The Mechanics Of The Thing



Jerome  Turken

Dr. Lichtner’s waiting room should have been called his worry room.  All three of us were sitting there shitting in our pants.  The two men, both about fifty, had come in after me.  Both were wearing business suits.  One was short and thin and had a mustache like Ronald Coleman.  He was snapping over the pages of a magazine, raising his eyes and glancing around the room every ten seconds like he couldn’t get interested in anything.  The other one had the body and face of a bulldog.  He had his legs crossed and his arms folded on his chest and was just staring at the floor.  About as often as the first one glanced around the room, he raised his right elbow and extended a finger to lift his left sleeve and glanced at a heavy gold wristwatch.  Two other men who had been sitting there when I walked in had already gone into the examining rooms and hadn’t come out yet.  They also looked worried.

The receptionist, a tall woman of about forty with teary eyes and a narrow, hooked nose was bustling around a small cubicle of an office that was separated from the rest of the waiting room by a low partition.  She was whirring to and from filing cabinets and in and out the examining rooms; she was typing, stapling, filling out forms, answering telephones and whatnot.  She was wearing a white uniform and, as busy as she was, had a kind, gentle way about her.  She kept glancing at me and smiling, trying to set this edgy kid at ease.  That made me worry even more.  I tried to smile back, but how can anyone smile who’s wondering if anything can be done about his dick, wondering if he’s going to have to live out the rest of his life without ever getting laid, don’t even talk about getting married and having children.

I don’t think I smiled for six days.  The day after Toby told me there was something wrong with it I went to the Bushwick Avenue library and spent three hours looking over Human Anatomy by Samuel F. Prager, M.D., and reading about diseases of the male genitals in Medical Symptoms and Diseases.  I’d gotten it into my head that my dick had something missing, some muscle or nerve, something like the balance system of the inner ear that we learned about in Science 1.  Besides telling about diseases the book had some information about size and feeling and getting erections, but nothing at all about getting into vaginas.  The next day I went back and found another book called The Home Book of  Medicine.  It didn’t say much about dicks but there was a section in the back on medical specialties, which is where I found out that for my kind of trouble you go to a urologist.  That’s what I was reading instead of my American History book to prepare for the regents, which was coming up in less than two weeks, and I still had four hundred pages to go because I only read half the book all term.  And then after that I couldn’t do any history reading either because my mind was too fucked up about having to tell a urologist that I can’t screw right because there’s something wrong with my dick.

I remembered the advice Mr. Scaglione once gave my mother about doctors: “When itsa to eat, Italian.  When itsa opera, Italian.  When itsa wine, Italian.  Buta when itsa doctore, Jew, at’s all.”

So I took a walk to the Primo Cigar store near the Marcy Avenue station and looked up physicians in the Manhattan classified–he had to be out of our neighborhood altogether.  I picked out about fifteen Jewish‑ sounding names with ‘Practice Limited to Urology’ after them and copied down their addresses and telephone numbers.  When I got home I studied the list and narrowed it down to Abraham Leibowitz and Stewart Lichtner, since they didn’t have middle initials, then decided on Lichtner because Abraham sounded too old.

The next day I went back to the Primo Cigar Store and made the call and asked the receptionist what the office hours are.

“Dr. Lichtner sees patients by appointment only,” the receptionist said.

“Then I’d like to make an appointment,” I said.

“Can you tell me what you want to see him about?”

“It’s personal.”

“I see,” the receptionist said.  Then there was a pause.  “Would you mind telling me old you are?”

“Sixteen.” I made myself a year older, since you had to be that old to get working papers.

There was another pause.  “Will one of your parents be with you?”

“They’re in Florida,” I said.

“Don’t you think it would be a good idea to wait until they get back?” the receptionist said.

“They won’t get back for another three months,” I said.  “I have to see Dr. Lichtner before that.”

“Are you in pain?”


“Do you have an unusual discharge?”


“What makes it so urgent then?”

“It’s personal.”

“I see.  Who referred you to Dr. Lichtner?”

“No one.  I got him out of the classified telephone book.”

“I see,” the receptionist said.  “Just one moment. I’m going to put you on hold.”  When she came back she said, “All right, Dr. Lichtner will see you.  Would Monday, July 23 at 4 PM be all right?”

“That’s two weeks from now,” I said.  “I can’t wait two weeks.”

“Well, if you’re not in pain and you don’t have an unusual discharge, why not?”

“Well, I’m very upset about what’s wrong,” I said.  “I might have a nervous breakdown in two weeks.”

