Friday, November 29, 2013

I Was a Pre-Teenaged Proctologist, or Sort of . . .

When I was twelve years old and in the eighth grade, I played the sousaphone in my middle schoool band. My career as a sousaphone player was short-lived. I could devote an entire blog or two to the unsuitability of my roughly fifty-pound physique to the rigors of toting even the lightest-weight sousaphone available, and may at some other time do just that, but it will have to wait for another day, because today I wish to share how a most prized textbook came into my possession on an October day when I was twelve.

Our band had finished marching the route of a parade in Rocklin, California, which is, if I recall correctly, at the very base of  rolling foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. I don't know what happens now when a horde of middle school children finish their part in a parade and have to wait around for an awards ceremony, as there's a much greater climate of fear where today's children are concerned.  Even though it had already happened (we weren't all that far from either the location from which Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped or from the place she was held captive for the better part of twenty years), it just didn't occur to the parents, teachers, or school administrators that they were endangering us by letting us descend upon a town unsupervised for a few hours. In retrospect, I'm really glad we were neglected in that regard, because some of the best times I had as a kid would never happen to a child growing up in today's U.S.A.

I  was with three two  girls, Meredith, Megan,  and Claire, whom I still count among my closest friends. We had lunch at a Burger King and found our way back to the parade route on what was probably the town's main street.  Nothing we saw in the parade made much of an impression, so we started wandering into and out of some of the quaint shops lining the business district. Meredith bumped into a shelf and nearly leveled a ceramic display, which unsettled her; she didn't want to go into any more boutiques where she might do any damage for which her parents would have to pay. Additionally, we were getting some rather obnoxiously judgmental stares from saleswomen who probably assumed we were there to help ourselves to their merchandise without paying for any of it. Claire spotted the sign of a Goodwill store and suggested that we go in there to kill a bit of time because even if Meredith broke every last item in the store, paying for it wouldn't send her parents into bankruptcy court, and everyone knows that no one shoplifts at the Goodwill store. Even the most undignified among us have levels to which they will not stopp, and shoplifting at the Goodwill store is on one of such levels.

Once inside, Megan and Meredith immediately went to the clothing racks and found all manner of sartorial splendor. I was if anything less enamored of clothing shopping than I am now. Every clothing item presently  in my closet was ordered online or bought for me by someone else.  Even had I possessed an age-appropriate desire to shop, being relegated to  little girls' size eights  would have been enough to dampen my spirits. While our friends checked out vintage disco clothing, Claire and I headed for the book shelves.

I recall finding my black band uniform gloves in one of my pockets and putting them on so that I didn't have to touch the inch-or-so-thick layer of dust coating the book selection. I moved along the shelf, pulling out any title that seemed vaguely interesting, though very few were interesting in the least, until I reached a particular volume, a faded red book cover with black lettering and detailing. I carefully pulled the book from its shelf using only the gloved tips of my fingers, perhaps with the thought that the previous owner might possibly have been using it as a reference while he worked. Yes, I had read correctly. The title of the book really was  Essentials of Proctology, by Harry Bacon and Curtice Rosser.

My first impulse upon coming across the book was to shout across the store to my friends, "Oh my God! You won't believe what I just found!" I did not want, however, to merely look at the book until it was taken away from me by some well-meaning geriatric Goodwill store employee, but to actually buy the book, so I stifled that impluse. I calculated that I had a better shot at getting out of the store with the book if I bought several at a time, so I picked up four others, which were dumped into the first trash receptacle I spotted upon exiting the store. At a cost of fifty cents per book,  my total expenditure for my amazing find was a mere $2.50 plus tax. Megan had spently nearly twice what I spent just for a rather unsightly glittery fuschia vest that only God knows who wore in its past lives.

No one in our middle school band was terribly interested in the results as announced at the awards ceremony. My fellow band members were far more interested in looking over each others' shoulders at the various colorectal diseases and conditions, and the examination precedures for each, as detailed in the illustrations of my new book. One particularly gruesome page featured a nude man attached to a contraption that spread his legs (and other body parts) far apart to expose what appaeared to the untrained eye to be an incredibly fungus-infected posterior region, with the corresponding page featuring men in white coats wearing those doctor head reflector things  while performing whatever procedure it was that proctologists performed on fungus-infected posterior regions in 1943.  I can remember thinking that it  looked very much like some sort of chamber of horrors.

On the bus ride, home, I was able to recoup the cost of the book and more by renting it out for a dollar for each  five minutes of viewing time. If memory serves me correctly, I walked off the bus that day with five crumpled one-dollar bills plus an assortment of nickels, dimes, and quarters to equal an additional two dollars.  In retrospect, the band director, seated at the front of the bus, probably should have been at least mildly curious about what it was that was so engrossing to the children in his care. Perhaps he was mildly curious, but if so, he never acted on his curiosity. My renters read the book in peace, unhampered by any pesky adult intrusions.

I took the book home and put it on my bookshelf between my Bible and the Book of Mormon  that my grandmother had given me. That to me seemed the most unlikely place on my bookshelf for anyone to snoop.  The book came off the shelf a couple of times after the day I bought it because I wanted to reasure myself that it was as disgusting as I had initially thought. It was.

