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The rejected column: getting to the bottom of it all (09/12/2004)
By Patrick Marek

Back in the winter of 1978 I was a Junior Journalism Major at St. Mary's College. This was soon after Watergate, and my goal in life was to write an investigative reporting series that would make the world safe for humanity, and myself rich and famous in the process. In advance of these ambitious milestones, I contented myself with writing feature stories and sports articles while editing the St. Mary's student newspaper, The Cardinal.

One morning in the SMC cafeteria, Maureen Randell, my future bride, read a help wanted ad in the campus daily "The Troll" that she said seemed to be written with me in mind. A local newspaper was looking for a sportswriter and feature story writer. They advertised flexible hours and generous pay. The name of the newspaper was the Saturday Morning Post, and the ad was indeed written with me in mind. It turned out that the Edstroms had the contract to print the Cardinal, and Fran Edstrom had noticed a kid with a flare for dramatic prose. She chose me to be her first real reporter. I was putty in her hands.

Being a reporter for the Winona Post in those days was the best job a young, ambitious, (and very poor) college student could have. Fran Edstrom was a wonderful and inspirational editor. She was always quick with the challenge of a story opportunity, but always equally quick to applaud initiative and a job well done. For me, she gave me the greatest gifts a fledgling writer could receive. She supported me financially, she turned me loose creatively, and she kept me grammatical. Under her watch, as a college senior in 1979, I wrote a story about a college kid in an East End apartment who discovered $1,000 in a tobacco can he found while cleaning the basement. "The $1,000 History Lesson" took first place in the state for best feature story. Fran was delighted, and after that she pretty much loved almost everything I wrote.

I went to work for the Edstroms after graduation, as a combination reporter and salesman. The arrangement worked well for a few years, until it became apparent that my talent for selling advertising was making more of an impact on the newspaper than my compelling prose was. My days as a regular reporter and columnist were over. Fran often lamented John's stealing her first reporter, but at the same time always seemed to appreciate the increase in advertising revenue. Over the years, however, she has always been quick to publish any stories that I bring to her. She has indulged me by printing many columns about my children, over 10,000 words about The ‘Ghost of Heffron Hall' and even publishing a rant about my battles with the neighborhood squirrels.

Imagine the shock to my nervous system when I submitted the following column, ‘A Brief Tale' to Fran a couple of years ago. I must have caught her in the wrong mood on the wrong morning, because she returned my manuscript with a curt note that "Perhaps I should submit ‘A Brief Tale' to a men's magazine." Properly chastened, I banished the story to the prison of my formerly empty "Patrick's refused manuscripts" folder on my desktop. Over the years I've dug out ‘A Brief Tale' a few times and made some adjustments. Ironically, it remains one of my favorite pieces.

Now that Fran is temporarily out of action as Editor In Chief of the Post, I saw this as the ideal, and perhaps my last chance to get "A Brief Tale" published. As you read this, keep in mind that soon after I wrote ‘A Brief Tale,' I joined the Boxers team myself. As the late, immortal Ernie Reck would say: "The men cheered, and the women screamed!"

A Brief Tale

"I just made you say underwear." -Barenaked Ladies

There comes a time in every man's life when he takes a look at his torn, tattered, and tired underwear and says: "It's time to go shopping!"

Most men are what retail experts call "need shoppers". When we step into a puddle and our socks get wet, we beat a hasty path to the nearest shoe store. If the shoes we like are on sale, we congratulate ourselves on our shopping prowess, and if they're not...we buy them anyway.

Buying new underwear is a wholly different story. While an underwear excursion is usually inspired by the hilarious comments from the guys in the YMCA locker room, or from your loving wife, the actual purchase involves a choice that most guys take very seriously.

A man's impending underwear purchase deals with the rarely discussed, but almost always carefully considered choice of boxers or briefs. Even if you've been a briefs man all your life, you can't help but think: "Maybe I should live on the edge and try some boxers, just to see what I'm missing."

Many of our fathers wore boxers, and not too long ago, adolescent males took to wearing boxer trunks up to their belly buttons, while sagging their jeans halfway to their knees. Every time I saw a lad in that condition I couldn't help but think: "What is that kid going to do if he gets chased by a dog?" That fad soon died out, but then girls started sewing up the fly on boxers and wearing them out in public as pants. I would love to know what the nuns I had at my Catholic grade school would have had to say about that fashion statement.

If you're a dad, the best thing about wearing boxers is obvious. You get to parade around the house in them. My Dad is a former Navy man, and several of his more memorable boxers were decorated with anchors and giant shellfish. His job required shift work, and he had to sleep during odd hours. Some of my most vivid childhood memories feature him in a starring role, bursting into the living room to complain that the TV was too loud and being greeted with screams from my sister's friends.

Despite the example set by my Dad, I grew up wearing jockey shorts. Sure, when I was in college I did a little experimenting. Who didn't? For a while I donned racy brightly colored briefs, and even attempted the "natural" look for a short time. My parents refer to this as my "stupid period." Once I started getting a little more conservative, I put childish things aside (actually they are still buried in my underwear drawer), and turned to the steady, unspectacular world of Fruit of the Loom.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't stop to ponder how the other side lives when it comes to underwear buying time. Unlike most men, I have the ability to adapt to new trends and changing environments. I've proved that with my snappy new sock collection, but that's another story. Boxers are definitely the darling of the media right now, with flashy new ad campaigns and celebrity endorsements. In a poll conducted recently by Cotton Inc. 65 percent of women polled said that men looked better in boxers, and last year boxers outsold briefs for the first time.

What I can't help wondering though, is: "Do the boxers guys have questions and issues of their own?" Do they think: "I'm sick of having my rear end look all wrinkled, I envy the guys who wear briefs." Maybe the pressure of having to pick out the right color and pattern to match a particular mood could become overwhelming. Then there's the whole freedom versus support issue. Come to think of it, being on the front line of the boxer's rebellion could be no bed of roses.

So, if you're wondering why men always look so serious when they're in the underwear section of the men's department, it's not because they're cheap and don't want to spend their hard earned cash. There are some serious decisions being made...tough, lifestyle changing choices. "Boxers or briefs?" isn't just a trick question for political debates or reality shows. It's a decision that defines the complicated fabric of being a man in the new millennium. 


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