July 1998
s m u g
by Steve Hawley

Guns Don't Kill People, Waistbands Do

"What is a...'wedgie'?", replied Christof after I inquired if he had lived in fear of them as schoolboy in Germany. I explained to him the concept of a wedgie. According to Webster's (finally), a wedgie is "the condition of having one's clothing wedged between the buttocks especially from having one's pants or underpants yanked up from behind as a prank." Like most things in Webster's this is really only half story. I explained the phenomenon as best I could: it is not really a prank. Sure, there are aspects of a wedgie that scream 'gag' or 'hijinx' or those other words that are used in TV Guide to describe sitcom reruns which inevitably are anything but funny. No, a wedgie is a tool used to establish pecking order via inflicted pain.

I told Christof about Nicholas, a guy who was in my class in high school. He was sometimes referred to as "prickless" (hardy-har-har, the bullies were an imaginative bunch, weren't they?). After gym class one day, a particular bully decided to give Nicholas a wedgie like nobody had ever seen. Nick wasn't a tall young man, nor was he especially heavy, but that did not detract from this wedgie. You see, Nick was lifted off the ground by his waistband. Several feet off the ground. Dangling. The bully added further injury by repeatedly jerking upward.

There are several unwritten rules in teen guydom. One is "don't kick each other in the balls during a fight"--even though that is the quickest way to end one. Another is that you should stop a wedgie at or before the point of compromise of structural integrity.

I think that's what made this spectacle particularly horrible. Nick's Fruit of the Looms failed. Badly. There was some laughter, but it was a nervous kind of laughter. It was the kind of laughter of relief when you think, "thank heavens that wasn't me." Nick was left sprawled on the cold tile floor of the locker room naked, humiliated, and clasping his family jewels. I don't know which option was worse for him: to spend the rest of the day without skivvies or to have to deal with the skid marks on something that came out of the dreaded, festering box of mildew that bore the words "lost and found".

I went on to explain pink bellies, swirlies, and Indian burns. Christof knew of none of these things. In fact, he claimed that they didn't do anything like that at all. "Horseshit." I thought to myself, "causing pain to others is a side-effect of having testosterone." Yet, I had an inkling that maybe he was telling the truth. In fact, I have a theory.

Actually, I have quite a few theories. For example, when I was in pubescence and suffered from bad zits on my back, I postulated that, contrary to all the so-called evidence to the contrary, people are made of several strata: the bone layer, the puss layer, the blood layer, and the skin layer. The inner most layers grow out and become the next layer. In pubehood, the puss layer pushes through the blood layer to get into the skin layer, causing zits. I relayed this to mom, and she said, "you may be right.", but she said it in the kind of patronizing tone that you should not use with someone who has just entered a McDonalds with a machine gun, but this is only tangentially relevant to my wedgie theory.

At the time I had this conversation with Christof, there had been a number of cases of German tourists who were shot and killed in the United States. This is a terrible thing, but it makes sense. If you grow up with wedgies, or more precisely with the FEAR of wedgies, you can't help but go through life with a haunted look about your eyes because you never know when you're about to get lifted off the ground by your undergarments. Without this subtle cue, I can imagine how one's body language screams, "I have no fear, you must now shoot me." to the once-members-of-the-bully-clique, but now-members-of-the-heavily-armed- jet-set. If you think about it from this point of view, the lack of fear could even be taken as arrogance. Christof nodded politely and said, "you may be right." The conversation drifted elsewhere.

Today I'm very scared. I'm terrified because things have escalated. When I grew up, the major fears were wedgies, B.O. and getting bad grades. Sure, I _gave_ one or two wedgies and got back in fair measure, but I feared to my soul that I might get a wedgie of the same magnitude as Nicholas. Now compare my fear to today's escalated fear: getting shot. Kids today are bringing guns to school and popping each other, ferchrissakes. They're going postal without the requisite twenty years of sorting letters. This is just plain wrong on too many levels.

This escalation must stop, and to that end I have a solution and I offer it here:

Dear NRA President Charleton Heston,

I would like to see a new preemptive program backed by the NRA. The slogan is simple: "Teach your son wedgies before weaponry." Future generations will thank you, because I may be right.

Yours sincerely,
Steve Hawley

Steve Hawley is a software engineer in California, with a slightly haunted look about his eyes and with shirts that are always tucked in.


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