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The International Writers Magazine: Government Regulated Pants Required

Secondhand Pants
• Julie McSmith
Jeremy Danvers had his own office with a door he enjoyed keeping shut all day. The one exception was when Dave, the unit manager, came in to ask if he wanted a grinder for lunch from the sandwich shop down the street.


As was his habit, Jeremy coded over two cups of morning coffee. Then he liked to watch a movie while he worked in the afternoon. Once long ago, when Dave became division manager, Jeremy noticed a screenshot from his own computer tacked to the wall of Dave's office with a plastic pushpin. After a time, however, it disappeared.

Today was Saturday, and Jeremy sat in his study, grinding through a program he promised Dave he would start over the weekend. He leaned back his padded chair and stretched. Jeremy did not mind telecommuting. He enjoyed coding. Yet, today he also faced the onerous task of finding some winter pants.

The previous summer Jeremy's mother died of complications from uterine cancer. She was an old dame and the doctors did not catch it in time. After Jeremy's grieving was over he was left with a practical problem, that of buying his clothes. Before this, he had never bought himself a single shirt, tie, or pair of shoes. This year, however, all of his wool and corduroy pants frayed and stretched beyond usability when he washed them the first time.

Jeremy scrolled through online catalogues, looking for winter pants using the brand names of the previous pairs from his mother. He could not find any listings for these brands in a regular online store. Jeremy wondered where his mother used to find the new clothing she always presented him at Christmas and for his birthday. In his search, the large number of impractical and showy clothes for men surprised him. In fact, almost everything he found was designed for a warm climate. There were a few seasonable pieces, but he suspected the prices were twice what his mother used to pay.

At last, Jeremy found some of his old types of pants amid the secondhand clothing listings. Sighing with relief, he typed in his credit number and address. Just as he finished entering the information, however, his right calf began hurting as if he pulled a muscle. Jeremy pulled up his pant leg and saw a protruding bump. A few minutes later the pain passed, and Jeremy forgot about it, though the bump did not go away.

Jeremy met Kevin, a gaming friend, for lunch. It was a fish and chips place. Since elementary school when he first saw the fish and chips restaurant in his town, Jeremy pictured the "chips" to be like the snack food in a bag. Not until college did he find out what the "chips" of "fish and chips" were. Then he wondered why at a hamburger restaurant people called fried potato sticks "French fries" and at a "fish and chips" restaurant people called them "chips."

Kevin was waiting outside when Jeremy arrived. The day was a clear, crisp one when other people might be going to autumn harvest fairs. Jeremy did not like being outside, and he did not feel like waiting around either. He was happy his friend was already there. Kevin, like himself, was a coder, but he did database applications.

After lunch, Kevin had pushed the last of his chips onto Jeremy's plate, and he began talking about his sister, "Since last year she's been dressing like a man, though she used to wear dresses and make-up and do her hair and stuff. I'm afraid to ask her about it."
Jeremy shrugged, "Maybe she's just salty about something?"
Kevin continued, "And she put all of her feminine clothes in a bag in the coat closet. Now she says she's keeping them there with her chainmail bikini, until she decides to come out of the closet. I asked her what she meant, and she just laughed."
"It sounds like she already came out of the closet," Jeremy replied.
"I don't know. Sometimes I just don't understand the female sex," Kevin said.

A while later, they took out their notebook computers and logged into their favorite gaming venue. The waitress ignored them, as it was a slow day and they were in a quiet part of the restaurant.

The box with Jeremy's winter pants arrived the next Thursday. They were just like his old pants, and only one pair was missing a button on a back pocket. He tried them on and they fit. It was almost as good as if the pants were from his mother.

The next day was cold, and Jeremy wore one of the wool pairs. He arrived early at the office, as he always did, before anyone else. He sat in his office, turned on his machine, and got to work. Mid-morning, though, the persistent pain in his calf from the previous week came back. Jeremy massaged his leg and looked at the bump, which had grown bigger.

Dave came in around lunchtime and asked if Jeremy wanted a grinder. Jeremy said "no thanks" since he was going to go out for a walk. Later, he did just that, but the pain lingered.

Jeremy took the pants off when he got home, but the hurt in his leg did not cease until he woke up the next day. He tried wearing another pair of the secondhand pants, and again his leg throbbed by mid-morning. Infuriated, Jeremy threw all his new secondhand pants in a box when he got home, and he decided to wear summer pants the next day.

Some weeks later Jeremy and Kevin met at the fish and chips restaurant once more. After the usual pleasantries were finished Jeremy said, "I never thought it would be this hard to find the pants my mom used to buy for me. It took me an hour to find them, and then I only found them secondhand."
"Where'd your mom used to buy them?"
"I don't know, but I got this pain right here in my leg when I was ordering this stuff online. And there's this bump." He pulled up his pant leg to show Kevin, and continued, "Then the pain went away, and when I got the pants and wore them it started to hurt again."
Kevin laughed. "You really lack any experience points."
"There was a letter sent to every state resident. The State Committee on Economic Stimulation added a lot of new consumer spending regulations, including some for secondhand goods. Countless stores and online venues have been closed. The police can even arrest people having a garage sale."

