About once every three years I become convinced that my testicles are poisoned, and that I am dying from it. It is not an STD-generated fear, though STD-hysteria has occasionally factored in over the years. Maybe it's because my testicles seem paradoxically important and vulnerable. Or because my testicles are so unknowable. Or possibly it's because I'm a tremendous narcissist who craves attention so much that he would pay any price to have a total stranger closely examine his most intimate parts. I just don't know! (Which is why I favor option #2 re: my vastly unknowable balls.) Whatever its source, as James Frey has his irrepressible Fury, I have the Fear. And, again like Mr. Frey, my Fear is largely the product of a vivid imagination that I will go to any length to pass off as non-fiction.
A couple months ago the Fear returned like clockwork and, after consulting with my physician, I became convinced that something must be done. Someone else must take a good, long, hard look at my testicles. So I made an appointment for a testicular sonogram. A testicular sonogram, or "TS" as its known in industry lingo, is kind of like an ultrasound for pregnant women. The primary difference is instead of staring a monitor and seeing a fuzzy image of the miracle of life beginning to take form, with a TS you stare at a fuzzy image of your balls. Just sitting there, not doing much. No wiggly baby-fingers or heartbeat. Just a tiny little island of balls in a sea of VGA blackness. My little babies.
When my name was called from the waiting room of the Radiology clinic, I put away the copy of What's Inside Your Chest Cavity Magazine, and walked to the back of the office where I was greeted by a tiny, middle-aged Russian woman. She instructed me, "Go there and take off bottom. Leave on tops, remove all bottoms. You can keep socks." Then I was ushered into a changing closet while she prepped the examining room for our "date."
To reinforce the Radiology clinic's cheery "Illness Is Dehumanizing" patient care initiative, the changing closet was appointed with the existential grimness of an IT guy's dream office. It was beige and windowless,with a dismantled Radio Shack computer piled up in one corner and several old Dilbert comic strips taped to the walls, yellowed and brittle with age. The only distinctions it had were an open cardboard box filled with disposable gowns and a full-length mirror mounted to one of the walls.
The mirror was an unnecessary extravagance, in my opinion, because I sincerely doubt I would need (or want) to see myself in a full-length mirror, wearing nothing but a hooded sweatshirt, t-shirt, and brown socks. It is not a good look. In fact, it's probably the second-worst look; add a wizard hat and it's officially the worst look. You should never be in a position where you're a wizard hat away from the worst possible look a man can ever present.
The fully dressed top with no bottoms look was popularized by Porky Pig. And, if my memory of the Looney Toons universe serves me well, Porky Pig was not a cartoon character who commanded a great deal of respect. Kids weren't clamoring for Porky Pig t-shirts and lunchboxes, and I don't know anyone who ever yelled at his television screen for Bugs Bunny to "stop pulling focus from Porky!" He was, after all, a bald, stuttering, pig who walked around with his pants off. Not much to relate to there, particularly when he was competing with He-Man and the Superfriends for your Saturday morning cartoon attention. I think I had more respect for Rubik The Amazing Cube than I did Porky. At least Rubik knew how to get things done, as long as that genius kid molested him into a solved state first.
I do remember Porky Pig's many embarrassing attempts to court Petunia Pig and thinking, Man, he's got to tighten up his game. No one should see your scrotum before the first date. It's common sense, but it's amazing how often we forget it. No one is going to give her heart to you in full if all she can think about is, "Do I really want this guy sitting on my furniture?"
So there I was, Porky Pigging It (you're welcome, Wikipedia) and staring at my own embarrassing reflection. It occurred to me that the mirror might have been a page ripped straight from the book of Marines Special Forces boot camp—a psychological pummeling designed to completely tear down your sense of self in order to better prepare you for the degradation that awaits you in the next room.
With my legs bare, my feet socked, and a blue, paper gown covering my genitals, I was led into a room with some outdated equipment and a cold examination table. The Russian lady was kind of enough to turn my bed down, dragging a clean sheet of butcher paper across the exam table. She told me to lie down and spread my legs a bit. I obliged.
Then she went to work on the paper belt securing my gown. I had double-knotted it for safety so she was having some difficulty. She was spending a lot of time down there and it was making me uncomfortable, so I offered to help. ("Here. Let me get that.") This in turn, made her uncomfortable, which made me even more uncomfortable. Because of the goal of this operation—to expose one's balls—it's easy to accidentally fumble through the motions of something resembling coitus during a procedure like this, even when your partner is a near-midget Russian woman in corrective shoes who makes your penis want to cry.
Eventually we reached the actionable point of our meeting: my balls were out. And, once out, the Russian elf jammed a large sheet of white paper between my legs. The paper had a circular hole in the middle, large enough to slip my scrotum through. (Coincidence??!! As an aside, I would like to say the award for Most Demeaning Job in the Medical Industry goes to whomever is charged with quality control to make sure those paper-holes have been properly cut.) With my scrotum shaft concealed beneath the paper, and the rest of my body covered in sweatshirt or socks, all that remained exposed was one genuine set of balls. I take back all that stuff I said about Porky Pigs and wizard hats; this is the worst fashion choice a man can make, hands-down. I have some friends who think nothing is funnier than swinging their scrotum out of their zipper and then posing for pictures with oblivious strangers, but those guys are wrong. It looked like a groundhog scared of its shadow.
Once out, the technician wasted no time in covering my balls in conductive jelly, and working them over with electronic paddles. She spent about 15 minutes doing this and exhibited neither a sign of disgust (I can't say the same for me) nor pleasure. In fact, it seemed like she'd gone numb from the sheer volume of testicles she sees on a daily basis. I wonder if she goes home at night and writes in her diary: "Tuesday. More balls today. So many balls...I feel as though I am chained to the wheel of life, except the wheel is just some balls instead. Not to undermine the metaphor or anything..."
Obviously, during a procedure like this there's not a lot of room for small talk but that didn't stop me from trying. I guess I thought conversation would lessen the singular awkwardness of lying on a table with your balls covered in jelly while your testicles are broadcast on television. As I searched my brain for suitable chitchat subjects it kept rolling back on the obvious. Finally I asked, "Just curious. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate my balls?" I thought it would be funny until, without even looking up to acknowledge me, she dead-panned back, "seven-point-three."