Friends Don’t Secretly Feed Underpants to Each Other

When he got mixed up in a series of practical jokes, Brendan Phelan didn’t know how nasty the consequences would turn
out to be

Barbershop

I need your opinion on something, but to get it I need to tell you a story, because it’s essential that you have all the facts before you can advise me. Perhaps you’ll get something out of this too, because what I have to tell you is also a kind of warning.

This isn’t easy to write, but I want to try. Several years ago, I think I may have accidentally eaten something bad – something that you’re not supposed to eat. There are a couple of people who know the truth about this, but I have no way of telling if they are lying to me. What I do know is this story. My hope is that it contains enough circumstantial evidence for us to arrive at a verdict.

Back when this story took place I was living in a fairly well known warehouse in Sydney with a lot of other people. It was a big place, very old and very dirty. In fact it’s hard to think of an interior space as dirty as that warehouse was. I don’t know if it makes sense to call something “pure” filth, but in parts of the building there were actual drifts of a substance that smelled like corruption and seemed to suck the light out of the room. Anyway, it was the kind of place where if you dropped a pair of underpants on the floor you would sooner abandon them than pick them up.

That’s where the underpants came from. A pair of black, men’s high-cut briefs, almost rigid with crusty stains, and slightly sticky. I don’t know whose they were, but they definitely weren’t mine (I’d stopped wearing briefs in favour of boxers years ago for reasons that aren’t relevant to this story).

Someone had found them upstairs in the roof, not far from the washing machine. From the moment they appeared, it was clear that these underpants were special. In a dirty environment they stood apart, seeming somehow to out-dirty everything around them. They were so abject and so horrible that they possessed a sort of charisma, in the same way that the ugliest, scabbiest dog you’ve ever seen can command a certain fascination. But they still made you want to retch.

I first set eyes on the undies when one of my housemates was holding them up high on the end of a broomstick. (I made a mental note of which broom, so I could avoid using it in future.) He was waving them around, comically threatening everyone else in the kitchen with them. It was a game, but people could see and smell the undies coming at them, and along with the usual grossed-out faces and fake screams there was actually some genuine concern.

This story has a lot to do with this housemate. I don’t want to use his real name, and he knows who he is anyway, so I’ll just call him “Swerve”. He’s a peculiar character. Slender and very beautiful, if everyone has a dog breed that they resemble, Swerve is unquestionably a whippet. A whippet obsessed with faeces.

I don’t know if it was he who first put the underpants in somebody’s room, but I think it’s a fair assumption. Pretty quickly it quickly became a kind of serial practical joke. The undies would be found in someone’s room, there would be an angry outcry, the person who’d placed them would feel cocky and everyone else would be kind of amused.

The only person aloof from it all was myself. I never went in for that kind of low, boys’ dormitory-type humour.

But then the undies appeared in my room. And not just once. At first I thought I could nip it in the bud by ignoring the game; I turned the other cheek, refusing to retaliate. Every time they appeared I would stoically leave the undies where I found them for weeks, denying those jokers the satisfaction. But that didn’t work for long. Sooner or later someone would fetch them back again, they’d find their way into someone else’s bedroom - and then back into mine once more. I knew I was living with some odd-balls, but the way they took to that filthy sport really opened my eyes to how perverse they were. It didn’t help if I hid the undies either – these people would actually ransack my room to find those undies and restart their bizarre entertainment (especially one, who I will call “Tega”).

One day I came home, saw them sitting on my computer keyboard, and cracked the shits. But rather than say anything, I just put a plastic bag over my hand like a man picking up a dog turd, enfolded the undies and put them out with the garbage collection. I was angry at myself that it had taken me so long to come up with this simple and effective solution. Despite being way overdue, it felt great.

Weeks went past. Maybe a month. Swerve knew I was the last one to have them. No doubt it was he himself who I could thank for my soiled computer keyboard. Now he missed the undies and he wanted his game back. Where are the undies, Brendan? he began to ask. Where ARE they? I enjoyed knowing and not telling. It was kind of pleasant, possibly in a mean way, to see him there without his treasure, a puzzled whippet that doesn’t know you’ve hidden its rubber pork chop.