“A nervous breakdown?”  There was another pause.  “All right,” the receptionist said finally.  “I’m going to put you on hold again.”  This time she

didn’t get back for about four, five minutes and I had to put another nickel

into the telephone.

“All right,” she said.  “Dr. Lichtner will squeeze you in this Tuesday at 2:30.  That’s June 10.  Can I have your name, please?”

That was Friday.  The next three days were an ordeal of waiting.  I lost half my appetite.  I developed trouble breathing; my lungs always needed more air, and it kept getting worse, until, sitting there waiting my turn to see Dr. Lichtner now, I was just about suffocating under a blanket of gloom, dreading what he was going to tell me in the next half hour.

One of the men came out of the examining rooms.  He still looked worried.

“You can go in now, Mr. Geller,” the receptionist said.  The man reading the magazine practically leaped out of his chair and tossed the magazine onto the pile and went in.  The receptionist followed him, then came right out again.

“All right, Mark, you can go in now,” she said.

She led me through a corridor about twenty feet long with two doors on one side, both closed.  On the ceiling, running its length, were two long fluorescent tubes, giving everything a stark, white look.

“Dr. Lichtner’s consultation room is at the end,” she said.  It felt like I wouldn’t make it, like before I got half way there my legs would buckle under me.  “Just be seated, Mark.  He’ll be right with you.”  She closed the door.

It was a tiny room, crammed with just about all it could take.  There was a desk and chair and a second chair in front of it.  The wall behind it was lined with books, and hanging on the two side walls was a collection of about twenty diplomas.  There was even one from some Japanese medical society.  The fourth wall had two windows with a bookcase in between that went up to the ceiling and was jam‑packed with books and file folders.  The desk itself looked more like a display counter than a working desk.  It was filled with all sorts of statuettes, carvings, paperweights, photographs and some gadgets I couldn’t even make out.  On a narrow wooden stand squeezed in behind the desk was a trophy for bowling.

I sat down and waited.  After a few minutes I heard quick, heavy footsteps approaching then the sound of the door knob being pounced on; the latch opening tightened my stomach for the moment of truth.  In zipped Dr. Lichtner in a white smock, flinging the door closed behind him.

“Hi!  Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said.  He was so energized, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he leaped right over his desk to get to his chair instead of walking around it.  “I’m Dr. Lichtner.”  He put his hand out for me to shake.  “Your name is Mike‑‑?”

“Mark,” I said.  “Mark Ellenbogen.”

“Oh, yes, Mark,” Dr. Lichtner said.  “Mark Ellenbogen.”  He was very thin and his hair was cut short, almost crew cut.  He had a funny complexion, flushed reddish areas shading into pale, like a peach.  I liked his eyes, dark and enthusiastic; they almost twinkled.  You would have taken him for about twenty‑four if his face weren’t wrinkled to forty or more.  All in all he looked just about as gentile as they come.  “You’re the nervous kid, eh?” he said, managing a smile that somehow seemed to be concerned with my personal problem.  “What seems to be the trouble?”

I took a deep breath.  “I think there’s something wrong with my penis,” I said.   After blurting that out my throat seemed to have closed up on me.

“You do?” Dr. Lichtner said.  “Tell me about it.”  Then he went into

thought.  “Wait a minute, I’ll be right back.”  After a minute he came back but he didn’t close the door all the way.  He left it open about eight inches.

I looked at the door, then at him.

“It’s all right,” he said.  “I always leave it open a little.  If I close it gets very stuffy in here.  Now you said you think there’s something wrong with your penis.  Why?”

After about ten seconds of complete silence Dr. Lichtner thought he’d better prod me.

“Well what about your penis do you think is wrong?” he said.  “Does it hurt or anything?”

“No,” I said.

He waited a few seconds for me to go on.  “Did anything unusual start happening?” he said finally.  “Anything different that you’re worried about?”

“Not exactly,” I said.

“Not exactly.  Well what exactly about your penis prompted you to come to see me?”

“Well there seems to be something wrong with it.”  But I couldn’t get what out of my mouth.  It was like my mind stopped working altogether.

“Does it have anything to do with urinating?” Dr. Lichtner said.  Peeing.”

“No,” I said.

“All right, it has something to do with sex, does it?”

“Yes,” I said, and just sat there.


I finally got it out.  “Well, to tell you the truth, something’s wrong with

my penis that prevents me from having sexual intercourse right.”

