies of The Good Soldier for everyone who crossed his path.

Do you remember the story? Husband and wife on their honeymoon, on a cruise, I think. In the evening, she locks the door to her cabin since she prefers to be alone on account of "a heart condition," but gives him a giant ax telling him that, in case of emergency, he should break down the door. He doesn’t. Every night she’s seen with another man, but the husband suspects nothing, understands nothing, and does nothing.

Thus ends the great novel of pan-Anglican impotence, the pillow-book of my friend’s ex-boyfriend whose favorite movie was Dr. Strangelove, mainly for that low-angle missile shot in the opening sequence and the fact that, in the war room, the generals smoked really big cigars while deciding the future of the world. ... Oh, well.

But I haven’t answered my own question: Why does The Penis Book exist?

Because we had to know "what hospitals do with foreskins after they’ve been snipped away"?

Because it’s another funny, informative, "how-to" manual? (How to get a penis enlargement: Carefully. How to behave in a public restroom: Be courteous to others, shake no more than three times. How to turn on your partner: Make love in the dunes.)

Because this little red book has more pictures than words? Perhaps.

I remember talking about another hands-on approach to romance, The Guide To Getting It On, and remarking that people had a perfectly good idea how to get it on, but no one to get it on with. Details.

And now for something completely different: Love in the dunes, my favorite subject. Not the act itself but the idea of it, the fascination of those treacherous Moroccan sands captured in Bertolucci’s film, The Sheltering Sky. A haunting scene: a man and a woman – Port and Kit – riding bicycles on a dusty road, marring the landscape with their presence. Tangier, "the dream at the end of the world," the International Zone of Despair.

There is a rapid sequence of shots: Port and Kit trying to make love in the sands. Port withdrawing, hurt. The desert mocking him from a distance. Then, an extreme close-up of Port’s face, expressionless, waiting.

The sparse movements of the camera reveal the character in all the splendor of his desperate choice: Port is there to die. There is nothing anyone can do for him now. He is a composer, but he prefers to say that he does, for a living, nothing. To make a film in Tangier where "spies, war criminals, Nazis, remittance men, disbarred lawyers, unlicensed doctors and defrocked priests" are reborn, is to make a film inside a film.

"I am a humble servant of reality," Bertolucci claims as he remembers a poem once written by his father, "Sand is sand moved by the wind."

Love in the dunes ... Pity there’s no room for romance in this little red book about the male member. Pity there’s no room for Romance – not the Hollywood surrogate, but the raw, sweet force which stills the rage and makes the angels weep – in any of the recent "guiding" books.

Oh, well.

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