Be Careful Where You Leave Your Pants


The lake can be a simply splendid place to kill a lazy summer afternoon…
unless you’re a naked ten-year-old boy. Then it can be fairly harrowing.
Stephen Sheppard photo.

It was a torrid summer Saturday in the Mississippi Delta, and the air was so thick you could tear off a chunk and gnaw it. On such a day a great many folks retired to Desoto Lake for an afternoon of fun and recreation. (Desoto Lake is an oxbow lake connected to the Mississippi River that is perfect for boating.)

I was out with a classmate named Wes, his younger brother Toby, and Toby’s pal Robert. Wes and I were 12 years old. We were two years older and therefore far more sophisticated than Toby and Robert. We all swam out to an old derelict party barge anchored in the lake.

The barge was well past its prime. While seaworthy enough, the roof and accoutrements had long since succumbed to the elements. All that remained above the deck were four spindly steel supports that had previously held the roof aloft. Wes and I lounged about on a pair of antique lawn chairs, while Toby and Robert cavorted in the water.

The lake was busy, and that meant lots of boats and lots of girls. Wes and I whiled away the afternoon waving to passing friends and chatting about grownup 12-year-old stuff. Toby and Robert, by contrast, were just being silly.

In short order Robert and Toby had shed their shorts and deposited them on the edge of the deck. As boats cruised by, they would upend in the water and moon them. When girls were present they simply floated in the water and snickered. Wes and I sensed an opportunity.

We retrieved their shorts and hung them neatly from two of the roof crossbars. That likely put the dripping garments some seven feet or so off the deck. Toby and Robert eventually noticed what we had done.

They launched into a typical 10-year-old profane tirade—intense and sincere yet hopelessly inept. At that age they lacked adequate experience with cursing to become properly adept at it. When they realized that this tack was destined for failure they switched to mournful pleading. That was predictably ineffective.

We were perhaps fifty meters from shore. Once on the bank the clubhouse was maybe another seventy-five meters up a steep hill in full view of the entire lake. Our two naked pals were indeed in a bit of a spot. Eventually they came to feel quite waterlogged. Wes and I just sat back and reveled in their misery.

Testosterone is the world’s most potent toxin, and young boys
are simply awash in the stuff. Oliver Sjostrom photo.

Robert was the more daring of the pair, but he was short, like ridiculously short. When finally he could stand it no longer, he lifted himself, slimy and naked, up onto one end of the deck. Moving with the speed of a child possessed he ran the length of the boat and leapt. His plan was to snatch his shorts and then splash into the water on the far side of the boat, exposing himself to an entire lake’s worth of boating femininity for as brief a period as possible. Alas, cruel fate now intervened.

Robert could not jump quite high enough to reach his shorts. However, his middle finger did catch the waistband. The elastic stretched mightily and then fired the shorts, rubber band-fashion, off of the crossbar and out into the lake. The soggy garment sank like a stone.

There had been a fair amount of shouting associated with this exercise, and that had drawn a crowd. At this point the damage was done. There was but a single pair of shorts remaining and two naked boys. We had mercy on them, sort of, and retrieved the remaining pair. We tossed it in between them not so much as to be kind but rather to watch them fight. Alas, Toby was the faster and found himself clothed. Robert was simply doomed.

Robert eventually screwed up his courage, swam to shore, and scampered naked up the hillside in full view of the accumulated onlookers. The image of his wet pink butt bouncing up the hill is burned into my brain even today. Judging from the raucous reaction of the crowd they seemed to have enjoyed the show.

I hope on some level that Robert learned something from this sordid escapade. For starters, one should never trust adolescent boys with absolutely anything. They are invariably cruel, coarse, and dim. More importantly, however, one should always keep an eye on one’s clothes when otherwise naked in public. To fail to do so invariably courts disaster.

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