A Crumb In My Penis ( from The Opposite of Possible )
McCracken knocks on my door at quarter past two.
“I feel like I have a crumb in my penis,” he says.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Who else am I supposed to tell?”
“Olmstead,” I tell him. “Anyone. I don’t know. Your wife.”
“I don’t want to tell her,” he says.
“I don’t see why not.”
“Because there are some things you keep to yourself, Foster, that’s why.” He frowns at me. “What do you think it means?”
“How long has it been feeling this way?”
I look at him.
“I had a lemonade at lunch,” he says. “You know how it is. You order a lemonade and then they offer you free refills. You figure that as long as you’re paying two bucks for it, you might as well take the free refills, to hell with the consequences. In the first place, you don’t really need the lemonade, but you feel like such a cheap piece of shit asking for water, and the last thing you need at lunch is the derision of some lousy waitress. Which is so stupid, you know—How many bad decisions do we make because we don’t want somebody we don’t know from Eve and don’t care about and will probably never see again to have a poor opinion of us? And then how many times do we disappoint the people who really matter, you know—because we’re not worried about making a bad impression on them.” He shakes his head. “So you spend the two dollars,” he says. “And once you’ve spent the two dollars—Because these places are making half their fucking profit on drinks. Restaurants,” he says. “Soda, iced tea, lemonade. This stuff basically costs them nothing. They’re making basically pure profit when they sell it to you, which is sort of disturbing when you think about how much money the companies that are selling the product to the restaurants for next to nothing are making, although at this point you have to figure that in large part restaurant sales are just a means of stimulating grocery and convenience store sales. But either way, they’re dealing in a whole lot of volume for that much money to be coming out of something that these people are basically paying nothing for.”
“I don’t know anything about the soft drink industry.”
“Either way,” he says. “I must have had three. The next thing I knew I had to urinate desperately but I was already in the car on the way back to campus at this point. It didn’t come on gradually. Between the time I first took note of the need to urinate and the time the need to urinate became desperate to the point of being debilitating, I’m going to say that maybe a minute passed. Maybe a minute and a half. Maybe less. It was completely debilitating. I still don’t know if I locked my fucking car when I came into the parking lot. I dropped my keys on the way up the walk and was this close, fucking this close, to just leaving them there, but then my boring side got the best of me. I practically pissed all over myself when I bent over to pick them up, but at that point my boring side got the best of me again. I don’t know how I didn’t. I had a massive urination in the student bathroom, which is disgusting and I never go in there, ever, and ever since then I’ve felt like I have a crumb in my penis. I may have picked it up in the student bathroom although I’m positive that my penis didn’t touch anything in there. Maybe something got on my hand and I touched my penis with my hand—except that I’m positive I didn’t touch anything with my hand, either. Covered it up with my sleeve and pushed open the door. You know what’s unbelievable,” he says. “I’m at the bookstore the other day, the what do you call it—the Barnes and Noble at South Coast, and I’m just fucking around in there waiting for Janice to pick up something she’s got on order, and I end up the memoir section, right. They have their own section, now, people telling their fucking stories, and they’re not just Oprah people anymore. It’s the hot thing, now—And I pick up one because I think it has an interesting cover, some black and white, it almost looks like chalk exploding on a chalkboard, and I’m reading the back, okay, where you’d expect to find quotes from other authors who have more credibility than this guy saying how great it is and how if you like them you should really blow twenty bucks on this. But it’s not. Things are changing on us. It’s literally just a series of quotations from the book. It’s its own source of credibility, now, incredible, but either way—And one of the passages, listed under the little heading that says family, goes, you know, quote-unquote more or less, I’m quoting from memory—my mom always told me that I should wash my hands before I peed, because it wasn’t my penis that was dirty, but the world that was dirty, and I didn’t want to get any of the world on my penis. Do you know how long I’ve fucking been saying that, Foster? Years. I’ve always said that. Then, of course, I figured out you just pull your sleeve over your hand and then don’t touch your sleeve for the rest of the day, but either way—If I knew you could get a big time Barnes and Noble book deal by writing that—I’ve been saying that for years. It’s the world you want to keep off of your penis. Why? Because it gets on there and the next thing you know you feel like you have a crumb in your penis and your good friends and colleagues can’t give you a word of advice on it.”
“Have you urinated again?”
“Just—What part of your penis?”
“I don’t fucking know,” he says. “The tip.”
He looks at me like for a moment like he’s ready to fight, or as though he would fight me, perhaps, if he wasn’t concerned that it would end up doing further damage to his already vulnerable penis—it’s that kind of a look.
“What do you want me to do for you?” I say, finally.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Give me some advice.”
“I’ve never felt like I had a crumb in my penis,” I say. “So basically, you know—So basically it’s hard for me to have any advice to give you. I would just try to keep urinating.”
“You think I’ll just pass it, eventually.”
