To the Creator at Fantasy Planet Inc.,
Last night I found myself in possession of your peach-flavored Edible Panties, retailing for $9.99 plus tax at my local purveyor. With advance apologies for my presumption, I’m writing to offer you advice.
My quarrel is with the generic name, Edible Panties, which leads one to believe that edibility is their chief selling point. It is certainly what distinguishes them from ordinary panties (or, as I suppose you would call them, inedible panties). But you don’t ever call something that’s delicious merely edible. The word edible expresses what is possible, not what is desirable. Though I see that calling them Delicious Panties might be a little much for the newcomer.
The flavor and texture are perhaps best off downplayed. I had expected, perhaps unfairly, something closer to the Fruit Roll-Up — a thin, conformable gossamer. To be frank — I have just now taken another exhausting bite to confirm this — it’s like chewing a boot insole flavored with hand soap. It’s about a centimeter thick and tough as vinyl, and the impasto of granulated sugar adds an abrasiveness that delights neither tongue nor loin. I have no idea how it would be eaten while worn, and anyway, I do not believe teeth should be involved here.
So they fail both as garment and as confection. But I believe the opportunity exists here to loose yourself from these invidious comparisons. With a more willful command of the word, you can alter our relation to the world. The hybrid will give way to the pure thing-in-itself.
The next step would be to surrender the word panties, which for most people has the same effect as the word moist (and unfortunately moist is so often found in the company of panties). But I understand, too, that the alternatives are scant. I disdain “undies.” I like the sound of “culottes,” but not its aristocratic overtones. Briefs, bloomers, drawers, knickers, chaps — each tells us something of their hidden plural nature. But none quite get it right.
With more apologies for my pedantry: I wonder if you are aware of the story of “panties”? I mean the word itself, which derives from pants, which comes from pantaloons, a style of trousers worn, as we all know, by Venetian character of Pantalone in the commedia dell’arte. Venetians being, of course, closely identified with Saint Pantaleon, or “The Lion-Planter,” a divine healer who preached faith as medicine, whose name is invoked against headaches, locusts, and loneliness. So the eating of panties should not be, as your marketing copy suggests, “fun, sweet, and sexy”; paying respect to its origins, it is properly understood as sacramental, and to treat it frivolously is to sneer at the foundations of the West.
Not that I am accusing you of thoughtlessness. The aura of collective labor and the social contract wafts from the artifact as I hold it. Your offices are based in Escondido, CA. The product was manufactured in Indonesia, and your parent company is in the Netherlands. The whole world has had a hand in these panties. And to the world they return: the box and plastic sleeve are recyclable, everything else edible. To satisfy the vulgar regulations that would deem your work as food, you’ve provided the white rectangle of Nutrition Facts, from which I learned that the serving size of edible panties is one pair, that they are vegetarian (much appreciated), but that I’d need to eat 14 to get my daily protein. I also noticed that you offer a 60-day warranty; for this I suppose you have your reasons.
With all these rigors surmounted, why, in our richest of all possible languages, be satisfied with Edible Panties? An internet search tells me that there are 249 synonyms for panties — and one ANTONYM! What could the opposite of panties be? I click, and the antonym is… “diffuse”? Alas: it is an indexing error. I’m transfixed with disappointment. And that is why we cannot entrust the labor of naming to the barren circuit. Only the heart knows the opposite of panties.
Such is my point. Life today, in its ethereal wirelessness, is all about the false bespoke. A custom t-shirt designed online and worn at therapy. A cartoon watermelon slice superimposed onto headless cleavage. Ours is an age of calories, clicks, and capital. Where the soul must thrust its tender shoots through the infinitesimal gaps between numbers. It can only be a cruel irony that the crimson-clad Pantalone, with a bulging coin purse as his codpiece, stood for thwarted lust and money.
Without succumbing to mysticism, I believe everything contains everything, and that the smallest crystal or droplet of dew refracts the whole universe. A pair of edible panties is no less a statement on what it means to be sentient, and on what is necessary and true and lovely, than a piano étude or a baseball bat. No matter how modest its purpose, it deserves the honor of a name that pays full respect to Western thought and history, while preserving the ribald humor that will hopefully draw in curious freethinkers. The name I offer to you is FUNDAMENTS.
Finally, here is my attempt at a statement, which you are welcome to use as advertising copy, and to (lightly!) edit:
Forged at the intersection of the sartorial and the nutritional, yet neither skivvy nor vittle, this garment arrives as the negative silhouette of an absent Other, speedily transubstantiated into an immanent and numinous Thou. Consume not; rather, commune.
This could perhaps be followed by Exodus 28:42 or Revelation 3:18, which could not fail to provoke a grin from any shopper with a solid scriptural background.
A parting note. It should be clear that the foregoing letter was not an opening salvo in some nefarious role play. The erotic dimensions of the product, I’m sure you will agree, are by far their least interesting quality. Like “the lean and slippered Pantaloon” (As You Like It 2.7.161), in his sixth age, I am fifty-seven and single; unlike him, I am celibate by choice; I don’t care if you believe that it is by choice; my point is I am not a slobbering degenerate. Who am I? I am someone who cares about what words mean, and believes they always mean what they have meant. I am,
Yours in Enlightenment,
An amateur linguist, a bewildered humanist, an anachronism, and an American. ●
Note: This piece was originally written for and performed at Symphony Space's Selected Shorts: Flash Fiction event in partnership with BuzzFeed Books.
Tony Tulathimutte’s novel Private Citizens was called “the first great millennial novel” by New York Magazine. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has written for The New York Times, VICE, WIRED, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, N+1, Playboy, The Paris Review, and others. He has received a Whiting Award, O. Henry Award, and MacDowell Fellowship, and appeared as a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers. You can apply here for his writing class in Brooklyn, CRIT.
To learn more about Private Citizens, click here.