My mother always told me to wear clean underwear in case I was in an accident.
It didn’t occur to me until years later that there were plenty of other good reasons to wear clean underwear. Why my mother didn’t just say, “Always wear clean underwear because dirty underwear is disgusting,” I’ll never know. Why bring accidents into the conversation? Especially with a little kid. What was she trying to do? Scare me? Wreck my childhood? Turn me into a psychological basket case for the rest of my life? Over underwear?
People are in accidents all the time, and I have yet to read about the state of their underwear in any of the reports. How often have you ever seen this in the newspaper?
“Marvin Kittle was injured in a single-car rollover on Route 8 early this morning after swerving to avoid a deer. He suffered multiple contusions and a sprained wrist. He was held overnight at County Hospital for observation. Police say he was wearing clean underwear at the time of the accident.”
“Prisilla Pushface of Cantorville fell off a ladder while cleaning her rain gutters late Tuesday afternoon. The EMS crew transported her to the Tri-Town Medical Center, where her underwear was cut off and tested for cleanliness. A full recovery is expected.”
“Brad Snuffin, 41, of Waterton, suffered a severe heart attack while washing his brand-new red sports car in his driveway at home. Emergency crews arrived, but left him to die when they discovered he was wearing soiled underwear. No inquiry is expected. His 18-year-old girlfriend is already seeing someone else.”
No one writes about the state of your underwear when you’re in an accident. They are way too busy tracking down the dorkiest, grainiest, most hideous picture of you ever taken to run with the story. Forget clean underwear. What our mothers should have said was, “Always keep an 8-by-10 glossy of yourself with your current hairstyle in the glove compartment of your car. And a small one in your wallet or purse.” That way, the newspaper won’t have to scrounge around and find a high school yearbook photo of you, that wasn’t even good back in the day, and slap it up next to the tale of your untimely demise.
Trust me, if you don’t do that, they will find a photo of you that is so bad the DMV wouldn’t even use it for your driver’s license, deeming it “too scary.” Or they will find a photo of you given to them by an ex-spouse who won’t be happy until he or she has wrecked your afterlife, too.
Your friends and neighbors will look at it and say, “Is that the same Nellie Flatbuzz we knew? It doesn’t look anything like her. I’m pretty sure she never had pigtails and an eyepatch. And it’s all scratchy and out of focus. Well, she never did take a good picture.”
The reason papers run these horrible pictures is simple. Most families, unlike mine, will be too grief-stricken after an accident to deal with a reporter. So the paper calls a neighbor, a friend, a relative. Finally they find someone who has a group shot of you at the company picnic in 1992. You are the third one from the left in the bottom row. You haven’t combed your hair that way in decades, you are wearing a shirt that was embarrassingly out of date even then, and you’d been drinking heavily that afternoon and thought it would be amusing to try to touch your nose with your tongue when the photographer said, “Smile.”
Even if they have to enlarge that photo 40 or 50 times, that’s the one they’ll use.
Contact Jim Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.