Try Stress Testing Underpants
How do you handle things going wrong? When Ruth and I flew into Singapore one time our luggage kept going; winging its way to Frankfurt. Which meant things started getting tricky pretty quickly. Would our bags be lost? What about the children’s things and the gifts we bought? But there was something far more stressful. No luggage meant no change of underwear! So four year old Dan and I set off for the famous Orchard Road shopping district in search of smalls for Ruth and I.
I don’t handle the stress of heat well. Actually that’s an understatement. My kids like to announce at the top of their voice at social gatherings that they’ve never seen anyone sweat as much or look as frazzled as I do in the tropics. According to them having the equivalent of water pistols squirting from my armpits means I am the ultimate wet t-shirt champion.
So stepping out into the Singapore sun soon saw me dissolve into a feeble, soggy figure staggering in a daze beside the road. Despite heat stress being a real risk, I was on a mission and there was no turning back. The prospect of no knickers spurred me on.
Barely warmed by the tropical rays, Dan skipped along happily before me, leading the way. I don’t remember much from my sweat soaked stupor. Just that I felt dizzy, sticky, and silly. Who else would venture out into the frying sun in search of smalls?
Eventually, dripping and squinting, we made it and I welcomed the utter relief of department store air-conditioning. Like superman tipping out the kryptonite from his coffee, my energy started coming back.
Now as difficult as tropical heat is, there are worse things than the stress of physical endurance. There’s the stress of sheer embarrassment.
If I were thinking more clearly I would have known better. But Asian people are generally much more petite than Caucasian folk. Meaning it’s like me trying to dress myself from clothes in the children’s section. Nothing felt full-sized other than my stressed humiliation. That grew the moment I discovered “large” means “easy fit for toddlers” and “small” means “also suitable as a wrist strap.” For a moment I considered my prospects. Even two pairs of such underpants sewn together would still leave me strangling in a high pitched thong, due to a distinct lack of space in the, err, men’s department.
So this was definitely one stress-worthy challenge. The second was the limited range of men’s underwear on display in the first place. Where were they hiding them? Was it an under the counter product? Or did Singaporean men secretly go commando with nothing? I asked for help but young Singaporean shop assistants are as bashful about these things as twelve year olds on a date. So they ushered me into boys wear. To this day I still don’t know what it was about my hand gestures that got me sent there. Who knows? Maybe they thought I wanted clothes for a Ken doll.
I decided I better stick to finding something for Ruth instead. So I started searching through the ladies underwear shelf. Now for the record, this has to be one of the most embarrassing things any man can do. Laugh all you like but it made me feel like some cross dressing stalker lurking in ladies wear. It certainly didn’t help that I had to fight my way through 45 Singaporean women sifting through the stock on special. Judging by the astounded looks, giggles, and asides, my solemn search for underpants was causing quite a stir. Clearly this was not the done thing to do in this department store in Singapore. Which explains why my stress levels by this stage were spurting out from the top of my stress-gauge.
But what was I to do? I couldn’t walk all the way back now in the hot sun, empty-handed. Still nursing our 6-week-old baby, Ruth had stayed back at the hotel; too tired to even go out. She needed me.
Feeling about as relaxed as a one legged tap-dancer, I carried on regardless. Sifting through the frilly undergarments, I took a packet out now and then. Then studied the sizing with all the seriousness of a mother searching for something sensible that her daughter could wear.
Stress inducing beyond measure, I tried looking relaxed. As if I always rummage through ladies underwear. It didn’t help that I had three sets of alarmed store staff come over asking, “Do you need any help?” Judging by their troubled expressions that was code for “Watch out, there’s a nutter over in knickers.”
But when I matter-of-factly explained I was looking for some underpants for my wife as our luggage was lost you could see them go from thinking “knickers nut” to “fair enough.”
Coming back to the hotel I tried to hide my sense of triumph (no pun intended). Underpants mission accomplished. I did it. The fact that the best I could find in a regular size came in a fetching military camo colors, and had “heavy duty bracing for full strength support” didn’t matter anymore. I came, I rummaged, and I conquered. Despite the stress of public humiliation and now undoubtedly being on Singapore’s underwear stalkers list, I did it.
Could I laugh about it at the time? Hardly. Which is why when Ruth declared, “But you haven’t got any underwear for you. What are you going to do?” I told her I’d grin and bear it.
Then she proceeded to tell me how much more comfortable I’d be if I too wore some thing new. So why not wear one of her spare pairs?
Now desperation does difficult things to people and it’s a long flight from Singapore to Frankfurt. So I thought about the implications. Then I decided what to do the unthinkable. Nobody would see, so why not?
Trying them on, comfort was not the word that came to mind. More like distress. Only this time, it was in the impossibly tight legs afforded by the “heavy duty bracing for full strength support.” As Ruth started laughing at the sight of me wearing her panties, I reached down, giving each over tight leg a yank. Ripping the military grade heavy-duty fabric loose., I sighed, “There. That’ll do the trick.”
It did. That night we flew out to Frankfurt, found our luggage, and nobody knew. So as this is all a bit embarrassing, I’d like you not to tell anyone, okay? Like those regulation army issue underpants, I’ve been stressed enough.
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