Have Legs, Will Carry

I am secretly fond of my legs.

I don’t tell anyone for fear of sounding vain, or receiving an eye roll or a haughty nod when wearing a skirt. And, to be fair, there’s not a lot to boast. Sure, I have long legs, runner’s legs that make already short dresses shorter. But I can’t take them on tour. I have a folded skin scar from a poisonous spider bite on my left knee. I can count, at any given time, upwards to ten bruises that make a pattern of my calves. I’m a lax shaver. Basically, my legs are a hot mess.

But they are mine. They’ve carried me across finish lines in races and lend me some advantage on dance floors. And I like them.

So I can’t defend my need to cover them, save my penchant for pant suits. And, because I am often in pants I think the allure of a pant-less Sunday was enough to warrant a bare-all adventure. On public transport.

The plan was simple: take off your pants on the subway.

Jane, my neighbor and friend, a librarian in training, sought out the improv experiment on the subway.

She said, “A bunch of people are taking off their pants on the subway. I think I will too.”

She was that pragmatic and decisive. She lent the experiment further credence; it was the extension of a running gag from a improvisation group in New York. Participants board the subway, take off their pants, act as though they were going about their average everyday commute. Without pants.

And she was really into it. The plan seemed more illusive, with dates and times and organization underground. Jane followed some tweet to some list serve to some website to determine the meeting time and location. She was going to the end of the red line on the Boston T where people were going to meet. That was the extent of instruction. Look for people, looking for people, that might be of the ilk to take off their pants for the hell of it.

Perhaps because I’d never peg Jane as one to take off her pants on a whim I decided to join her. I didn’t know if I was the kind to de-pant for fun. Then I thought too much of the other participants. Who are these people who do these things? I thought of my last real relationship with a man without shame. He’d take off his pants. Sanctioned or not. And he’d embarrass me again and again, so much so, that I grew to resent him.

If he pitched the idea of taking off pants for quick comedy I would have scoffed and told him he was wasting his time in performing remedial pranks. In other words, I would have been a fun-hater.

Maybe I was cognizant of this. Maybe I resented him because I never had the courage to suspend fear and do something outrageous. And while his wild impromptu acts made him happy, he was so often the butt of jokes and I reveled in knowing that no one spoke ill of me.

But, really, who hasn’t been spoken ill of? And weighing the options, I preferred pant-less and impulsive, to rigid and fun-sponge. At least for a brief, fleeting moment on the T on a Sunday afternoon.

Then things started happening. I convinced my best friend Brad to join us. He had a visitor in from Germany, fresh off the plane. Where Brad went, Alex went, so we added two more to our adventure cohort. And over many cocktails too many the night prior, we agreed on meeting at 11:45 in loose pants at the Alewife T stop as if it were the most natural course of action.

Jane and I arrived to find that this jolly of a good time was actually a rigidly structured activity. Impulse liasons had clipboards with typed directions and attendance rosters and spoke in harried tones. Everyone was in sweat pants with two strap sandles while I arrived in rubber wellington boots over complicated jeans, worn with a belt. And I received a few looks I knew too well from time spent with the ex. The free spirit pant adventurers sized me up, enough to suggest that I was not one of them.

But I really wanted to be. Everyone was happy and with a wild friend and comfortable. Everyone looked really relaxed, even with their complicated instructions in how to travel from one train car to another, where to board, where to de-board, where to congregate to take a group photograph. I didn’t process the information because I couldn’t. I was too busy envying everyone around me, worried of what they would think of me. And I must have stood, sullen-looking, with my long legs crossed for longer than I’d have liked. Jane fit in and listened intently to the facilitator’s instructions. It was only when Jane began to relay the operating procedure that I decided not to participate. I said it was Jane’s adventure and I’d act as moral support, trying to convince her that I had no staked interest in taking off my pants because it was something I’d sooner do anyways.

Basically I lied and lied and lied.

Brad arrived at the time of my decision. I told him I didn’t think I’d take off my pants and he, pleased, said he wasn’t going to either. It was simple and easy and no one felt put off or disappointed. Well, no one save the German. He said, in some broken English “why do you say you’ll do one thing and don’t?”. And to look at Alex, he didn’t fit in either. He wore tight fitting european jeans with polished leather loafers. But it meant nothing to him, to be vulnerable to an organized gag in a foreign country because, as he said, “we’re all doing it, aren’t we?”.

So I looked over to Jane, excited and prepared. I looked to the German, determined and out of place and I looked to a more reticent Brad and saw in him me. Superficially I thought it looked a lot less enjoyable to be a safe, clothed me than an eager, impulsive collective, so I agreed.

We boarded the train and took off our pants. As a group. Staying true to character I read while Jane listened to an ipod and Brad and Alex discussed where to brunch. And it was easy to keep in the project’s character, and even more so, to break out of my own character. I simply took off my boots, removed my pants, slipped back on my boots and stayed this way for a better part of 4 or 5 consecutive train rides. I had to suppress the urge to smile, not because I was embarrassed, but because I was proud to be one of the many I thought I hated.

And I’ll always have that train ride. In part because it’s an endearing memory, but mostly because a Boston Herald photographer shot us- Jane, Brad, Alex and I, in nothing but our underwear- and printed it, full color in the morning paper.

I am not embarrassed. I’m mortified. But loving my legs just a little more. And soon to be in skirt.