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In the aftermath of my daughter's death in May, my son-in-law and I made a practical plan: He and my three granddaughters would live with me in Bentonville. So I flew to El Paso last week and drove the girls across the wide, flat Permian Basin to the Ozarks. Son-in-law followed later in the U-Haul.

Overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in Snyder, Texas, an evening swim for the girls and a room strewn with Disney character panties and flip-flops brought back family memories a generation ago.

A father of four girls, I learned that Dad was last in line in for fashion investment (even following the two boys who came later), though my late wife Linda kept me dressed well enough thanks to sales, Father's Day and birthday gifts. Working off Houston's West Loop, I discovered a men's resale shop in River Oaks, the city's old money neighborhood. There I snagged designer business suits consigned by Houston society matrons clearing out recently deceased (or divorced and kicked out) husbands' closets.

Though not obsessed, I watched for bargains. One summer weekend I was in Dallas on business; the family tagged along. At a mall off the LBJ Freeway, the girls and Mom landed at the Sears pre-teen section. The craze then was mix-and-match solid and striped knits merchandised from white Formica cubbies under track lighting, loud music and faceless mannequins. Sears, doing its best to keep up, had its private label of the genre, "Multiples," to compete with the "Units" chain elsewhere in the mall. A customer participation fashion show was ramping up. My excited little girls were asked to model.

While the girls and Mom prepared for runway debuts, I wandered over to menswear and discovered a table overflowing with discounted Oakton men's briefs. Oakton was Sears' top signature label comparable to Jockey, yet these were marked down to 25 cents each. The reason became clear: outrageous, unwanted colors of peacock blue, bright emerald green, purple, cherry red. Traditional white briefs were nearby at full price. Considering my fraying tighty-whiteys at home, I bought a bunch, since only I and the missus would seem them. Right? Two dozen kaleidoscope briefs were double-bagged at my request, as if they were porn magazines.

Weeks later we returned from a Hawaiian vacation. Continental Airlines lost my suitcase. Standing in a glass cubicle, describing the lost suitcase to the female baggage agent at Terminal C, the busiest at Houston's Intercontinental Airport, I was, per my wife, Bob Newhart in a comedy routine.

Things were fine while describing the large suitcase to the woman and picking a generic design from her laminated card. But then came that dreaded question I knew was forthcoming: "Mr. Talley, are there any particular contents in your suitcase that might help our employees identify it?"

"Well, er-uh. There are these really brightly colored men's briefs."

"What colors sir?" she asked. She just couldn't let it go.

"Uh, peacock, purple, sapphire...uh, cherry maybe. But you see, they were really cheap at Sears and I don't normally wear things like that, but ... "

She looked over her eyeglass rims at me, then over to Linda who burst out laughing. The airline employee stifled her laugh, maintaining a grain of corporate composure.

Meanwhile, the damned suitcase showed up anyway, though badly damaged, as yet another female Continental employee appeared from nowhere rolling out two sparkling new suitcases to choose from as a replacement. Well that was dandy. It was like picking a prize on "Let's Make A Deal" -- hard-case from Door No. 1 or soft-side at Door No. 2. With no love lost for the old suitcase anyway, I gladly chose the hard-case, brown Samsonite with built-in wheels assuming we'd drag the old one, still filled with my things, home to unpack and discard.

Not so. The airline needed the damaged one for claim validation. Baring myself to the woman in the glass office was not enough. Every arriving passengers at the airline's main hub would see me expose my flashy goods, overseen by a uniformed agent looking on as the carousel chugged by. My face was redder than the cherry briefs.

In our new family arrangement, I have moved below to quarters in the walk-out. Son-in-law and the girls have the main floor. My bedroom below is steps from the basement bath, so I've strategically located a bathrobe for the trip. No need for a wandering granddaughter to suffer seeing Papa in the altogether. Or even in his step-ins--- neon, striped or otherwise.

Commentary on 08/08/2019

Print Headline: Feeling exposed

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