That year my classmates and I had a language arts teacher who did little to inspire confidence in the teaching profession. This teacher's incompetence was probably apparent to administration within a week of the start of the school year, but, as is usually the case in such matters, if the teacher is not caught exposing himself or herself  to , molesting, or poisoning a child, the teacher usually gets to finish the year [with pay] regardless of how utterly lacking his or her job performance may be. Near the end of the year, when the teacher had been told she would not be returning the following year, she gave up any pretense of actually teaching us anything, though she needed to report for work and house us in her clssroom for the required periods of day if she wished to continue drawing her paycheck. So that she wouldn't have thirty-three bodies hovering around some stage of oncoming adolsecence chasing each other around the small classroom, the teacher usually assigned students to various irrelevant oral presentations, which would require absolutely no preparation on her part.

When the non-teacher assigned book reports, I knew, along with any student who had been on the bus with me that day, just what book I would be sharing with my classmates. One boy came to school even though he was throwing up that day just so he wouldn't miss my presentation. On the assigned day, I brought the book to my language arts classroom and proceeded to tell every student there everything they ever wanted to know about proctology and then some, complete with illustrations. I don't think the non-teacher ever looked up from her magazine to see what it was that had the entire class quiet for the first time all year. I got the book home and back into its place on my shelf between the Bible and the Book of Mormon without incident.

After dinner that night, as my brother and I were doing our homework in our rooms, the telephone rang several times. Afterwards, I heard my parents laughing loudly and speaking animatedly. I remember assuming they were watching something really funny on television and resenting that I was slaving away on a history report when others in the house had time for frivolity. Then my dad hollered up the stairs, "Alexis, come down here. And bring your book with you."  I thought about inquiring "What book?" but thought better of it. I took Essentials of Proctology from its appointed place on my shelf and went downstairs.

My dad took the book from me as I reached the bottom of the stairs, and I followed him into the family room. My brother quietly left his room to perch at the top of the stairs and overhear as much as he could.

"Alexis, how many books have you read this year?" my mom asked.

"I don't know," I replied honestly. My brother's and my TV time was restricted to an hour a day on school days and two hours a day on weekends and school holidays, so I had a lot of time to read. I probably went through two to three books a week in an average week.

"Then estimate," my mom ordered.

"Maybe," I mentally calculated, ".  .  . eighty."

"Then why in hell," my dad cut in, "did you choose this book for your book report?"  he demanded, holding up Essentials of Proctology.

"It just seemed interesting," I answered.

The telephone rang, but no one moved to answer it.

"Oh, it was interesting, all right," he exploded. "We've had four different calls from parents of your classmates complaining that you brought pornography to school. That's probably a fifth call right there."

"It's not pornography," I argued.

"No, it isn't," my mom agreed, "but it's not an appropriate book for an eighth grade English report, either."

"My teacher didn't complain," I countered.

"Your teacher wouldn't complain about anything as long as you didn't disturb her reading of Vogue," my mom opined.

"Who complained, anyway?" I asked.

"You don't need to know that, " my dad told me. "Go back to your room and finish your homework. . . And don't pick anymore inappropriate books for oral book reports."

I thought about asking for my book, but thought again and didn't.

The next night my dad handed me ten dollars. "What's this for?" I asked him as my brother whined that he wanted ten dollars, too.

"I sold your book for you," he responded.

"I didn't really want to sell it," I told him.

"Do you want then ten dollars or not?" he asked. "If you want to keep the money, you'd best shut up about the book."

Years later, I learned that my dad had taken the book to work the day following my book report. His colleagues had quite a time looking at the circa 1940 torture chamber pictures, and one of them was more than happy to take it off my dad's hands to put in  his personal library. I've never, before or since, had an investment that yielded a greater than six hundred per cent return. If you're looking for a quick way to double your money or to do even better, I recommend scouring used bookstores for textbooks relating to proctology.


  1. My Nana used to have a book about different Dermatologic conditions that I was forbidden to look at, probably because there were photos genitals, and different STD's. That sounds really bad about my grandmother. She was diagnosed with (early stage) skin cancer that she had to have removed, so I believe that's the reason she owned the book.

    Anyways, I find it alarming how parents avoid teaching their children about their bodies and the way that they function. It's important, and I think if a child has a clear interest in a topic, it's good to acknowledge questions, and guide them through age appropriate discussion. Benjamin is at the age where bodily functions are funny. So, we've talked about the importance of our stomach and intestines, and how they work to keep us healthy. I've even shown him photos from an endoscopy. I think it's important for him to know that the human body isn't disgusting. And really, it's not something to joke about either.

    1. PS; That picture at the end is priceless.

  2. OMG… I am so glad I mentioned proctology in my blog. This is one of your funniest stories yet!

  3. It's funny how we have an entire bank of memories stored in our minds, and it takes some sort of keyword to access many of them because they're packed in with so many other memories and they happened long enough ago that they mostly remain quite far from the conscious level. Had you not mentioned proctology, I never would have thought about my old book.

    Becca, I totally agree. that's actually one of the relatively few things my parents did somewhat correctly. They were very open with us, but they were leery (because of incidents like the story above) of the results of my brother or me sharing too much of our knowledge with our peers.

  4. Becca, I just happened upon the PeeWee Herman picture on Google Images. It is full of greatness.