“Really?” Dr. Lichtner said.  “What?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “That’s what I came here to find out.”

“Well, what makes you think there’s something wrong with your penis that prevents you from having sexual intercourse right?”

“Well, I can’t get it in,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know.  It just doesn’t seem to be able to get in, that’s all.”

Dr. Lichtner had the tips of both thumbs on his nose, sort of pugging it up, and his index fingers were pressed together on his forehead. “Well do you know where you’re supposed to put it?”

“Into the girl’s vagina.”

“Do you know where that is?”

“Right below the urethra.”

“Uh‑huh,” Dr. Lichtner said.  “You seem to be pretty familiar with the female genitals.  Was hers wet?”


“Uh‑huh.  I take it you know what a hymen is.  A cherry.”


“This girl you tried it with,” Dr. Lichtner said. “Does she still have hers?”

“Who, Toby?” I said.  “If she does two guys are lying.”

“Hm, I see,” Dr. Lichtner said.  “So she’s that type of girl, is she?”  He nodded.  “Um‑hm.  Tell me, was this Polly in a position that enabled you to get it in easily?  That is, did she have her legs spread and her knees bent up?”  As an afterthought he added, “I assume that she was lying on her back, with you on top.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Was your penis hard at that point?”


“And knowing precisely where the vagina is you still couldn’t get it in?”

“That’s right.”


“I don’t know.  That’s what I came here to find out.”

“Well do you have any theories?”

“Well, maybe there’s something wrong with the tip that’s supposed to give it the feel of where to go.”

“That kind of guides it in?  Like little feelers, or a little pair of eyes, or something?  Radar, like bats, maybe?”

“I don’t know.  Something like that.”

“Uh‑huh.” Dr. Lichtner pinched his nose a few times.  “Let me ask you this: how big is your penis when it’s hard?”  And he held his two index fingers out in front of him to show me how to show him.

I showed him.

“That seems fairly adequate,” he said.  “Now show me how fat it is.”  And he spread a thumb and index finger to show me how to show him that.

I showed him that too.

“Nothing wrong with that,” he said.  “Does it get real hard?”


“Does it stick up?”


He looked at me for a few seconds, his elbows resting on his desk, his two index fingers rubbing the wings of his nose.  “You know what masturbation is, don’t you?  Jerking off.”

“Yes.”  I felt my head flush

“Now there’s nothing wrong with masturbating,” Dr. Lichtner said.  “Practically everyone ever born masturbated at some time or other.  Probably even Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein masturbated at some time in their lives.  You have masturbated, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” I said, and my eyes lost focus completely.

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” Dr. Lichtner said. “Does anything come out?”


“Does it feel good?”


“I mean socko good.”


“Everything sounds perfectly great.” Dr. Lichtner said.

“Yes, but I just can’t get it in with a girl,” I said.

Dr. Lichtner stared at me.  “Tell me, how many times have you tried to have sexual intercourse?”


“So you tried once and failed.”  Dr. Lichtner stared down at his desk like he was deep in thought.  He looked up.  “Look, Mike, it’s a matter of simple mechanics.  Let me show you something.”  He got up and switched on a sort of spotlight, illuminating what looked like a batch of stiff cardboard panels hinged to a pole that was fastened to the wall.  He swung the panels around, like he was turning the pages of a book, until he got to a white one that had two black cutouts sticking to it, a man and a woman in screwing position, except the man was kind of floating in air above the woman.  He had a hardon and the woman’s vaginal canal was cut out.

“Now watch this,” Dr. Lichtner said.  He slid the man toward the woman and guided his penis right into her vagina. “A damn good fit, eh?”

I nodded.

“Now of course these positions are relative.”  And Dr. Lichtner turned both figures upside down so that the woman was now on top.  “You can even do it standing on your head if you want.”  And he placed the figures in that position. “Simple, isn’t it?”

I nodded but I wasn’t satisfied.

“All you have to do is get into any position that gives a good fit between your penis and her vagina,” Dr. Lichtner said, “and just stick it in using the ordinary sense of touch, the same as if you were sticking your finger in.  That’s all there is to it.  As far as feelers or eyes or radar or any complicated guidance system is concerned, forget it.  There ain’t no such thing.”  He stared at me, waiting for that to sink in, but he must have seen the puzzlement in my face.  “Were you in the right position?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And you still couldn’t get it in?”


Dr. Lichtner looked at me a moment with narrowed eyes. “Let me ask

you, how well do you know these two guys who gave you the testimonials for this Polly?”

