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I decided to stop biting my fingernails. I decided to be as nice as I could to people all the time. I decided I needed a girlfriend bad.\n\n<<back>>
(The main drag in Chestertown, the gleaming jewel of the upper Eastern Shore of Maryland.)\n\n<<back>>
I remember my grandmother pushing me on a swing. My parents were gone and I didn't understand why. I remember sitting on a rock at dusk, eating a deviled egg. I remember staring at the ocean and being terrified by the waves. A woman who was not my aunt but seemed close to one reassured me I wouldn't have to go anywhere near them if I didn't want to.\n\nI can fill in the reasons now, the way you can wiggle through a Sunday crossword -- my sister was being born, there was a party where we were saying goodbye to the people we lived with in the apartment complex, my first trip to the beach -- but by themselves they're only fragments, little daydreams that happen to be true.\n\n<<back>>
It's really easy to tell when I'm trying to get people to do things that I don't think they really, really deep down want to. (Like go on dates with me.) I come up with the most ridiculous premise I can find and I overflower it with all those literary devices you had to learn about in middle school -- alliteration, simile, [[synecdoche]], everything -- so that one little tiny idea, that one thing I really want, can go almost unnoticed.\n\n<<back>>
I remember lying on my bed, trying vainly to get that button buttoned. Somehow I had worked out that gave me the most slack to work with. There were some pants that went easily; there were some that had to be struggled with. When you wake up at 5:40 am, small things grow into calamities.\n\nThose pants left [[nasty-looking pink marks]] on my waist. I only saw them when I took them off once I got home from school. And I had the awfullest stomachaches, too. But maybe that was just the cafeteria food.\n\n<<back>>
!!An Ode to Pants\n!!!by [[Chris Klimas|]]\nI was packing my clothes for vacation -- late Friday night, because I still procrastinate about things like these -- and after it was all over, a tiny pang of happiness hit me: I would get to spend a week entirely without pants.\n\nWe got off to [[a bad start]], you see.
I mean, I grew up. I still liked wearing shorts more, but maybe that was no longer because I hated pants so much. More like shorts reminded me of summer, of ice cream birthday cakes, of being able to do everything I wanted to and nothing I didn't. It was just a preference, the way people like one color more than all the others.\n\nIt's so nice, [[forgetting]]. It's so hard, [[deciding]].\n\nAnd then -- I'm really sorry, but there has to be a sentence like this in a story like this -- there was this [[one night in college]].
Almost immediately I decided to make Pantsless Friday really happen. It just sounded too good not to. And it was easy. All I had to do was pick a day and send out an email to my friends. The theory being that if it worked this time, I could do it next year with the entire campus, maybe, and then after that try to make it some weird holiday across the nation.\n\nI tried my hardest to make that email sound [[sort of poetic]] or something -- I think I wrote some doggerel about calling spring back to the earth. Because it was absolutely essential that it wouldn't be easy to go without pants one day. I didn't want it to be some May Friday. I wanted it to be hard and I wanted to be noticed and I wanted it to be like a game.\n\nAlmost everybody went for it, which in retrospect wasn't that amazing since all girls had to do was wear a dress. I didn't specify in the message, you know, that you had to do anything crazy. You just had to not wear pants. We guys mostly wore shorts. It was a nippy sort of day but not a really cold one, so none of us stuck out. On campus, anyway.\n\nElsewhere was [[a different story]].
I wish I could give you a real transcript of what they said, in quotation marks and everything, because it was wonderful in this completely lame way. It was so //stereotypical//. The kind of dialogue you hear in movies that play at 2 am on truckstop TV screens. Only they were really saying it. They sounded exactly like ignorant rednecks about to go on a foolish rampage.\n\nIf I was living in a bad horror movie, they would have become a pile of bodies later discovered by a sheriff, but since this was real life, things [[really could get nasty]].
My mother is so good at asking the questions I never want to think about. When bad things happen to me, I just put them aside on a sideboard in my mind, to be sorted through once a safe distance has been reached. But then she goes and asks -- and then it's all confusing and sad again --\n\n(But then, questions are really necessary. And maybe there isn't any such thing as a safe distance.)\n\n<<back>>
That strange feeling I get after a bad accident when I've maybe broken some bones or totalled my car. Half wishing I could go back in time and prevent it from happening, half knowing it couldn't have been any other way. Wishing I could be the person I was yesterday once more.\n\n<<back>>
I'm terrible at remembering when things happened. Once at work I was talking to my boss's boss about a conversation that happened three hours before -- only I thought it had only been forty-five minutes.\n\n<<back>>
(Okay, so nobody had to learn about this one in middle school. The name just sounds nice placed next to 'simile.' It means substituting a part of something for its whole. i.e. calling a guy's car his 'wheels.')\n\n<<back>>
That's the thing that makes telling stories like these so hard: nothing feels important or momentous when you're just screwing around on a Friday night, so nobody's taking notes. And details like these are essential, so it's so tempting to just make something up and go with it, right or wrong.\n\n<<back>>
It was like [[a dream]], the way all my memories from childhood have grown. A bad dream this time, set in a tiny dressing room -- even though I [[must have been]] only been four or five, it felt tight as a prison cell. Sears. The first time I'd been to a clothing store. Summertime, maybe. There was that feeling of finding a pocket of cool crisp air amid a humid too-bright world. \n\nWe were buying pants. I was supposed to find ones that fit me. None of them did. All of them felt too confining, too tight around the knees, too weird a texture. I was saying no to them all but my mother kept feeding new ones over the dressing room door. [[Asking questions]]: trying to trick me into liking one, into saying yes just this once.\n\nI have no memory of that [[final yes]], but it must have come. It didn't matter. I had learned that day that I hated pants, and would [[no matter what]].
