Yesterday, my penis nearly exploded when I flew to Montreal, Canada. I hate when that happens.
On the plane, I sat next to an ancient fellow with a raggedy grey beard and a tragic face. He bore a resemblance to some inner notion I have of Don Quixote and he was reading Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I was pleased to see someone indulging in literature, but couldn’t think of an opening salvo to engage him. None of these lines, which I considered, would have worked:
“You haven’t read it before?” (This was too rude, implying that he was old.)
“What do you think of it?” (Joyce doesn’t really lend itself to an airplane discussion.)
“Are you, by any chance, in a production of Man of La Mancha?” (Also too rude.)
So I didn’t bug the fellow and shortly after takeoff, I passed out, which often happens to me on planes. The stress of the whole ordeal acts as a sedative. First there’s the trauma of getting to the airport, and then there’s the overload of guilt feelings I experience as I pass through security. You see, when I go through the metal detectors, I think I should be stopped and arrested. Beaten and lashed would also work. I’m not carrying any weapons, but I feel like a bad person. I feel like that all the time, but I’m not so conscious of it, except at checkpoints with authority figures.
I once read a self-help book in the ‘80s—I don’t remember the title, it was something like All Families Are Sick—and the author addressed the reader at one point and said: “You think you are bad and deserve to be punished.” That’s me! Yet somehow I escape punishment at airports. But the life of a fugitive, I find, is exhausting, and so I pass out soon after I’m seated on a plane.
When I woke up halfway through the short flight to Montreal, I discovered that the comely stewardess had put an immigration card on my lap, which was forward of her in a pleasant way. I took a pen out of my jacket pocket and dispatched with the form. I went to put the pen back, but then I remembered that my pens often erupt when I fly and over the years I’ve destroyed several shirts and one sport coat. Yesterday, I was wearing my prized seersucker jacket and certainly didn’t want a pen to explode in its beautiful confines. I needed the jacket to be in good shape for my performances here at the Juste Pour Rire Comedy Festival. So, feeling very clever, I put the pen in my backpack. Ha! Sometimes I do learn from past errors.
Shortly thereafter, the plane landed. I was sitting next to the window. My seatmate with the mournful countenance got up first and I followed close behind. Too close behind, literally. My foot snagged on something and I bumped into Don Quixote’s rear-quarter. This might not have been so bad, except the air pressure, which causes pens to explode, had caused my penis to swell impressively and the thing jabbed into the ancient Joyce-fan like a shiv in a prison fight, or something else in a prison, the something else that it was. I don’t think he was aware of what had stabbed him—he just looked over his shoulder with a questioning look as I dismounted from him like a stallion from a mare. We exchanged our first and only line of dialogue. “Sorry,” I said. He nodded and proceeded up the aisle.
I also proceeded up the aisle and my erection wouldn’t go down. I covered it with the flap of my seersucker. The thing was really protruding. I recalled that this had happened to me before on planes, but I couldn’t put my penis in my backpack as I had my pen.
I got out of the plane and up ahead was a fellow performer in the festival, whom I had been chatting with in the airport lounge—Sarah Vowell, a fine writer of several books and an editor for the wildly popular radio program This American Life. She’s a very attractive young woman, who has a proper and civilized demeanor, and I didn’t want her to see that I was having priapic airsickness. Luckily, she didn’t wait for me, but I knew I’d catch up to her at Passport Control. So as I walked through the airport, I tried to do yoga breaths to bring the thing down. But I wear boxer shorts and I think the lack of restriction was working against me. As I walked I jiggled and my penis misread this as encouragement to keep it up, so to speak. Up ahead, I could see Sarah. I’ll never get on NPR, I wailed in my mind. Forget about This American Life, Ames, I told myself, This American Erection in Canada is going to be your undoing. Maybe I can be on This American Death.
I approached Passport Control and was still ready to star in a porn film, but then I was handed a SARS form. I thought of answering “yes” to all the questions—Do you have a fever? Have you French-kissed a SARS-affected person?—so that I could be taken to a back room and shot. Maybe shot right in the penis. But then for some reason, my erection went down. I think reading about SARS did it.
I caught up to Sarah and we traveled together to the hotel and performed on the same bill last night. All is well. NPR, here I come! So to speak.
Jonathan Ames will be performing in Reading It again tonight, July 18, at the Centaur Theater in Montreal. Reading It is part of the Juste Pour Rire/Just For Laughs Comedy Festival.