I woke up and rushed to the bathroom to take a leak, always a matter of great urgency upon awakening these days. I don’t know why Thomas Jefferson’s prostate popped into my head as I was peeing, but when it did I thought, that would be a great title for a book. A book called Thomas Jefferson’s Prostate would surely become a runaway bestseller.

So I committed myself to writing it. But what kind of book, fiction—a novel—or nonfiction—a work of history?

For a nonfiction book I’d have to do research, research about Jefferson and research about prostates. I have a gut feeling about prostates, but there’s a lot I don’t know. There’s also a lot I don’t know about Jefferson. Of course, what I don’t know about Jefferson could be remedied by a thorough reading of secondary sources, certainly the ones that are considered definitive, as well as the most important writings of Jefferson himself, like “Notes on the State of Virginia,” but the state of prostates is a different matter altogether. I’m sure much of the literature about prostates is highly technical and not easily understood by the layperson. I’d probably have to get a medical degree, and to tell you the truth, I’m not even sure whose turf the prostate is, urologists or proctologists; I’d certainly have to specialize in one of those.

I decided to go with fiction.

So it would be a novel, then, a novel about Thomas Jefferson, with a plot in which his prostate plays a significant role. I mean, sure, I can do that arch postmodernist thing and call the book Thomas Jefferson’s Prostate and then never mention either Jefferson or prostates, and I probably would have done just that when I was younger and trying to map out my territory as an “experimental writer,” but I’ve decided it’s time to abandon that kind of trickery; now I just want to spin a good old-fashioned yarn.

So I started writing the novel.

It’s midnight at Monticello and all are asleep in the big house. All, that is, except for the master, Mr. Jefferson, and one of his house slaves, a lovely young wench of 16 named Sally. Mr. Jefferson loves all his slaves, but he loves Sally in a special way, and now the master steals away from the family quarters to his special place, where Sally, having been summoned, awaits.

Modesty prevents your author, already ablush, from describing the tryst, but the founding father appears to be passing a far more agreeable time than the young girl. And then, just as he is about to perform the pièce de résistance (having recently returned from his post in France, he’s still thinking in French), Jefferson realizes he has to pee. Should I try to hold out, he wonders, or take care of the matter posthaste? Wisdom dictates I void myself forthwith, all the better to enjoy the act, he decides. “I must take my leave to attend to an affair of pressing urgency,” the master tells the girl, “but I shall be again by your side apace.” And he steals away to…

Wait, where does he steal away to? An outhouse? A chamber pot somewhere? I’m woefully ignorant about men’s urinary practices in the 18th century. Were there pissoirs? Good thing I decided to write a novel.

…the place of pissing. Thomas pulls up his nightshirt and takes his member in hand, takes aim, and, once into a flow, thinking of his interrupted amorous adventure, he chides his prostate: “My good man, there’s a time and a place for everything.”

But wait a minute, Thomas Jefferson was 46 years old in 1789, when this story takes place. Would a man of that age in colonial times be subject to frequent urination due to an enlarged prostate? And even if that were the case, would Jefferson have been aware of the source of his problem? If not, the whole premise of the novel goes right out the window. And where does that leave me?

Forget it. Writing novels is just as much a pain in the ass as writing history.