I've never owned long underwear before.
For some reason, I thought only moonshiners wore them.
But my wife recently purchased a pair for me, and after my initial skepticism, I tried them on.
It's hard for me to describe what it felt like, sliding on a pair of long flannel underwear for the first time. It was as if a lumberjack was squeezing his way along my legs until settling into a hug around my waist, slightly lifting my privates with the top of his floppy eared hat.
Now I never take them off. Really. We had to scrape them from my body with a spatula the other day, just so I could take a naked shower. I prefer swimsuit showers, but sometimes it's fun to go a little wild.
My wife has taken to calling the long johns my "buddies."
I arrived at work five years later, only to discover they had replaced me with a frowny face balloon tied to a bidet.
It could be that my wife bought me these buddies because I have no real friends.
I used to have them, mind you, but they all slipped away when I proved to be really terrible at keeping in touch. They're out there, somewhere, in the aether, or on Facebook. I would track them down but the guilt, man, the guilt.
Ah, to be picked up from my parent's house by friends in a car, a real car, and driven off into the night-to do this for the first time, so many sensations flooded me: the world was an enormous, heaving thing spilling over with possibility. I wanted to go down every side road, peek in every window, ring every doorbell and run away giggling. I longed to span America in my friend's mom's minivan.
I was so excited, I couldn't swallow.
I turned to the guy beside me in the backseat, and suddenly noticed that, though he was 6"2 and fairly thick, he appeared to be dressed in a child's Cub Scout uniform. Those shorts on that body were simply scandalous.
"Uh...where are we going?" I asked.
"Phil's got his three man slingshot with him. We're gonna launch burritos off the top of a parking structure." He didn't explain his outfit.
It didn't matter. For the first time in my life, I was truly free. Nothing could dissuade me from that notion. And as I held the plastic handle of a giant slingshot made from surgical tubing and watched it rocket a Taco Bell taco into the city sky, the force of it's velocity first shedding its paper wrapper, then scattering it's contents: beef, cheese, lettuce, over the streets and the people, I felt my teen-aged soul rising with it.
A disembodied voice began barking at us.
"FREEZE! Stay where you are. Do not move."
"Shit!" someone yelled, and everybody started running for the minivan at once.
The guy in the Scout uniform had been caught in mid-pee, and had to sprint and urinate on himself at the same time.
The driver, my friend Philip, started to take off with the sliding door still open, and everyone else inside, holding their hands out and telling me to hurry the hell up.
I felt like that adorable little bear Corduroy, who marvels at how the spontaneous events of his life match up perfectly with his heart's desires.
These must be friends. I've always wanted friends.
This must be a moving vehicle. I've always wanted to jump into a moving vehicle while possibly being chased by a policeman.
I ran for the open door as fast as my furry little stump legs could carry me. Just as I neared it, Philip slowed the van way down. Instead of making a dramatic escape worthy of the Duke boys, I slowly climbed into the middle seat and half-heartedly wheezed, "Drive, drive".
Looking through the back window as we sped away, I could see a parking attendant with a flashlight sprint a few steps after us and give up almost immediately. He gave us the finger.
"What do you guys want to listen to?" Philip asked, as he merged onto the westbound highway out of Ann Arbor.
I was always well behind my friends when it came to music. They were listening to Kraftwerk and Sonic Youth while I was writing out the lyrics to Bette Midler's The Rose in my school notebook, occasionally dotting the i's with secret tears.
To volunteer a musical preference with that crowd was to risk an entire future of maybe not being taken seriously.
So when Philip asked about tunes on that night, my first out of the house unattended, my baptism into the world of cool teenagers being effortlessly cool, I clutched the Winger cassette single of Miles Away in my pocket and kept my mouth shut.
"C'mon guys, somebody pick something. Anything."
Philip pronounced 'anything' like "ennethin." He said words all crazy like that because he was born in England.
Once, he revealed to me that his entire family hung around the house with no clothes on. Mom, Dad, the two boys; all of them chomping blood sausage and kidney pie in the buff. His parents were relatively fit and pleasant looking, certainly not the worst people to see in the nude, but I didn't like the thought of it. You could not consider your friend's naked family without being tortured by thoughts of "What if my family....?" Good god, no.
I am not sure if it was nature or nurture in Philip's case, but as we went through our college years, he exhibited a growing preference for living life in the nude.
He would throw house parties wearing nothing but Birkenstocks, and then harass everyone else for their puritanical attachment to clothing.
Very few girls ever hung out with us at these parties.
Philip titled this disparity the "fellatio ratio", and though he might never have admitted it, the gender gap might have been at least partly attributed to the spectacle of his naked body standing on the front porch, a giant slice of pizza in one hand and a beer in the other, tomato sauce in little splats from his beard to past his nipples.
Occasionally, something like a fever would sweep through the other guys, and I'd be there on the front lawn, surrounded by a bunch of naked young men shooting off bottle rockets and chasing after the city bus as it made it's last rounds for the night.
It's strange what situations you can find yourself in the middle of, and still feel in your heart that you've arrived at some kind of pinnacle.
I'm an amazing person, living an amazing life, I thought, while watching naked Philip fall with a tremendous whump of smoke and ash into a roaring campfire.
He burned his leg so badly that he was hospitalized for several days.
When I visited him at his home, he showed me how they had to soak the burnt, dead skin and then scrub it off in sheets, leaving what looked like raw hamburger behind.
"Does it hurt pretty bad?" I asked.
He gave me a withering look. Philip was always a little uncertain as to the actual state of my intelligence.
I knew the question was stupid. I was just so nervous that his family was going to pop out, all the way naked, and offer me something to eat. It was making me say things I didn't mean.
Dumb Facebook. Sitting here all accessible and stuff.
I'm studying what little of Philip's profile he has public, piecing together the current state of his life.
There are kids, somewhere on an ocean beach. He still has most of his hair.
He's tan and happy and fully clothed, but I panic over the button for 'send a friend request'.
I can't have friends, I think. My life is too crowded, what with children, video games, eating. If I have friends, when will I do the dishes?
Time has become a selfish thing I can't give up, even if I'm lonely; there's just not enough of it.
Or maybe, deep down, I'm just a really, really shitty friend.
I notice Philip's friends list is stuffed with familiar names. A couple of mouseclicks and I'd be in the middle of a virtual reunion on a terrifying, suffocating scale.
"Hug me, buddies," I whisper to my long underwear.
And they do.