Body Conscious


I met a friend for lunch in the Village.  She was standing outside, tall and elegant in a narrow black skirt and lacy top, silver hair swept back from her face. She is close to 5’10.  I was wearing a canvas green trench coat (it had just gone from 65 to 80 degrees in the span of 20 minutes), black crinkled linen pants and the only shirt I could find that was clean–a red wife-beater undershirt.  My brown/blond/silver hair was shooting out of its coil at my neck.

We lunched at a back table in a pub, the only women in the place, which didn’t bother us at all except for when I used the men’s room instead of the women’s room and then the man in the next table was a tiny bit shocked when I reported how the only way I could tell was its grubby scent and raised seat.

After leaving her I wandered over to the subway and got on a train to Soho.  I got a seat but the car quickly filled up.  Before me stood a man, tan pants, plaid shirt, nice brown belt.  I began to read but looking up again I noticed something at eye level: his penis.  At first I didn’t think it was but then it had to be, a cylindrical shape rimmed by a little bulb at top, half way up the zipper,  and pointed leftward like a compass needle.  At this point, I wanted to see his face: a pleasant enough middle-aged face, slightly nerdy, not much to write home about. A very worn canvas backpack pulled his baggy shirt taunt across his sloping shoulders.  Eyes back to the penis where I began to think that it must be like a woman’s breast, something that needed to be harness against its innate desire to be unruly. The larger it is–say more than a D cup or 6 inches–and the public’s perception somehow comes into  considerable account, the need to protect what is so essential  from untoward notice,  securing it, tucking it in, making sure that it is invisible and unavailable. By the time I arrived at my stop  in Soho, I was finding myself protective of subway penis.  It had endeared itself to me,   not by any means arousing but making me happy to have been briefly in its presences.

And then I roses up into the streets of Soho where it’s a rule that only the tourists possess physical defects. A huge amount of perfection crowded around me.  Peeling my coat off revealed a sweat soaked red undershirt, a little bit of olive oil from my lunch dabbed above a small left breast, the black bra beneath on display for all to see. Hair was now an unraveling Brillo pad spilling down my back. Forget makeup, lipstick, even a straight back.

I stood at the corner waiting for the light to change, conscious of my exposed body among all these others in the city.  I was neither perfect or a tourist; possessing of few attributes that were stand-outs.  It did not matter.  My elegant friend, my endowed subway companion, the imperfect tourists among the perfect natives–all our bodies were joined in moving together on a suddenly warm summer day in the city.

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pat willard

Grew up in Philadelphia. Live in Brooklyn. Written four books best described as about memory and cultural history, food and some pretty good recipes. Works in progress may be viewed at

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