What's the most telling sign of men's fantasies about their penis size? Is it the bulbous packages regularly sported by the models in underwear ads? Or those ridiculous smiling portraits of male camaraderie that appear as if some company had decided to hold a board meeting in their skivvies? ("How's the yield on that mutual fund, Ted? By the way, bulge looks great.") Is it the infomercial with Ron Jeremy selling penis enlargement pills? (A celebrity endorsement somewhat akin to Star Jones for Häagen-Dazs.)
No. The truest sign of how men imagine their girth is the way they sit on public transportation. Ladies (or polite gentlemen, for that matter), has this ever happened to you? You manage to find a seat on a crowded subway or bus, only to find that the man next to you is sitting with his legs splayed open, oblivious to how much he's crowding you, his two lower limbs forming a gaping V as if they were ready to sport a sign saying "Welcome to Peterborough."
Just a few weeks ago, on a Greyhound from New York to Boston, I spent the entire four-and-a-half hour ride next to a guy who sat with his knees like Suzanne Somers in the "before" position on the Thighmaster ads. Every time I'm squeezed next to a guy like that, I have an urge I haven't yet given in to -- to lean over and ask, "What's the matter? It's so huge you need to air it out?"
Before I try to explain the predominance of male public splay-leggedness by attributing it to plain old bad manners, I'd like to at least consider the possibility that some buried incident in the past may be to blame. Perhaps those formative years of shopping in the boy's department at Sears have led many men to continue to believe that every piece of their apparel is still labeled "Husky." Perhaps it's the same impulse that leads many of us to switch from briefs to boxers; those stories about warmth resulting in reduced sperm production kick in and we succumb to the desperate fear that the derrick isn't properly ventilated and the oil is about to give out.
But truth be told, I think the reason is a lot simpler: not just bad manners but bad grooming. Gentlemen, let's face it: If, before you slip on the Hanes or the Calvins (in whatever cut brings a flutter to your putter) your meat and twos do not look as freshly dusted as a piece of pastry dough liberally sprinkled with flour before kneading, you're letting yourself in for trouble down the line. In only a few short hours, you'll find yourself talking to a colleague, waiting for a train, standing in line at the deli, and realize that a ball adjustment is in order. And then what do you do? Be blatant and dig away at your crotch like Dr. Leakey discovering a lost tribe? Do you casually grab the side of your trousers and pull the material out hoping to jar something loose? Or do you, perhaps, flex your legs up and down hoping to convince everyone around you that you're recovering from a running injury?
To each his own method of rectifying that particular sticky situation. But the one thing you should never, never do is take it out on your fellow transit passengers by crowding your legs over into their personal space. Hell yes, I know it's more comfortable to sit like that. And in a sparsely populated train, there's nothing wrong with it. But when there are people beside you, you're being a pushy, vulgar pain in the ass. You're saying, "My dick is more important than your comfort." And unless you're the reincarnation of John Holmes, something tells me the need isn't that pressing.
Women are raised with the admonition that they must sit with their knees together to be ladylike. Maybe, taking the opposite tack, men feel compelled to demonstrate their masculinity by keeping their knees at the same distance from one another as a bad boob job ("Have you two met?")
About a year ago, I came across some old cartoons that used to be displayed in New York City subway cars in the '40s demonstrating the polite way to conduct yourself while riding: Don't block the door, give up your seat to the elderly or infirm, and so on. I can't remember if there was actually one informing men to keep Little Elvis in his own private Graceland -- and given the more demure tenor of the times, I rather doubt it. But isn't it time for a revival of this lesson in public transit manners? It's not just enough to keep your pecker in your pocket, boys. You have to keep from looking like it's ready to sail forth from that slingshot in your lap.