Sunday, March 7, 2010

The History of a Rip

March, 2010
The pants hang over the back of the chair, butt end up.

Six inches below the right rear pocket, a tear in the fabric runs vertically down the leg about two and a half inches. The way the pants are hanging makes the rip open into a puckered oval. A tongue of white fabric (the interior of the pocket) sticks out of it.

I worry that maybe I shouldn't wear these pants to any sort of "function." I'm going to the bank tomorrow to see about a loan. I shouldn't wear them tomorrow. People standing behind me can see my underwear through the rip.

I'm kind of upset about that. I like the pants.

October, 2009
Colonia is nice.

People say it's too touristy, and maybe they're right. Maybe I like touristy.

It's right on the Río de la Plata (I always have trouble calling it a río because it looks a lot more like an ocean or at least a gulf to me), a straight shot northeast from BA. It's really small, and the UNESCO area (the old Spanish colonial part that's been preserved) is even smaller. Just a few square blocks of narrow cobble streets, some plazas, bougainvillea, rusty cannons, and a lighthouse with a disappointing view.

But I don't know any of that yet. I just walked through the original city gate, a big stone arch with a pair of rusty cannons, followed the old wall east about a hundred feet where it drops into some terraced park space and then the water.

I'm sitting on a rough section of terrace wall. There are maybe six other tourist pairs and individuals, six tourist units, sharing the terrace space. We're all spaced pretty evenly. We've claimed our "spot." I'm looking out at the water and thinking it's too bad you can't see BA from here. It would look pretty cool, hazy sky and skyscrapers.

The rocks of the terrace wall are not mortared. Their edges are jagged, carved from 300 years of erosion maybe. It's kind of painful to sit on them. I do a little seated roll to get up, and I feel something catch on my pants, maybe six inches below my right rear pocket.

"Damn," I think. "I think I just ripped my pants."

March, 2009
I feel incredulous.

I'm incredulous that I've found what I'm looking for, in my size, in the first shop I checked, in what people like me like to call the largest open-air market in Latin America, in the middle of Bolivia.

The pants are pretty much an exact match for the ones I'm trying to replace, the ones I gave away a week earlier. They're made of the same synthetic, thin, almost parachutey material, with the same cargo pockets that I adore, the same color, with even the same fold in the fabric covering the zipper so that sometimes it lifts away from the zipper and makes it look like my fly is down.

I do an awkward probando dance in the back of the shop to verify the sizing of these secondhand pants who came from God knows where to be resold in this backstreet stall of the Cancha in Cochabamba. They fit nice.

I give the señora my 60 B's. She's overcharging me. I don't really care. I'll pay $9 for magic pants any day.

March, 2009

I go outside to the gate, thinking he's selling fruit.

His face is dark brown and leathery. His hair is dark black and matted. He's wearing a lot of clothes, and they're all dirty. He's not selling fruit.

I have a hard time following real Spanish conversations. It's extra hard when I'm talking to a homeless man who may or may not be fully coherent.

He says he's from Peru. I tell him my name is Enrique, and he tells me they have that name in Peru, but in Peru they often change it to "Renrique." I think that sounds odd.

He asks me for money, or food, or maybe he's just asking for anything. I'm living in a volunteer house, so I figure I should oblige. Then I get an idea. "Espera un momentito," and I run into my room, open the door of the wardrobe that smells like cat piss (just the door, not the inside), and grab the pants.

The pants are old. They have rips, but I can't remember their histories. There's one in the back, just beneath one of the pockets, and there's one big one under the left knee, like the pants are ready to convert to shorts. I've almost thrown them away a couple times now. It'd be a good way to lighten my suitcase.

I run back out and pass the pants through the iron bars of the gate to the man. I tell him I hope they're his tamaño. He looks pretty happy, and then he starts off down the sidewalk again, towards Plazuela Sucre.

Back inside, I sit on the bed and feel happy. Then, I feel sad.

May, 2005
I'm really happy.

My parents and sister flew into Seoul last night, and I have a lot to show them. But the first thing we've done is hop on the Green Line and subway over to Technomart. I need some pants.

Technomart is a great place to buy things in Seoul. It has that Korean shopping mall setup, with a tall, semicircular foyer and then escalators shooting up to about ten floors of kiosked shopping. It's called Technomart, but it's best known (to people I know) for it's clothing.

Towards the edge of the clothing sector, I look through a rack of pants and find a pair I like. They're brown, made out of a synthetic, thin, almost parachutey material that seems fast drying. It's got sweet cargo pockets.

I try them on in the tiny closet of a fitting room and they feel pretty good. "얼마예요?" The 아줌마 wants 12,000 for them, but it's pretty easy to get her down to the standard 만원. 10 bucks. I decide to wear them out the door.

My family and I find our way out of Technomart, through the hall and past the roasted nut vendors to get back to Gangbyeon station. We get on the subway. It's close to noon. It's time for their first Korean meal.

I'm sitting on the subway bench wearing brown, thin, synthetic pants. I'll take these pants with me when I leave Korea to bike through Southeast Asia. I'll wear them on the streets of Hue, at an "eco-resort" in Laos and a hostel in Phnom Penh. They'll be in my pannier in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Honolulu. I'll put them in my dresser, the one I had as a kid and stripped and refinished, in Portland, Maine. I'll wear them at campsites in Nova Scotia and on top of pyramids in Mexico. I'll pack them, rips and all, to take to South America. I'll wear them in Cuzco, in Copacabana, in Cochabamba. I will give them away to a strange Peruvian beggar on Calle Bolivar, and replace them with a pair I find in la Cancha. I will look at the replacement pair hanging on my desk chair in about five years, and they will inspire me to write a blog post.

But I don't know any of this. I'm just sitting in a subway car with my little sister and my parents. I'm about to introduce them to kimchi.


Nick said...

Hal - you are a genius. Your pants just cast a spell on me! (I never thought I would write something like that. Ever.)

Kathy Amen said...

What a wonderful story! It brought back great memories to me, both of experiences I had with you and experiences of yours that I read about. How neat to be able to see so much in something so small, and to be able to express it so eloquently. You must have been an English major 8-)

JoAnna said...

The traveling pants! :)

Fantastic story Hal. Sometimes I find it hard to believe where we find meaning in our possessions.

Lauren Quinn said...

Don't throw them away! Way too many memories.

Love this as a premise for a post.

ecg68 said...

A delightful story- how creative!

Anne M said...

Such a clever idea! I'm sure all travellers form attachment to small things, like clothes. I certainly do. I loved the chronology of this piece.

Anonymous said...

i love the flow of this story and as a guy with a stack of ripped pants ( some my wife forbids me to wear ) I connect with the Homeric odyessey that surrounds a pair of good pants.

good show!

ps. do you pronounce your last name like the ending of a prayer?


hal said...

Thanks all!

@Josh: Dead on, except accent on the first syllable.

That's exactly what my grandmother would tell people re: pronunciation and spelling. "Like the end of a prayer!"

Carlo said...

Wow Hal, that was awesome. I've never been as engrossed about a hole in cloth as I was in your story. I would love to hear your process as to how that came about!