Philip Roth, one of the greats of 20th century American literature, passed away last week. His break-through novel, Portnoy's Complaint, has been hailed as a canonical ode to masturbation, and here's the beginning of the second chapter of the book, "Whacking Off". Enjoy:
Or else I was doubled over my flying fist, eyes pressed closed but mouth wide open, to take that sticky sauce of buttermilk and Clorox on my own tongue and teeth---though not infrequently, in my blindness and ecstasy, I got it all in the pompadour, like a blast of Wildroot Cream Oil.
Through a world of matted handkerchiefs and crumpled Kleenex and stained pajamas, I moved my raw and swollen penis, perpetually in dread that my loathsomeness would be discovered by someone stealing upon me just as I was in the frenzy of dropping my load. Nevertheless, I was wholly incapable of keeping my paws from my dong once it started the climb up my belly.
In the middle of a class I would raise a hand to be excused, rush down the corridor to the lavatory, and with ten or fifteen savage strokes, beat off standing up into a urinal. At the Saturday afternoon movie, I would leave my friends to go off to the candy machine-and wind up in a distant balcony seat, squirting my seed into the empty wrapper from a Mounds bar.
On an outing of our family association, I once cored an apple, saw to my astonishment (and with the aid of my obsession) what it looked like, and ran off into the woods to fall upon the orifice of the fruit, pretending that the cool and mealy hole was actually between the legs of that mythical being who always called me Big Boy when she pleaded for what no girl in all recorded history had ever had. “Oh shove it in me, Big Boy,” cried the cored apple that I banged silly on that picnic. “Big Boy, Big Boy, oh give me all you’ve got,” begged the empty milk bottle that I kept hidden in our storage bin in the basement, to drive wild after school with my vaselined upright. “Come, Big Boy, come,” screamed the maddened piece of liver that, in my own insanity, I bought one afternoon at a butcher shop and, believe it or not, violated behind a billboard on the way to a bar mitzvah lesson.
It was at the end of my freshman year of high school---and freshman year of masturbating---that I discovered on the underside of my penis, just where the shaft meets the head, a little discolored dot that has since been diagnosed as a freckle. Cancer. I had given myself cancer. All that pulling and tugging at my own flesh, all that friction, had given me an incurable disease. And not yet fourteen! In bed at night the tears rolled from my eyes. “No!” I sobbed. “I don’t want to die! Please-no!” But then, because I would very shortly be a corpse anyway, I went ahead as usual and jerked off into my sock. I had taken to carrying the dirty socks into bed with me at night so as to be able to use one as a receptacle upon retiring, and the other upon awakening.
If only I could cut down to one hand-job a day, or hold the line at two, or even three! But with the prospect of oblivion before me, I actually began to set new records for myself. Before meals. After meals. During meals. Jumping up from the dinner table, I tragically clutch at my belly---diarrhea!
I cry, I have been stricken with diarrhea!---and once behind the locked bathroom door, slip over my head a pair of underpants that I have stolen from my sister’s dresser and carry rolled in a handkerchief in my pocket. So galvanic is the effect of cotton panties against my mouth---so galvanic is the word “panties”---that the trajectory of my ejaculation reaches startling new heights: leaving my joint like a rocket it makes right for the light bulb overhead, where to my wonderment and horror, it hits and it hangs.
Wildly in the first moment I cover my head, expecting an explosion of glass, a burst of flames---disaster, you see, is never far from my mind. Then quietly as I can I climb the radiator and remove the sizzling gob with a wad of toilet paper. I begin a scrupulous search of the shower curtain, the tub, the tile floor, the four toothbrushes---God forbid!---and just as I am about to unlock the door, imagining I have covered my tracks, my heart lurches at the sight of what is hanging like snot to the toe of my shoe.
I am the Raskolnikov of jerking off – the sticky evidence is everywhere! Is it on my cuffs too? in my hair? my ear? All t his I wonder even as I come back to the kitchen table, scowling and cranky , to grumble self-righteously at my father when he opens his mouth full of red jello and says, “I don’t understand what you have to lock the door about. That to me is beyond comprehension. What is this, a home or a Grand Central station?” . . . privacy . . . a human being . . . around here never,” I reply, then push aside my dessert to scream, “I don’t feel well- will everybody leave me alone?”
After dessert---which I finish because I happen to like jello, even if I detest them---after dessert I am back in the bathroom a gain. I burrow through the week’s laundry until I uncover one of my sister’s soiled brassieres. I string one shoulder strap over the knob of the bathroom door and the other on the knob of the linen closet: a scarecrow to bring on more dreams. “Oh beat it, Big Boy, beat it to a red-hot pulp---" so I am being urged by the little cups of Hannah’s brassiere, when a rolled-up newspaper smacks at the door. And sends me and my handful an inch off the toilet seat. “---Come on, give somebody else a crack at that bowl, will you?” my father says. “I haven’t moved my bowels in a week.”
I recover my equilibrium, as is my talent, with a burst of hurt feelings. “I have a terrible case of diarrhea! Doesn’t that mean anything to anyone in this house?”---in the meantime resuming the stroke , indeed quickening the tempo as my cancerous organ miraculously begins to quiver again from the inside out.
Then Hannah’s brassiere begins to move. To swing to and fro! I veil my eyes, and behold!---Lenore Lapid us! who has the biggest pair in my class, running for the bus after school, her great untouchable load shifting weightily inside her blouse, oh I urge them up from their cups, and over, LENORE LAPIDUS’S ACTUAL TITS, and realize in the same split second that my mother is vigorously shaking the doorknob. Of the door I have finally forgotten to lock! I knew it would happen one day!
Caught! As good as dead!
“Open up, Alex. I want you to open up this instant.”
It’s locked, I’m not caught! And I see from what’s alive in my hand that I’m not quite dead yet either. Beat on then! beat on! “Lick me, Big Boy---lick me a good hot lick! I’m Lenore Lapidus’s big fat red-hot brassiere!”
“Alex, I want an answer from you. Did you eat French fries after school? Is that why you’re sick like this?”
“Alex, are you in pain? Do you want me to call the doctor ? Are you in pain, or aren’t you? I want to know exactly where it hurts. Answer me . ”
“Alex, I don’t want you to flush the toilet ,” says my mother sternly. “I want to see what you’ve done in there. I don’t like the sound of this at all.”
“And me,” says my father, touched as he always was by my accomplishments---as much awe as envy---“I haven’t moved my bowels in a week,” just as I lurch from my perch on the toilet seat, and with the whimper of a whipped animal, deliver three drops of something barely viscous into the tiny piece of cloth where my flat-chested eighteen-year old sister has laid her nipples, such as they are. It is my fourth orgasm of the day.
When will I begin to come blood.