Thursday, May 01, 2008

Old story about old underwear

If you know me in real life, you've likely already heard this story. If you're just now taking your first dip in Lake Me, welcome! Please enjoy this old story about old underwear.


My mother is a fabulous person and wonderful lady, but she doesn’t trust herself to make her own decisions. Even the smallest of choices is greeted with hang-wringing and consternation. Nothing is thrown out without a concerted weighing of the options, no casual trip is undertaken without a minimum week of preparation involving consultation with lists of what to bring, and no appliance is bought before extensive research (formal and informal) has been completed. (The strange exception to this being the large-screen television she purchased within minutes of the old one’s passing – the screen not even yet cold!—probably because deep down she knew that were she to ask my father to live television-free for the three weeks minimum it took her visit stores, web sites, and friend’s homes at which point she would be able to narrow the list down to ten or so acceptable brand and model numbers, a preamble to then chasing down the best price, often involving rebates and/or negotiation—she would be risking both her marriage and my father’s sanity.)

Even the microwave causes my mother distress. Whereas others look at it and see a device for heating food, my mother sees infinity. How much time exactly should she pop something in for? My father indulges her microwavexiety with a constant stream of ridiculously precise responses.

“How long do you think I should reheat these leftovers?” she’ll ask.

“One minute 12 seconds,” he’ll announce. Then a look of doubt will cross his face. “No, no, one minute 16!”

For the most part this side of my mother was just something we accepted. And it wasn’t all bad. There’s something to be said for having every single back-issue of Consumer Reports on hand. The real danger for us arose when she would periodically fall prey to some fellow mother whose opinions on child-rearing and housewifery were delivered in the assured manner which my mother found irresistible. She couldn’t not listen to these friend-gurus, eyed suspiciously by my father, sister and I, for their ability to transform her from a woman of indecision to one of action. Granted, were she transformed into a toy-buying maniac (my sister and my wish) or gourmet lamb shank baking machine (my dad's), we might not have minded, but her transformation was usually into someone who did things which interfered with the way we wanted them to be done.

Of course I have a list of funny examples which show both my own immaturity and my mother’s ability to be influenced, and these stories are quirky and zany to be sure, but for sheer pathos there is but one: The time she got her mitts on my underwear. (Referred to herewith as The Horribly Embarrassing and Traumatic Underwear Incident.)

At the time I was getting ready to go to college my mother was consorting with an evil, evil housewife named Diane who had a daughter a year older than I. Diane Dianified my mother who in turn Dianificated the family but the most atrocious blast of foul Diane air came in the form of a harrowing story of what truly went down in college laundry rooms. People steal shit! They steal everything! Right out of the dryer! Sort your laundry for a minute and your legwarmers and precious skorts will be gone gone gone. Not only that, this thievery is not only limited to the laundry room. It spreads like a scourge, corrupting dorm rooms, communal bathrooms, student unions! Colleges are overrun with gangs of rogue thieves, out to steal your recycle mug and mechanical pencils. And so, doing what any mother would do when faced with the peril of her child being looted of her possessions, she armed herself with a sharpie and went to town. There was no getting through to that woman. She was on a mission to write my name or initials on every single item I took with me. She got my clothes, my shoes, my books. She nabbed both my CD cases and the CDs inside. I still have a stain stick with my name on it, literally. But since she’d clearly lost her mind I figured it was easier to just let her furiously scribble than to try to stop her, which would have been futile. Until I saw the marker sweep dangerously close to my bras and underwear.

“Um, if that stuff gets separated from me I don’t know that I want it traced back,” I said plainly. She shrugged it off. I tried a few more times and then gave up.

I left for college with my name on my ass.

College, naturally, wasn’t filled with petty thievery. No attempts were made on my Caboodles Carrying Case nor the scrunchies inside. When friends asked why my name was on the jug of Tide Laundry Detergent or on my shower caddy (and all the bottles inside) I simply explained that my mother had gone nuts before I left. They seemed to accept this.

Then my mom’s birthday happened. The college I went to was an hour away from where I grew up which meant that all family holidays were to be observed at home. No simple sending of a card for me. I loaded my car with dirty laundry (an admitted perk of being driving distance from the parents) and also my guitar and issue of Guitar Player magazine with the tablature to Blind Melon’s “No Rain.” I figured after leaving my parents house I might drop in on my friend Sam, who was five years older than I and had long hair and had a Gibson electric guitar in the Flying-V model which was The Same One Lenny Kravitz Had. Sam and I had hung out the summer before I left for college and I’d developed a HUGE crush on him. The fact that there was absolutely no chance ever of anything physical transpiring between us – his nickname was Frigid Sam —was somewhat lost on me. So after my mom’s festivities wrapped up I loaded all my crap back into my car and drove to Sam’s mom’s house. We hung out in our usual awkward fashion. I said hello to his mom and brother as they passed through the living room, and then I drove back to school, at which point I realized I’d left my very important issue of Guitar Player magazine at his house. How was I going to play “No Rain?”