“Toby.  I know them from around the neighborhood.”

“And they never exaggerate.”

“Well, I’m not sure.”

“Uh‑huh.  This Polly, I suppose you had your finger up there?”

“Yes,” I said, but as soon as I said it I had second thoughts.  I didn’t have it up there.  I just had it there.  But before I had a chance to take it back Dr. Lichtner’s momentum carried him to his next question.

“I mean, did it swim up?”  Dr. Lichtner said.  “As a matter of fact you should have been able to get two fingers up there with that type of girl.  So why shouldn’t you be able to do the same thing with your penis?”

“I don’t know why,” I said.  “I had it right there but it just wouldn’t go in.”

Dr. Lichtner was looking at me like he had run out of ideas.  “This Polly,” he said, “she isn’t a nervous girl, is she?  I mean, she does have all her marbles, doesn’t she?”

“I don’t think you could call Toby nervous,”  I said. Or was even that right, now that I thought of it; that funny smile on her face, the way she whaled into me that I didn’t know what I was doing, that I had it in the wrong place, instead of just showing me where the right place was without making a fuss over it.

“Would you mind telling me exactly what happened?” Dr. Lichtner said.

“Well, to tell you the truth I was kind of nervous,” I said.  “So maybe I didn’t have it in the right place.  And then Toby telling me that I didn’t know what I was doing got me more nervous and I lost track of exactly what happened and she kept on backing away saying there’s something wrong with it, maybe it’s crooked or damaged, or something.  Then she pushed me off her.”

Dr. Lichtner nodded.  “I see,” he said.  “Crooked or damaged.  She’s wrong!  So maybe you had a little trouble feeling your way in there.  Even with experienced people that happens from time to time in the excitement, for crissake. Even with married couples.  Now listen to me.  You look like the type of fellow who when you go looking for something you find it.  Now sometimes you have to be a little aggressive in a situation like that.  I mean, even if this Polly is experienced as hell, maybe she wants to make it appear as though you’re kind of taking her, that she’s not giving herself away so easy, if you know what I mean.  Some girls act that way, no matter how many times they were laid.  The one thing all of them hate is to look too easy.  They try to look as though they’re fighting you off sometimes, even if it’s the twentieth time they’re having sex.  By the way, how old is this Polly?”

“About sixteen,” I said.

“And she’s well developed?”  He held out his hands like he was holding a beach ball.

“Very well developed.”

“Uh‑huh,” Dr. Lichtner said.  “How big is she?”

“About a half a head taller than me.”

“Well, why don’t you go see her again?  And this time just take your time about it.  Just remember, it’s a simple matter of lining yourself up right with her, that’s all. Take another look at that board.”

I took another look and nodded.

“In my opinion there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your penis, Mike,” Dr. Lichtner said.  “It’s perfectly normal.  As far as Polly goes, just get her legs up and take your time getting it there.  Be a little firm.  I mean, don’t force her or anything, just be a little firmer than she is, that’s all.  A lot of girls like that.”  The inside of Dr. Lichtner’s head seemed to be bubbling now.  His dark eyes were blazing.  For the first time during the visit I really began to believe that he knew more about sex than Toby did.

“That’s your prescription, Mike,” he was saying. “Just put it in and start screwing, for crissake!  It’s as easy as putting your hand in a glove, for crissake!  Easier!”  He got up.  “And if Polly gives you a hard time don’t worry about that either.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  There’s something wrong with her.  Get yourself another girl.  The heck with her!”

When Dr. Lichtner got up I got up too.  “Just one more thing,” he said.  “You do use a condom, don’t you?  A rubber.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Good,” Dr. Lichtner said.  “Just don’t worry about it.  Most guys have trouble the first time.  They get lost in the excitement.  Especially at your age for crissake.  If you just remember the mechanics of the thing you’ll be all right eventually.”  He extended his hand and we shook.  “Give me a buzz in about two months.  I’d like to know how you make out.  By the way, forget the fee.  I wish I had someone like me around when I was your age.”

As I got up a whiteness retreating from the open door caught my eye.  Was that the receptionist?  What was she, listening or something.  Aah, who cared?  Walking back out it felt as though a thousand pound weight was just lifted off my chest.  The corridor seemed less stark, mellower.  The receptionist was busy sorting some papers.  She looked at me and smiled.  “Goodby, Mark,” she said.


Outside it had just begun to rain.  I looked straight up at the sky and let the drops hit my face.  Jesus, the air smelled good.