Let’s talk about pants.
If you spend any time on social media, you will learn very quickly that the tide has turned against pants. Although it’s hard to say if we ever had pants’ back to begin with, thanks to all the filthy money Big Pant spread around our proud nation’s capital.
Nevertheless, from pole to pole, sea to shining sea, and waist to ankles, people are falling over themselves to tell you that they are sick and tired of living under pants’ tyranny. If you put your ear to the window, between, say, 6-10 p.m., you can hear what sounds like millions of voices crying out in discomfort, and then suddenly relieved. And exhaling contentedly. And possibly scratching. Probably scratching. Scratching. It’s basically like the Twilight Bark from 101 Dalmatians, only gruntier.
And if you turn your attention to your social media platform of choice around that same time, you will read tales of people who fought valiant battles against pants for hours and finally reigned victorious. It is very difficult to get social media to agree about much, but everyone who has to deal with pants on a day-to-day basis seems to agree that they can go right off and fornicate themselves. (But using protection, of course, because that would ultimately result in even more pants.)
I myself put up with pants for a few reasons. As a freelancer who works from home a fair amount of the time, I have a lot more latitude in when I must submit to pants, and when pants must submit to being kicked in the corner of my bedroom, where they immediately turn into my dog’s summer place. (“Oh, you simply MUST visit us at West Trouser next July, there’s a bit of cheese that ended up in the back pocket, and I’ve been saving the PERFECT Mourvèdre to go with it.”)
But also, I like to leave my place once in a while, and do things like go to bars and… that’s basically it. But that’s enough to require I make a compact to be part of public society, and not set off a chain of events that result in me living a feral existence in the woods, like some mutant hybrid of Sasquatch and Donald Duck. Although if anyone out there is starting a death-metal band, you are more than welcome to use the name “Sasquck”.
To look at me now is to see a man who has reached a truce with pants. Unless you are looking at me in my home when it’s just me, my wife and my dog, in which case I have a bunch of questions about those security cameras you sold me out of the back of your janky Kia Sportage.
But it was not always like this. Pants and I did not always publicly get along. Pants and I went through a very dark time indeed.
In DEAR TEEN ME, an anthology of letters written by folks to their younger selves, I told Freshman Year Of College Me that I didn’t need to worry about finding an external “thing” that made me different and unique and special. Eventually, people would just like me, and I didn’t need to wear a plastic Dick Tracy hat or own 100 pairs of sunglasses to move this process along.
But no matter how much the editors of DEAR TEEN ME promised us that all of our letters would be placed in a special wormhole and sent to our younger selves so they might actually do some good, this did not come to pass.
Because Freshman Me kept at it, and eventually did find a “thing” for which I was known.
I was The Guy With No Pants.
There were a lot of variations on this sobriquet. Sometimes it was “Mr. No Pants,” occasionally it was “No Pants Man,” and more often than not, it was “JESUS, Cagan.”
I don’t remember the first time I took off my pants to get a laugh from my classmates, but I do remember that it was successfully enough received that I was encouraged to do it repeatedly.
Sometimes it was done loudly, with me shouting “NO PANTS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, NO PANTS!” Other times I would do it quietly, standing behind a friend droning on about how CCR was The Only Real American Rock Band (a conversation that came up pretty infrequently to be fair, only about 700 times a week from 1993-1995.)
But really, there was no rhyme or reason to it. Parties, rehearsals, the cafeteria, whatever. If there was a quiet moment, which is to say, a moment where EVERYONE WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION TO ME, the solution was easy: Deep six the pants, run around, get some laughs, put pants back on, immediately tell the story about the time 30 seconds ago I didn’t have pants.
Rinse. Repeat. De-pant. Re-pant.
I will note that nobody ever told me to stop doing this. Occasionally, somebody would ask me why I did this. Because we were obnoxious theater kids, and we were constantly asking each other, “What’s the theory behind this?” “What sense memory are you pulling from?” “Boxers or brief- Oh, never mind, I see.”
And I would, as was my job as an obnoxious theater kid, spout unfathomable nonsense about the why of public pantslessness. The only real reason I remember, though, was a phrase that still sticks in my brain to this day.
“My body is my rubber chicken.”
I do not care for the way I look. Never have, never will. I mean, that’s maybe a bit severe, since these days I am married to a person who thinks I am fine the way I am, fluctuations in weight/pie intake be damned. As this person is right about generally everything, I’m less hard on myself. (Although I did refer to myself as a “fat-ass” this weekend, so I’m apparently not letting myself off the hook entirely.)
But in my 20s, I regarded myself as a straight-up Sasquck. I wore a shirt when swimming, and dressed myself in layers of thermal shirts, t-shirts, flannels, and big dumb coats, with little to no regard for the season. It helped that I grew up and went to school on the East Coast, which features about 10 months of fall and winter a year.
My body wasn’t nimble or limber, it couldn’t run for miles, lift super heavy things, or even really walk across a room without bumping into everything and everyone. Because I didn’t want anything to do with it, nobody else wanted anything to do with it, and as a result, it wasn’t really being used for anything.
So I decided I could use it as a punchline. My body was so goofy, useless and ridiculous, that was the only thing it was good for. A cheap laugh. Some easy shock value. A rubber chicken.
And to my body’s credit, it worked. It got results. It got laughs. And when something works, you stick with it. And so I did. I stuck with it through four years of undergrad, three years of grad school, and pretty much the entirety of my 20s.
In the late ‘90s, I was in a bar with a friend of mine, and we were talking with some new acquaintances. My friend talked about himself, his job, his astrological sign, et cetera. Then it was time to pass the mic to me. “And this is my buddy Josh. He’s HILARIOUS. He--”
And now, there were a bunch of things he could have said here. “He’s a writer for MTV Animation.” “He’s written a bunch of super-funny plays.” “He’s memorized all of ‘Hired The Musical’ from MST3K.”
That didn’t happen. Instead he said, “And this is my buddy Josh. He’s HILARIOUS. He will take off his pants at the drop of a hat. He LOVES to take off his pants in public. LOVES IT.”
And everyone else we were with, old friends and new, laughed. Because it was hysterical! What an odd, funny thing to be known for! I wasn’t laughing, however. Because in my head I was thinking, “This? This is my legacy? ‘The Guy With No Pants’? This is what sums up the last decade of my life? THIS?”
I imagined the gravestone. “JOSH A. CAGAN, BELOVED SON AND FRIEND. HE LOVED TAKING OFF HIS PANTS.”
Right then and there, I knew it was time to retire the bit once and for all. I knew I was better than this. I knew my body, for all of its lumpy weirdness, deserved better than this. And I knew I had more to contribute to the world than this.
From that day on, I was The Guy With Pants. I promise to all of you that it is a title I will continue to uphold. It is an uphill battle, to be sure. As previously discussed, many of us are, in one way or another, at war with pants.
But for me, it is ultimately a war to be fought in private.
Now, if you will excuse me, it is time to walk the dog, which means evicting him from West Trouser. He’s going to be cross with me, but he’ll be in much worse shape if we have to go live in the woods.