Lange: Emergencies and underwear

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has had an epiphany: Always wear clean underwear… because you really never know.

(LANGE) Cultural differences are fascinating.  In the United States, we say to our kids, "Be good!" – a relic of our Puritan ancestry.  In France, cautionary advice goes, "Use your head."  And in Germany it’s "Don’t get out of line."  All very revealing.

But I haven’t any notion which tradition one American warning comes from.  I’m sure you heard it from your mother.  It goes, "Always wear clean underwear when you travel, because you never know: You might end up in some emergency room."  That has stayed with me; to this day, I keep my newest sets of shorts on the bottom of the pile in my dresser and reach under for one if I’m going to be flying or driving somewhere.

The corollary to that is that you wear your oldest underwear around the house, and the grottiest sets for painting, splitting wood, or sanding sheetrock.  We know most accidents happen around the house, but we don’t connect a pounded thumb or a gash from a kitchen knife with getting undressed.  So it’s safe, in those circumstances, to be a little gamy.

But gaminess is subjective.  Europeans visiting America remark how fresh we smell.  They notice it most in elevators and mass transport.  A European survey found that German men change their underwear every seven days on average.  That took me aback; and when I considered the men at the high end who’d made that average seven days, I was really taken aback.  Most of us here shower at least once a day and shift our linens, as the British say, once a day.

If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, relax.  I’m going to the emergency room.

I always wear my YakTracs when I go down the driveway in winter for the newspaper.  It’s an icy, treacherous slope.  But one day early in January I didn’t bother.  "It’s below zero," I thought.  "How slippery can it be?"
As it turned out, just slippery enough.  I heard my left leg snap just before I hit the ground.  Mother was inside on the phone and couldn’t hear me; so I started hunching myself back up the driveway with one elbow.  Every three hunches I hollered, "Help!"  Kind of a mobile version of CPR.  Finally she heard me, and within minutes my driveway was full of plow trucks with sanding hoppers on the back.  "A little late to sand now," I mused.  "I thought she called 911."

Turns out some of our local first responders plow and sand driveways on the side.  An ambulance arrived, and few minutes later I was in traction and headed to the hospital.  All very nice.

But I was chagrined that, after all the care I’d taken for so long, I was wearing a ratty old T-shirt and two-day-old undershorts.  "That’s it!" I told Mother.  From now on, it’s clean shorts and T-shirt every day!"

"Right," she said.  "And your ice creepers every time you step off the porch."

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