NOT LONG AGO, I spent an unnerving evening with three men who insisted on discussing their vasectomies.
I don't know how we got on the subject. One minute we were watching Scottie Pippen of the Bulls swoop toward the basket, and the next minute this guy Steve was asking: "You ever had a vasectomy?"
"Excuse me?" I said.
"A vasectomy. Where they cut your . . .
"I know what it is," I said. "I just can't figure out why you're bringing it up now. Did Scottie Pippen have a vasectomy?"
As it turned out, no one knew whether Scottie Pippen had had a vasectomy. What quickly became apparent, however, was that I was the only one in the room who had not had a vasectomy.
This meant that the others now felt compelled to regale me with detailed accounts of their own horrible experiences, each disturbing story containing (in one form or another), the standard urgent patient-to-surgeon plea: "Doc, please don't let that knife slip."
Let me say this about vasectomies: As a general rule, men who have had them seem to enjoy talking about the experience.
I don't know why this is. Maybe it's a coping mechanism to deal with post-traumatic stress. But, hell. I had a bowling ball dropped on my foot once, but I don't go corner people near the onion dip at cocktail parties and blab on and on about the pain and emotional trauma I endured.
The fact is, men who have not had vasectomies would just as soon have our newly sterile brothers keep their stories to themselves, as we find the whole business more than a little . . . unsettling.
(A friend of mine swears he actually watched a movie in the Army entitled: "So You're Thinking About a Vasectomy!"
(Apparently, someone had sent it to one of the guys in the barracks as a joke. It was one of these grainy, black-and-white 16mm jobs, with some ill-at-ease third-year medical student in a white coat standing in front of a plastic model of a scrotum, testes, etc.
(Even though most of the soldiers were roaring drunk when they sat down to watch it, by the end of the movie it was quiet enough to do calculus. Three or four guys were actually trembling. And people wonder why so many men came back from Vietnam with problems.
(I bet the Viet Cong never sat through vasectomy movies, even as a "hoot.")
Getting back to the ballgame, even when I tried to steer the conversation toward a more pleasant subject, my friends seemed determined to roil their post-snipping angst.
Apparently, there is still a good deal of debate about exactly how much pain accompanies a vasectomy.
"It was a little sore when the anesthesia wore off," said Bob, cracking another beer. "But I played golf the next day."
"Don't let 'em BS you," said Steve. "It's like gettin' kicked in the groin by a mule. That's what it feels like -- for a solid week.
"I stepped on a rusty nail once," I said brightly. "Had to get a tetanus shot, too."
No one seemed eager to explore that incident and there were no follow-up questions, so we moved into the area of emotional pain vis-a-vis the procedure itself. From what I gathered, many men are reluctant to discuss their vasectomies in front of women, lest they be ridiculed and demeaned for their suffering.
"You can't talk about pain around a woman," said Bob. " Especially a woman who's had children."
"Yeah," agreed Steve. "You mention your vasectomy and she snorts, 'You call that pain?' Then she launches into a typically overwrought tale of how she was in a difficult labor for 26 hours, thrashing about on a hospital bed without painkillers and biting down hard on a leather strap to keep from screaming while . . ."
"There was another time," I said, "when a softball caught me right on the ear. You don't think that smarts?"
On and on it went, a dreary discussion about pain and humiliation and degradation -- my kinds of topics, sure, but not in this context.
The upshot of the whole thing was this: Scottie Pippen finished with 22 points. The Bulls beat the Pistons going away. I have not slept well for several nights now.
I don't blame that on the basketball, either.