I found my roommate Bill’s foreskin stretcher in a shoebox labeled broth. He was at work and I’d been rummaging in his closet looking for these mushroom chocolates we’d bought off this guy at an Allman Brothers Band show the month before because I was bored, in that moment specifically and with my life in general, and had long ago finished my half of the supply. To fight this boredom, I was working my way through all of Paul Schrader’s movies. The whole filmography, stuff he’d written from scratch like Taxi Driver and scripts he punched up like Raging Bull all the way up to his latest movie, the Card Counter. I was in a Schrader state of mind you could say, God’s Lonely Man, a little incel-ish, angry, feeling forgotten or ignored, scribbling in my little notebook—this, what you’re reading, is one such scribble. His movies spoke to me, yes, moved me even, but Schrader was raised a Calvinist and was always yakking on and on in interviews and articles about transcendence, transcendent cinema, and yes, as I said I was drawn to his work, but did I feel transcendence? That’s where I thought the mushrooms might help.

But instead of some magic mushrooms hidden in clumps of cheap milk chocolate, I found a little plunger and some bands and, beneath them, a packet of information that told me it was a foreskin stretcher. A mini plunger or bell, a tiny cone like a dunce cap for your dick to wear. I picked it up and found the directions beneath it. I started to read about tugging to restore your foreskin, complete with helpful step-by-step photos of some guy stretching his little 2D black-and-white dick out, when I heard Bill’s girlfriend Tommie say, “It’s better for your hygiene.”

I froze for a second, then dropped the stretcher back in the box labeled broth. “I didn’t see you there, Tommie.” It was three in the afternoon and she was in Bill’s loft bed, wedged between it and the ceiling fan and under two huge comforters. Bill worked nights so I knew he’d be gone but I didn’t even know she was in the apartment.

“It improves a cock’s sensitivity too. Improves your sex life.”

“You’re really selling it,” I said. “Your idea originally, I take it?”

She swung her legs over the side of the bed, her thin blonde hair hanging over her face like that creepy kid from the Ring. They were thin legs, not my type at all, but Tommie was sexy in other ways. Open and free about her body, at home in it in a way that neither my exes nor I ever were. “It wasn’t my idea but we like masturbating together and he likes a good hand job too, especially when we’re watching a movie, you know, because you can get off but still follow the film and then the experience becomes eroticized.”

“I see.”

She raised her pointer finger, then asked, “Are you circumcised?”


“What are you doing now?” She dangled her feet, making circles with them and I was mesmerized by the dirty soles of her feet, the little flecks of the world sticking to them, and the way that finger was still pointing to the ceiling, the sky.

“I’m on a Schrader kick,” I said, my mouth dry. “I wanted to take some mushrooms and watch Mosquito Coast.”

“We finished those mushrooms last week. But I’ve got a joint. Can I join you?”

With my dry mouth I croaked out “of course” and went into the living room and put in the DVD. I kept getting them from the library and I liked how tangible they were but also that they’d been handled and watched by a bunch of other people out there, entering the homes of who knows how many strangers across the county, which created a fitting sense of both interconnection and alienation. I thought Schrader would appreciate that.

She came in with her hair up and wearing the ratty sundress she always wore around the apartment, highlighter orange, and I could see her nipples through the thin cotton. Not that I was attracted to her. Or to anyone, really. The whole idea of other people had exhausted me. People, bodies, desires, material reality—exhausting. I just wanted to watch Schrader flicks preferably while fucked-up.

We smoked the joint and ate popcorn and didn’t talk much as Harrison Ford’s character, this autodidact tinkerer, an American Yankee preaching self-reliance who moves to central America to escape American consumerism or planned obsolescence or authority, starts going mad like Kurtz and I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that Tommie was rubbing herself. Harrison Ford is a looker, that I understand, but masturbating here, now, on this crummy couch in the late afternoon watching Mosquito Coast? I couldn’t make sense of it. Then she started breathing a little more heavily and lifted her sundress and if I looked I could have seen everything but I focused on the movie, listening to the DVD spin in my old player, watching these actors play characters, but her breathing was getting to me because we were breathing the same air, two relative strangers, and maybe it was the weed affecting me but I got a whiff of transcendence for a second, felt the world pouring into me and me pouring into it and it smelled like Tommie’s wetness and popcorn and a central American jungle.

Then I felt Tommie take my right hand and lay it on my crotch. I left it there until she picked it up again and moved it back and forth so I got the idea and I was hard, despite all my protestations about my lack of interest in sex, so I unzipped and started masturbating and we both masturbated casually like that on opposite ends of the couch, slowly, while watching Mosquito Coast on this dark afternoon. I came into my hand and it didn’t feel like simple semen but like an expulsion of venom or the exorcism of some demon that had been haunting me, weighing me down, draining life of its joy and meaning. I wiped it under the couch cushion and we finished the film and then she said she wanted to make pasta so Bill had some food ready when he got home and I said I had some errands to run which wasn’t true but I thought I shouldn’t be there when Bill got home so I went out driving aimlessly in the night like a good Schrader character but a little lighter, perhaps, and wondering why Bill labeled the box broth.


We fell into an unspoken rhythm. Bill worked nights. I worked early mornings. Tommie, as far as I could tell, didn’t work at all. So come late afternoon, I’d nuke some popcorn and as the kernels were blooming in their bag, I’d hear Tommie making herself comfortable in the living room. We’d watch half a Schrader flick, maybe more, then she’d start touching herself and I’d start touching myself and we’d both come before the end of the movie and these silent masturbation sessions where neither of us ever touched the other became the highlight of my day, of my life, simultaneously the least involved relationship—for I knew next to nothing about Tommie—and the most intimate. Was Tommie helping me, through the act of mutual self-pleasure, to rediscover the pleasure in life? What was I to her? Or was this bigger than both of us? By the third afternoon I’d started to feel something before I came, a floating feeling or a sinking feeling or a bobbing buoyancy, as if the world were watery, a liquid universe and I was part of it, a wave in the churn. Was this transcendence?

