Monday, January 27, 2020

Testicalia by Christopher K. Miller

Christopher K. Miller's character tells a painfully funny story in which he discovers a major disadvantage of having low-hanging testicles.

On April 26, 2003, experienced hiker Aron Ralston became trapped in a narrow section of Utah's Bluejohn Canyon after dislodging an 800-pound chockstone that rolled on its pinch points and pinned his right hand and forearm to the sandstone wall. Five days later he self-amputated to survive.

Before relating the events of my own similar fateful day, I feel it behooves the narrative to lay down some setting and character background. I hope this doesn't present as excusatory or rationalizing, but rather more just explanatory, contextualizing and even enlightening of how banal conditions and trivial events can lead to, what regardless some will think amusing alongside Ralston's misadventure, a seriously life-threatening predicament. And though no major motion picture has been or is likely ever to be made of my "heroic" ordeal, there were other rewards.

Because Elora Racquets is a small private fitness club with only a few hundred members at most, its sauna is shared by the men and women. A cedar partitioning wall has been built around the sauna's electric heater so that exactly half of it stands in and heats the women's side, and the other half the men's. Because there are more male than female members, the men's change room and showering area is larger than the women's and the sauna has been divided or apportioned with about two-thirds allocated to the men. I've heard women complain that their benches aren't even long enough to lie down on. Because the women's half of the heater heats only their third of the total sauna, it's typically about ten degrees C hotter on their side, and so sometimes they leave their door standing ajar, causing our side to become too cold. Because the heater is raised approximately five inches on metal struts, it's possible to pass towels, shampoo and other toiletries underneath it. My wife and I have actually done this. Theoretically, I suppose if one were to lie on the floor, one might be able to, without burning oneself, see members of the opposite sex's feet if they were sitting on the bottom bench with their legs slightly extended. And with a properly positioned mirror one might be able to see a good deal more, although to my knowledge no one on either side has ever tried.

I believe that my penis is about average in size. Though I don't consciously look at other men's penises, I don't consciously avoid looking at them either, and so, because I have good eyesight and reasonable peripheral vision and because most of us go naked in the sauna and all of us go naked in the showers, I have, over the years, seen a few. And based on these circumstantial or impromptu or casual or accidental or whatever you want to call them observations, I would in all honesty have to say that my penis is only about average though. As in, not quite average maybe. As in smaller than average, okay. But what I must also take into account is that looking down at one's own penis is not the same as looking across the showering area at someone else's. For example, anyone who has studied fencing knows to point his sword or foil directly at his opponent's face so that this person will underestimate its length and so misjudge its reach. Of course one could obtain a similar illusion by pointing it directly away from one's opponent's face as well if one didn't mind losing all his matches. As another example, a dog will often present its full-length profile to another dog in order to intimidate it even though this is not a good defensive posture. All I'm trying to illustrate here is that my own penis, in its normal change-room flaccid state, pointing in a downwards direction that's more or less parallel and flush with my line of sight, is going to look shorter to me than say, the man's standing across from me in the showers presenting to its greatest, as in most perpendicular (to my line of sight) advantage. If, on the other hand, we all walked around with semis, that is to say with our penises semi-turgid, as in pointing straight forward to slightly upward, then this optical effect would have the opposite impact and we'd all probably think we were a little larger than the next fellow, but which, because most of us don't, we do not. At least I don't. But, even allowing for this illusion of self-perspective, and based on my undoubtedly statistically meaningful visual samplings of other men's penises over the years, I'd still have to say that mine might be a tad shorter. Just as an interesting aside, I find it curious that it's the larger-penised males who tend to be most inhibited about displaying themselves in public and so wear towels or trunks whenever possible, as in the sauna or even just to walk the short distance from the showers to their lockers, whereas it's the more normally and even possibly slightly sub-normally penised men such as myself who tend not to care and so traipse and flounce around, and even brush our teeth and shave at the sinks, completely in the raw.

