Underwear Is No Joke
by Aziz Nesin
As you may know, at boarding schools here in Istanbul there are two kinds of students. First you have the "bachelors", then you have the "domestics". The "domestics" spend every Saturday night at their own houses, while the "bachelors" pass the whole school year at school.
Calvary Officer Selahattin was a bachelor like me. One Sunday night, like always, our freshly washed laundry came to our dorm hall to be passed out.
Normally the guy with the highest seniority would shout, "Come get your clothes everybody!", and we would give him our dirty laundry and take the clean. In order not to get our clothes mixed up, everyone wrote their student numbers in permanent marker or else sewed it in with black thread.
Now this was a job everyone found a pain in the neck. This Selahattin also found it annoying to write his name, so he simply didn't. He would strip the dirty shirt off his back and toss it into he pile. When the clean clothes came, he did not even get off his bed. While everyone who DID mark their clothes was gathering theirs up, he'd say, "I'll just take whatever's left." And no matter what remained, he'd grab it and wear it.
He was, basically, a slob. There's no other word for it.
Sometimes, after clothes were all passed out, there'd be nothing left over and he'd come out empty handed, but sometimes he'd return with an armful of goodies. But he could never be sure whether this pile of unmarked laundry were his or not. He would rifle through it and say, "Man, not one of these shirts is mine!"
That Sunday evening, as usual, he was there waiting once all the clean clothes were distributed, and he returned empty handed.
"Not even a handkerchief!" he said.
"You don't have any clean clothes?"
"No, I do, it's just that I don't have any underwear."
"I'll lend you some underwear," I offered.
"Yours won't fit.”
To be in the mounted cavalry, your pants and underwear are extremely important. And because you need them to fit your legs as tightly as possible, they have to be tailor made. A good rider knows that if your underwear doesn’t fit your legs just right, you can’t ride well at all. Especially when the horse puts on some real speed. If your underwear is too loose, then while you’re sliding around the bottom part of your leggings will start to ride up and wrinkle into a big wad while the top spills of your pants. And this really irritates the rider. No matter how much you struggle to pull the leggings back down, they just ball up again and start ballooning out. If they’re too tight, they squeeze you, if they’re too loose, they wad up. So a cavalry man’s drawers must be an exact fit.
Selahattin started to think. The next day a general was coming for an inspection. He wanted to see the horsemanship of all the cavalry boys. This was why he was so worried. He was obsessed with this problem. He didn’t want to fail just because of some underwear.
We thought about it. Cemal! Cemal was just Selahattin’s size. All their clothes fit each other.
“Cemal will never give me his underwear,” Selahattin said.
“Come on, what’s the big deal? He’ll lend you a pair just for a day.”
But Cemal was the world’s most anal kid. He washed his hands maybe twenty times a day. His clothes were squeaky clean--not one single stain on them. And on top of that, he was stingy, oh man, so stingy. Selahattin was right. He would never lend anyone his underwear.
“What are you going to do?”
“I swear to God I don’t know. This is a disaster.”
They had a riding teacher, a lieutenant colonel, who had a really short temper. This irritable lieutenant colonel, whose classmates had all long ago become generals, was on the verge of death all in the name of riding and horses. There was not a bone in his body that had not been broken at least two or three times in his quest for good horsemanship. Legs, arms, ribs--every last bone was cracked, and when he walked, you could hear those cracked bones crunching against each other. This lieutenant colonel’s sole interest was training horses. He could make horses under him dance the rumba. There was not one thing about horses that he hadn't talked about.
Now this colonel wanted to show off all his students’ skills to the general coming for inspection, so he really loved Selahattin since he was such a good student.
“What am I gonna do?” Selahattin asked.
“Let’s at least try asking Cemal one time.”
Selahattin was terrified of both embarrassing himself in front of the colonel, and embarrassing the colonel in front of the general. So we went to Cemal and asked.
“Guys, please," Cemal said. "Underwear is not something a guy just lends out.”
“What’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal? What am I supposed to do with the underwear after you’ve had it on.”
I couldn’t resist.
“You could make it into a handkerchief."
“Sorry, but no way. Now please don’t get pissed, guys. If it were anything else, I’d give it to you. But I just can’t lend you my underwear.”
“There’s an inspection tomorrow!”
