John Carlson: These Pants Gotta Go

Cargo pants are only good for hauling cargo. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonCargo pants are only good for hauling cargo. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Ever have something you’ve anxiously waited years for, and then when you finally get it, it breaks your heart?

Welcome to my cargo pants.

Walking through Walmart two years ago, I spotted these neatly folded khaki Wranglers. On the tag, some rugged individualist like Brett Favre was throwing a football and looking like a real stud muffin in the process. The price was right, too. Even more to the point, they had so many pockets! These were pants that could carry my wallet, my hairbrush, my favorite pocketknife, my barometer, a little notebook, some pens and my crescent wrench, plus have room left over for two ham sandwiches, a cup of Lee’s chicken gizzards with squeeze packets of hot sauce and a small bottle of peppermint schnapps.

In other words, all life’s necessities.

Only trouble was, I couldn’t find them in my normal 38-inch waist size, at least not with my standard 11-inch inseam, which is only a slight exaggeration. I did spot a pair of 36s, however, held them up and thought, “What the heck, these’ll work.”

Taking them home, I was soon rolling around on the floor, moaning, groaning, cussing and sweating like I was wrestling an alligator. Finally forcing them around my waist, I struggled to my feet and instantly knew I was just seconds away from my belly button popping out my navel like a champagne cork.

It was going to take some dieting before these babies fit.

And diet I did. Not a real strict diet. It was like, I ate one less Oreo a week, plus did a sit-up every month or two. Nevertheless, after two years, when I dug my cargo pants back out of my dresser drawer  three days ago, they buttoned easily.

“Look honey!” I exclaimed to my wife. “Ready to boogie!”

Nancy smiled with wifely pride, but then an odd look passed across her face. “They’re so … wide.”

My first thought was, wide? My son having spent years drumming in a rock band down in Nashville, I’d hung around him and his band mates at enough shows to know that it was narrow pants the ladies went nuts over. So wideness being something we guys generally try to avoid in the vital matter of pants, I found this news disturbing. Looking in a full-length mirror, I gasped. Nancy was right! If cargo pants had been invented back in prehistoric times, these trousers would have looked good on woolly mammoths. With their wealth of bulky bulging pockets, in fact, my cargo pants made me look like somebody had cut me off at the waist and set me on a tree stump.

Two ham sandwiches, I bitterly thought, recalling my first impression of these pants. Bull. The thigh pockets alone looked like they were holding two hams.

What’s more, on the left side, even one of the pockets had a pocket. Being in the early stages of geezerhood, I imagined absentmindedly dropping my house key in one of these cavalcade of pockets and forgetting which one. Then I imagined arriving back home after quenching my thirst with a couple cold beers at The Fickle Peach, when my daily diuretic pill kicked in, then desperately pawing for the house key like a panicky guy in a TV commercial touting backed-up bladder relief.

Could I get into the house by scaling our eight-foot fence out back? Not even with a trampoline.

Even worse than the missing key was the fact that, with advancing age, my once-muscular calves and thighs had turned into little chicken legs. Each cargo pants leg, then, had room for six more of my pathetically skinny gams, meaning with each step, all that extra fabric was whipping, snapping and flapping like a flag in a gale.

Did Brett Favre’s cargo pants do that?

Doubt it.

But then I thought, wait a minute. What about Christmastime? In recent years as my muscles wither I’ve had a heck of a time hauling our tree into the house. But what if, instead of one big tree, I bought two little 29-inch ones, my actual inseam length. And say I bought them at a Christmas tree lot where they roll their trees up in snug plastic netting.

“Hmmm,” the proprietor might say. “You know, mister, judging by the way your pants are flappin’ you could probably carry two little spruce Christmas trees home by cramming one down each pants leg.”

“By golly, you’re right!” I effused. “And with all these extra pockets, I’ll also have room for a wreath, some tinsel, some decorations, some lights, a crèche, a star for on top, a couple dozen Christmas cookies, some candy canes and another little bottle of peppermint schnapps!”

And that’s when I realized that no matter how wide they make me look from the butt down, I’m going to wear my cargo pants again after all.

Once a year.

A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.