The Chinese have developed a surgical technique by which they can markedly lengthen a man's penis simply by retracting, as in partially detaching, it from its pelvic housing, and which, even though this only impacts its "locker room" length and not its tumescent length, is still said to be a very popular procedure. So clearly a functional portion of every penis resides inside the body. I've always felt very attached to mine. And so possibly, because like everything else, this portion varies greatly from person to person, mine could in fact be longer than average if this were taken into consideration. That's all I'm trying to say. But I've never seen another man's erection in the change room or showers or sauna, or indeed anywhere except in pornographic videos, and so really I have no idea how I'd measure up in this regard, although, until recently, no one has ever complained. And even in the course of this one single isolated complaint, my penis size was only indirectly or marginally referenced, making it appear more as a slight to my character or person than an honest, detached and objective critique or review or assessment or what have you of my physical attributes per se.

My testicles on the other hand most definitely hang lower, as in farther down in their scrotum, than the average man's. In fact, I cannot say that I have ever seen a man whose testicles were markedly longer than mine. Still, it's not like I'm some sort of freak or mutant or suffer from elephantiasis or anything. I've never accidentally sat on them for example. It's not like I kick them about when I walk or that they even reach anywhere near my knees. I'm just saying that, based on my basically involuntary comparative change room studies, I'd guess that, just as my external flaccid penis might be just a bit shorter than average (though not the shortest I've seen by a long shot), my testicles probably compensate (though not in spades or anything), especially as I've gotten older, and especially when it's warm, such as in the sauna.

I enjoy the sauna most during the winter months when it seems like my body never wants to reach proper body temperature. Perhaps I've even become addicted to it. Perhaps my thyroid has gotten lazy and has factored into its metabolic equations the hour or so I spend sitting in the sauna each day so that if I do not sit in the sauna as expected, I start to feel cold, right to the bone. So even on the days that I don't lift weights or engage in any racquet sports, I still go to the club for a sauna and a shower. Steve, the squash expert who manages the club when the owner is away, calls this coming in for just a sauna and a shower, "an executive," and will say to me, "So Chris, you working out tonight, or are you just here for an executive?" even though I'm only a salaried employee of a small software company and so not an "executive" by any stretch of the imagination.

It was my wife who made that derogatory remark about my penis. But, as I've already said, I don't think this was the real issue. The real issue was that our lovemaking had become routine. And by routine, I don't mean regular. I mean procedural or by rote, perhaps even mundane. It had become routine as in regular only in the sense that anniversaries and birthdays are regular occurrences. I think the problem is that when you've been together as long as we have you tend to stop experimenting. You learn what flies and what doesn't fly and eventually distill the whole process down into what flies most efficiently. There is, for example, a place on her body that I used to try to stick my finger in when we were first going out. Maybe my timing was off. Maybe I'm no proctologist. Maybe she has hygiene hang-ups. Whatever her reasons, I could tell she didn't like it, and when it became clear to me that no amount of experimentation or practice was likely to change this, I stopped. Similarly, she used to like to hold and even squeeze my testicles at certain strategic moments and even once tried to take them into her mouth, forcing me to explain to her that, for me, the testicles are not an erogenous zone, that they have almost no capacity for pleasure and enormous capacity for pain, and also sort of have a mind of their own so that even though I personally trust her one-hundred percent - they don't. Perhaps there's no equivalent female body part. Because I don't think she believed me. But, no matter how gently and considerately and imaginatively she treated them, I'd always freeze up. So eventually she just stopped. Paradoxically, the more we stuck to what worked best for each of us and the more streamlined and less dissatisfying we were able to make the whole lovemaking exercise, the less we did it. And so it was this perfunctoriness and infrequency of our couplings that I believe was the real source of her snide remark about my penis, and not any fault of my actual penis itself per se.