“Sorry. You’ll get them all sweaty. You’re riding, man. And what happens to underwear when it gets all sweaty is...just...”
“So have it washed.”
“The sweat of a rider won’t come out...ever.”
“Then sell them to me. I don't care. I’ll pay whatever you want.”
"There's no way to sell them. My name would get out as the guy who sold people used underwear. Please don’t get mad. I can’t do it. If it were anything else...”
I looked right in his face.
“You’re going to pay for this, you know.”
And he knew just what I meant.
During the last class, while everyone was doing their lessons, we went with Selahattin to the dorm room and opened Cemal's locker. There was a laundry bag inside. We opened the bag and found one pair of underwear. There weren't any others, and these didn't have an elastic band; they were the button-down kind. Selahattin took the underwear and drew a picture of a horse's head on a piece of paper. Underneath he wrote, "The Golden Hoof Gang!" and put it in the laundry bag.
It was perfect.
The next day I looked for Celal, but didn't see him anywhere. This meant he didn't know we had stolen his underwear, and hadn't opened his laundry bag. The cavalry boys woke up early and went to the Ayazaga parade grounds. They were going to have inspections there in a closed arena. We infantry men went to maneuvers on Literary Freedom Hill.
We returned to school that night. The cavalry had not yet returned. They arrived while we were in the cafeteria at dinner. A little later, there was a scuffle on the other side of the room from us, and I heard Selahattin's voice.
"So whose underwear are these?"
He was dunking Cemal's head in the pot of beans and screaming.
"SO WHOSE UNDERWEAR ARE THESE???"
It was tough, but we finally managed to pull him off Cemal.
"What the hell happened?"
"So I put on those button-down underwear this morning. I got on my horse and went to Ayazaga. I didn't notice anything wrong on the way there and went onto the field. The general had come. And the lieutenant colonel was like a powder keg--about to go off at any moment. As I picked up speed, the pants legs started to bunch up. God, man, I mean, they wadded up into a big ball right between my legs! And of course, the lieutenant colonel decides to make us jump from our horses. So we all hopped off. Now we were supposed to mount by jumping on them as they passed by us at full gallop. As I was jumping off my horse, the buttons at the front of my underwear popped off. They slid right down my legs. I went next to my horse and was about to jump on, but I couldn't open my legs. Everyone had mounted and left. Only I remained behind. The lieutenant colonel's bones began to crack and rattle with rage. The horses came around again and mine raced by. I tried to leap on but again, my legs wouldn't open. The underwear had wrapped around my ankles and for some reason, I couldn't pull them up. I was humiliated. I looked up and saw them coming around for a third time, and without opening my legs I threw myself like a ball, but since my legs wouldn't open, I didn't stop on top of the horse but slipped right over to the other side. My eyes stayed on that damn horse. He came by me one more time and I threw myself up again...right over to the other side. I was beside myself. The general felt sorry for me.
"What's happening with that young fellow down there, lieutenant colonel?" he asked.
With all the strength that I had, I tried to sort of scissor my legs in the air, and with a huge ripping sound, my underwear tore in two. But I managed to get up on the saddle. And this time, too, as I bounced up and down, my underwear bunched and bunched, riding up my legs. And believe me, having your drawers wad up into a big ball between your legs is much worse than losing the crotch out of them. I was about to go nuts. Thank God my pants usually have holes in the pockets. I jammed my hands down inside, reached through the holes and started ripping out bits of my underwear bit by bit. My pockets filled up with it. Or so I thought. I reached in to pull out the last little bit left when Necmi came up behind me.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"What do you mean what am I doing?"
"Look behind you!"
I looked, and all over the training filed were bits of white cloth scattered like confetti. Pieces of it were even flying through the air. I had no idea what to do. There I had thought I was putting the pieces in my pocket, but really I was scattering like snow. I was humiliated!
"Of course," Cemal said. "I knew you had stolen my underwear. I took all my clothes from my locker and put them in Potato Necmi's laundry basket.
Potato Necmi was twice Selahattin's size. As soon as he heard this Potato Necmi said, "What?! So those were my underwear! Why you little..."
And with that, the three of them leapt on each other and started whaling away with their fists.
We played the role of dutiful friends and with one voice shouted, "Beat him! Beat him! Beat him!"