As my anger calmed down, I found that I could show some of my usual kindness to a friend who wasn’t feeling the same relief. BRENDAN! - where are the UNDIES?… So I told him. In the rubbish. Gone. “So let’s just forget it eh? It wasn’t really that fun anyway, hey.”

And things were quiet for a while.

It was about three weeks later that I got back from work one afternoon, no one else home, turned into the corridor to my room, and saw them, hanging on my door handle. We’re back, Monsieur Bwendan… they seemed to say, with the coarse, guttural French accent they always had in my dreams.

It didn’t make sense. I didn’t understand. But I didn’t fucking want to understand. All I wanted was a life with no rotting undies in it. I went up onto the roof holding the underpants on the end of a clothes peg and burnt them, the peg too. I watched them turn to powdery ash in front of my eyes.

Our roof was a quiet place, high above the grimy main road below. Across the city I could see the first bats of the evening, black against the sky, following their nightly route to Centennial Park. I sat there and thought about what had happened. There could be no doubt that this was a new pair of undies. I wasn’t going crazy. I had planted that original pair deep in the trash. I had told nobody. I had got up early next morning to watch from the window as the truck emptied our bins and drove away.

Someone must have replaced them so the horrible game could roll on. It was sickening to finally understand that someone (and I think we know who) was actively cultivating these things, probably buying 5-packs of high-cut black briefs at Kmart and sprinkling them around, leaving them in dark corners of the house until they were revolting enough to match the original pair exactly.

Something in me cracked.

Fuck this – I thought – if you shits wanna rumble… They had made the undies a loathsome and unavoidable part of living in that house, but I would make it art.

My objective became to get the revolting little package as close to the body of my victim as I could. I wanted them to feel the undies, to touch them, to be with them for as long as possible before they made their horrific discovery in a trouser pocket, in their bed, in their overnight case on a romantic weekend away with a second pair stuffed in their toiletries bag. I wanted them to make these discoveries and immediately think back to all the times in they’d carelessly rummaged around in that bag and then done something intimate with their hands right afterwards without thinking to wash themselves.

I concentrated all of this attention on Swerve, and on his girlfriend (who I will call “Smonera”). I had no scruples about that. She was almost as guilty as he was, and in a conflict like this a certain amount of collateral was going to get damaged.

This was the Golden Age of the undies affair. They didn’t know what hit them. One victory followed another and I began to feel invincible. I remember for example how thrilled I was when Smonera finally realised she and Swerve had been sleeping for two weeks with a pair of undies in each of their pillowcases. Looking back, I see that she was a bit upset, but it was no time to let up. Besides, they got me some good ones too. I usually carry a handkerchief in a pocket somewhere, which I’ll pull out automatically and blow my nose on. I don’t know how they planned it, but out one night, sitting in a hushed and darked auditorium, I was appalled to find my face wrapped in the most putrid smells and textures that you could imagine.

Still, in my opinion their strikes never had that extra touch of genius that made mine so elegant. And the real pinnacle of all this was the helmets.

The two of them had matching bicycle helmets, quite beautiful, which they’d brought back from Indonesia. One day I was examining Swerve’s and noticed that yes, there were a few places where the lining inside wasn’t perfectly attached to the foam. It took about half an hour, but by working them very gently I managed to get the undies to sit flat all across the inside of the helmet, adding slightly to the interior padding, but otherwise unnoticeable.

As luck would have it, I also had a very dirty second pair of undies on hand, and set about doing the same thing for Smonera’s helmet as well.

I think the next month was one of the happiest of my life. Swerve was convinced that the undies were still in the corner of my room where he’d put them on his last raid, but I knew they were already on his head, riding back and forth all over town.

It was too good to keep it to myself. One by one, I took other people into my confidence. After a while it was more like four by four. They all loved it as much as I did.

Swerve was having a great time. Where are the undies, Brendan? he would ask, and think that the general laugh he now got for saying this was directed at me. Out on the street I might be standing with a bunch of mutual friends and see him in the distance. He would wave at us - so friendly - and smile his beautiful, open-hearted smile, and all of us would wave back and think about how that guy over there waving is wearing some really quite disgusting underpants on his head.

