To recap: I was born in an American metropolis in 1960, the year infant circumcision rates reached their peak in the United States. Circumcision was especially favored at the time by American-born urban whites, so statistically speaking, I had virtually no chance of leaving the maternity ward in one piece.
And in fact I did not. As far as I know, my foreskin had become medical waste by the time I was a few hours old.
At the age of nine or ten, I had a conversation, actually a series of conversations, with my two best friends, John and Michael, about why my penis didn't look like theirs. Part 1 gives an idea of the form those conversations took. I think it's obvious that it's a fictionalized account, but it's an account very much based on real people and real events in my life.
I think this next part of the story won't require the same level of artistic license because it covers a shorter time period, and my memory of the incident is clearer. You will forgive me, however, if I invent a little 1960s-era health film narration.
This happened towards the end of the school year when I was in the sixth grade, so this would have been springtime 1972. I was 11 years old. Now in those days sixth grade was still elementary school. You stayed in the same room all day with the same teacher. My teacher was Mr. Hoezel. He was prematurely grey, and he wore stretch slacks and a cardigan sweater every day. He was one of those people whom you couldn't possibly picture naked.
There was another sixth grade class next door, and the teacher in that room was Mrs. Vay-ZAH-deez.
OK, that's not really how you spelled her name, but that's how you pronounced it. I have no idea how you spelled her name or whether it was in fact renderable in the Roman alphabet.
Now on this particular day in question, all us sixth graders came back from our lunch period, and the blinds had been drawn in Mr. Hoezel's room, so we knew that we were going to see a movie. Had the nature of the movie been announced to us beforehand? I don't remember. Sometimes we knew we were going to see a movie and sometimes not. Mr. Hoezel had a way of springing anti-drug propaganda on us without warning.
But anyway, a movie was always good news. Especially an anti-drug movie. What kid wouldn't happily put the books aside for twenty minutes and watch a hippy chick running away from a screaming hot dog? That stuff was better than the "Twighlight Zone" sometimes.
In any event, it soon became clear that today's program would not feature the usual hallucinogenic horror short or heart-stirring documentary on the Oregon Trail. No, we were about to view something of such a delicate and personal nature it required a measure heretofore unprecedented in my entire educational career. To view this movie, we would need to be segregated by gender.
The announcement was made, and all the girls in my classroom stood up and filed into to Mrs. Vay-ZAH-deez's room. Likewise all the boys from Mrs. Vay-ZAH-deez's room filed into Mr. Hoezel's classroom.
Then no less a personage than the Principal himself arrived on the scene and told us that we were going to watch a movie about … what? Sexuality? Reproduction? Getting busy? I don't remember what words he used. Whatever they were, they meant nothing to me. I had no idea what sexuality was. I had only recently heard vague rumors from my peers about the sex act, and frankly I was skeptical. It was inconceivable to me that such a behavior could be so widely practiced that there could be an educational film about it.
So I couldn't make heads or tails of what the Principal was talking about up there. Instead of "sexuality," he might as well have used the word "zomplemanetry." Would have meant as much to me.
Then he got to the part where he told us what to do if we had questions. If we had questions, he said, after we've watched the movie, if it was a question about something normal, we should wait until we get home and ask our parents.
Got that? If it's some routine, pedestrian question about zomplemanetry, go home and ask Mom and Dad. However, if you have a question about some "bizarre" aspect of zomplemanetry…
At this point I would like to make what I consider a worthwhile digression. I have a specific recollection that he used the word "bizarre." That's because I wasn't exactly clear on the difference between "bizarre," the adjective, and "bazaar," the Persian-derived noun, which evoked in my 11-year-old mind a set of images that, while colorful and delightful, shed no light whatsoever on the topic at hand.
If you have a question about something "bizarre," instructed the Principal, you may bring your question to Mr. Hoezel or me.
"What?" thought 11-year-old Kurt. "I should direct questions about snake charmers and veiled dancing girls to my teacher? Because my Mom will freak out? Who knew?"
So as I sat there in my slouch-resistant one-piece school desk without so much as the tiniest glimmer of a notion in my mind of what to expect, the lights dimmed, and the projector whirred to life.