This special April 1st post features a recipe for Butterscotch Raspberry Pie and a not safe for work story about a giant cartoon penis. (Jump directly to the recipe.)
I peered through the black mesh screen in my costume and felt slightly warm and vaguely claustrophobic. The giant felt and plaster form that enclosed my body wasn’t uncomfortable, just awkward. I had plenty of space to wiggle around inside but the costume designers had forgotten to put in shoulder straps. For me to walk or move, I had to lift the entire form up using the arm holes with my shoulder.
The director yelled “ACTION!” and I shook one of my giant fuzzy hand glove (not unlike a Mickey Mouse hand, but medium beige in color) at the giant penis costume standing right in front of me. It was a mirror of my own penis costume, except a darker shade of brown. I said out loud “You are one amazing penis!” knowing it would be muffled because of the costume, but that’s OK. They’d dub the lines in post-production anyway. The other penis replied back a soft, muffled “Thanks! Let’s do it again sometimes!” Then I turned around, hunching my shoulders up so my giant penis costume wouldn’t drag on the ground and ambled away from the other penis. The director yelled “Cut!” and I went back to the same spot I was at before. It was time to do another take. In the meanwhile, I just thought to myself “I have the best job ever.”
It was the Spring of 2000 when I got a call from a company asking me to come in and interview for a design position at an ad agency that only worked with non-profits. It sounded like the perfect fit for my sensibilities. I got the job and as I worked there, it really did seem ideal. We worked on a number of campaigns, ranging from HIV awareness to tobacco cessation but the one campaign that stood out was a syphilis awareness campaign, one that targeted men who have sex with men. It was called the Healthy Penis campaign.
We initially had a limited budget for the campaign. It was the San Francisco health department and they were a bit skiddish about investing too much money in a campaign strictly about penises. But the ads were a raging success. We started with cartoon ads in the local gay newspapers and periodicals. Then we moved on to creating stress grips, which were 3-inch tall anthropomorphic penises (the hero of the campaign) with a permanent grin and large cartoon eyes. If you turned the stress grip upside down, information was stamped on the bottom that said “Get tested every 3 months for syphilis!” along with information on where to do that. I got immense pleasure walking in the gay pride parade, yelling out loud “WHO WANTS A PENIS?” and then throwing the stress grips out to the shouting crowd.
The campaign also featured the Healthy Penis’ evil nemeses, Phil the Sore (Phil being short for SyPHILis). Phil was featured in the ads, as well as a stress grip, though he obviously wasn’t as popular a collector’s item. He basically looked like a large raspberry with evil mischievous eyes.
And then there was the giant costumes. Both were replicas of the stress grip, except 7 feet tall and wearable. We sent out health care workers in the costume to all the gay street fair. And here in San Francisco, there are a surprising number of them. It seemed like the healthy penis was everywhere and Phil was always chasing him. I felt bad for the health department worker who was wearing the Phil costume. He was always booed at the street fairs. After all, no one likes a giant syphilis sore. And at a gay street fair, a giant penis is always a fan favorite.
The campaign continued to be a success. Syphilis cases were down by over 400%. We got more money to extend the campaign. More stress grips were made, in different colors this time (the original Health Penis was a light beige, we made a medium brown and a dark brown one.). More cartoon ads were commissioned and we even made a comic book about the Adventures of the Healthy Penis. Two more Healthy Penis costumes were created as well, one a medium brown color and one a dark brown. Syphilis affects all races and they needed the costumes to reflect that!
And then there was the commercial. We got the go-ahead to make a live action version of the commercial, to be aired on public access (remember public access?) as well as late night cable TV. I wrote the treatment for the commercial and it was a blast. It was the one and only time I’ve ever written a commercial and the process was pretty hilarious. We held an open call for people to be the voice of the Healthy Penis and actually had a panel of judges, including a gay porn star, rank all the contestants. It was just like American Idol, but more gay. If that’s possible. If my life wasn’t already feeling surreal enough, it was getting even more surreal.
Once the day of the filming occurred they had folks on the set but not enough actors. I can’t remember why or how it happened. Perhaps someone called in sick. Perhaps there was a mix up on casting and they didn’t hire enough folks. Either way, I found myself suddenly thrust into the costume, repeating the lines I had written and walking up and down in a giant 7 foot tall penis form. Was this going to be my 15 minutes of fame? I don’t know. I didn’t care. It was all pretty awesome.
