“Why does my ass point down?” my son JD asked.
He’d just turned ten and suddenly had a lot of questions about his body.
“Don’t say ass,” I said.
“You’re too young to say ass.”
“Why does it point down?”
I stopped what I was doing.
“Where would you want it to point? Up?”
JD smiled at this idea.
“Yeah,” he said.
“And have it up there with your mouth? Are you insane?”
“No,” JD said. “Your mouth could point down.”
Until now I’d kept my laptop open, thinking I’d get to continue what I was busy with. I closed it.
“Where would it be?” I asked.
“Where the ass is.”
I couldn’t believe this.
“So,” I said, “let me get this straight. You’d have us talk out our behinds?”
JD assumed a professorial air.
“Long ago,” he said, “when our descendants were animals, they ate things off the ground.”
“Our ancestors lived long ago. Our descendants will never be born if you keep thinking like this.”
JD ignored me and continued.
“If their mouths pointed down, they would be closer to the grass and stuff.”
He always did this to me. He’d get onto some crazy idea but he’d have a point of sorts.
“I see,” I said. “But remember, their ancestors walked on four legs, and their asses pointed back, not down, see?”
“Like a zebra,” I said. “A zebra—”
“Are zebras our ancestors?”
“No man! Some other thing.”
“What other thing? A dinosaur?”
When we got into arguments like these, I always blamed my wife. “There’ll be little voices around the house,” she always said when she tried to talk me into having kids. Now there were voices, but I was the one who had to deal with what they were saying.
“Our ancestors who walked on four legs,” I tried again, “had their mouths at the front, where the food was, and their asses at the back, away from the food.”
But JD’s eyes had glazed over.
“Why does my willy have a skin on it?” he asked.
“There’s a guy at school who says I shouldn’t have a skin on my willy.”
“I bet he doesn’t have one, right?”
JD looked puzzled.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“How does he know you have a foreskin then?”
“What’s a foreskin?”
“It’s the skin we’re talking about, the one on your willy.”
“But there’s only one,” JD said after thinking for a moment.
“Oh,” I said. “Fore, as in at the front. You know, like the animal’s mouth. Not the number four.”
“Why do we have eyebrows?” JD asked, losing interest in his foreskin.
“Wait,” I said. “How does this guy know you’ve got a foreskin?”
“He looked while I was peeing. Why do we have eyebrows?”
I thought for a moment and couldn’t even remember what I was busy with before he interrupted me.
“Men are born with foreskins the world over,” I said. “But some people—”
“What about eyebrows?”
“But some people have the custom of cutting them off.”
“Cut them off?” he whispered.
Now I had him.
“Yes,” I said, secretly surprised at how handy a foreskin had suddenly become.
“Their eyebrows?” he cried and held his head.
“No, goddammit! Their foreskins!”
JD gave me a look that suggested that I’d changed the subject.
“How come I’m the one who has to bring up foreskins now?” I asked.
He let go of his head and made an effort to listen.
“Yes,” I said to calm myself. “They cut off the foreskin of that boy at school, and now he’s sore at you.”
“I don’t know. Some doctor. Or a rabbi.”
“Is he still sore?”
“No. I meant he’s angry that you didn’t have to go through that.”
JD looked pleased by this.
“What’s a rabbi?” he asked. “Does it hurt?”
I decided to skip the rabbis.
“All babies cry when they cut it,” I said. “It’s called circumcision.”
JD was unperturbed by this news.
“What’s a custom?” he asked.
“I said that miles back!” I exploded. “Isn’t there something you can go and do? I want to work.”
“I’m doing something,” he said calmly.
“Yeah, I know. You’re pestering me!”
JD smiled in that annoying way of his that made you forgive him for anything.
“A custom,” I said, “is something people always do. Like—”
“No,” I sighed. “Breathing is not a custom. Breathing is necessary. Customs are always unnecessary.”
JD thought about this.
“Even at the airport,” I added, trying to make a joke.
“So they don’t have to cut off your willy?” he asked at length.
“Just the foreskin,” I said. “No, they don’t have to. But they do.”
“I don’t know.”
I hoped that he’d realise that I didn’t know everything and go away.
“I don’t want a foreskin,” he announced.
“Are you serious?”
“I want to be like the other boys.”
“What other boys? You told me about one boy. You don’t know about the rest of them!”
“I want certain fission,” he insisted.
“It’s circumcision,” I laughed.
“Yes,” he agreed. “I want it.”
“Well,” I said, “that’ll be like taking a used car and cutting off its roof. You’ll end up with a beach bum’s cabriolet.”
“What’s a cabriolet?” JD asked.
I could take it no longer.
“A cabriolet is a willy without a foreskin,” I said.
“Cabriolet,” JD mused as he filed this information away.
“Now go,” I said and opened my laptop.
“What about eyebrows?” he asked.