I was chasing this feeling with Schrader and Tommie but the problem was we’d masturbated our way through most of Schrader’s work in two weeks and I didn’t know what would happen once we’d finished them all. Could we pick up some other dark cinematic classics or make the shift to something adjacent, his friend Scorsese or his influences like Pickpocket and then hop, wet and hard, onto the Bresson train and ride it towards transcendence?

We never got the chance to find out. As we were watching the Card Counter, Schrader’s latest about a torturer who becomes a card counter drowning in his horrific past until he’s forced to confront it, just as Oscar Isaacs was about to torture his torturer, so to speak, as Tommie was rubbing and I was yanking, at the climax of our afternoon arousal, Bill came home early with a busted thumb. We hadn’t locked the door. Hadn’t thought to. It was as if that afternoon Schrader space was another world, a private terrain that only we had access to. That’s how I felt anyway. But Bill came in with his thumb wrapped in gauze all mangled from work and saw us sitting there, even with Tommie pulling her dress down quickly and me with a blanket mostly covering my lap, and with one look, he knew.

“It smells like pussy in here,” he said. Then he looked hard at me and my blanketed lap. “Pussy and cock.”

“We’re just watching a Schrader flick,” I said.

Tommie said nothing but, to my disbelief, started rubbing herself again.

Bill began pacing the room, holding his bloody-gauzed thumb up and in front of him like a torch lighting his way through the strange night he just found himself in. “I know, yes, Schrader, of course.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“How do you think we met? But then it was Paul Thomas Anderson. She was all hot and wet for Anderson, then. Now it’s this Schrader, you say?”

My erection fully wilted, I discreetly zipped my fly up and said, “I think I should go for a drive or something. Let you two sort this out.”

But before I could stand and make my escape, Bill sat down between us and started rubbing his crotch. “We’ll finish the movie together. That’s the only solution. We’ll come together on this couch, understand? And in this coming, we’ll be closer, we’ll be equals, before each other and before Schrader, brothers and sisters in come, ok?”

Tommie seemed to like the idea because her sundress was up and she had two fingers inside her up to her knuckles. Bill was half-hard, his dick free of his pants now, a little pale slug sliming its way out of his jeans. “I might need some help, though,” he said. “Because of my thumb.”

“I can’t do this, Bill.”

“Are you circumcised?” he asked, ignoring me and fumbling with his dick. “And what’s this movie about anyway? Bring me up to speed.”

I was out the door in under three seconds.


I moved out a month later after avoiding them both as best I could. Even with that residual glow I felt from our afternoons with Schrader, I kept on avoiding them for nearly a year until I ran into them unexpectedly at a friend’s party. They were still together. Tommie had moved in. When she went to the bathroom, I asked Bill about the box labeled broth.

“I love a good hand job and Tommie noticed that there wasn’t a lot there to work with, you know? So, we found this thing online. Tommie did. It’s genital mutilation.”

“Foreskin stretching?”

“No, circumcision. I’m just righting a wrong.”

“But why broth?”

Bill got serious for second, put his drink down. “Promise you won’t laugh?’


“Well, once I started tugging, you know stretching back my foreskin, I got more sensitive and hornier too and started masturbating more and more and more, all the time, so dick-focused, dick-obsessed, you know, and I guess I was dehydrated or a little stoned one day when we were camping and Tommie was asleep in the tent and I stumbled outside to piss but then got horny out there so I started jerking off.”

Tommie returned, smiling. She ran her pointer finger along the back of my neck by way of hello.

“I still don’t see the broth connection.”

“As I was jerking off with this new sensitivity in my dick I felt it radiate out, you know, from my dick to my balls to my guts, up and down, head to toe, and I’m looking at the stars and shooting my wad onto the earth and I felt God or something bigger than me, some big sort of soupy presence sloshing all around within me and outside me, dissolving those distinctions, like I was one sperm in God’s load and God was one in mine, and I thought broth, ‘it’s broth’, a voice said to me in a booming whisper, ‘we’re broth, broth, broth,’ and I don’t know why but the next day I wrote it on the box.”

“That’s all?” I asked, goose-pimpled and sweating.

“Yeah.” Bill said.

“No,” Tommie corrected.

“Oh, right,” Bill said. “Almost forgot. Did you see that Schrader has a new movie coming out? It’s in theaters next week.”

At the word Schrader I suddenly got hard and they both noticed.

“We thought you’d want to see it,” Tommie said. “It might be a good way to reconnect,” she said, and I heard a wet invitation in the cs in “connect,” in the way they sat in her mouth.

“I’ve kind of given up on movies lately, actually. You know, reading more. Less screen time.”

Bill shrugged. Tommie smiled. And somehow, incredibly, we shifted topics.


I didn’t think I’d hear from them again but two weeks later Bill CC’d me on an emailed receipt for tickets to Schrader’s newest flick. A late afternoon showtime at a nearby theater. Tickets for three.


About the Author

When he’s not spelunking in his native Dolomites, Jon Doughboy is copyediting Max Sebald’s posthumous erotica novel, “The Hot Fluids of Uranus.” Read exclusive excerpts @doughboywrites


Image by Antonio Cansino from Pixabay