It was an offhand comment, really. If my head had been turned I probably wouldn’t have heard it, but it wasn’t, so I did. During a break in a long business meeting, a guy sitting across the table from me happened to let slip that he keeps a complete set of backup underwear–boxers, socks and undershirt–in his office.
I looked at the guy, and he looked back at me. It was like the scene in Casablanca when the Nazis start singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” and Victor Laszlo asks the band to play ”La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. The bandleader looks to Humphrey Bogart, playing Rick Blaine, who gives him the nod. Beneath the cynical exterior, we know whose side Rick is on.
Nations at peace traditionally prepare for the inevitability of war by stockpiling assets of critical importance, or supporting their production. The United States, for example, maintains an emergency fuel store of oil, known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We also subsidize mohair, so our boys in uniform will never be embarrassed as they climb out of a muddy trench half a world away to find that their outfit is tragically unfashionable.
Either that, or face a fast-talking, slow-walking, good-looking Mohair Sam, as Charlie Rich sang about–unarmed.
Canada, you may be surprised to learn, maintains a strategic reserve of maple syrup, which reached a high-syrup mark of 60 million pounds in 2004. No sneak attack by Al Qaeda is ever going to leave Canadians’ waffles and pancakes dry–no sirree bob!
But underwear reserves have historically slipped beneath the fabric of American life, to put it both literally and figuratively. At least one mother I know–mine–used to carry an extra set on long airplane flights to Hawaii. You never know when you’re going to overshoot Oahu and end up on a South Pacific island where underwear consists of palm leaves, tastefully arranged.
My underwear reserve, and that of my new-found brother under the skin across the table, is maintained for similarly practical reasons. We both work out in the morning, and when you pack your bag the night before it is sometimes easy to forget a pair of socks, an undershirt, or underpants while you’re contemplating how cute your wife looks in her Chilly Penguin Footed Pajamas. When you do, you have to walk around the office showing bare ankles, for example, while you wait for the nearest department store to open at 10 a.m.
“What’s with the no socks?” your boss asks. “That’s the look the well-dressed gentleman will be wearing this spring,” you say blithely as you walk down the hall while making mental calculations of the amount you’ll save on taxes next year when your salary goes down!
No, in these perilous economic times, it behooves every American bread winner to keep an extra set of underwear on hand at the office. Even if you don’t work out in the morning, what if the LNG tanker outside your window explodes, leaving you stranded downtown at the same time that it destroys all available underwear reserves in the surrounding metropolitan statistical area? Then where would you be?
I think you know the answer to that question. And in answer to your other question–no, you can’t borrow my underwear.