Title: Whitneybutler’s Blog
Author: Whitney Butler
Blogging since: 2010
Post Title: Penis in a Sandwich
Post Date: June 21, 2011
The front windows of the bocadillo shop were propped wide open; the static June humidity surrounded us. The cobblestone streets between tightly nestled three-story vistas looked romantic, even in the middle of the day. The southern coast of Spain was beautiful this time of year, a little slice of heaven viewed from a barstool. The waitress was young, and her face had the strong angular planes that make the Spanish some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. She bounced back and forth among the patrons sitting around the heavy oak-and-brass bar, filling glasses, taking orders, and politely conversing. My best friend and I were visiting for the summer, taking Spanish courses at an academy in both Madrid and El Puerto de Santa Maria.
“What is this?” I asked my friend, pointing to a topping listed on the menu. “I have no idea,” she responded. We quickly took out our electronic dictionaries. No luck. I’m a vegetarian, which can be challenging when traveling abroad. So we asked the waitress if she could explain.
“¿Qué es eso?”
She tilted her head and replied with empathy, as if she already knew we wouldn’t be able to understand her. And she was right. By the end of her explanation, I wasn’t even sure if it was edible. But she was sweet, and clearly wanted to help me with this problem. So she took a paper from her pad and began to draw. I’m not going to build the suspense here, like it was some kind of mystical revelation that I experienced inside this sandwich café. It was espárragos, something we should have been able to figure out, but if you’ve ever studied abroad, you can imagine that perhaps we were a little off our game from the previous night out.
I had never eaten an asparagus sandwich, but it was delicious. Epiphanies over condiments and sandwich toppings are not something to celebrate. What is interesting, however, is the universal humor found in phallic drawings. Because I won’t ever forget the look on that woman’s face as she realized she was drawing a penis in a sandwich. She looked at me, and I looked at her. I looked at my best friend, and she looked at the waitress. And at the exact same time, we all started to laugh.
Years later this would happen again, this time in the classroom of a 7th grade Korean academy. My student was desperately searching for a word to describe the type of gun his fictional character would carry in his narrative. He described what it looked like, but I’m not exactly an encyclopedia on weaponry. So I told him to draw it. Needless to say, the outcome was very similar to the experience I had many summers ago in Spain. When he put his pencil down, he paused and kind of stared at it like he had created a monster. I leaned over his shoulder to see, and I knew exactly what to say.
“Oh, you mean a rocket launcher.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s it!”
He and I held each other’s gaze for a second longer and laughed together at what we both knew not to say. Again, the penis had found itself in the middle of a cultural exchange. Deeper than learning the names of foreign cities and customary foods, this was the type of feeling you only get from retelling stories you’ve told a million times with your best friend late at night; stories that are funny only because you’re sharing them with someone you love. And I was having this moment with a 14-year-old Korean student.
It’s nice to think that if I were trapped in a holding cell, being interrogated by Al Qaeda over nuclear warhead secrets sold to Iran, a car battery clamped to my nipples, that perhaps if I drew something that looked like a pair of testicles and a penis, that maybe my interrogator and I could share a laugh or two and realize that we’re not so different after all. Maybe they do things a little bit differently than I do, but heck, if we can agree that a sketch of a nuclear warhead looks a little phallic, and that this is hilarious…maybe there’s hope for us after all.
[Post edited for length.]