I had to fix this situation. I called Sam. His mother answered and said he was out but asked if she could give him a message. I told her I was calling because I'd left something at his house and wanted to know if I could pick it up the next time I was in town. She said she’d give him the message.

Now, the sheer stomach-churning embarrassment of that exchange will not be immediately clear to you, as it wasn’t for me at the time, but keep it in mind because it comes into play later. When the horror ensues.

So sometime after that my friend Owen and I have dinner at my parents house and swing by Sam’s on the way back to school. Owen stays in the car while I go up to the door and ring the bell. Sam answers and stands awkwardly in the doorway. He hands me the magazine. I say thank you. He says that I really got him in trouble last time I was in town. I have no idea what he’s talking about. He says not trouble really, but embarrassment. I really embarrassed him. I ask again what he’s talking about because I really honestly don’t get it. He says that thing I did, it got him in hot water. I tell him I get the gist of what he’s saying but I still am clueless. I ask him if he’s sure that whatever he’s talking about was something I did, because I would never consciously do anything to hurt or embarrass him and I’m really sorry but I didn’t mean to do anything and I don’t know what I did, if in fact I did anything. He’s sure that whatever I did was done by me. I am confused and perplexed. He’s speaking in this kind of halting stilted way, with his head held stiffly back, as if he is farsighted, or recovering from a neck injury. (This is merely a pronounced version of his usual frigid manner of speaking).

He won’t divulge but suggests that I go back to school and call him from school because he is uncomfortable talking about it in person.

Bewildered, I drive back to Claremont. Once there I quickly call him up. He’s slightly more forthcoming, saying that his mom found something I left at his house. He won’t say what it was. I still have no inkling what he’s talking about. I ask how he knows that this item is mine and is he sure it’s mine. He says oh yes, he is sure. I ask him how he can be sure and he says because of something written on it. I still can’t figure it out. I’m envisioning some kind of note left on his car written by someone else – perhaps a forged note? I am confused. I ask if it could be a prank. He says that’s what he’s wondering. I ask him to please just tell me what it is and he says he doesn’t want to and it makes him uncomfortable. I ask him to say the letter of what the item starts with. He says “L.” Then he says that it could be “P” and then he says sometimes people refer to it with a “U.” Somewhere in between "P" and "U" I realize, oh my God, that these letters stand for lingerie, or panties, or underwear, and that somehow my underwear with my name on them are at his house. Wanting to die, I quickly say to him “well, obviously you don’t want to say so I should just go,” hoping to get off the phone fast and be swallowed by a hole in the ground.

“Wait!” he says. “What do you think it is?” With all the shock and disgust of someone speaking as if through a sudden mouthful of vomit, I say “I left my underwear at your house?” “Yes!” he says.

Now mind you, at this point I still have no idea how this happened. I'm completely stunned. I'm not arguing with it, because if he knows my name is in my underwear then obviously he's telling the truth, but I can't connect the dots. He goes on to say that his mom found them and he and his mom assumed that I must have gotten together with his younger brother (appreciate, if you can, the finer nuances of this particular element of the embarrassment, which, taken against the whole is nothing, but considering I had a huge crush on HIM, was something). His brother told them that wasn’t the case, so then he figured that maybe they’d fallen off me. I was wearing jeans at time.

I tell him that I’d just done laundry and had a car full of clean clothes, so maybe I’d tracked a pair via static cling into the house. Deep down I worried, however, that because I’d had my period at the time and sometimes carried an extra pair of underwear with me stuffed into my purse in case of feminine emergency (a habit this incident thoroughly broke me of), they’d fallen out of my purse. This was the most likely and the least tolerable, as I didn’t know what condition the underwear were in. Most likely they were crumpled and old. Quite possibly they were stained. It’s one thing to leave a clean pair of underwear with your name in them at some guy who you have a crush on but no hope of hooking up with’s house, to be found by his mother. It’s quite another to leave a stained pair. I couldn’t explain this to Tim though, as I was speaking to a man whose understanding of female anatomy allowed for the possibility that underwear could fall off her body through jeans. At best it’d launch him into 20 more years of squeamish frigidity. At worse he’d have to poke his eyes out.

