I saw you, shirtless man.
I saw you in the stands, a few rows behind the dugout while a professional athlete pitched. I saw you and I shuddered. I saw you and I giggled. I saw you and I pressed rewind, and on your meaty physique I paused the TV image.
I wondered: What possessed you, shirtless man? What possessed you to remove your garment – the lone barrier between your torso and the rest of the civilized world – during a nationally televised game at Camden Yards? Had your man boobs felt confined – perhaps pent-up or even claustrophobic, as if prisoners of our prudish times – by the shirt that you had selected just hours before your display? Had your “huddled masses” yearned to breathe free, to break the weave of oppression and wobble unfettered near our nation’s Eastern shore? Did you crave the libertarian bliss of defying decorum – of rejecting convention – in proximity to our nation’s capital, or merely enjoy the idea of a stranger gazing downward, into the mysterious recesses of your butt crack, and wondering if you had ever enjoyed the ministrations of a Parisian bidet?
I am curious, shirtless man. Do you find folly in our sartorial attempts at public modesty, the rules of conduct that prevent children and teens from seeing, alas, how our bodies will betray us? Do you consider our dress codes anathema to the conscious liberties enshrined in our founding documents, or do they merely render it more enjoyable when, presumably, you spike the volleyball at your local nudist resort before sitting for sloppy joes?
Shirtless man, I remain intrigued. Was it important that your perspiration, rather than collect in orthodox patches in the conformist fabric of our oppressors, ooze down the contours of your dude bosom before gathering in sovereign droplets on your rebellious belly hairs? Were you a conscientious objector to the status quo, a civilly disobedient activist whose breasts would stand – or, rather, droop – as symbols of self-determination, or was it important simply that a national audience register educated guesses as to your cup size, were you to do the humane thing and wear an underwire bra?
Shirtless man, my questions beg for answers. Did you smile inwardly, or even laugh outwardly, when considering that a stranger might be playing tic-tac-toe, whether he wants to or not, with the constellation of moles on your doublewide back? Did you nod with satisfaction when concluding that he had spent the better part of three innings speculating as to the tensile strength of that one magnificent mole hair, or, instead, did you sacrifice your pride in service to militant activism? Did you nod contentedly, or even sadistically, in the presumption that your ingrown back hairs, coupled with the inscrutable creases beneath your ponderous shoulder blades, had caused him to lose his appetite and therefore ditch his half-eaten hot dog? Or did you consider him an unfortunate casualty of your challenge to social politesse?
Shirtless man, tell me if I’m misguided. Am I, indeed, on the wrong track? For example: Rather than serve as the twin beacons of your brave demonstration, did your nipples seek a more self-serving end? Had they, for instance, defied the limits of anatomy by developing the ability to see? If so, did they wish to enjoy the nonpartisan beauty of the Pastime, or, rather, did they have a rooting interest in the Orioles, perhaps because “orioles” sounds a lot like “areolas”?
Are you, among all the world’s mammals, alone in the ability to witness athletic contests solely through the paired mammillae on your chest? Or, instead, do you simply hope that we bear witness those same mammillae?
John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.