March 2000
s m u g
by Steve Hawley

Changing Worlds

I have a theory.

Actually, I have a vast number of theories. For example, I have a theory that thunderstorms are an indication that the Earth is really nothing more than a really huge capacitor in the circuitry of the galaxy. This theory is not important to this essay, but the process of building theories about the world is.

I'm a firm believer in humans as model builders. Things happen to us and we build models which serve as crude functional diagrams so that we won't be too surprised by any given event the second time around. If anyone squeals to you, "oh, I just love surprises!" smack him upside the head for being imprecise. I can guarantee that that person only likes a small subset of surprises: the pleasant ones. If they persist, ask them how much they love burst pipes, blowouts, and the Blue Screen of Death.

Over time some models are replaced and some are revised. As kids we believed that were little people actually living in the TV set; then we believed that if you were watching a given show and turned off the set, it would continue later when you turned the set back on; then we believed that the actors really are the characters they play (the entertainment industry has done nothing to discourage this since it satisfies our respective desire for juicy, dripping gossip).

There are some models and some habits that are so deeply fundamental to our being that it takes a cataclysmic event or personality to change them. This happens rarely and as such is worthy of note for a couple of reasons:

  1. Rubbernecking. When a major event occurs it can be fun or even imperative to detach yourself from the process and just watch as if your life were a car pulled over to the side of the road with smoke billowing out from under the hood and people circling it like ants being burned by a magnifying glass.

  2. Introspection. Sometimes it's just nice to examine the model you made and how you made it so you'll make better--and by better I don't restrict myself to "more accurate" as the only criterion, "more amusing" and "more satisfying" can also work--models in the future.

    As it turns out, there are two changes in models and processes in my life that come immediately to mind. As it also turns out both changes were taken in one of the veins listed above. And as a final bout of coincidence both changes were closely tied to my penis.

    The first involved a college buddy named David. Before I can suitably explain what happened, I need to explain David. First off, he is a David and not a Dave. Secondly, he was--and still is--prone to burst into song, as if his life needed musical captions (little side note: the last time I spoke with him at length, he mentioned that since he started taking Prozac, his songs have been very much less about gore and death). Finally, his consistent ability to look at the world with awe and wonder is infectious.

    David and I were preparing to urinate in a public restroom. David was examine the plumbing and his eyes went wide. "I can't believe it!" he exclaimed in shock. I had to know what was up. I mean, when you hear that at a urinal, you really want to know what's up with the same kind of desire for you to NOT want to know when you hear, "whoa, whoa! Easy there little fella!". I asked and David replied that the flush mechanism on the urinal was NOT made by the Sloan Valve Company. Sloan, according to David, manufactures most of the urinal flushers in the United States. It is a rare event to see a pissoir powered by non-Sloan equipment.

    At this point, my approach to urination in public restrooms changed forever.

    I now perform the same cursory examination as David and note non-Sloans with fascination. I doubt I will ever achieve the same measure of glee as David, but that's fine. I'm not David and David's not me. Count your blessings for that trivial truism because the world would certainly be a very different place if there were two of either of us.

    This event led me to think about and examine the ritual and process of urination and its variations among people. It's something that you do pretty much every day and whether or not it's in a public restroom there are rituals that we do without even thinking about them because they are so deeply ingrained. I can't speak for women, but as for men, I'm willing to bet that each of you shake, waggle, or flick precisely the same way and the same number of times each time. Why? Is it merely habit? Possibly. Is it a model that you built when you were younger for the optimal way to remove the last droplet? More likely. Is it a good model? And if not why do you still use it? This is introspection, and the worst part of it is that you will probably alter your ritual by trying to observe it. It's like trying to figure out how your tongue lies in your mouth.

    I shudder to go into the details surrounding the second fundamental change. I do. Even 7 years later, I literally shudder. I think the best way to talk about this is briefly and clinically.

    The fundamental model that I had made can be expressed this way:

    "My penis is a one-way, exit only conduit."

    This assumption which, to the best of my knowledge, had held true for nearly three decades was changed forever by one thankfully brief procedure: catheterization.

    If you think about the assumption with any depth, it is clearly wrong. The urethra is nothing more than a tube. As any kid who has frothed milk out of the carton can tell you, straws work both ways. I think it is merely more comfortable to hold the unidirectional assumption, at least with respect to the plumbing of my body.

    So therefore, when that assumption was being proven completely wrong, it was preferable and maybe even healthy to detach from the immediate horror and just rubberneck at the whole thing going on. My own thoughts turned to the manufacturer of the device and how I knew that its corporate headquarters were in my home town and that the father of one of my childhood friends was an executive at that company, and further that I still knew his phone number. The temptation to grab the phone at that instant and dial was overwhelming. Had I actually succumbed to this temptation, my side of the conversation would have gone something like this:

    "Hello, Mr. S.? This is Steve Hawley. I'm having one of your catheters put in. No, really. Right now. Yeah, that's the model. Well, I just wanted you know that I was thinking of you. *click*"

    in the junk drawer

and such
and such

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