Monthly Archives: February 2013

Getting Circumcised at 22

Josh:
oh, so something significant happened today

Mike:
yaaa?

Josh:
but it’s happened, so you need to contain your judgement
i got circumcised

Mike:
youre kidding

Josh:
it’s always bothered me. even when i was in foreskin-rich denmark
made me self-conscious, and made it hard for me to have sex

Mike:
like, logistically or aesthetically?

Josh:
logistically
i had like a lot of foreskin. enough to make a condom like work its way off 

Mike:
but don’t they say getting circumcised reduces feeling?
or something?

Josh:
yeah. they do, and I expect that
but i mean, my inability to get off was not because there wasn’t enough sensation
it was just because the really sensitive tissue was getting covered up

Mike:
ahhh
what did the docs say about pros n cons?

Josh:
i mean, nothing really. he told me about the surgical risks
rare but horrifying
gangrene, accidental amputation of penis, etc
and it’ll be swollen for a while
it wasn’t that painful tho. like, a lot of fucking needles
but i didn’t feel a thing from the actual cutting

Mike:
You cant have sex for awhile I expect

Josh:
no, not for a month or so

Mike:
what do people say who’ve had the procedure?
like online n stuff

Josh:
ppl seem generally satisfied if they wanted it
less so if it was like, an emergency

Mike:
so it’s a good thing!
will your boyfriend notice any difference?

Josh:
I mean, yeah i should think so
he was anti at first
thought if it wasn’t broke, don’t fix it
but he realized it was important to me

Mike:
it sounds like it was objectively broke

Josh:
yeah i guess just not broke like, i didn’t have phimosis
i am concerned i am gonna get super hormonal or something
from not having sex for so long tho

Mike:
can you fandangle yourself in the meantime?
I guess not, right

Josh:
not for at least 2 weeks, maybe longer

Mike:
I wonder if you’ll be like WAY productive
Like, write a novel and learn French and do a million pushups because sex isn’t an option

Josh:
yeah i locked off all my porn
i need to wait till the bandage is off at least
i have to keep that on for 10 days

Mike:
will there be scars?

Josh:
yeah it’s hella wrapped up right now
there may be some scarring, but this dude is the fucking best
which is why it costs $2500 out of pocket

Mike:
woah

Josh:
and i had to travel
but i feel like I don’t want to fuck around with this
this is my dick, i want the best

Mike:
hella prudent, son

Josh:
yeah i could have had it done locally for like $600
but seriously some of those adult circumcisions look REALLY bad
like railroad track scars
uneven skin, etc

Mike:
do you get to choose like how much skin they take off?

Josh:
yeah, i showed my like desired outcome
that was the other big deal about going to a specialist
if you go to a local urologist, they just have the way they do it
and you don’t really get a say
so yeah, i have confidence in this place

Mike:
is it a circumcision-only clinic?

Josh:
no, but they do a lot. a couple hundred a year
urologist. does the usual urology stuff too
vasectomy, prostate stuff
all the male employees except for the doctor were gay
and the one who was like prepping me
was using this iodine stuff that’s like orange?
and he’s like, “this’ll have some dye to it, sorta orange, it’ll match your pretty lil hair”

Mike:
super appropriate

Josh:
i know
but he actually put me at ease
even tho he was kinda hitting on me
like he talked about his boyfriend
and asked how mine felt, etc

Mike:
ok that’s nice
he’s one of Our People

Josh:
he did make the whole thing a lot easier
if inappropriate
he also let me take a pic
of the foreskin after the procedure
and offered to put it on a “to-go” container
i declined

Mike:
ew ew ew ew ew ew
I see that you have stopped typing
You had better not be uploading that photo right now
seriously
DO NOT send me it now or ever

Josh:
it’s really not that gross

Mike:
again: DO NOT upload the photo of the foreskin
I need to die never having seen that

Josh:
it kind of looks like a thin piece of seitan

Mike:
nope, I’ll trust you, never wanna see it

Josh:
but i wanted like some record of it, you know?
not preserved in a jar
but something
that thing served me for 22 years

4 Comments

Filed under America, Funny, Gay, Personal

Will I be pretty, will I be rich?

The program for the destruction of severely handicapped and mentally ill Germans, […] set up two years before the Final Solution: Here, the patients, selected within the framework of a legal process, were welcomed in a building by professional nurses, who registered them and undressed them; doctors examined them and led them into a sealed room; a worker administered the gas’ others cleaned up; a policeman wrote up the death certificate.

Questioned after the war, each one of those people said: What, me, guilty? The nurse didn’t kill anyone, she only undressed and calmed the patients, ordinary tasks in her profession. The doctor didn’t kill anyone, either, he merely confirmed a diagnosis according to criteria established by higher authorities. The worker who opened the gas spigot, the man closest to the actual act of murder in both time and space, was fulfilling a technical function under the supervision of his superiors and doctors.

