The Day The Panties Died.

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Underpants hanging on fence, 1972. Photo: Bill Gilette.
Underpants hanging on fence, 1972. Photo: Bill Gilette.

As a rule, I try not to feel embarrassed about anything. Look, we’re all complete idiots. We’re ridiculous. Humans say dumb things, trip on the ice, fart. We act like we know something and we get real loud about it and then holy water do we find out we were wrong — and on and on. So to be embarrassed about something is a waste of time. Don’t worry about it. You’re not that special — in a good way.

But this is all Thirtysomething Mary wisdom. When I was young and even more frivolous than I am today, something happened that embarrassed me so bad I was scarred for many years.

My friend Karen and I drove to New Orleans in 2002. Karen and I were neighbors in the same apartment building. We met because a month after I moved to Chicago, I was crying so loudly in my tiny apartment one night, Karen heard me from across the hall. I’m blubbering and sobbing and I hear this knock on my door. I open the door to find the friendliest, most wonderful, most pure-of-heart person.

“Are you okay?” she asked, looking over my shoulder to see if someone was responsible for making me so miserable. She looked back at me. “You want a beer?” And so it was that Karen Kowalski became my friend.

Karen had gone to school in New Orleans wanted to go visit old friends some months later. She invited me, I said there wasn’t anything I’d rather do than go with her, which was true. We got in her red pickup one summer day and set out. It was a fifteen-hour drive from Chicago to New Orleans and we were gonna just go straight through. This was never discussed: not only did we thrill to the idea of being road dogs who don’t need sleep, neither of us could afford a hotel.

We got to the city and I was dazzled. Delighted. I was craning my neck around so much I practically pulled a muscle. We drove straight to Karen’s friends’ house, smack dab on Magazine Street. When we got there, we found that there was a party going on in our honor. Folks were drinking beer on the porch and hanging out in the kitchen. When we pulled up, we were mobbed with people who loved Karen and people who loved me by association. It was great because back then I actually liked house parties.

But I needed a shower. Fifteen hours in the car, remember? I asked the host if I could shimmy upstairs for a quick shower. Of course, she says, and I get a towel and it’s perfect; no one is upstairs and I can do a lil’ rinsey-rinse and go have a beer in New Orleans. So cool. It all seemed so civilized…

Shower done, feeling refreshed, I put on my bra, shirt, and underpants and the jeans I had been wearing. They were in pretty good shape. I head downstairs. I meet folks in the kitchen. I get myself a beverage. Things are good. And I enter a big living room where there are a lot of people sitting around in kind of a (not intentional) circle configuration. Someone says, “Hey, you’re Karen’s friend, right? The Fonz!!!!!”

And just as I’m like, “Yep, that’s me!” and trying to be awesome, the underpants that I had been wearing before my shower suddenly came out the leg of my pants. They had been in the leg of my jeans and now they were on the floor of the enormous living room. Everyone was looking at them. Everyone.

They had gotten shoved into the leg of my pants! What can I tell you? I shoved my leg into my jeans and smooshed ’em down there. As I walked downstairs and through the kitchen, they just moved lower and lower until they had to get out. That thing about wanting a hole in the floor to swallow you up? Yeah. I would’ve been okay with that. I snatched those things up so fast, but it was too late. Everyone had seen my panties come out the leg of my pants and sit in a ball on the floor.

“Heh, heh!” I said, shaking my head, “Well that’s something you don’t see every day! I mean, we see underpants, but you know, well, haha… With the… On the… Okay.” And I left the room, most likely to do a shot.

Comedy = tragedy + time

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