I can’t remember how I got off the phone. I think I’ve repressed it. But I know I sat in a kind of mute humiliated catatonic state for the next few years. (well, hours at least). Finally Rebecca, who lived across the hall from me, demanded to know what was wrong with me. She and her roommate had a good laugh. Everyone had a good laugh. But there was really nothing they could do to make me feel less weird and gross. Which is how I felt. I felt like a fourth grader who’d farted in class. Or someone who forgot to put on pants. Or someone who’d yelled something in church. Or someone who forgot to wear pants and yelled something and farted in church. But worse than that. Just vile and stupid and foolish. Oh the horror. If only I hadn’t called his mother and told her I’d left “something” at his house.

The thing that really pissed me off though was that I’d asked my mother not to write my name in my underwear. I’d had the foresight to know that undergarmets should remain anonymous. Especially mine, which at the time were threadbare and unfancy. I was not proud of my underwear. These weren’t lacy Victoria’s Secret numbers. These were cheapo JC Penney hecho en Mexico acrylic blend pantaloons.

I recently told my friend Mark about the debacle, which I still talk about 10 years later because I’m petty like that, and he brought up an excellent point which I’d never considered. Even if my name hadn’t been in the underwear I still would have left them at Sam’s house, and his mother still would have found them. It’s not as if the incident wouldn’t have happened were it not for the name.

“Yeah, but without your name in the underwear you could have denied that they were yours,” pointed out an ex-boyfriend, when I told him about what Mark had said. Sadly, he was right.

I blame that bitch Diane.


Joe said...

Shame on you, Alison, leaving your underwear all over town like that. If you liked the guy, you should have just been straight forward with him instead of playing your little underwear mind games. :o)

No, I can see how that would be very embarassing. What's really surprising to me is that he couldn't even say the words Underwear or Lingerie. He must have been about 23 or 24 (since you were in college and he was five years older.)

I was just thinking... when Sam called to tell you he found your underwear, you could have said, "Is my diaphram there too? I'm always forgetting that damn thing."

Toddrod said...

Joe... hilarious.. freakin hilarious! Poor Alison. She will fret over this incident forever, and we will all have a wonderful laugh at her expense. Alison, you should demand similar stories of embarrassment from your frequent posters here as payment for enjoying your blog. I have a similar story.


Kaufmann said...

Your mom sounds chillingly similar to mine, insofar as she’d always go the extra mile to protect the fruit of her loins from the evils of the world.

I doubt if you’re old enough to remember when the epic Farrah Fawcett poster of 1976 came out, but you’ve probably seen it. It’s the one of her in the swimsuit, sporting a smile that looked like an ear of silver-queen corn. It must have been a little chilly in the studio that day. Yes, that’s the one.

So, as many red-blooded ten year old boys did that summer, I saved my allowance, made the trek to the local mall and got me one. Now, in my youthful mind, I had laid hands on the Holy Grail of posters. This was even cooler than the velvet black light Led Zeppelin poster in my closet (in retrospect, mom must have thought them a nice Bavarian polka quartet).

I gave Farrah the proper respect and posted her on the wall beside my bed, so that she could keep watch over me in all her loving glory.

Now mom had a touch of a puritanical streak in her. And poor Farrah, well she just wasn’t dressed properly for that cold, cold studio. How did I come to the conclusion it was cold, you ask? (ok you didn’t, but play along here) The Holy Headlights were stuck on high beam. I mean, you could really tell. Looked like a couple of thimbles glued to her bosoms.

So that afternoon, after Farrah taking up residence in my room, I venture out into the neighborhood to round up my gang of friends (or as mom would call, “The Usual Suspects”), so that they could pay proper homage to my new shrine.

I assembled the gang, we go back home, and I ceremoniously threw open the door to my room.

Oh the humanity.

You see, much like your mom, my mom had an affinity for black Sharpie pens. Really, really opaque black. Non see thru.

Mom, in her duty to protect her dear horndog little boy from the evils of this chilled harlot, had given Farrah a black one-piece swimsuit a la Sharpie. It looked like one you’d see in beach photos from the roaring twenties. Maybe like a cover shot from Amish Vogue. I was mortified. My friends exploded into gut wrenching laughter.

Today, over thirty years later, whenever I run into one of the guys, at a reunion, wedding, funeral, whatever, they ask me how Farrah is doing.

Granted, this doesn’t rank up there with period bloomers, or the time I sharted in church, but I had to share it with you.


Anonymous said...

The real story in this story is the guy who was unable to even utter the word panties let alone bed a willing young Alison. Assuming this guy is not gay he's living with the biggest case of "I can't believe I didn't sleep with her" on the planet. What if's and missed opportunity's hang in the back of everyones minds, but with this poor shmo, it must be hell.

Anonymous said...

Alison, please update us on current Sam. Is he gay? Why so frigid? I demand to know!