Normally, I take my sauna before supper at about 5:30pm. But on the fateful day in question, because of a series of inane consciousness-defying meetings, I didn't leave the office until 8:00pm. Then, because of whiteouts, bad road conditions and having to lug along in second gear behind an old lady in an Accent for almost my entire commute, I didn't arrive at the club until after 10:00pm. Elora Racquets is a 24-hour key club. So, if you're over 16, even if there's no one on staff present, you're welcome to let yourself in and avail yourself of the facilities. I could hear a late squash match taking place on court one. Someone dropped a heavy pair of dumbbells onto the mats up in the weight room. Because my thyroid was still taking its afternoon nap, I was freezing. To conserve energy, the change room is not heated at night. The sauna was empty. Because no one on the women's side had left their door standing open and because the men's in-and-out sauna traffic starts to taper off after 9:00pm, it was unusually hot - 105 C according to the wall thermometer. When I'm cold, my testicles don't hang down at all. Instead they huddle together in my scrotum which shrivels up into a kind of childlike prune or peanut. By habit, I always sit on the top bench closest to the wall partitioning our side from the women's. This is where the temperature is highest. The sauna's benches are constructed from cedar two-by-fours that have been planed and sanded and fastened lengthwise onto frames with inset epoxy-covered screws. There is a gap of approximately five-eighths to three-quarters of an inch separating each plank. Because the cedar was hot, I sat on the edge of the bench. Then, as I began to sweat and shift back, my testicles descended and slipped down into the gap between the outermost and second planks. Although I have never measured, I don't believe that my testicles themselves expand or shrink much with heat and cold, only my scrotum. So I also blame the man who'd dropped the dumbbells up in the weight room's post workout stretch for causing my situation. He was an enormous fellow who could probably feed a small African village for over a month. The kind of man who's clearly become obsessed with accruing muscle mass for no aesthetic or even practical reason except to lift heavier and heavier weights and accrue more and more muscle mass. The kind of man who probably requires oxygen pursuant to a strenuous bowel movement. In the sauna, he was wearing a long white towel which he kept tightening and adjusting during his stretching warm down, which consisted of his alternately standing with one foot on the sauna's tiled floor and one up against the top bench's outermost cedar plank in order that he could stretch out each massive ham by leaning into it. The kind of man who can't seem to accomplish anything without grunting. If I'd noticed that my testicles had dropped down between the second and outermost cedar planks of the sauna's upper bench, I'd probably have taken the trouble to extract them then. But it wasn't until I heard him splashing in the showers that I, now drenched with sweat and warm through and through, and so making ready to rise and head for the showers myself, belatedly discovered that my testicles had fallen in between the planks. Probably, because he was standing with his head under rushing water and because, in order to conserve energy, the sauna is very well insulated, he did not hear my scream. Probably, if I'd been aware of my testicles' precarious placement, I might've been able to free them one at a time, slowly and carefully, the way they'd no doubt descended in the first place. So it might not have been my testicles' imperceptible heat expansion or the weightlifter's post workout stretch's pressing the planks between which they'd descended negligibly closer, but their wedging tightly together in the space between the planks as I stood that caused me to yank on them so viciously that I half expected to find them bouncing and oblongly rolling on the tiled floor below.

Trauma to the testicles results in your body's attempting to retract them, and this is what's said to cause such excruciating pain. They say if you can lie on your back and pump your legs as if you were on a bicycle it's supposed to help. But of course my body could not retract them. And I could not lie on my back and pretend to ride a bicycle. All I could do was lean forward with my face in my hands and try not to cry or pass out. By the time I'd vomited down the side of the heater a little and could think coherently enough to address the situation, I was dizzy and soaked with sweat. There was a window of perhaps thirty seconds in which I could've screamed for help and the weightlifter might've heard me. But then he was gone, out the change room's double doors, and out the front. My left testicle descends less than my right and may be slightly smaller too. So I tried to ease it up first through the gap between the planks. But even if I could've withstood the pain of squeezing it to safety, it was now too big. The body is quick to sensitize, engorge and encase injured areas. They had become swollen. My testicles weren't going anywhere. And I wasn't going anywhere without them. But while I couldn't stand, I could shift or slide along the planks to my left. Even though the cedar is very well sanded and finished, heat and moisture have eroded and compromised its surface so that a certain amount of splintering was inevitable as I shifted sideways against the grain. Also, anyone who has ever sat in a hot sauna knows that when you move from a wet spot to a dry one, it's going to burn. And it did. But it was my hope that I could shift far enough down the bench that I'd be able to kick the door open with my foot. Unfortunately the middle frame's vertical crossbeam support onto which the planks are very securely screwed stopped my progress well short of where I could reach the door with my foot and yet not far enough from the heater to have any discernible impact on temperature. If anything, the exertion of shifting and then trying to wrench the outermost plank loose by lifting up on it made me even warmer.

