Two weeks ago I lost the top button of my pants in a urinal in Grand Central Terminal.
When I say “my pants” I mean my favorite pants, black chinos. Have you ever had a pair of pants that seemed to you like no other pair ever factory-assembled? That you put on and thought, Damn, whose ass is that? These were those pants. My Pants. They were rare and wonderful, and all the right shapes. Never since have I been able to find anything even remotely as flattering—nor as ass-flattering. If I had I would have bought ten pair, invested my life’s savings into pantsing my future. But, alas, Urban Outfitters was sold out.
Truth be told, the button in question had been displaced for some time, having initially wriggled free over months of fastening and unfastening. I wore these pants almost every day for the two months after I bought them, and also I drink a lot of coffee. The button on these chinos was a little metal post, like a jeans button. Now it was gone, lost to a filthy, piss-drenched drain on 42nd Street.
My button had undergone particular wear (and eventual tear) in the early months of my unemployment, while I loafed on a couch and sometimes a folding chair in front of a laptop in Connecticut. Day-to-day life in the suburbs affords little opportunity for exercise, or really even movement. All told in a given day I probably walked a mile and a half. In a very real and unappealing way, I began to feel I truly understood the term “suburban sprawl”—and so did my poor, beleaguered button.
Up until the urinal misadventure, I’d managed somehow to convince my pants to stay together, the little metal button-post spanning the ever-widening gap between top-left pantsfront and top-right pantsfront. (Do those pants parts have a name?) They held, if barely, the buttonholes frayed and weary at either twill anchor point. I wore a belt to buttress the arrangement.
Even in those delicate and tenuously fastened months, I lost my button many times, more often than not into the bowl of a toilet, I’m ashamed to say. Why I didn’t graduate to a safety pin or other clasp I’m not sure; perhaps pride kept me from it, or that stereotypically male instinct not to alter any course, however untenable. I wasn’t helping myself.
For whatever reason I seemed always able to remember that my wounded pants had a button-fly, but never to remember the plight of button numero uno, which found me unfastening with vigor, in order to undo the buttons all in one go—I mean truly WWE-shirt-ripping-caliber pullapart—and thereby sending my loose-tooth top button flying off, out, and down, directly forward. Shit.
On occasions previous to this most recent, final one, I was at least in private—a friend’s apartment, my own personal bathroom, etc. After a moment of shocked annoyance at my own forgetfulness I would retrieve my button, and then wash my hands like a germophobe hypochondriac with OCD, and no one was the wiser. (Until now.)
Each time I returned my top button to its waistline limbo, I wondered if probably I could have done without it, and whether the dermal sacrifice had all been worth it.
This was precisely my thought when, once more, I thoughtlessly loosed my top button off, out, down, and into a toilet—this time a urinal on the food court level of Grand Central Terminal. I stared down at it, resting sadly in the shallow water like a coin at the bottom of the filthiest wishing well imaginable, and I gave up. I let go. As disappointed as I was that I would never again be able to reassemble the front of my pants, I would have been far, far more disappointed, principally in myself, if I had reached my hand into a public urinal in a New York train station.
Later that day, visiting a friend on the Upper East Side, I unbuttoned my pants before another toilet—carefully this time—and watched another button drift to the ceramic floor of a watery grave. Plunk. I was truly on a roll. This one was a real button: flat, black plastic, four holes, secured with an X of thread by a machine in far-off Portugal or Bangladesh. Second from the top this time—the vice-button, as it were. The chain of command was crumbling.
I’m not much of a sewer, and I wasn’t particularly interested in trying to triage a wet button onto my ever-tinier pants. I flushed, buttoned my remaining two buttons, and pulled my belt tight.
Perhaps I was literally expanding by the minute, Suburban Sprawling before mine very eyes. I felt like Violet Beauregarde, or Alice down the rabbit hole, or some other fictional character who grows cartoonishly large in a matter of seconds, buttons popping off like BBs.
Maybe it’s the lack of physical movement in jobless suburbia, or maybe it’s my recent fever for pie-baking (sidebar: I’m getting really good at it). Maybe it’s some horrible and mysterious quarter-life bloat. Whatever the reason, it’s difficult to admit the pants I’m wearing just don’t fit anymore.
A lot of things don’t fit anymore. Living with Post-Baccalaureate Unemployment Stress Disorder (PBUSD) as I do, Things That Don’t Fit Anymore includes complacency, listing “student” as an occupation, and weeknight temperance, among other things. Some people are more apt than others to clean out their closets, better at being decisive and rational about old shoes, shrunken sweaters, underwear with no more elastic, and pants that are hardly pants anymore. PBUSD hasn’t affected my sentimentality, however; some pants I wish could be forever.
Whether I outgrew them from too many pie slices, or whether they outgrew me from too many high-heat dryer cycles, these buttonless remnants may be simply Pants of the Past, and I need new ones. I need new pants who know nothing of the tribulations of the last pair, who bear none of the scars. New pants with more buttons.