Penis in a Sandwich

21 06 2011

The front windows of the bocadillo shop were propped wide open; the static June humidity surrounding us. The cobble stone streets between tightly nestled three-story vistas looked romantic even in the middle of the day. The southern coast of Spain was beautiful this time of year, a little slice of heaven from my bar stool view. The waitress was young, and had the strong angular planes to her face that make the Spanish some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. She bounced back and forth from the patrons sitting around a heavy oak and brass bar, filling glasses, taking orders, and politely conversing with the soft tongue that makes spoken Spanish in Spain unmistakable. My best friend and I were visiting for the summer, taking Spanish courses at an academy in both Madrid and El Puerto de Santa Maria.

“What is this?” I pointed to a topping listed on the menu. My best friend has always been better at Spanish than me. I like to think it’s because she took it in high school for two years while I sang in the varsity choir, but the truth is, she is far more gifted at learning languages, math, and other analytical skills.

“I have no idea,” she responded. We quickly took out our electronic dictionaries. No Luck. I’m a vegetarian which can be challenging when traveling abroad. So we asked the waitress if she could explain.

“¿Qué es eso?”

She tilted her head, and replied with empathy, like she already knew we wouldn’t be able to understand her. And she was right. By the end of her explanation I wasn’t even sure if it was edible. But she was sweet, and clearly wanted to help me with this problem. So she took a paper from her pad and began to draw. I’m not going to build the suspense here, like it was some kind of mystical revelation that I experienced inside this sandwich cafe. It was espárragos, something we should have been able to figure out, but if you’ve ever studied abroad, you can imagine that perhaps we were a little off our game from the previous night out.

I had never eaten an asparagus sandwich, but it was delicious. Epiphanies over condiments and sandwich toppings are not something to celebrate. What is interesting however, is the universal humor found in phallic drawings. Because I won’t ever forget the look on that woman’s face as she realized she was drawing a penis in a sandwich. She looked at me, and I looked at her. I looked at my best friend, and she looked at the waitress. And at the exact same time, we all started to laugh.

Years later this would happen again, this time in the classroom of a 7th grade Korean academy. My student was desperately searching for a word to describe the type of gun his fictional character would carry in his narrative. He described what it looked like, but I’m not exactly an encyclopedia on weaponry. So, I told him to draw it. Needless-to-say, the outcome was very similar to the experience I had many summers ago in Spain. When he put his pencil down, he paused and kind of stared at it like he had created a monster. I leaned over his shoulder to see, and I knew exactly what to say.

“Oh, you mean a rocket launcher.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s it!”

He and I held each others gaze for a second longer and laughed together what we both knew not to say. Again, the penis had found itself in the middle of a cultural exchange. Deeper than learning the names of  foreign cities and customary foods, this was the type of feeling you only get from retelling stories you’ve told a million times with your best friend late at night; they’re only funny because you share them with someone you love. And I was having this moment with a 14 year-old Korean student.

It’s nice to think that somehow in the craziness that surrounds my daily life, that if I were trapped in a holding cell, being interrogated by Al Qaeda over nuclear warhead secrets sold to Iran with a car battery clamped to my nipples, that perhaps if I drew something that looked like a pair of testicles and a penis, that maybe we could share a laugh or two, and realize that we’re not so different after all. Maybe they do things a little bit differently than I do, but heck, if we can agree that a sketch of a nuclear warhead looks a little phallic…maybe there’s hope for us after all. Because let’s be honest, the penis isn’t exactly known for great things. Sure, it helps make babies, but more often the penis is known for making consequential mistakes. Like, hypothetically: sleeping with its ex-girlfriend because it was lonely and didn’t have the guts to admit it so it changed its status on Facebook to “In a Relationship” because THAT was more convenient than telling me. Shit like this is where the colloquial term, ‘dick move’ comes from. But that’s beside the point. What is important is that the penis is hilarious across cultures. And for something that causes men and woman so many fucking problems, it’s nice to know we are at least all laughing too.

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5 responses

21 06 2011
Kathie

Whit, thanks for the laugh! It is something I desperately needed after a day of Philosophy and Human Growth and Development!

21 06 2011
Suji Elizabeth Bang

This totally rocks Ms. Butler! I am proud to be your cubicle mate. Keep teaching literature and writing your hilarious blogs.

22 06 2011
Mom

OMG!!! It’s your Mother!
Ahh…well……………have I got some stories to tell you when you get home!
I still love you….haha

23 06 2011
Lisa Hall Bates

I had to laugh out loud… good observations and I love your writing…

24 08 2011
Nicole

Rachel sent me the link to your blog. Love your style and stories!

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