Untitled Harrisburg is a Storytelling/Story Slam project. While my schedule did not allow me to attend the October event, themed “Mortified”, this is the story I would have been ready to tell.
When the words “underwear” and “in public” are used in the same sentence, it is not unusual for the word “mortified” to not be too far behind.
By way of background, my personal history of underwear preferences has varied from briefs to boxers, to hybrid boxer-briefs, to commando and in the 80’s, there may or may not have been bikini-style brief and/or a Cheetah G-String.
For the record, today I wear what my bride, Leigh, picks up on sale at Kohl’s or Target, usually when she thinks my current selection needs updating and a “20% – Off” coupon is burning a hole in her coupon box.
In May of last year, I was preparing to fly to Nashville for a work conference. It would be a quick one overnight trip that would start with the early 6:00 AM flight out of Harrisburg. As is my typical routine, I lay my clothes out the night before, selecting two shirts that will work with one pair of trousers and my trusty travel blue blazer. Easy on/off loafers, a pair of socks, and a handkerchief. I pull a pair of boxers out my underwear drawer and pack the back pack filled with typical necessities tooth brush, toothpaste and deodorant in a plastic bag, along with back up phone battery, earbuds, (I have a queue of about 28 Ted Talks and 74 Podcasts I’m going to get to someday!) etc. Everything has been thoughtfully selected and haphazardly placed in the back pack, with my day 1 “uniform” selected and laid out on the Hope chest in the walk-in closet.
Next morning, the alarm goes off at 4:20 AM. I get up, shower, shave, dry off, hang up my shower towel, then quietly strut out of the bathroom into the walk-in closet where my “travel uniform” awaits. It’s now about 4:37 AM and I start by putting on my boxers, not really giving the appreciation due for the fresh, newly acquired blue Fruit of the Looms Leigh had recently scored with an extra $5 off the coupon sale price.
Fast forward to the airport. I get through security fine with just me and my handy backpack.
Now, as many men do, I have reached that age that I never pass a restroom without stopping in. And so I do. Having navigated airport restrooms for years I have to say I am really quite skilled at having my backpack slung over my left shoulder, tilting my head slightly to the left so my chin holds the strap in place. I unzip my fly with my right hand, sliding two fingers through the pants searching for convenient slit in the boxers, that allow me access to gain the relief my bladder seeks.
Although I’m not a frequent flyer, I’ve executed this one-handed maneuver literally hundreds of times over the course of my lifetime in airports, stadiums, office restrooms, in the woods, and perhaps even on the golf course. I’m in my mid-50’s – trust me – I know what I’m doing. I never button the slit button unless I have a doctor’s appointment, and I am very confident in my one-handed skillset when it comes to relieving myself. In fact, like Pavlov and his dogs, just the change of body language as I approach an airport urinal activates my bladder’s pre-urination giddiness of anticipated relief.
This morning, however, it would be different. As I moved toward the row of urinals my right hand instinctively was already moving into action. Chin down and left hand holding the backpack strap in place, pants zipper now fully down, and my fingers deftly sliding into my pants. I smiled at the both the anticipation of release as much as being yet another data point for Mr. Pavlov.
There’s a problem! I couldn’t find the slit. I moved my two fingers to the left looking for the access, No joy. Then I move then to the right. Still no slit. I’m confused; and getting nervous. Was there an incident in the security line that my boxers get twisted in security? Leigh must have bought a faulty pair of underwear with no slit to maneuver in and out of! What the hell is going on?
And Pavlov’s Dog’s salivary glands are beginning to get worked up.
Panic sets in. I’m not sure exactly what it may have looked like from behind, my right hand frantically searching for the portal of bliss in my pants as I stand in front of the urinal – but I know was frantic.
Within moments my survival instincts kicked in and I went for the full “4 finger grab” at the bottom hem of the boxers, quickly yanking up so I could in a timely, if not awkward, fashion, finish my business at the urinal. I’m not sure I was panting loudly, but my heart was certainly pounding. That was a close call.
Now I am happy to report that everything came out just fine. I looked at myself in the mirror as I washed my hands I said to myself, “What the hell just happened?” I hadn’t yet been able to reconcile the “missing slit” incident. So I retreated to a stall for a private inspection.
As it turns out, these new Fruit of the Looms have the tag on the front-outside of the waist band – not in the more traditional location on the inside-back of the waist band. A little fact that I didn’t pick up on at 4:37 AM that morning in my walk-in closet.
I’m in my mid 50’s, I’m traveling, and I’m wearing my underwear backwards.
I don’t know if anybody saw, or even cared about, my self-induced predicament, but it certainly felt like all eyes were on me as I meandered toward the seating area at the gate. Instinctually I felt I just needed some “alone time” to regroup. I found two empty seats at the end of a row, and placed my backpack on one and sat in the other, casually verifying, as I slowly sat down, that my fly was in fact zippered up. I refused to make eye-contact with anybody; you know – just in case word had already spread throughout the terminal that I was “that guy” who put his underwear on backwards that morning.
I gathered my thoughts and just as I began to chuckle to myself, I realized a woman sitting directly across from my seat was smiling at me. I was mortified.
“Holy shit Batman! How does she know?”
It probably only took about 2 seconds, although it felt like an eternity, that this was a dear friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while. I was so up in my own head with embarrassment I didn’t immediately recognize her. While I will protect her anonymity in the event she doesn’t want to be memorialized in my boxer chronicles, I will only say she and a friend were on their way to Puerto Rico for a girl’s weekend and was also flying to Philadelphia for her connecting flight.
We had a nice catch-up chat and, although she would have likely laughed at the situation had I told her about it, we are not quite “underwear story sharing buddies” so I spared her the details of the mortification that lie beneath my smile and friendly banter.
As it turned out, the plane was only half full and she was sitting alone two rows behind me. I excused myself from the gentleman I was seated next to and moved back. Although the flight to Philadelphia is only about 22 minutes, we had a chance to catch up on each other’s family’s and lives and some mutual friends since we hadn’t run into each other over the past year or so.
But through all the pleasantries and nice conversation, mortification lurked in the in the back of my mind.
I thought, “What if the plane crashes? What do I say when the investigator asks why I was in the wrong seat? Next to a beautiful woman? With your boxers on backwards?
I wondered if it were better to have these questions asked if I were dead? Or alive?
I got to Nashville safely, but couldn’t check into my hotel until after 4:00 PM. So I spent the entire day like a verse from a country song;
I was walking in Nashville
With only a pack on my back
And my junk in my trunk.
So the next time you see a middle-aged man standing at a public urinal, with one hand in his pants, frantically grabbing at the bottom hem of his boxers, just remember he might be more mortified than you are at that moment. He may be dealing with a new pair of Fruit of the Loom’s.
You can learn more about amazing fun and talent the Harrisburg Untitled at https://untitledhbg.com/