In the evenings he would walk into the kitchen, his face glowing under that helmet from his ride home, and ask in a taunting voice, So where are the undies, Brendan, hey?… The UNDIES?! Everyone would chuckle, and he would think they were laughing with him. I almost started to feel mean.

Then one day I got home and found grim faces. There in the kitchen were Swerve and Smonera, each with their helmets in hand. Someone had spilled the beans. According to Smonera, the most hurtful part of it all was that the helmets had been damaged as she and Swerve extracted their secret cargo. I replied that the damage was their own fault and that really they were just bitter because I’d won a glorious victory.

I think maybe that day was a low-point in my behaviour as a friend. Only later did I reflect that at the same time as all this was happening, all around our neighbourhood people’s lives were being destroyed by the “ice” drug wave that had hit the city. It seems strange, thinking about it later, that in the very middle of all that personal destruction and tragedy, we had this whole other thing going on that was turning out to ruin lives just as quick.

The Golden Age had ended. Something changed abruptly with the helmets debacle. Swerve and Smonera seemed to go cold on the whole thing, and the underpants traffic slowed to practically nothing.

Funnily enough, I missed it at first. I would see a pair somewhere that looked usable, or a good location would occur to me, and I’d get the lust up, only to realise that until they re-engaged there was no point. They had carried on a one-sided game at the beginning, but I now found I couldn’t do the same, especially with this outstanding grudge against me. The next move would have to be theirs, but it didn’t come.

A couple of months passed, relations had normalised, even to the point where I could mention the helmets episode now and then, and indulge in a bit of light gloating.

And that’s exactly what I was doing in Swerve and Smonera’s absence one morning when a housemate calmly replied, “Yeah, but they got you better, didn’t they?”

“No way,” I said, “no undies placement of theirs was as beautiful as the helmets.”

“But they made you eat them. That is better.” I thought I must have misheard her, but she looked at me and said it again like she was enjoying it.

“You ate them.”

For the next five seconds I thought very, very quickly.

It couldn’t be true. I know what I eat. Were my feeding processes unsecured? Could there be a chink in my armour there somewhere? No, impossible. How would you feed a person a pair of underpants without them cottoning on?

But most of all I didn’t believe it because to do something like that to me would have meant crossing a terrible line. I wasn’t prepared to believe that they would break that unwritten law of friendship that says, very clearly, Don’t secretly feed someone underpants. The other placements had been cheeky, uncomfortable or embarrassing, but this was actually injurious and potentially criminal.

I told my housemate it wasn’t possible, and why. In fact I had to tell all my housemates, because apparently they all knew too.

It was time for a confrontation.

“What the fuck kind of rubbish is this I hear about you making me eat the undies?” They were pretty cagey in response – whether because they felt guilty, or surprised that I’d heard, or wanted me to believe it even if it wasn’t true. They didn’t deny it, but they weren’t very convincing about admitting their guilt either. They said things like, “Er, yeah…you deserved it. Cos, um, that was really crap what you did with the helmets.”

“Bullshit. I haven’t eaten undies. You know it, and you’re just desperate to look like you won.”

“Um, nah – we…”

“…Yeah?”

“We fed them to you…little by little…in your, um, food…”

“That’s balls. What food?” And then they went quiet, and gave no more information. What food? I checked the sorts of things that I ate – was there a jar of something that only I used, something they could contaminate with tiny pieces of underpant?

Maybe, but why not answer my question? Both of them loved to gloat – I was sure they’d want to brag about their deed if it were true. Going all cagey about it made it look like they’d invented the whole thing.

And yet…I had seen the hurt on their faces when they discovered the helmet undies. I could understand their wanting to come back with a killer blow. And perhaps now, by not revealing any details, they’re showing how ashamed they are of the horrific nature of that act – perhaps even a bit unwilling to face the consequences of proving their guilt beyond all doubt. The fact is that I have no way of knowing.

