I was editing an article at the counter of a coffee shop when my mom plopped down in the seat next to me and announced, loudly, “I think I’m going to buy your father some Hoosier underwear.”
We were on a two-day road trip to Bloomington, Indiana, and my mom had promised to take a walk around the town square while I worked for an hour, but here she was, back early to discuss my dad’s undergarments in an otherwise silent coffee shop.
“I saw them in the window of a men’s store over there,” she said, gesturing past the courthouse, across the square, “but the crazy thing is, I think the tag said $35! That can’t be right, can it? Thirty-five dollars for one pair of underwear! But they do say ‘Hoosier’ on them in big letters, so that must be worth something.”
“That does seem insane for one pair of underwear,” I said. “Are you sure that wasn’t the price for a 3-pack?”
“I think it was just the one pair,” my mom said. “What in the hell are they doing to underwear in Indiana to make them cost so much?”
“I have no idea,” I said, “but also, does Dad have some connection to Indiana I don’t know about? Why would he want Hoosier underwear?
“I just really think he needs them,” she said, “But actually, come to think of it, I think he might hate Hoosiers.”
It’s not a stretch to venture that my dad would hate something as random and generally inoffensive as Hoosiers. His long list of inexplicable grudges that I’ve heard him grumble about my whole life also includes chiropractors, catfish, PT Cruisers and the song “Stuck in the Middle With You.” Hoosiers — whether referring to Indiana University’s athletic teams or anyone born in Indiana — certainly could have earned his ire somewhere along the way.
And yet, my mom had just decreed — twice, in a non-inside voice — that she wanted to buy him an expensive, intimate garment emblazoned with the word ‘HOOSIER.’”
Sensing my incredulity, my mom doubled down, grabbing my hand and leaning toward me with pleading eyes. “I just feel strongly that your dad needs some Hoosier underwear. Will you come look at them with me?”
I could tell there was no dissuading her, so I closed my laptop and we set out to buy my dad a pair of underwear.
At the center of downtown Bloomington is the Monroe County Courthouse, a grand building erected in 1908. With Indiana University’s campus just a couple blocks away, the courthouse square has all the trappings of a great college town: flyers for poetry readings and rock shows, beautiful young people decked out in red Hoosier gear, and spindly trees wrapped in anti-fascist yarn art. I like the subtle tension of Midwest college towns: the heartland humility with a layer of youthful anarchy simmering just underneath.
On the days we were visiting Bloomington, grey clouds and steady rain had settled over the city, but they couldn’t dampen the downtown’s charm. The blocks surrounding the courthouse are packed with local boutiques, bookstores, bars and restaurants, and in December the buildings are strung with twinkling lights that make the whole scene almost painfully cute.
We had spent the previous evening admiring the Christmas lights, eating blarney puffs at an Irish pub and sampling whiskey on tap in a dark bar off the square. (“What is whiskey on tap?” we asked excitedly, and the bartender said, “It’s like regular whiskey, but instead of pouring it from a bottle, we pull a lever.”)
Now, I followed my mom as she ran across the street, dodging cars and puddles, and stopped abruptly in front of a shop window displaying beautiful tweed suits, leather bags, silk ties — and yes, the bottom half of a mannequin sporting some bright red boxer briefs with “HOOSIER” spelled out across the waistband.
“Those are them,” she said, just in case there was any confusion. We both put our noses up to the glass to get a better look.
“THOSE are $35?!” I said. “That has to be a mistake. They look like underwear you’d buy at, like, Kohls.”
I hadn’t even finished my sentence when my mom marched through the door and flagged down a very sharply dressed store clerk. She pointed to the window display.
“What is going on in those underwear that could make them worth $35?”
“Ma’am,” he said, pausing reverently, “those underwear have a joey pouch.”
“I’m out!” I yelled, throwing my hands in the air like an innocent man accused of a crime.
My mom and the store clerk looked at me, confused. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I really don’t want to talk about my dad’s joey pouch.”
As if on cue, a muppet-looking shop dog scampered out from under a clothing rack and nuzzled its nose into my hand. I started backing my way toward a chair by the dressing rooms, motioning for the dog to follow while keeping eye contact with my mom and the store clerk. “I’m going to go pet this dog,” I said in the measured, assertive cadence of a hostage negotiator, “and you guys are gonna go over there and talk about the joey pouch.”
I went and sat on the chair with the dog, who propped himself up on my lap and started licking my face.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the store clerk lay the underwear out on counter, dramatically smoothing out the waistband and legholes in preparation for whatever demonstration was about to take place.
My mom was totally enraptured. “Are you sure you don’t want to see this, Nona?” she shouted in my direction. “This is so interesting!”
“I’m sure!” I said, but even as I objected I couldn’t take my eyes off the strange scene unfolding by the register. The store clerk was stretching the fabric back and forth, explaining something about “airflow” in great detail. My mom nodded with great enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the shop dog was hitting me in the face with his paw, pleading for more petting. I tried to oblige, but suddenly it was happening: the joey pouch.
The man propped up the crotch area of the underwear with two fingers and delicately spread the fabric apart, showcasing — sure enough — a separate pouch meant to contain … oh god, I didn’t want to think about it.
At this moment the shop dog, frustrated by my chronic neglect, chomped down on my hand.
“This dog is biting me!” I yelled to my mom, who ignored me. She was asking a follow-up question about the physics of the pouch.
I extracted my hand from the dog’s mouth and walked over to the register just in time to hear my mom say, “I’ll take them.”
“So, is your husband a Hoosier fan?” the store clerk asked as he boxed them up.
“Not at all,” my mom said. “But come on, they have a joey pouch.”