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Jack’s Naughty Bits: John Cheever, The Falconer, Part Two

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Jack's Naughty Bits
I‘ve never asked another man if he looks. I don’t normally, but sometimes I sneak a quick peak. It’s hard not to: you’re standing there at a porcelain urine receptacle with little to do but hold on and shake; do you just stare at the tiling, do you yawn and raise a hand to the mouth (suggesting a possible hygienic foul to your co-micturators), do you close your eyes and take a deep yogic breath, or do you look, just a little? It’s natural; most of us hetero men get few opportunities to see other men’s members, and it’s a curious lot out there. Seeing a little chickee barely poking its head out of the pubic nest puts a lilt in my step that lasts all day. But witnessing a neighbor’s whizzing anaconda — that will depress me for hours. Pissing and looking: it’s a dangerous dice roll.

    

Now, pissing and listening: I’ve definitely never heard another man talk about that. But we all do it, or at least I do. And sadly, my bladder is about the size of a decorative teacup. Which leads to decidedly short, entirely non-splashy, hardly Niagara-like discharges. It’s embarrassing, and I feel like half a man. (Especially in truck stops. Jesus, those guys.) So I make up for it with an ace up my sleeve: when I’m pissing, I have good control, so I tend to lift both arms in the air for an extended stretch. I leave my flanking flooders to conclude what they will about my manhood. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, the men’s.

    

But no bathroom scene I’ve ever read compares to John Cheever’s account of the masturbation trough in the prison bathroom called “The Valley.” Rows of men lined up, each in full regalia, doing his most privy business. More than any other author, Cheever describes the disparities of that uniquely male appurtenance, and the varieties of technique and crescendo to the simple act of self love. Though any bathroom experience will tell you that not all men are created equal, only Cheever tells us how unequal we, in fact, are.


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From Falconer by John Cheever

The Valley was a long room off the tunnel to the left of the mess hall. Along one wall was a cast-iron trough of a urinal . . . The Valley was where you went after chow to fuck yourself . . . There were ground rules. You could touch the other man’s hips and shoulders, but nothing else. The trough accommodated twenty men and twenty men stood there, soft, hard or halfway in either direction, fucking themselves. If you finished and wanted to come again you went to the end of the line. There were the usual jokes. How many times, Charlie? Five coming up, but my feet are getting sore.

    
Considering the fact that the cock is the most critical link in our chain of survival, the variety of shapes, colors, sizes, characteristic, dispositions and responses found in this rudimentary tool are much greater than those shown by any other organ of the body. They were black, white, red, yellow, lavender, brown, warty, wrinkled, comely and silken, and they seemed, like any crowd of men on a street at closing time, to represent youth, age, victory, disaster, laughter and tears. There were the frenzied and compulsive pumpers, the long-timers who caressed themselves for half an hour, there were the groaners and the ones who sighed, and most of the men, when their trigger was pulled and the fusillade began, would shake, buck, catch their breath and make weeping sounds, sounds of grief, of joy, and sometimes death rattles.