The Sun Also Rises
By Ernest Hemingway
Man, lemme tell you.
When I first read Sun Also Rises in college, I felt like I was playing some bizarro game of Penis Bingo. ”Page 18! Line 12! PENIS!” I would mutter with crazy eyes.
I had just learned about phallic symbols and I have a copy of the book that I lovingly refer to as my Cock Copy since it’s full to the brim of underlined penis/sex references. It looks like a total perv was jerking off to Hemingway in the most literary and freakish way possible. If red ink was jizz, my copy would have been soaked. And possibly impregnated.
Not kids today, though! I was tutoring Hemingway’s tome, gleefully pointing out choice moments and suddenly noticed that the room was still, eyes on me warily, like I was asking them to please picture their parents naked, covered in Thousand Island Dressing and doing the nasty on their heads.
“Wait. Your professor hasn’t been talking about all the sex stuff?” I asked, cautious and worried, dry-erase marker hovering like an anxious insect in my hand at the board, in the middle of writing, “Baton @ end = SWELLING PE–”.
“Well, there’s that whore in the beginning.” One kid offered, nervously eyeing his fellow students.
“Er, sure, but Jake can’t do anything with her. Because he’s ‘sick,’” I unwisely winked broadly with the word “sick” making me look like a carnival barker hawking illicit Modernist porn from the nudie tent. They blinked back at me.
“Yeah, what does he mean by that? He ain’t sick. He’s drunk, but not sick.” Another kid said, scornful and irate.
“He had his dick blown off in the war.” I clarified, sad dry-erase marker finally collapsing in defeat by my side.
Complete. Fucking. Silence.
“WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS WRONG WITH HIM?!” I finally shrieked. Blank zombie faces.
“Well, I thought he was gay.” The first moron contributed succinctly. ”That’s why he can’t get with Brett.”
“But,” I sputtered, “there’s that whole section where he’s angry at the homosexuals with Brett. They annoy him. And he’s in love with her! He is SO NOT GAY.” The kid shrugged.
“I thought he had, like, crabs, or the clap or something.” The single girl in the group offered.
“Wait a tic — you kids still use the phrase ‘the clap’?” I said, mystified. ”Jesus. Where am I, 19-dickity-2?”
“How do you know he got his dick blown off?” The second kid was flipping wildly through his book, clearly thinking there would be a nice graphic novel version in the middle that he’d carelessly overlooked.
I showed them the passage. They, correctly, pointed out that it’s not very specific. I begged them to work on reading subtext and consider other clues. They continued to look at me like a creepster at the arcade offering tokens in exchange for dirty hand-jobs out back.
“They all drink a lot.” Second kid mentions, suspiciously. I looked at him.
“Yesss…” I said, encouragingly.
“So, he probably didn’t even know about having no blown-off dick.” He finished, horrifyingly.
I looked at him for a minute.
“How drunk would you have to be, son, to not notice that your man-bits were missing?” I asked, almost kindly.
Point taken. But JESUS. It was like pulling some motherfucking teeth. What kind of awful world are we living in when kids are more interested in illegal absinthe than a veritable literary wonderland of cock?!