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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Foundations of Embarrassment 

I saw a new doctor yesterday. It was a good visit in important ways:
  1. He spoke with me as an intelligent peer.
  2. He seemed like someone I would enjoy in social settings (although his pink Ralph Lauren oxford reminded me of the pink oxfords my first husband had collected at prep school – which I summarily dispatched from his closet even while I questioned my own inexplicable bigotry).
  3. He seemed completely competent, and, additionally, he was confident in his competence, which I suppose to me means he had no need to prove competence by puffing up what he knew while hiding what he didn't. (In his book Coping with Difficult People, Robert Bramson distinguishes between 2 types of know-it-alls: Bulldozers and Balloons. I've always done better with Bulldozers than with puffed up Balloons – how can you not want to pop them?!)
However, my visit with the new doctor was catastrophic in another important way: I was wearing the wrong underwear.

Let that sink in a minute, without trying to create a mental image. Good mothers tell their children to wear clean underwear in case they might find themselves in an ambulance on any given day, and, while my own mother gave me no such advice, I'd heard elsewhere that she was supposed to have. So, of course, my underwear was most certainly clean – however, it was just as certainly wrong.

I recognize that this may be a difficult concept for some of my male readers: I recently saw a comedian's bit on the extent of choices women have in under garments. He was bewildered by the array of drawers in his wife's drawers. While believing a man's underbreeches serve no other purpose than to protect his clothing from his ass, he wondered what could possibly be the purpose for the dizzying variety of women's dainties.

It's a funny bit, and it reminded me of Joe reading over a time schedule I'd created for Jolie so she'd get to High School punctually and thus stay out of detention hall. Joe thought the amount of time I'd allotted to dressing was excessive, arguing that it took him 5 minutes at most to dress himself.

After some thought, I explained to Joe that we women not only have to decide which outfit will be appropriate for the day's activities, we also have to consider what to put under it. And to complicate matters, sometimes what's available in our personal stock of (clean) underwear won't work with the outfit we'd decided to wear, forcing us to start over. In fact, dressing can get so complicated, we can sometimes get stuck in a frustratingly extended Do Loop. (Unfortunately, when that happens, sometimes all you can do to terminate the Loop is crawl back under your bed covers.)

Back to my poor doctor who unexpectedly wanted to check for any spine curvature I might have developed. If you've ever been evaluated for scoliosis, you know how surprisingly innocent the words "bend over" can be. So when he said, "Remove everything except bra and panties [a word that sends me right back to age 10], and put on this gown, opening to the back," I knew what was coming.

And yet, I panicked. It's one thing to have your ass hanging out of a hospital gown, but quite another to have your Victoria's Secret hanging out. After all, you can't really choose your ass, so a bare ass, in any shape, doesn't really say that much about your character. Ahh, but your choice in underclothes can say volumes.

What can you do when you realize you're wearing the wrong unders at a time like that? In my panicked state, I considered the following:
  • Cut and run, even though it will be a month before I get another appointment.
  • Strip to the birthday suit and hope he doesn't notice since he's seen so many others.
  • Strip all and hope that if he notices, he'll simply think I'm demented (in a clinical sense, of course).
  • Expose my Secret self, apologize profusely, and explain repeatedly that I simply hadn't considered that stripping for a stranger might be among the day's activities.
  • Try to act like nothing is unusual, and pray he doesn't think I dressed up just for him.
I chose the latter option, and now I'm praying that a budding doctor-patient relationship hasn't been breached beyond repair. However the truth is, while an elegant statement in most any other circumstance, black satin is just plain embarrassing in the midst of stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and antiseptic swabs.


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