Saturday, July 08, 2006

The panties are not the point


portulaca (look at me big)
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

1996. Ok, so the first man I married, my ex-husband, let's call him "Scott." Scott was his name actually, but my memory always puts it in those verbal quotes, like an alias. The name didn't suit him, should have been something less normal, something crusty and artistic, like Gil, or something teenage and furtive, like Kevin. He was a painter and a sculptor, and made a good living in a sought-after job as an exhibits carpenter at the Guggenheim Museum.

Anyway, my ex-husband, "Scott." Was always after me to wear more alluring underclothes. He liked satin, he liked lacy stuff. I myself am more of a form-follows-function person. I shake my head just thinking about slick synthetics, scratchy lace, what have you. No, I say - no. It goes like this:
  1. Hygiene
  2. Comfort
  3. There is no number 3
I know, I sound like a podiatrist.

Luckily, I considered his requests to be so clich̩, so run-of-the-mill, that my self-esteem never suffered a hit. I figured his underwear thing to be about aesthetics Рsome kind of Vargas thing. So much was, with him.

And I didn't care too much one way or the other, so after he had made a few comments on the subject I said, "Well since it's your idea and you work next door to Victoria's Secret, go on your lunch break and buy me whatever you like. I'm a size 5."

Soon after that, he came home with the dinky little pink striped shopping bag in his large paint-spattered hand. In it were a couple pair of nylon satin panties trimmed with plastic lace. I tried them on and changed my mind. He had bought cheap uncomfortable crap. I told him to return them and next time I'd go and help pick something out.

The bag sat by the door for a couple weeks - he kept forgetting to take it back. Then the credit card bill came. The Victoria's Secret charge was $93. Whoa! "My god Scott, that crummy underwear cost ninety bucks? We are taking it back RIGHT NOW."

We took the N train to SoHo carrying that ridiculous Chihuahua of a shopping bag (huh. THAT’s what Paris Hilton reminds me of) and the credit card statement. The receipt was in the bag. We returned the two pair of panties and the clerk handed us some $30, not the $90 I expected. I cocked my head. I revved up – I am a good remonstrater. She cut me off by handing me the receipt. It clearly showed an original purchase of 6 pairs of underpants. I looked at Scott. The clerk's eyes shifted between us.

Scott said, "Can we not talk about this here?"

I said, "Very well."

On the broad stone doorstep of the Victoria's Secret on Broadway in SoHo, I said, "Who are you buying lingerie for?" I mentioned a co-worker of his, "Christine" (also her real name), who clearly had a crush on him.

He said he wasn't buying underwear for Christine, and he said again, "Can we not talk about this here?"

Well, it's not like we were just going to forget the whole thing, and I was feeling eerily rational and clear-headed, so ok, we walked on down Prince Street. I felt a bit great, actually. I was clearly in the right, and let’s just say that hadn't been the case in most of my previous experiences with jealousy/infidelity/whatever the fuck was going on here. And I didn't have that dizzying who-is-this-man sensation. So I puzzled it out.

I didn't really think he was attracted to Christine, she was in fact both mean and unattractive, and already wore cheap satin underwear. You could see it over the back of her jeans. And he pretty much didn't know any other women.

Finally I said, "You're not buying lingerie for... yourself?"

And he said, "Yes." Pretty quietly.

We're on Wooster, walking down the cobbled street, past the cast-iron fronted buildings, possibly the most fashionable place in the world. You see pictures of that street in a million ads, car commercials where super-attractive dreadlocked guys using brooms are spotted grinning at you from the sidewalk as you glide past on leather upholstery.

What I’m saying is, if you're going to have an unreal conversation, good place.

So my mind clicks through what I know of fetish objects. According to The Kinsey Report (I read the part about long-hair fetishes, thought maybe I should know), fetishes are perfectly normal unless they become fixations. I make my conclusion: well, ok. I can accommodate this in my worldview. We walk on.

Then it occurs to me to ask: "You don't… wear them… yourself... do you?"

And he says: "Well, yeah!" As if to say, "Well gosh what ELSE would a 32-year-old 6-foot-3-inch carpenter from South Dakota be doing with ladies underpants!"

I knew - I knew - that what he was talking about wasn't all that weird. I read Savage Love, hell he could have been into fisting, he could have been into something really unpleasant. And good grief, I was married to the man: naturally I would work with him within any set of parameters. The parameters weren’t just shifting, though: they were inflating and flipping around like a fire hose with every syllable he dropped - the standards of deviance on my internal graph of sexual norms were sliding WAY away from the top of the curve. But like I said, we were in SoHo.

I processed the idea of Scott wearing panties - where did he keep them, when did he put them on - and I said, "Well you don't wear them to work, right?"

And he says, and for some reason this really embarrasses him, he says quietly, "Yes."

I then said, and this seemed totally reasonable to me at the time, and still does, and I do not believe there is hidden anger or hurt in my train of thought although just about everyone else who hears this story, um, does - I said, "Well, wearing them to work seems like a bad idea. You got that giant table saw, the drill press, the SawZall for god's sake - you need to concentrate. Wearing those things might make you distracted, and if you got hurt at work and got put in an ambulance – I know EMT’s, Scott, trust me – when those assholes cut off your clothes in the wagon and see that you're wearing ladies' underwear you are NOT going to receive the highest standard of care because they're gonna be wasting time cracking jokes."

Nothing but caring in that train of thought, I am telling you.

So, new territory for me. Also for Scott, I imagine. We tried to accomodate his dumb-ass little fetish – this was my marriage, you know, you bend. And at least I didn’t have to wear that tacky crap. Well. He left me before too long anyway. Started sleeping with Christine, wrecked my apartment.

How stupid was this guy, you wanna know. Why did he allow himself to end up in such a position, getting interrogated in public about something so private? Mmm-hm.

It’s my guess that the panties were not the point. I think he had this little push-pull relationship with concealment and revelation. I think he set up secrets so that he would be discovered (later, this became more apparent, when it came to light that he had used our credit card to spend a lot of money on 8th Ave.). I think he was looking for a reprimand, like a child. And in the marital context, that's just icky.

I think he picked me out in the first place, blonde and blue-eyed, glasses and an office job, for my appearance of wholesomeness. This I resent: being someone's erotic patsy. Nobody likes being appreciated for their naiveté. But I am guessing my response to his whole panty-fetish setup was unsatisfactory. I have a feeling I was supposed to jump on a chair and say Eek.

So, ha.