(The Resident Assistant, in charge of keeping the dorm in line.)\n\n<<back>>
That's the funny thing about deep realizations and endings to stories: it isn't until much later that you even begin to see the shape of what happened before, to really understand how and when you changed. When I was a high-schooler, knees knocking together at the bus stop, I never thought the clothes I wore meant anything. It was just the way things were, nothing special.\n\nI can't see right anyway. I'm [[near-sighted]]. And sometimes I wish I could understand things better the moment I live them. Just the usual kinds of things, you know? To know what you'll wish you had told someone when you had the chance. Not to do the right thing all the time, necessarily -- just to be able to hear the story as it's told. To live in a present tense.\n\n<<back>>
An Ode to Pants
And the funny thing is I don't like wearing glasses. I only have to drive; so as soon as I turn the engine off, the glasses go snap into their case. I'm not afraid of being flawed, I promise. In a weird sort of way, I like it.\n\n<<back>>
In this respect, I was a really terrible college student.\n\n<<back>>
It seemed to happen slowly even though it didn't. We paid our bill, left our tip -- we were all postmodern college students, aware we had a reputation for stiffing poor old waitresses stuck in faroff truckstops -- and got up to leave.\n\nWithout really meaning to, without even muttered words pointed floorwards, we formed a tight phalanx around Dennis. Slowly. I mean it. I watched my feet move and wondered if the rednecks by the door made a move, how it would come. In movies usually somebody shoves somebody, and they shove back, and then that's it.\n\nDoes this kind of thing really happen? I wondered. Can we go by the movies in all respects?\n\nSlowly. Things seemed to go so slowly. You count tiles to make sure time is passing, that you are still walking.\n\nOne of them said something about wardrobes to Dennis as we passed. I wasn't paying attention and the words evaporated from my mind as soon as they left the air. None of us said anything, just kept walking -- and then we had reached the door, found ourselves in the cool clammy entrance with complimentary peppermints.\n\nAs soon as we were on the road again, I realized: this pants thing is much more serious than I thought it was. I mean, people are willing to get into fistfights over who wears them and who doesn't.\n\nMaybe, [[looking back on it]], it was the first day I really respected pants, really understood that they meant something beyond a zipper fly and two pockets. I know it was a silly sort of realization. I know. But you have to bear with me with these things.\n\n<html><b>∴</b></html>
After the final no there comes a yes\nAnd on that yes the future world depends.\n\n([[Wallace Stevens|]])\n\n<<back>>
Only two guys I knew really took this Pantsless Friday thing to heart: Rob, who borrowed a field hockey kilt from this girl who went to his high school, and Dennis, who wore a pink dress he got from his girlfriend Gina.\n\nIt was sort of cool. It gave me pause, though, just because they took it much further than I myself planned to. So that night we decided to go to this truck stop we went to a lot. It was mostly empty when we we got there at around two o'clock in the morning. The same kind of people we always saw there -- not truckers, not really; more like bored locals -- were there.\n\nI'd never run into problems with townies, really. I mean, they'd yell at me from their pickup trucks as I walked down [[213]], but that was kind of ordinary, the kind of thing that doesn't even startle you no matter what kind of tricked-out overdriven engine they've plopped into their rusty chassis. \n\nBut that night I overheard a slew of them sitting by the door talking about Dennis and his girlfriend's-dress. It was the kind of talk that people are [[meant to overhear]].
I forgot I once hated eating onions. I forgot I only had a few few friends in high school. I forgot I used to wear flannel every day.\n\n<<back>>
I was a freshman, just some random night of no importance. Halfway through changing clothes -- you know, that awkward part where you've got your pants around your ankles and you're sort of fiddling with your underwear or something. The doors of the closets in our rooms swung open so you could get a little bit of privacy. So I was sort of huddled in there trying to rearrange my wardrobe when someone knocked on the door.\n\nWe never locked the door when we were inside, so I immediately shouted, "Don't come in, I'm not wearing any pants" or something just as dumb. There's nothing you can say in a situation like that that's going to sound cool, so you might as well go for something stupid and maybe amusing. -- I mean, that wasn't what I was thinking at the time. Nobody's really glib in real life. I believe that fervently. At the time I was just trying to keep anyone [[from seeing my bare ass]].\n\nIt was my [[RA]], who I was good friends with, so he and I bantered through the door while I tried to get my body good and covered-up. Somehow someone said it -- he told me later it was him, but I [[don't remember]]. Pantsless Friday.\n\nSay it out loud, right now. Just try it.\n\nIt [[sounds wonderful]]. Almost as good as //cellar door//.
I had this game I played all the way through high school. I'd try to go as far into the year as I could still wearing shorts. It meant defeat, tugging on those jeans that [[never fit me]] quite right. The new familiar discomfort.\n\nSo I'd be there in the nasty pits of early October, shivering every morning before the bus came to pick us up. That was the hard part, waiting in the dark, the coldest part of the day. I wore the longest pair of shorts I had those days. The rest was easy -- room temperature is easy to hack in shorts. It only gets hard down around the lower fifties.\n\nIt was ridiculous, the whole thing, and maybe that's why I didn't tell anyone about the game. It wasn't really a game at all. It was really just a way to make myself weird, to make myself seem as different from everyone as I felt inside. It was stupid -- normal teenagers get piercings and tattoos to solve this problem. But then I've always been afraid of [[permanence]].\n\nOne year, [[I forgot about the game]].
What was worse, though, were the dress shoes I had to wear to concerts and graduations and things like that. No matter what size I had, they always left me with blisters around my heels that hurt for days afterwards.\n\nPants, shoes -- nothing felt like it fit.\n\n<<back>>