There is a responsibility and a joy that comes with living in a place that has a modicum of freedom. At a time in which lines are being drawn in the sand and decades-old regimes are being overturned in pursuit of it, we should perhaps show our solidarity

Exiled from Main Street XXXVII: for Brad Smith

There is a responsibility and a joy that comes with living in a place that has a modicum of freedom. At a time in which lines are being drawn in the sand and decades-old regimes are being overturned in pursuit of it, we should perhaps show our solidarity by celebrating ours.

This attempt begins in an unfortunate manner years ago: One afternoon I awoke to find an unsealed package addressed to myself sitting on the stoop of my Main Street apartment building. The package’s appearance was odd for many reasons — no one had stolen it, for instance — but by far the strangest aspect had to be that its sole content was a video labeled Pigs and Eels.

Back inside my apartment, I noticed the blinking dot on my answering machine. I pushed “play” and immediately recognized my friend’s voice: “Mark,” it said, “I left a little gift for you on your steps; hope you enjoy the masterpiece. Ciao, Brad.”

At that point, I could guess with precision the plot of Pigs and Eels.

I don’t know why I recently thought about this film. Nonetheless, the other day I suddenly found myself wondering, “What if someone had rifled through that package with my name on it all those years ago? What if I had decided to become a politician and someone had a copy of Pigs and Eels with my name on it? My career ruined without my performing in my own sex tape!”

Then, I began to wonder if I had ever actually watched said movie. A vague recollection of having preferred the Pig portion much more than the Eel washed over me in response, so I must have.

Flash-forward to this most recent Valentine’s Day. I checked the mail like any other day. There was a package that I didn’t notice until I opened it, one that contained a pair of panties.

I looked closely at it; felt that I was becoming the literary version of Tom Jones, because this wasn’t the first instance. The envelope had been stamped but not postmarked. In the past, there was always a note about my writing or a photograph, but this time there was just the panties. The first thing I thought was, “Whoever this woman might be, she needs to raise her game a bit.” They were natty, impossibly nondescript, bought from a chain store even.

Still, I couldn’t stop myself from holding them up to the light and then to my nose. I breathed in deeply and reasoned that whatever this woman lacked in presentation, she might have made up in an olfactory sense.

As the day progressed and I wondered incessantly who might have sent panties to the house where I am all but legally married, I remembered Pigs and Eels. On a hunch, I shot a text to Brad asking him if he had sent them to me as a practical joke.

When I awoke the next day, I had a Facebook message from Brad: “I am not sure if I should be flattered or offended that you think of me when you receive panties in the mail. I’m not saying either way, but were they black and beat-up and looked like they were picked up off the street?”

I didn’t acknowledge his admission. I waited until, hours later, he sent me a message asking what my girlfriend Kate thought of the panties.

I waited a while before answering. When I did, I confessed, “Man, I’m screwed. When I didn’t hear back from you, I assumed it was someone else and as I was thinking who it could be, I remembered a scene from last week. I was at the Tavern when this woman — who is a friend of Kate’s — remarked that her and I should switch tops and bottoms because my undershirt matched her leggings. I was drunk enough to answer, ‘You have to give me your panties, too!’ So, I assumed it was her and called her to ask as much.”

Brad texted me immediately: “Oh, man, I hope you don’t have to tell Kate that!”

I waited again. Then: “Too late. The girl ratted me out already. I gotta go. Damage control.”

Brad apologized via text and I fell silent again. A couple of hours later, I volleyed, “Oh, man, Kate wants me out of here. Any chance I can stay at your place until this blows over?”

Suddenly, Brad fell silent. Enough time passed that my feelings were hurt; I felt as if I was in jail and my friend had refused to bail me out, this while relishing the idea that he was trying to explain everything to his wife. Then, my phone buzzed. “Man, I’m so SORRY, what are friends for? Sure, you can stay here.”

Thus I changed my clothes, packed some bags and traveled to the West Side. Brad met me at the door, whispering, “Do me a favor, don’t mention the panties; I haven’t told Suzanne about sending them to you.”

Once inside, I was led to the front room and showed the couch. Brad’s wife was sympathetic, opened a bottle of wine. The three of us sat around the coffee table as I asked if they minded if I got more comfortable? I then slid off my pants and reclined on the couch with nothing on down below but the black panties.

A wide-eyed Suzanne blushed quietly while Brad picked up his glass of wine and retreated to the back of his chair. After an eternity of strained silence, he then declared, “Mark, I may not know much, but I do know that I won’t be sending you panties anymore.”

CONTACT MARK FLANIGAN: [email protected]

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