To: Ruby

From: Dad

In re: A Pant

I’m not sure about the explicit rule, and I’m not going to look it up, because that would require more key strokes[1] than I’m prepared to put into this, but, generally speaking, in English, when we refer to an article of clothing that we wear from the waist down, and that has individual holes – one for each leg – we call them pants, in the plural.

If the leg holes are short, we call them shorts, also in the plural. We say a pair of pants, or a pair of shorts.

It’s a tricky one, because we are referring to a single item, not a pair. I don’t know why we refer to them in the plural. Maybe back when we developed the rule, not everyone could afford to buy two leg holes at once. You’d go to the guy who made clothes and say, “I need a new pant.” He’d say, “Why not get a pair?” You’d say, “In this economy?!”

We also generally refer to shoes in the plural. But guess what: shoes literally come in pairs. You rarely ever buy a single shoe. And we don’t call a shirt a pair of shirts, even though they usually come with two armholes.

I know. Baffling. In any case, and again, I don’t know why we refer to these single items in the plural. But we do.

But get this: lately – say, within the last ten to fifty years[2] – some people have begun saying a pant (sing.), but only in certain situations, and only certain types of people.

Imagine someone who’s caught a bit of a fashion bug is offering advice to someone who needs fashion advice. He or she will say, for example, “I love that shirt, but it would pair better with a slender pant.” Singular.

I once shot a bottle rocket into one of my leg holes and exploded my pants off. I was wearing a blue, mid-thigh short (sing.) A bottle rocket is this little thing that looks like a firecracker on the end of a thin stick. It has a fuse that you light on fire that sizzles for a few seconds and leads up into the firecracker. Once the sizzle goes into the firecracker, the whole thing shoots up into the sky and explodes.

This particular one didn’t shoot into the sky. It shot into my pants. Bottle rockets were made illegal, except in Missouri, where people would rather blow their nuts off than, well...they’d just rather blow their nuts off, I guess.

Here’s something: people with a fashion bug have also begun referring to shoes in the singular. “That type of trouser needs a shoe with a slight heel.”

What an amazing world!

I want you to know that I’m not judging anyone for using the singular of pants, shorts, or shoes. I just think it’s stupid. It’s an affectation, which is something that people do that is, generally, inauthentic and designed to impress. It’s not real.

But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. That I think it’s stupid doesn’t really mean anything, either.

In fact, once I went into a store and told the guy behind the counter that I was “looking for a boot with a round toe.” I suppose you could say I’d caught the fashion bug back then. The guy knew exactly what I was talking about. He sold me a pair of boots, even though I had only said I was looking for one boot. He and I both had the bug.

I’m on a train bound for the City right now. The Hudson is on my right. On the left there are two-story houses with bars on the windows and dirty vinyl siding and dirty little pink plastic bicycles and tricycles lying along their sidewalks. There’s endless chain link fencing stuffed with endless garbage. You’re back upstate with your mother, who is pregnant with your little sister. You’re probably napping right now. You nap well, although you fight it at first almost every day. I think there will be a day when you won’t fight naps, but it could be decades from now. I’m not really a napper, myself. Not yet. Maybe someday.


The word pants has no inherent meaning, you know? It’s a sound we make that, in English, we have all agreed refers to these things we wear from the waist down that have two leg holes. I’m the guy at the party who is amazed by this stuff, who probably nobody wants to get stuck talking to.

But here you are, sweetheart. Stuck with me.

There might be inherent meaning somewhere in the universe, but mostly all meaning comes from what we create ourselves.[3] We created this situation with pants. We created language. We created roads and lamps and agriculture. We created every little goddamned thing that means anything to us. We made everything mean something and we are absorbed by meaning and we are destroyed by it.

So I probably am judging people who use the singular of pants. But I also love that it’s an option. Some of your mother and my best friends use it, although mostly just to be funny. It’s just an affectation. It’s not real.  

You want real? I literally almost exploded my nuts off with a bottle rocket. That’s as real as it gets. Ask anyone from Missouri[4].

Anyway, I’d love you no matter how you used pants, shorts, shoes, or foods, or any word.

Think: tonight, after you read this memo[5], imagine you and me go to a party. Thirty-four years ago I got off this train and went about my business and eventually came back past the fences filled with trash and the little pink bicycles lying on the lawns and now we’re at a party. We’re standing over by the chips (do they still have chips? I hope to God they do), and you’re totally stuck with me and I’m talking about inherent meaning and about how keystrokes used to refer to keyboards and typing and how I still can’t figure out the latest technology and you’re rolling your eyes at me but, Jesus Christ, you’re stuck with me.

I shut up for a second. We’re quiet. You take a little drink. You’re so tall and beautiful and probably things have happened in your life. You lean in and say, “Dad, you should really find a pant without pleats.”

I’ll love it so much.


[1] “Keystrokes” generally refer to the amount of times I have to press my fingers against the keys on my keyboard. A keyboard is what we use to enter words into machines. It is rather labor intensive and can be hard on the hands, if one enters a lot of words into a machine. Keyboards have been around for a long time. I even took a typing class in high school. That said, lately, because of technology, “keystrokes” can now loosely refer to the amount of shit you have to look up on the Internet. What used to be intensive research – manual labor, really – is now accomplished with mere keystrokes. I sound like an old man.

[2] In other words, I really have no idea when this all started. Again, keystrokes.

[3] Obviously, meaning is only meaning because we are here for it to mean something.

[4] I’ll talk more about Missouri in the memo about hardcopy pornography. I’ll also talk more about the bottle rocket in my pants.

[5] Assuming you’re 36 when you read this – my age now as I write this.