What can you tell us about vacuum cleaner wounds to the penis? This malady apparently afflicts an informational underclass who think that a vacuum cleaner can simulate fellatio. –Inquiring Mind, Chicago

Got those midwinter blues, kids? Cecil has just the thing to brighten up your dull lives. Several cases of “penile injuries from vacuum cleaners” were reported about ten years ago in the British Medical Journal. The injury reports are classic:

“Case 1–A 60-year-old man said that he was changing the plug of his Hoover Dustette vacuum cleaner in the nude while his wife was out shopping. It ‘turned itself on’ and caught his penis, causing tears around the external meatus…. Multiple lacerations of the glans [were] repaired with catgut.

“Case 2–A 65-year-old railway signalman was in his signal box when he bent down to pick up his tools and ‘caught his penis in a Hoover Dustette, which happened to be switched on.’ He suffered extensive lacerations to the glans.

“Case 3–A 49-year-old man was vacuuming his friend’s staircase in a loose-fitting dressing gown, when, intending to switch the machine off, he leaned across to reach the plug; ‘at that moment his dressing gown became undone and his penis was sucked into the vacuum cleaner.'”

I think it is very unfair of you to suggest that these tragic victims were involved in unnatural acts. Here they were, just trying to keep things tidy, when they were attacked by a treacherous appliance. The real fault lies with the Hoover company for manufacturing such a dangerous product. But even the doctors are snickering, the cads. The report quoted above concludes, “the Hoover Dustette [has] fan blades about 15 cm from the inlet. The present patients may well have thought that the penis would be clear of the fan but were driven to new lengths by the novelty of the experience and came to grief.” New lengths, indeed. Just wait till it happens to you.

My girlfriend’s mother claims that when she was a child many years ago in Virginia, a “hoop snake” once chased her by forming itself into a circle, gimbaling its rotational axis to horizontal, and, balancing perfectly, rolling down a hill at her. I intimated that I wasn’t quite convinced (I fell out of my chair laughing). My girlfriend, however, did not share my sentiments. She respects your opinion highly and asked me to ask you if it was possible. Well? –John Sandow, Chicago

These country folk are charming, John, but let’s face it, we’re talking generations of inbreeding. Folklore about hoop snakes is well-known to herpetologists but universally dismissed. I quote from Snakes of Virginia (Linzey and Clifford, 1981): “The ‘hoop snake’ tale is usually applied to the mud snake [Farancia abacura] and to the rainbow snake [Farancia erytrogramma]. Supposedly, the snake takes its tail into its mouth, forms a hoop, and rolls after the nearest human. It then tries to ‘sting’ the person with its tail. Should the snake jab a tree instead, the poor plant immediately wilts and dies. The whole story is, of course, nonsense.”

To be fair, there’s a germ of truth to the legend. While a hoop/mud snake cannot sting with its tail, it does have a hard spine back there that can draw blood when thrashed vigorously. What’s more, the snake tends to form itself into a flat, hooplike circle when relaxed. If you were an impressionable six-year-old prowling through the swamps and you came across such an apparition, you might easily imagine it was about to hoist itself to the vertical and roll after you. The only problem is, the former six-year-old who became your girlfriend’s mother still believes it.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.