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.
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.)
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.”