So you see I’m stuck. A couple of years have passed since then. A few weeks ago it was suggested that I write something about all this for Ordinary. My first answer was ‘no’. I was uncomfortable about putting it all in writing and re-igniting gossip over it. It’s a pretty awful feeling, getting around town with people telling you how awesome they think it is that you ate a pair of undies and didn’t even know – people laughing and calling you “Jock”.

But the worst part was not knowing. So I decided I would write about it, and that I would interview Swerve in the process to try to get enough information to give me some kind of closure. I will finish writing this, and then I will call him and promise that whatever he says I will transcribe it without alteration and paste it below. I will tell him that it’s an opportunity for him to prove in public that he won the whole exchange.

And that’s where you come in. I’m kind of lost in this story, and I no longer trust my own judgment. All I can do is write it, add the interview, and hope that between us we can arrive at a solid conclusion – not with absolute proof, but at least decide one way or the other on the balance of probabilities.

So here it is. Listen carefully. Watch out for any devious tricks that he might pull. Remember – he’s the kind of person who puts underwear in your food, or else he’s the kind of person who’s prepared to lie and say that he did. Either way we’re dealing with a slippery customer…

You say that I ate undies – can you prove it?

You want me to “prove” things - now? How am I supposed to do that? What are you even asking me? There is no Dana…

Can you prove it, yes or no?

…only Zuul…

Ok, we’ll just say that you have absolutely no proof. I put it to you that you never tried to feed me any underwear at all – that you have in fact made this whole story up.

Who said that?

I’m saying that.

Did you check your stools?

Yes. [This is a lie.]

Was there anything fibrous in them?

No. And there was no way I could have eaten a whole pair of underpants.

Dude, I didn’t make fat ravioli out of them. There were only small bits; it was a token amount. Really it was just about the symbolism of getting you to eat it.

Ok, so if you did it, how did you do it?

I don’t remember now, but I remember laughing. I thought it was great. I just fed you some strands, some stray threads.

I don’t believe that – I would have noticed, I always chew very carefully.

What, like five times on each side?

More.

Twelve times? Gimme a number.

In the 30s, easily. That’s why I’ve always had a problem with celery. A lot of the time it just won’t chew down. Ok, so the way I see it, either you’re lying, or you fed someone a pair of undies – neither of those things is good for as person’s conscience. How do you sleep?

On my side, generally. Don’t try to guilt trip me. You’re getting all “Jana Wendt” on me. What’s bushier than Derryn Hinch’s beard?

Jana’s Wendt.

Ha ha! That’s still funny, hey.

But what you did was really quite terrible.

What makes you so sure I did it?

You say so yourself. You tell everybody.

Name one person.

Come off it.

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was so mad about the helmets. How did you come up with that one? That was a stroke of genius.

How do you feel about it all now?

I’m glad it happened.

That’s all?

I feel great, and the reader will feel great – they’re gunna finish reading this and say, “I feel so good I’m gunna go out and eat a pie.”

How would you feel if you had been poisoned in a similar way?

Poisoned? Doesn’t that mean make you sick or kill you? I think you need to get out your Pocket Oxford Dictionary and have a flick through. Have you seen Eddie Murphy Delirious?

Yes…

How GOOD is that film! Eh?!

Where are the undies now?

I dunno. You’ve probably hidden them in my house somewhere. Why don’t you tell me?

What made you love the undies so much? Why did you keep putting them in my room when I was clearly above all of that?

I told you, I never put them in your room. It was Danny. [Danny is a former resident who was very keen on the undies. Hi Danny if you’re reading this.]

Oh, right – so how did you know where they were, then?

Danny would tell me. He’d go through your room doing scenic tours, taking photographs.

WHAT?

Yeah, he was planning an undies treasure hunt.

I don’t think I believe that. One last question: Where did all the extra undies come from?

I’d find them in the street. There were a few weeks there when it seemed like I was finding undies everywhere…

Ok that’s enough, that’s enough now…

-End of transcript-

...Well, there it is. That’s all the evidence I can get. It’s the limit of what it’s possible to know. Make up your own mind. Let me know what you reckon. Or don’t. I'm not going to write any more. I don’t feel so good right now.