The workers who cleaned out the room were performing a necessary sanitary job — and a highly repugnant one at that. The policeman was following his procedure, which is to record each death and certify that it has taken place without any violation of the laws in force. So who is guilty?

[…] Once again, let us be clear: I am not trying to say I am not guilty of this or that. I am guilty, you’re not, fine. But you should be able to admit to yourselves that you might also have done what I did. With less zeal, perhaps, but perhaps also with less despair.

That’s from Jonathan Littell’s ‘The Kindly Ones‘.

Reading the novel’s first few pages (all of the above appears before, like, page 10. This book is Not. Fucking. Around.), I keep wondering if the post-WWII generation is the first in history to live with this understanding, that they might have acted monstrously if they were born in different circumstances.

I don’t know how previous generations and civilizations looked upon their history, but I doubt it was with as much guilt and apology as we do. From colonialism to slavery to segregation to 1980s shoulderpads, everything I’ve learned about history combines to form a sort of collective cringe.

I wonder if this began with the struggle to teach Nazism to the people who had survived it, fought against it, participated in it. When I learned about Hitler’s Germany, it was always with an acknowledgement that it could have been me on either end of the rifle or the gas chamber. I was asked to empathize not only with the victims, but with the perpetrators, in a way I wasn’t with other historical episodes.

Maybe it’s because the history is so proximate. Maybe it’s because the people committing the crimes, and dying of them, look like our friends, dress like our grandparents, write and talk like our movies. Maybe it’s because a whole society was at fault. Maybe you learn about the moral capsize of an entire civilization, and you just naturally put yourself inside it. 

I have no idea if this is genuinely new to the time or place in which I grew up. I don’t know if French schoolchildren in the early 1900s were asked to imagine themselves committing atrocities during the Napoleonic wars. I don’t know if Spanish kids were told that it might have been them branding apostates during the Inquisition.

But I’m glad to be reading Littell, I’m glad we look at our histories this way. Honesty beats triumphalism, I hope. I wonder how it changes the way we think. I don’t know if it makes us guilty, but I certainly hope it makes us careful.

5 Comments

Filed under Berlin, Books, Germany, Serious

Nothing you can do that can’t be done

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You thought visiting New York City would make you feel cool, but actually it makes you feel poor and un-busy.

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You thought it would be sooooo different from the rest of America.

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But really it’s the same, just better.

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People talk like movies.

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And the street names and landmarks are recognizable from your favorite CBS crime dramas.

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Jogging through Central Park is a cliche, like everything else you do here.

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Going to museums and making ‘hmmm’ sounds

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does not diminish the fact that you went to MoMA primarily to scout for Facebook cover photos.

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And that Prospect Park was a 585-acre struggle not to shout ‘why are you so fucking twee?!’ at the dogs and their walkers.

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And that, fuck the locals, tall buildings are amazing and you’re going to stop every few steps to capture them.

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You’re acutely aware that everything you can say or do or think in this place is already said, done, thunked.

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So instead of trying anything new, you might as well spend it like a week at home.

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See friends, eat meals,

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take long bike rides as dangerous as they are destinationless,

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take pictures of pedestrian shit like snowblowers, mouth open like some kind of Appalachian.

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You don’t see everything,

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Or maybe  even anything.

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But you realize as you leave, you were busy after all. And maybe even rich.

5 Comments

Filed under America, Personal, Pictures, Travel

Does Having Empathy Make You A Dick?

The heartbreaking, inspiring, impossible story of the former world’s fattest man:

He was born in Ipswich and had a childhood marked by two things, he says: the verbal and physical abuse of his father, a military policeman turned security guard; and three years of sexual abuse, starting when he was 6, by a relative in her 20s who lived in the house and shared his bed. He told no one until decades later.

After he left school, Mr. Mason took a job as a postal worker and became engaged to a woman more than 20 years older than him. “I thought it would be for life, but she just turned around one day and said, ‘No, I don’t want to see you anymore — goodbye,’ ” he said.

His father died, and he returned home to care for his arthritic mother, who was in a wheelchair. “I still had all these things going around in my head from my childhood,” he said. “Food replaced the love I didn’t get from my parents.” When he left the Royal Mail in 1986, he said, he weighed 364 pounds.

Then things spun out of control. Mr. Mason tried to eat himself into oblivion. He spent every available penny of his and his mother’s social security checks on food. He stopped paying the mortgage. The bank repossessed their house, and the council found them a smaller place to live. All the while, he ate the way a locust eats — indiscriminately, voraciously, ingesting perhaps 20,000 calories a day. First he could no longer manage the stairs; then he could no longer get out of his room. He stayed in bed, on and off, for most of the last decade.

Most people, I imagine, read this—the abuse, the loneliness, the sense of helplessness—and feel sorry for this dude. Everyone deals with personal and family problems in unique, unbeautiful ways. This dude just happens to have chosen a way that profoundly affected his health and quality of life. This story almost invites you to go ‘Aw, poor guy.’

