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February 16, 2011

If you accidentally expose yourself in public and no one sees, did it really happen?

A pant-splitting mishap for a friend last week reminded me of my own wardrobe mishap ten-plus years ago. Funny how experiences that are completely horrifying at the time are the tales we spin with such enjoyment years later.

It was a cold, icy day in January, and I was in my second week in a new contract job working as a technical writer at a major automotive company in Dearborn, Michigan. Remember the ice because of the body contortions I performed to keep myself upright after slipping on the way to my car and the cold because the not so friendly welcoming of the frozen leather seats when sliding into the car. Didn’t realize at the time how related these two events were.

That day 120 people from all across the division were going to the company training center for the kickoff to the project on which I was working. Like most new jobs I was excited and also a bit nervous to meet everyone and understand more about what I would be expected to do. What if I wasn’t accepted or didn’t fit in? What if I wasn’t qualified to do the job? Decided on the drive there that my focus would be to make a good impression—don’t show too much and don’t be too aloof either. Man, did I completely miss the target.

For the morning session we gathered in a large meeting room seated in a U-shape set-up. I was two-thirds the way up on the left-hand side of the U. Listening to the second speaker and looking around the room, my confidence was growing that I indeed could perform in the role and that some of the people just might develop into more than colleagues. This realization caused me to lean back in my chair and release a relaxing breath. Probably the last one I had that day.

Kicking back with my hands clasped behind my head and chest spread, I was a picture of confidence and comfort—until I looked down. It was then that I realized my pants had split along the seam from the bottom of my zipper to the bottom of my butt. When standing, all was concealed, but sitting with my legs spread open, I was on display for the entire world to see.

You’re probably thinking, Big deal. So you’re pants ripped. Get over yourself. Usually I would agree with you, except I left one thing from my story, just as I forgot one thing that day: I wasn’t wearing any underwear. That’s right, completely hanging out. Who ordered the fruit salad?

Immediately I slammed my legs closed and leaned forward. I looked right and left to see if either person next to me noticed and if they did, flash an inquisitive look as to why I didn’t get a heads-up about the show I was putting on. No reaction. Maybe they hadn’t noticed.

My next move was to look across the room at the fifty people on the other side of the U. Hoping to see a skirting blocking the front of the table, which would mean they also had an obstructed view, I was mortified to see a seemingly unending row of crotches. No matter where I looked, I was staring right down Main Street.

In the hour I had been sitting there, surely someone at some point had glanced over and saw my penis nodding and winking back at them. I scanned each face for a clue. If they had caught me, they would look back for another laugh to see if the circus tent was still open. No sign. As much as I wanted to believe I was home free, I knew it was like tripping when no one is around. The moment you believe you have gotten away with it, you connect eyes with a person who makes the experience real.

You’re probably wondering why I just didn’t go home and change my pants. If I had been in the job longer than a week and known more people than my boss, I may have done just that. But in that moment, the last thing I wanted to do was get up in the middle of a presentation and draw attention to myself. So I waited until the break. What a long hour that was.

My first stop was at the receptionist to ask for safety pins. No luck. Only paper clips. I thought I may have some leftover in my car from hauling my weekly dry cleaning. But when I got in the parking lot, still completely flustered, I couldn’t remember where I parked. It wasn’t that I didn’t see my car; I saw ten of them. Everywhere I looked I saw the same black car--probably one of the most popular cars on the road in the 90’s, let alone at the company training center at the global headquarters. I tried my key in a few, but I was so far gone in my anxiety-fueled haze, it was hopeless. The cars I thought could be mine may not have even been black or even same model for that matter.

I still had time before the next session resumed so I scurried back to the receptionist for the paper clips. Took them into a stall in the restroom and removed my pants. Straightened each of the paper clips and then used them like stitches, bending and twisting them through the gash to get as tight of a seam as possible.

Putting the pants back on and then sitting on the toilet simulating all the movements and gestures I may perform the rest of the day, I was confident in my sewing job and overall impressed with the solution. That is, until one of the metallic staples stabbed me in the scrotum and then another and another. This job was important to me, but not so special that I was going to risk some kind of sack injury to make it through the work day.

So, off came the pants. Not ready to give up, I reexamined my emergency tailoring. By bending the twisted ends of the paperclips away from my body, I created a rounded edge rather than a genital lance. Slid the pants back on and another round of checks confirmed my innovation was ready to be field tested.

Can’t say I remember much from the rest of the day. Spent most of my time either looking down at my crotch to make sure I wasn’t hanging out like my grandfather in his bathrobe, adjusting myself to avoid a sack puncture,  or scanning the room for a sign of solidarity from a fellow attendee who knew what I had been through that day. None of which happened.

To this day, I don’t know if anyone did see. As I got to know people at Ford, I told that story many times, including at my going away luncheon. No one ever came forward acknowledging their observation of my unconventional attempt to make a lasting impression. Maybe I did get away with it. Somehow I don’t think I did, and to be honest I hope I didn’t. Stupid things that happen aren’t as much fun if we have no one to share them with.

So what is the moral here? To always wear underwear? Keep safety pins, a needle and some thread on your person at all times? Always keep your legs crossed? If you can’t put your best foot forward, choose another body part? Probably just another reminder not to take ourselves too seriously and no matter what happens to always find the irony or humor in our experiences. If we can’t, then we are probably holding on too tight.