Thursday, February 14, 2013

V is for ...

V is for Valentines.

Any of you who have been reading this blog all along know that Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays, but not for the reasons you might think.

When I was ten years old, my family lost our house to a fire two days before Valentine's Day. I've written and posted extensively about it and I'm not going to repeat myself here. This past summer, I did a PSA for the Red Cross about how they helped us out after the fire. With my family, we relived the whole night and for the first time, really discussed everything that happened. I knew most of the story, obviously, but there were some details I wasn't aware of. The most important was the truth about what happened to my dog, Murphy.

I had always assumed he escaped out the fence that night in the chaos. He was hit by a truck and suffered serious injuries, including a crushed pelvis. Our vet felt he should be put down, but my dad said there was no way that after the trauma his kids had been through and along with losing not only their home but all their belongings could he also tell his kids that their dog was dead. So we put him on cage rest and supplements for months and eventually he was back to jumping six-foot high fences. He lived another 13 years after that.

Anyway, I'd always felt horribly guilty that I didn't remember to snap his leash on him and take him with me. I wondered about my state of mind- after going back and forth upstairs and down after my siblings, holding my panic at bay and trying not to think about what was happening, was I pushed to the cracking point and that's why I forgot to rescue my dog? My beloved dog, whose license number I had memorized in case it might help find him when he got away.

But last summer, as my family sat around our kitchen table with a bottle of champagne and went over what happened that night, I heard for the first time that our neighbors took Murphy when we left the house. He was with them. We didn't just abandon him to escape when the firefighters arrived. He apparently kept running away from them and trying to find us, which is when he was hit by the truck. I cannot tell you how relieved this made me feel. For so long I'd felt so guilty about not rescuing him as well.

I love Valentine's Day because getting the valentines my classmates had saved for me was one of the best things in my life. It made me feel normal again, and made me realize that the world would go on and things would be ok again.

So, I'm really bothered by the Valentine's Day haters who seem to dismiss this holiday as a sort of 'rub it in the face of single people' kind of day. It's not to me, and I don't think it should be about that. It should be a reminder to tell the people in your world that you love them- your parents, your kids, your siblings, your friends, etc. And I'm totally on board with Leslie Knope's idea for Galentine's Day- a day dedicated to celebrating your lady friends. Let's get on this, shall we?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

U is for ...

U is for... underpants.

Yes, I received many wonderful suggestions for U words to use as a subject (really surprised that "uvula" was so damn popular) but underpants, as they often do, won out.

For reasons good and bad, underpants seem to play an invasive role in my life.

Admittedly, when my siblings and I were little, we loved nothing better than running around in our underpants. I believe we have some old family movies of us tearing about the house in winter wearing sweaters and heavy socks... and underpants. There's absolutely beautiful footage of my brother at about 3 or 4 years old chasing after butterflies with a net in our backyard in Endicott, wearing a white shirt, pale blue underpants, knee socks and saddle shoes, happy as can be. (The irony of my brother chasing after someone with a butterfly net, that silent film symbol of gleeful craziness, was not lost on any of us.)

When I was in elementary school, there was a line of children's undergarments called Underoos, that advertised themselves as "underwear that's fun to wear." Mostly designed to look like superhero costumes, the Wonder Woman version was the one to have for the girls in my class. You always made sure to wear your Underoos on the days that we had swim lessons so you could run around the locker room in your underwear and leap off the concrete benches (yes, onto the slippery tile floor) and pretend you were Wonder Woman.

In high school, there was of course that famous scene from Sixteen Candles that touched upon teenage girls' worst, deep-seeded fear- having your underpants on display. (Or for the more exhibitionist among us, maybe a fond fantasy?)

In the late 90s, a local newspaper began printing hysterical write-ups for their police log. I collected these with fervor until the never-identified writer left the job and the police reports went back to Jack Webb-Dragnet-just the facts ma'am boringness. One of my favorite recurring reports involved someone reporting that their car had been vandalized. Key scratches? Nope. Broken windows? Nope. Slashed tires? Of course not. These criminals had covered the car with 'soiled underpants.' On a separate Tuesday, also in Corning, "someone spread ground beef on the driver's side door of her car." They produce creative criminals in Corning. I've always thought that if I write a memoir, Ground Beef and Underpants would be the title.

And now, underpants continuously pop up in my life. I have a beagle-Jack Russell terrier named Minchy with copious amounts of energy. When I can, I try to take him for long, exhausting walks, usually taking advantage of the numerous gorgeous state parks in my area. For whatever reason, on a regular basis, we encounter discarded underpants on our adventures. One day when I was hiking along Six Mile Creek, I came across three pairs. They never seem to be a harbinger of a crime scene; there's never any kind of bad feelings associated with these lost garments. They instead seem to give off more of a joyful vibe, a symbol of a good time that was had.  Living in a neighborhood with a lot of college kids means we frequently encounter abandoned underpants on our side streets as well. About 90% of the time they're men's underpants. I don't know what this fact says about the underpants' egress. I'm assuming that because women's underclothes tend to be more expensive than men's we take better care of our underpants and are less likely to just leave 'em somewhere.

But beyond my own experiences, underpants are everywhere. South Park had their brilliant "underpants gnomes" episode. Underpants play a pivotal role in many iconic movie scenes such as in Lost in Translation, Risky Business, and Weird Science. Pee Wee's Playhouse regularly brought out a pair of giant underpants (best used as a comfy swing or nun's habit!). There's Dav Pilkey's so-twisted-I-wish-I-would've-thought-to-write-it Captain Underpants series, and Archie McPhee, the darling of novelties aficiandos, has a plethora of underpants-themed products such as Handerpants, Vinderpants, the Emergency Underpants dispenser, and of course, Squirrel Underpants (althought I doubt they make them in a size large enough for our enormous squirrel, Michael Collins).

And yes, although it may sound old-fashioned or childish, I prefer the term 'underpants.' They lend the garments a gravitas that 'panties' or 'briefs' just don't convey.

With the possibility of perhaps sharing a bit too much personal information, I prefer to write in underpants. Granted, this usually happens because I prefer to change into an oversized tshirt or sweatshirt when I get home from work, although in colder weather, I'll add sweatpants. It was good to recently learn that I'm in good company, however:

In a 1978 Newsweek essay, John Cheever wrote, “To publish a definitive collection of short stories in one’s late 60s seems to me, as an American writer, a traditional and a dignified occasion, eclipsed in no way by the fact that a great many of the stories in my current collection were written in my underwear.”