An ode to old underwear

No married man could write this particular column. His wife would have taken care of the problem years ago.

The setup: I recently bought a new dresser, a nice affair with four drawers. The trouble was, my old dresser had five, two for my underwear. Add to that the fact that Penney’s had a sale on men’s boxer briefs and I had a problem … I could no longer get all my shorts into one drawer. I’d secretly hoped that the undies wouldn’t fit so I’d have an excuse to take them back. No, Penney’s probably doesn’t take returns on underwear. I’d have to throw them away. But alas, they fit perfectly … much better than new shorts are supposed to fit. So there I stood, faced with the prospect of finally getting rid of my ancient underwear.

Used to be, my mother would make sure that Santa brought new underwear every Christmas, but Saint Nick has been a little lax since Mom stopped wrapping my presents. And here’s where most wives come in, insisting that their husbands change underthings at least every decade or so, and in many cases taking the bull by the horns and donating hubby’s shorts to the boys at the Buster Sanitation Service. I don’t think you can recycle them, but I’ve never tried.

So, I stood there and gazed down at my new folded shorts in a stack beside my haphazard pile of old ones. (My old ones won’t even fold. They just sort of crumple into a heap.) It was obvious which bunch had to go, but then it happened … perhaps it was Billy Joel playing in the next room, but I was hit by a wave of nostalgia that nearly tipped me back onto my bed. The things these shorts and I had been through! I’m sure that some of them dated back to my first years of teaching at Triopia, they’d traveled to Europe with me, they’d been stuffed into the cracks of my suitcase on a long trip to Australia, and they’d been my “closest friends” on many an Alaskan excursion. I once shook President Obama’s hands while wearing these shorts. Last summer, I spoke to Ozzie Smith in the St. Louis airport while wearing this pair of underwear. I watched the original “Godfather” in a pair.

Yes, there had been some trips when I’d left them behind. Whenever I found myself sharing a room with a stranger, I’d bring underwear without ripped seams, sagging waistbands and absolute holes in the places that had endured the most wear. Many of us can remember mothers who’d scare us with harried tales of teenagers who’d have auto accidents then end up in a hospital with holey shorts, and of course it always puzzled when mothers would be more concerned with our underwear than our missing arm or leg. But still, when I knew I’d be traveling on icy roads, I sort of unconsciously put on my newer models.

Okay, there’s no logical reason to wear old underwear except for the fact that theoretically no one else sees them, they’re uber comfortable, and you’ve already paid for them. My grandpa kept old tractors for the same reasons and they served him well. Only my mirror and Grandpa’s cows knew the difference. And for some odd reason, you can get more attached to an old pair of shorts than to a couple of aging socks. Socks don’t have the personality of shorts. You don’t wear socks to bed. You don’t sit on your socks. There’s a difference.

So I stood there in front of my new bedroom dresser and looked at the small mound of threadbare underthings. I swear they stared back at me, thinking. “Look what he’s about to do. How could he do this to us after all we’ve done for him?” It’s moments like these that make you take stock of your life and consider just what living is for and what should be tossed aside. I’d just moved out of a house that had been my home for 30-plus years and I’d had no trouble tossing trophies, plaques, hundreds of pictures and a set of silverware that my parents had worn out in the mid 1950s. So, why was I having such a struggle with this underwear? Logic plays a very small part in a drama like this. It was purely a tug on my emotions that had made me keep these things and facts were facts. I only had one drawer and the shorts just wouldn’t fit. It’s not like I could store the extra pairs in the microwave or tuck them into my bathroom cabinets. Houseguests get suspicious when they open a drawer and are confronted by a set of Hanes that date back President Nixon.

End of story: I tossed the old ones and put the new pairs gently in their place, reminding them that they’d be with me for a long, long time. The former shorts are now in the wastebasket of my laundry room. The trash man hasn’t come yet. They still have a chance of a last minute reprieve from the governor.

Some will no doubt find this column silly and frivolous. To you, I would simply say that you are heartless and unfeeling.

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