At this point the two women who'd been playing squash on court one entered the women's change room laughing. It is a difficult thing to shout, "Help! My testicles are stuck!" Also, I'd begun to enter that feverish state of hyperthermia and was not reasoning with great clarity. So I just sat there waiting for some less humiliating solution to present itself. I hoped maybe the swelling would abate. Men and women often converse through the partitioning wall which is in no way soundproof. I hoped the women would take a sauna so that my predicament could come up naturally in conversation. As you can no doubt tell from reading this account, I am a fairly garrulous fellow and have little difficulty insinuating myself into other people's conversations. Although I have never skipped rope, I imagine it's like that - all in the timing.

Members are supposed to shower first and then sauna, but no one does because it means taking two showers. Happily, the women entered the sauna without first showering. One of them immediately began making gagging noises as if sticking a finger down her throat. Because I had larger concerns and also because I'd gradually become inured, it took a moment for me to connect her vaguely familiar affectations of nausea to the smell of my earlier regurgitation's minor chunks and trickles sticking to and burning on the side of the sauna's stove. In fact, at first, even though only warmer air rises and so it wouldn't have been an issue, I attributed them to her over-reacting to the other's having broken silent wind. It's strange the lucidity with which the mind sometimes functions under duress. But I remember this analysis vividly. The other, whom I'd mistakenly suspected of flatulence and whose speculative utterances to the effect of "some pig" having (despite its being clearly labeled as a dry sauna) spat or possibly urinated "over there," even in my encroaching delirium, also sounded vaguely familiar and seemed to exacerbate the heat, especially of my cheeks. "Did you see that guy leaving?" she then continued in a more positive mien. "What an amazing hunk of man-flesh."

I was about to interject that I'd just myself seen him in only a towel and perhaps point out that the excessive bulk characteristic of obsessive resistance training is really more akin to scar tissue than normal healthy "man-flesh" and then perhaps try to steer onto the topic of my testicles having become stuck between the planks, when I heard my wife, she whose gagging I had thought sounded familiar, say, "His name's Jeff," and whisper in a very hushed and conspiratorial way, "If I tell you something, you have to promise it never leaves this room."

I assume the other woman, who I now realized was her friend Jane, must've nodded. Because I didn't hear any reply.

"We did it here the other night," confessed my wife. "Real spontaneous. Right up on the mat. Neither of us said a word."

"Oh... my... God," said Jane.

"And it was... it was absolutely transcendental."

Yes, I think that's the word my wife used: transcendental.

"I mean it was just so animal and intense. Like it maybe only lasted at most fifteen seconds from the time we'd pulled each other's shorts down. But what a fifteen freaking seconds it was. Not at all like" - and here is where she delivered the aforementioned slight regarding my penis - "with that limp-dicked husband of mine" - so really I suppose it wasn't so much a size related jibe as a performance one. "And," continued my wife, "he even let me fondle his balls during... well, you know... although they were kind of puny... and not just compared to the rest of him either. Like they were only about the size of chick peas... or maybe a little bigger."

"Probably steroids," said Jane, who's a nurse.

"Speaking of testicles..." I interjected.