Jeremy remarked, "I always try to follow all the stipulations set out by the Committee on Economic Stimulation. I own a house commensurate with my income, I drive a car that requires monthly repairs, I spend a certain amount each year on leisure products, but I never saw any specifications like this."
"Yes," Kevin replied, "The matter is so serious that violators will receive remotely-delivered corporal punishment. Private spaces and retail locations are even being monitored."
"Didn't they already have enough ordinances?"
"Well, apparently secondhand purchases were so detrimental to the cycle of consumption they bankrupted the entire state. Then the Committee on Economic Stimulation began to condemn this kind of trading as sinful, degenerate, and counter to economic interest," Kevin explained.
"My real estate taxes are already half my paycheck," Jeremy complained. "And I just couldn't find any place selling new pants from this brand. And all the other pants I saw were summer pants or they had some cheesy fashion that made them impractical."
Kevin laughed, "The most recent ordinance now requires all men over the age of 18 who are fit for work to spend at least a third of their income each month in the consumption of clothing, appropriate household goods, and disposable leisure products. Town agents and private-interest data collectors are monitoring all citizens to enforce these regulations."

At home Jeremy shivered that night. The cold air got in from somewhere, even though he had the house energy audited last year. It was an old house that he owned, though it had a modern heating system. Jeremy checked the thermostat and saw that the temperature was not as cold as it seemed. Maybe he was just cold. He hated to turn on the heat, because he kept thinking about his gas bill the previous winter. Jeremy got out the new space heater that he bought at an end-of-the-season sale the year before. He took it out of the box, put it on the floor near his desk and plugged it in. This should certainly save on heating the entire house this year.

Usually this late in the day Jeremy enjoyed gaming, but his conversation with Kevin kept surfacing in his mind. He wondered how he could find more pants like the ones he used to wear. Opening a file for work, he began coding. An hour later Jeremy stood up to stretch, and he found that his entire body felt numb. Minutes passed before he was able to move his feet and then his arms. Finally, he stood up by leaning on the desk. In a few minutes everything was fine, except for a throbbing lump that remained on his foot. He turned off the space heater and went out to the garage to check if the gas deliveryman had come.

That night Jeremy set the space heater on his bedside table where it could shed some heat on the bed. Later, awaking in the dark, Jeremy attempted to get up. His extremities tingled, but it took a long time to shift his inert form into an upright position. He powered off the space heater and checked the most recent list of consumer spending regulations from the Committee on Economic Stimulation. There was nothing about heaters.

One weekend Jeremy and Kevin met for a gaming convention. It was snowing a lot. Kevin pulled into the driveway and honked, and after Jeremy did not appear Kevin came into the open garage. In the breezeway out to the garage he found Jeremy pulling on a pair of basketball sneakers. The soles had fallen off the last pair of winter boots from his mother when Jeremy had tried to put them on. Jeremy had on a pair of his summer pants, and although the frigid air nipped at his legs, he was happy he had returned the secondhand pants.
"Do you think we should still go?" Jeremy wondered.
"The forecast says it should clear up by this afternoon, and the driving is not so bad out once you're on the highway," Kevin replied.

On the way out through the garage, Jeremy asked, "Do you want a space heater?"
Kevin raised an eyebrow and said, "Zounds! A space heater! You haven't heard? Micro-environment heating devices are now prohibited. And you have to keep your thermostat above the required minimum."
Jeremy replied, "Hey, I checked the most recent consumer requirements update, but I didn't see anything... You know what happened?" He recounted the symptoms when he used it.
Kevin laughed, "Why don't you try leaving that thing at the gaming convention, since it's in the next state."

They went outside and got in the car, taking the space heater with them. Kevin turned on the engine, but nothing happened. Jeremy scrolled on his phone through the list of spending requirements. "You know, Kevin," he said, "I think your air freshener is the problem. There is a prohibition against mint air fresheners." Jeremy pointed to a cardboard tree hanging from the rear-view mirror.
"When did they add that stipulation?" Kevin asked.
"I don't know, but it's right here," Jeremy replied.
Kevin's phone rang. It was his sister. "Yeah, we planned to go to the game con today, but the car is totally dead. Apparently there is a new regulation against mint air fresheners. This has just gone too far. How am I supposed to keep track of all these stupid requirements?" He paused and listened. "What? It's not a real regulation?... Someone hacked the site!... but what about my car then?" After pausing again, he said, "Whatever. So you can really come and take us to the game con?"

A half hour later Kevin's sister drove up a dirty white two-door sedan. Kevin and Jeremy shuffled through the snow and got in with a gust of snow.
Kevin's sister said, "How's it going, Jeremy, I brought you some of your favorite pants." She handed him a cardboard box.
He opened it, saw his favorite pants, and exclaimed, "Where did you find these!"
"Kevin and I just looked up the company, and it was right there," she replied.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Sure," she answered.
"Aren't you cold wearing only that?" he asked.
"No, not at all," replied Kevin's sister who was wearing her chainmail bikini. And she really was not.

© Julie McSmith December 2015
t_visco at

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