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until next time humorous reflections The Underwear War Two Generations of Fifth-Graders’ Fascination with Underwear

When I was in fifth grade, there was a chubby, quiet boy in my class named Barry Wilson. He was a so-so student and we really didn’t hear much from him until about midyear when Mr. Jorgensen asked the class, “What would you need to take with you to Mars in order to stay alive?” “Food?” asked a child. “Right,” said the teacher. “Water?” “Right.” “Air?” “Right... Barry, what would you say? What

else would an Earthling have to bring to Mars?” Barry pondered. All the obvious life-support stuff

Sally discovered (and defused) the

underwear bomb while in my wife’s car on the way to school.

had been said, but he gave it his best shot: “Underwear?” he suggested, and the classroom exploded with laughter. My dad, who had managed theatres at Army camps, once told me soldiers are so starved for entertainment that they make the best audiences. I would argue that children in classrooms are even better audiences. Our laughter went on and on, partly because every minute or so, Barry would shout “UNDERWEAR!” following it with a strange yell of suppressed laughter being uncorked, “DYYEEEAAAA!” For the rest of the year the least little thing would cause him to give his trademarked “DYYYEEEAAAA!” and

we’d all go nuts. In the time it took to utter one

magic word, he’d gone from non-entity to top entertainer. I was reminded of Barry this

week when my fifth-grade daughter, Marie, tried to embarrass her second-grade

sister, Sally, by secretly stuffing Sally’s backpack full of Sally’s underwear. Marie was hoping her sister would unwittingly pull out the underwear in the classroom and incur the derisive howls and jeers of peers. But Sally discovered (and defused) the underwear

bomb while in my wife’s car on the way to school. Later that day, my wife took Marie and 4-year-old Wendy to the doctor’s office for Marie’s allergy shot. The car’s backseat

was full of underwear, so Marie smuggled a pair out of the car and into the waiting room where she put them on Wendy’s head and encouraged her to caper around. The bored and afflicted folks sitting there were yet another appreciative audience, but my wife cut short the floor show by snatching the bloomers off Wendy’s little head. The next day Sally tried the backpack trick on

Marie, but Marie didn’t fall for it. Marie countered by putting three pairs of Sally’s underwear into a brown lunch bag, writing, “Sally, 2nd Grade” on it and giving it to the school secretary for in-class delivery. Sally already had her lunch with her and was wary of the second brown bag, so this trick didn’t work either. But both girls were amused by the involvement of a grownup in what the girls are calling now calling The Underwear War. I don’t know what’s coming next, and neither do

they. Both girls are keeping a close eye on their luggage, wary of more pranks. At this point, I doubt either of them would trust her sister to pack a parachute. Their game seems to be good, clean fun, so I haven’t intervened. The only thing that disturbs me about their underwear obsession is the epilogue to the Barry Wilson story. Barry disappeared from our school after fifth-

grade and reappeared years later in high school. I spotted him in the corridor on the first day of my junior year. He had lost a lot of weight, but he didn’t look slim; he looked diminished. “Hey, Barry!” I yelled, glad to see him. “UNDERWEAR!” I’d given the password, but Barry looked at me

with blank anxiety. I asked, “Don’t you remember Mr. Jorgensen’s fifth-grade class?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said,

edging past, and he never spoke to me again. I soon found out that Barry was a sophomore, not a junior like me. He’d lost a year. Was it the one we’d spent with Mr. Jorgensen? There’s a lesson here somewhere, but I’m doggoned

if I know what it is. I don’t claim to have an answer, only a question: What is it about fifth-graders and underwear?

Rick Epstein is a newspaper editor and generally serious adult; however, he still thinks underwear is inherently funny.

BY RICK EPSTEIN 86 November 2010

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