Then they saved my life. First they left their side's door standing open. Then, while Jane called the owner, my wife brought me bottled waters to drink and buckets of cold water to pour over my head, and which I can tell you felt absolutely delicious. She examined the situation and said that my "boys" did indeed appear to be, "too big to fit back up through the crack." I didn't even mind her touching them a little in the course of her examination. Soon the owner appeared with a saw-all to cut away the outermost plank. He said I wouldn't have to pay if he could post it in the club's electronic newsletter, but my wife told him to bill us, which surprised me because normally she's very frugal.

I did receive a query from the Darwin Awards Committee suggesting I might be eligible in the survivors' category if I could demonstrate a diminished sperm count. I also got phone calls and emails from several local radio stations. There is, as Aron Ralston is surely aware, no escaping one's fifteen seconds of fame.

But I resented the attention. It felt misdirected, or misinterpreted maybe. I mean, it was just an accident. It could've happened to anyone and was not the result of excessive stupidity or negligence as the Darwin people implied. It wasn't even an unfortunate accident in the long view. The heart is a more forgiving organ than the testicles, perhaps because of its capacity for honesty and pleasure. Our lovemaking has improved. We've even used the club's exercise mats on two midnight occasions, though not the one by the heavy bag overlooking court three. My wife encourages me to touch her any way I want now and claims to like the fact that it makes her a little uncomfortable. She's even come up with a few suggestions that make me uncomfortable in that regard, but that I am seriously entertaining. And I let her fondle my testicles now too. Whatever she wants. Whenever she wants. However she wants. Oddly, we all trust her now. We all trust each other. And this is good.


  1. What an amazing story... frank, naked, raw. As I read on, I couldn't predict how it was going to end. However, I do think there was a lot of unnecessary preambulation, which I must admit - being female and not having the body parts in question - I skipped through.

    1. Thanks for reading and remarking, Rosemary. I was wondering about the amount of setup myself. Even though I'm male.

  2. Brilliant comedic story. The deadpan, meticulous voice of the narrator juxtaposed with what some might call the "crass" or "impolite" subject matter creates the tension and humor. Miller is a perfectionist, as obsessive about his prose, as the narrator is obsessive about his penis and testicles. The syntax--long sentences with elevated diction also contrasts with the banality of the subject matter, adding to the hilarity. What an oddball character--so novel--and what a crazy, yet wonderfully amusing subject for a story. Miller voices what so many of us dare not utter, and this adds to the giddiness the audience feels. I laughed throughout at the narrator's mental meanderings and his attention to minutia. Miller, I would guess, is just as obsessive about his attention to prose, so finely crafted were the sentences. The circular element of the story--a couple with a lackluster sex life who in the end finds their passion enlivened because of testicular trauma--demonstrates that Miller is a writer who understands the architecture of a great story. Miller executes this tale with great finesse, and his story is a monument of comedic fiction. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful and most inspiring remarks, James. I dare say I might've enjoyed it more than you did the piece. I've come to believe that reading (vs. writing) is the real gift. Very much appreciate your time and effort, and kind words, here.

  3. Your next story should involve the zipper.

    1. a themed collection... hmmm... nah, but thanks for the sug.

  4. I've never before read a story with such a mundane description of male genitalia that was so freaking hysterical. Nice story. Very funny.

  5. Owch! I will take this as a cautionary sauna vs. testicle tale. On another subject, I always wear shorts in the change room...

  6. Hi Chris
    I seldom comment, but I loved every excruciating detail, which in my opinion only added to establish the 'your' character and sets such a great tone. Humour is such a difficult concept to convey and I think you do it exceptionally well. Only problem is, I can't stop laughing.

    1. Thanks so much, Monica. Your remarks made my day. Appreciate your reading and taking the time.

  7. I don't think I'll be using a sauna for a long time. Great writing in a very original story.

  8. I can picture this as a stand-up comedy routine. Loved the narrator's self-deprecating humor!

    1. Interesting notion. Maybe if I ever get the nerve and opportunity... Thanks for reading and commenting.