It’s harder when you don’t know the backstory. If you saw this guy at a restaurant, nearly 1,000 pounds, inhaling fried chicken, French fries, chocolate cake, washing it down with a milkshake, he’d probably make you sick to your stomach. You’d probably comment to a friend, ‘this guy is disgusting’, turn the other way.

We don’t realize the extent to which we learn one thing about someone and let it take over our entire opinion of them. You read this article and you know he’s fat, but you also know the abuse, the torn relationships, how he’s now reversed the spiral, how hard he’s trying. When you see a fat person at a restaurant, all you know is how they appear and what they’re eating. In both cases, you use the information you have to make a judgement. In that restaurant, you just don’t realize how little information you have.

But this is the part where I really suck at this. When I see a significantly overweight person in public, I end up assuming there’s a sympathetic backstory, an understandable reason they got this way. Maybe their dad just died and eating is a way to feel comfort. Maybe they have a hormonal imbalance. Or maybe they were just born with a crazy-slow metabolism and they have completely accepted their size and don’t feel any need to apologize for it. Good for them! I think, feeling kind and wise.

I fundamentally have no information about these people. I don’t know their first names, or where they grew up, or who their friends are or how they treat them. If it’s dickish to see a fat person at a restaurant and assume ‘they must be lazy’, isn’t it dickish to assume the opposite, that they must have an emotional or personal or physical reason for their obesity?

In other words, is kneejerk empathy as patronizing as kneejerk judgement?

It’s not just overweight people. I do this all the time, explain away a person’s appearance and actions. I try really hard to give people the benefit of the doubt when they snap at their kids in public, cut me off in traffic, refuse to give up their seat to an old person on the train. Maybe they’re having a terrible day. Maybe they’re hurrying home to take care of their sick mom.  Maybe they’re just distracted. I’m no better than them, I tell myself, I’ve done all these things and worse.

Sometimes I think this makes me a left-wing cliche. There’s no such thing as bad behavior, only people who need a hug. On a society-wide scale, maybe judgement is better than empathy. If we know we’ll get nasty l0oks from our societal peers, maybe we’ll act better. Or at least look better.

Like everyone else, I haven’t found a way to make my actions match my beliefs. I lack the information to make any robust conclusions about the world around me, but even knowing that, I lack the ability not to. I wish I could see people and not assume anything at all. But until that happens, I should be sure about what I know before I decide what I think.

9 Comments

Filed under Personal, Serious

Why Don’t Newspapers Take Unsolicited Submissions Seriously?

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Originally posted on The Huffington Post

A telling paragraph in Michael Lewis’s review of ‘Why I Left Goldman Sachs’:

The author recounts how he spent most of the six months leading up to last March working at Goldman by day while writing up his deeply felt grievances against Goldman by night. When he finished he had a 1,500-word counterblast but no place to put it: he e-mailed it to the general address for blind submissions to the Times op-ed page. He heard nothing for a month, and so finally dug out the e-mail addresses of four Times editors, and sent his piece to all of them. The next morning the Times got in touch with him.

It’s great that ‘Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs‘ eventually got noticed and published, but I can’t help thinking about all the other pieces submitted to that blind submissions address that weren’t.

A lot of people are sitting on fascinating stories about the places where they work, where they live, what’s happening in their lives. This is what journalists, what journalism, is supposed to be concerned with. But sometimes it seems like newspapers are only interested in great stories when their own reporters get to tell them.

Earlier today I read this New Yorker article about ‘slow journalism’, the kind produced by reporters who are embedded, walking a beat, just hanging out until something happens so fascinating the rest of the world needs to know about it. Newspapers don’t have the money for foreign bureaus anymore, the article laments, so now reporters have to parachute into financial reform, scientific debates, economic indicators, write it up and whoosh on to the next one.

In Beijing, the joke among hacks is that, after the drive in from the airport, you are ready to write a column; after a month, you feel the stirrings of an idea-book; but after a year, you struggle to write anything at all, because you’ve finally discovered just how much you don’t know.

That’s probably true, and probably sad. But I wonder if what it really means is that, in a world where anyone can write a blog post or take a photo or make a documentary, we need reporters less than we need harvesters. 

Thousands of people live in fascinating places, are experts in their fields, work in fucked-up and hilarious institutions. Many of these people can tell you their story, and why it matters, better than a reporter ever could.

I’m sure the New York Times gets all kinds of cranks sending them op-eds from curtained rooms, but I’m sure they also get thousands of  stories that are one editor away from fascinating, thousands of people who can’t tell a new story every week but have one great one they’re struggling to tell.

Newspapers are supposed to teach us what’s true in the world. Sometimes a professional reporter is the best person to do that. Sometimes not. I hope that, as journalism becomes whatever it’s becoming, it finds time not just to tell us stories, but to find them.

4 Comments

Filed under America, Journalism, Serious