One thing you don’t notice too much in the commercial was that there was another Healthy Penis watering the lawn in the background of a specific scene. I got to play him as well. It’s an unremarkable scene, more adding texture to the commercial than an integral part of the plot. The main action of that particular scene is one of Phil and his friends moving into the hero’s house once he had contracted syphilis. They had moving boxes with the words like “brain damage” and “rash” written on them. And as they moved the boxes, they walk past a healthy penis in the background watering his lawn.
The thing you should know is that the watering penis was the original Healthy Penis costume, the one that was around since the beginning of the campaign. And it was the penis costume that only appeared alone, even at street fairs. We made it walk 15 feet behind or in front of the other two newer Healthy Penis costumes. The reason why? Because when we received the newer darker colored Healthy Penis costumes, we realized they were a FOOT taller than the lighter colored original penis. Yep, the Healthy Penis costumes were unintentional racial stereotypes.
This was obviously a mistake. The San Francisco Health Department actually specified to us that ALL penises (no matter what the color) in the ads had to be EXACTLY the same size. In fact, we once submitted a cartoon ad where the penises visit an amusement park and in the background of one of the scenes there was a sign that said “All penises must be ‘THIS TALL’ to go on this ride.” It was immediately rejected. We couldn’t even imply that penises came in different sizes. So when the two costume came back larger, we were in trouble. So we came up with the solution to just ostracize the lighter colored original penis from the other two. They were never seen together and that seemed to solve the issue.
I eventually left that ad agency after four years. As much as I liked the work we were doing, it wasn’t really the best job in the world. At least, not for me. But that’s another story for another time. Probably one best left to be told in person and not in public. But I’ll always have the memory and video documentation of wearing a 7 foot tall penis costume. And that’s a memory I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
Bye Bye Raspberry Pie
By Irvin Lin
This raspberry pie was inspired by my time as a giant 7-foot tall penis in a commercial. The penis was chased by syphilis sores that basically looked like giant raspberries. As unappealing as this may sound, the pie itself is pretty fantastic. The buttery brown sugar butterscotch plays well with the tart raspberry and whipped cream. Serve it up to your very special loved one for a very special occasion, but if it leads to some extra special relations down the road, be sure to wear protection. You really don’t want to contract syphilis.
10 ounces (285 g) chocolate graham crackers (I used Teddy Grahams)
6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon raspberry extract
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (35 g) cornstarch
2 cup whole milk, divided
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (275 g) packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon Scotch whisky
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whipped cream
2 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Scotch whisky
6 ounces fresh raspberries
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar or saba
1. Place the chocolate graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until they are reduced to crumbs. Mix the butter and raspberry extract together and then drizzle over the graham cracker crumbs. Pulse the processor until the crumbs start to stick together. Dump them into the middle of a deep-dish pie pan and press the crumbs together into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place the pan in the refrigerator to firm up as you make the butterscotch filling.
2. Make the filling by placing the egg yolks, cornstarch and 1/4 cup whole milk in a medium bowl and stirring it together with a whisk to form a paste. Place the remaining 1 3/4 cup whole milk and heavy cream in a medium pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and set aside.
3. Place the butter, brown sugar and salt in a large pot. Cook on medium high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula, until the butter has melted and the brown sugar has started to smell caramelize, about 5 to 10 minutes. The mixture should be bubbly, viscous and thick. Remove from heat and drizzle a small amount of the hot milk into the caramel and stir to incorporate. It will steam up so be careful. Drizzle more into the caramel and continue to do this until all the milk has been added. As you add more milk, you can add more at a time. If any hard pieces of sugar seize up into chunks, just place back on the heat and stir and cook until dissolved.
4. Drizzle about 1/2 cup of the hot caramel milk into the egg yolk paste and whisk to warm it up and loosen it. Add another 1/2 cup of the hot caramel milk, whisk to blend and then pour the hot egg yolk mixture back into the pan with the caramel. Cook on medium high heat, until the custard has thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the whisky and vanilla extract.
5. Pour the butterscotch filling into the chilled crust and immediately cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic is touching the surface of the warm filling. Place back in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours or overnight. You want the filling to be chilled to firm up.
6. Assemble the pie by placing the cream and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Turn the mixer to high and whisk until the cream has soft peaks. Stir in the Scotch whisky and spoon the whipped cream over the top of the cold butterscotch filling. Place the raspberries in a ring around the edge of the pie and then drizzle the balsamic vinegar or saba over the raspberries. Serve immediately.
Makes 1 pie, enough for 8 healthy STD-free people.
If you want to hear me read this story out loud, check out my audio podcast of it on the new social media network Anchor.