“I really don’t know,” I say. “That would depend on what it was.”
“What do you think the possibilities are?”
“As far as feeling like there’s a crumb in your penis,” I say. “I really don’t know. I suppose some kind of a stone or something—”
“What kind of a stone?”
“Look,” I say. “I really don’t know.”
“You said it,” McCracken says.
“I was just offering a possibility.”
“And I’m saying what kind of a stone?” he says. “This is what I’m asking you. If you’re saying that one possibility is that it might be a stone, what I’m asking you is what exactly you mean by that, and what kind of stone you might be talking about.”
“I really have no idea.”
“You must have some idea.”
“Listen,” I say. “I’m not a urologist. I’m not a doctor of any sort for that matter. I don’t have any medical training.”
“Have you ever been to a urologist?”
“I have not.”
“Listen,” McCracken says. “You must have had something in mind when you said that.”
“I didn’t have anything in mind.”
“You don’t just say that. I understand that what you’re saying is that you don’t know, that you don’t have any training—I’m not asking for a fucking expert analysis, here. If I wanted expert analysis I’d go to an expert, but at that point I’d basically have to endure the humiliation of walking into a fucking doctor’s office and announcing in front of the world that I feel like I have a crumb in my penis, and I just don’t know if I’m capable of doing that at this point. So at the moment I’m throwing my hat in the ring with you, and with that in mind I’m saying to you that if you said it could be a stone, regardless of what you know or what you’re qualified to tell me, you must have had some kind of a something in mind, because otherwise you wouldn’t have said it, would not have used the word stone, and I’m asking you what that something is?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “A kidney stone, I guess. A bladder stone, maybe.”
“What’s the difference?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if there is a difference.”
“Do you think it could be cancerous? Your son had cancer and I’m not saying that because of that you’re an expert of any sort, but you might have some insight.”
“No,” I say. “I highly doubt it.”
“But it’s possible.”
“I understand that,” McCracken says. “Yes. I understand, Gary, that anything’s possible, but we’re not talking about my fucking hopes and dreams here. We’re talking about a cancerous crumb in the tip of my penis, so as far as platitudes like anything’s possible go, I’m convinced that there are more helpful things that you might say, such as things that involve using your brain.”
“I’m saying what I’m saying because I don’t have anything else to say,” I say. “Because I don’t know what having a crumb in your penis could possibly mean. If I were you, like I said, I’d just try to keep urinating. It could be some kind of pressure or something.”
“What kind of pressure.”
“Pressure,” I say. “Any kind of pressure. Pressure in your bladder.”
“Why would pressure in my bladder make me feel like I have a crumb in my fucking penis, Gary?”
“I was just offering possibilities off the top of my head. You’re asking me for possibilities. I’m telling you I have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re telling me that this doesn’t matter, that you still want me to offer you possibilities, so that’s what I’m doing.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “I’m not asking you to be a doctor. I’m asking you to lend me your average layperson’s intelligence—I’m asking for your regular guy untrained brain power to see if it might be helpful to me, which is to say you don’t have to do anything spectacular or know anything you don’t already know. You do, however, have to think rationally and try to say things that make some kind of sense. Possibilities, but a possibility that’s not a possibility isn’t a possibility.”
He takes a heaving breath and puts his hands on his hips.
“Maybe you should ask Raymond, then,” I say.
“Fucking Raymond,” he says. “Right. Like I want my personal problems to end up in one of his fucking supermarket novels. What’s his detective guy he writes about?”
“Sean Steele,” I say.
“Right,” he says. “Next case—Steele investigates the mysterious crumb in Miguel Mandelkrack’s penis. No thanks. I’m just looking for some help identifying what it might be and whether I should fly into a full-blown panic over it.”
“Well,” I say. “With things like that my policy is always pretty much to wait it out, which is probably not good advice. But that’s what I do. My thought is usually that it’s more likely something than nothing so you might as well just wait and let it go away on its own. If it doesn’t go away on its own, then it’s probably something. But it will probably go away.”
“But then your son ends up having cancer,” he says. “I’m not trying to be insensitive and thank God he’s fine, now, but you see what I’m saying. That kind of an attitude only make sense until it doesn’t, and then it doesn’t.”
“Right,” I say. “At the same time, if you build your life around the possibility of the worst, Michael—I’m saying that if you were to react to the worst possibility every time you have an ache or a pain, you’d end up spending half your life at the doctor’s office getting tested for things you don’t have, and I don’t know if a life that’s half spent in a doctor’s office getting tests for things you don’t have is worth living. Or even worrying about every ache and pain thinking it’s the end of the world. The one you don’t worry about is going to be the one that gets you in the end, anyway, isn’t it?”
“But this isn’t an ache or a pain—” McCracken says.
“Right,” I say. “But that’s not really—”
He holds up the palm of his hand to quiet me. “It’s a sensation.”
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