Under(wear) the wire

You know you are staying in a terrific hotel when they bring you other people’s underwear. Recently I was on a book tour and that’s what I got. No mints on the pillow, but some lovely women’s panties.
Book tours, of course, sound glamorous. They’re not. Since 1995 I have been on a lot of them, and I can tell you that by day 13 there is a pretty good chance you will have been reduced to wearing somebody else’s underwear.
The problem is that you rarely spend more than one night in a city. The book tour I was on from Feb. 12 to March 7 was no exception. And that means that unless you bring a suitcase the size of a Mini Cooper, you only have enough clothing (translation: underwear) for the first half of the tour because hotels need a day to do your laundry. In the case of the tour I just completed, I had to reach Minneapolis — days 11 and 12 — before I had the requisite two nights for laundry: I arrived Friday afternoon and would check out Sunday morning.
Consequently, the first thing I did on Saturday was send out a suitcase-sized pile of laundry. I think there were items in there that were alive. When I returned to my hotel room that night after my appearances, there waiting for me was … somebody else’s underwear. Actually, it was somebody else’s lingerie. Women’s panties … and they belonged to a very petite woman. And so I sent the lingerie back downstairs to the bellman and gave the front desk the name of the hotel where I would be Tuesday, in the event someone found my underwear when the laundry reopened Monday.
Now, I’ve done this long enough to know rule No. 1 of a book tour: Never give the hotel all of your underwear. On Friday night I had washed two pairs by hand in the sink. Plus, there was the underwear I was wearing, which meant I had three pairs when I flew to my next city Sunday.
Incidentally, I had a lovely seatmate on that flight. Sitting beside me was a senior citizen who was afraid of flying and insisted on telling me about the three people she had known who had died in separate plane crashes. I took comfort from the idea that if you had lived as long as she had, it was inevitable you would know three people who had died this way.
Monday, between appearances, I bought underwear. Then I promptly forget it at the airport in Milwaukee because it was a bag I was unaccustomed to carrying through security. By the start of week three, I had been wedged into so many regional jets and strip-searched at so many airports that it’s a miracle I hadn’t boarded a plane without wearing shoes.
Was I alarmed that I had left my new underwear behind at the airport? Was I embarrassed when I heard a request over the intercoms asking the man who left his underwear behind at security to please return for it? Little bit. Unfortunately, my plane was boarding and there wasn’t time to go back. And so I imagined I would be drying underwear on the hotel heater overnight for the next week and a half. But then on Tuesday there was a Federal Express package waiting for me at my hotel. I opened it with more excitement than was reasonable given that all I expected to find was underwear that I already owned. Instead, however, I unwrapped … someone else’s underwear! This time, however, they were men’s boxers. And they were my size. And they were clean. There were six pairs. This meant that if I included the three pairs of my own that remained, I had exactly as many pairs of underwear as there were nights left until I returned to Vermont.
The result? Once more a book tour lived up to its reputation for glamour: I did my last week on the road in somebody else’s underwear. It doesn’t get more exhilarating than that.
(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on March 30, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

2 thoughts on “Under(wear) the wire

  1. Neil says:

    Here’s an easy one. What’s better, boxers in your federal express or dirty briefs in your carry-on?
    “I’m wearing your underwear!” That’d make a good TV advertisement. New York times best-selling Author Chris Bohjalian calling across the room to Michael Jordon, no, Harlan Coben, no, Studs Terkel, no, Philip Roth… I’m having trouble casting the second player.
    I trust the tour went well beyond the underwear adventure and travel companion. Just remember that when you get older, no need to hold back. If you haven’t earned the right by then, who the hell has?

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