My first hint that something was missing came about age nine or ten. Some grown up or another had given my friend John a new Slip 'N Slide for his birthday. He and I and our friend Michael were changing into our swimsuits in John's bedroom preparatory to slipping and sliding on this most coveted Wham-O product when one or the other of them (I forget which one.) said to me "What happened to your penis?"
OK, he probably didn't say "penis," but you get the idea.
Now, I'd known John and Michael since my family moved to the suburbs when I was three or four, and we'd all seen each other naked before, but I guess we'd never paid much attention to one another's genitals up to this point. A penis was just something you peed with, and as for your scrotum, who knew what that was even for? Just seemed like an inconvenience, especially when you were riding a bike or fighting. (Or Slip 'n Sliding as we would come to discover.)
I bent forward and looked down. "What do you mean what happened to my penis? It looks just like it always does."
"What happened to the cover?" John-or-Michael said.
"The what?" I said. I straightened up and looked at John. Then I looked at Michael. And I don't mean in the eye.
Well, whaddya know? My penis looked like a little mushroom with a little brown stripe around it. And their penises looked like...
Well, I didn't know it then, but their penises looked like penises. Normal, healthy penises with all the original parts.
"You know what it is?" said John-or-Michael. "It's because Kurt's American, and we're German."
Now this was a delicate subject in our circle. "I'm as German as anybody," I said. I seem to remember giving Michael an accusatory glance. "Besides, you were born in America," I said.
"Yeah, but my mom and dad are from Berlin," Michael said. "Isn't your Dad Mexican?"
"What does that have to do with my penis?" I said.
They both shrugged.
"Look," I said, "I can make my penis look just like yours. It stretches. It's like Gumby."
I pulled down the loose skin on my shaft so that it covered the tip of my penis and formed a kind of a loose pucker.
"See?" I said. "Can we go Slip 'n Slide now?"
"Put on your trunks," said John-or-Michael. "Hey, your cover's rolling back. Can't you make it stay down?"
I shrugged. "Why would I want it to stay down?"
It would take me a few years to figure out the answer to that question.