"RAISING THE FLAG ON IWO JIMA"

My friends and I disliked singing but joined the eighth grade chorus because it assigned no homework. As something called “tenors,” we lurked in the back row of the multi-tiered room, drawing lewd pictures, snickering, and lip-synching our parts when it came time to sing. We were serious about one thing, though: a contest of virility called “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.”

Each competitor would place his manila chorus folder on his lap. When the appointed referee said “go,” competitors raced to achieve erection without the aid of manual stimulation. Our chairs angled toward the altos, who provided some visual assistance. Once one’s erection pitched the manila folder so that it no longer touched his thighs, a winner was declared. Many of us maximized lift by remaining in our mesh gym shorts from the previous period.

Anyone could compete in the game, but only I ever won. Awestruck, the others would ask how I did it. With a booming laugh I’d state that there was no trick—my manhood was simply unparalleled.

One day a challenger in a Primus t-shirt approached us. We ridiculed his wan complexion and the spiked leather bracelet dangling from his twiggy forearm. In his debut, he shocked us all by breaking my winning streak. He then won four rematches, each victory quicker than the previous. Our referee probed for signs of cheating but found nothing; the challenger’s prowess was legitimate.

Spellbound, we pressed this new prodigy, desperate to know his secret. Could he see a particularly attractive alto from his seat, one obstructed from our viewpoint? The prodigy smiled sheepishly. The secret lay in plain view, he said. He’d fix his gaze on the chorus instructor, Mrs. Macht, while she conducted. We scoffed at this. Mrs. Macht stood over six feet tall with a bulky frame carved from cookie dough. As an object of allure, she was as good as invisible to us. But then the prodigy breathlessly described her gigantic palms, the way her long wool socks struggled to contain her muscular calves, how her XL cardigan hung off her powerful shoulders, flapping like a windjammer’s sail. Most importantly, he pointed out her unassailable power over us, how she’d tower over even the tallest students, castigating them until they felt no more significant than a dust particle.

From then on we could see Mrs. Macht only through the prodigy’s eyes. The next contest commenced and no one looked at the altos; Mrs. Macht had our undivided attention. Every folder shot up in seconds, too fast for the referee to determine a winner. We tried handicapping ourselves by wearing tight jeans or splashing cold water on ourselves, but it was futile. The game had been broken forever.