Finding the Phallus in Everything

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(Photo: Traditional sweet cake from the Portuguese festival of São Gonçalo. Credit: The Richards.)

Yesterday, my Mennonite colleague, the Plankmaker, told me about an old college roommate who used to rather proudly display in his dorm room daily sculptures made out of a homemade collection of multicolored construction-paper phalluses. After I recovered from the fleeting shock of learning that the roommate in question was heterosexual, I was immediately reminded of the festival of São Gonçalo.

Every June in the northern Portugal town of Amarante, in hopes of getting married, the unhitched locals celebrate the life of their patron saint, São Gonçalo, by giving each other phallus-shaped sweet cakes (doces fálicos). It’s all very, well, tongue in cheek. Cake stands pop up on the street. Jovial anchors wave their fálicos around on the evening news. Last year’s bragging rights went to Tâmega, which opened its summer food festival by baking a sweet phallus that was 10-meters long.

Oh, to be a European and actually have a healthy outlook on sex. Somehow, I can’t imagine any American municipality proudly baking a 30-foot schlong. (Well, not outside of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, anyway). We like to keep our private parts just so: under wraps. But no matter how hard we Americans pretend in public to have nothing more than non-anatomical G.I. Joe and Barbie bumps beneath our clothing, like it or not, we remain sexual beings.

After Plankie’s story, I couldn’t stop thinking about his free-spirited (though rather latent) friend. I spent the rest of the workday listening closely to the conversations of the otherwise self-suppressed Midwesterners with whom I share my office. I figured if I paid close enough attention, I would hear some hints of a deeper nature. As a result, I had a glorious remainder of the day. It’s amazing what people will let slip out of their mouths without any awareness of what they’re truly saying.

Especially when it’s taken out of context. Take, for example, this reconstructed conversation from one lunch meeting, alone:

“There’s a big item today.”

“It’s going to be hard once it’s raised.”

“Judith has been trying to get ahold of Joan.”

“She’s still trying to sell her pancakes.”

“When are they gonna get down to what they really want? Two words: mud wrestling.”

“Isn’t that an aberration?”

“Look, there’s only one thing you can do when you slide around in an office chair like this. These are porno chairs.”

“In that case, they’ll be perfectly happy in that position.”

“Is this going to be awkward?”

“Yes, especially for staff.”

“She’s making a face now.”

“Game on!”

“I think it’s gonna be a fun one today!”

“Look! There’s the rub!”

“I can’t see. Sometimes I’m too old and slow.”

“Well, they’re making a good faith effort to balance each other.”

“Yeah, but they’re getting very close to the tipping point.”

“They can come whenever they want.”

“Someone could pull out, you know.”

“No, don’t throw anybody off yet!”

“Yeah, let’s finish. I want to see this finish!”

“Ooh, look! A bum rush!”

“GRRRRR!!!”

“Ta-da!”

“Wow. Someone needs a cigarette.”

Hmm. I guess in downtown Chicago, still waters really do run deep. Or, in the sage words of the Plankmaker:

“I had a lot of caffeine this morning. It loosens my tongue.”

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