The biggest danger we face this July Fourth is not illegal fireworks, not the terrorist threat, but a menace even now confronting us at picnics and in parks across this sweltering city.
The lost boys. Those elusive private parts intent on escaping the confines of men's shorts and going so very public.
Fred Finlay, the unfortunate fellow who lost everything but his cat Twitchy and his sense of humor in the Missionary Ridge fire, is only the most recent fashion victim to present this problem to a widespread audience. But the condition dates back to the days of togas and kilts.
Men, wear proper shorts and underwear -- "if you don't want your ham and eggs hanging out."
That advice comes from Kathy Lee, the intrepid producer of the Lewis & Floorwax show on the Fox radio station. The morning after Finlay let it all hang out -- or some of it, at least -- for a photo that wound up on the cover of the June 24 Rocky Mountain News, Lee was in her car, off to find Finlay and win a bet.
DJs Michael Floorwax and Rick Lewis had insisted that the object at the edge of Finlay's shorts was his right testicle; Lee was sure it was a shadow. And while the entire town -- or close enough -- speculated about the possibilities, bringing out magnifying glasses and trading conspiracy theories, she was determined to uncover the truth.
As it turned out, the toughest part of her mission was the drive. In Durango, she found that people who'd evacuated their homes were registered on a list. That list led Lee right to Finlay, who's camping on the mountain property where he plans to rebuild.
"He had not seen the cover until I showed it to him," Lee says -- and she did so while on the air with Lewis and Floorwax. "He said, 'Those would be my balls. My one ball.'"
The morning Lee found him, Finlay was wearing another pair of shorts -- black ones, this time -- and not much else. "He likes short shorts, I'll tell you that much," she notes. She took another picture of him, this time exposing his left ball. (Twitchy was not in evidence.)
At the same time Finlay was posing for Lee, the News had laid itself wide open with a note from editor/publisher John Temple in that day's edition. Some readers, he said, had gotten the "false impression" that the previous day's cover photo "showed something that clearly didn't belong in a family newspaper, a man's testicle.... The misleading effect was created by a shadow."
That assertion convinced Lewis and Floorwax to call Temple the next morning, so that Finlay -- live from Durango -- could contribute his part to the discussion and tell the newspaper exec that he recognized his ball when he saw it. The initially uptight Temple loosened up during the course of the conversation, even offering fascinating insight into how, when a man is wearing tight jean shorts, it is almost impossible for a testicle to escape.
But apparently the chat inspired something else to break free. Because Temple subsequently decided not only to return the June 24 cover to the News's Web site, but also to include blow-up evidence of the shadow theory -- photos he'd declined to give Lewis and Floorwax.
In his Saturday column, Temple explained the turnaround. People hadn't believed the shadow explanation, he wrote, and one of those people was his own daughter. "The next morning I walked into the office and picked up the phone only to find myself on live radio with Fred and Lewis and Floorwax, two fellows who specialize in raunchy humor," Temple continued. "Now, that's a fun way to start the day. To their credit, even with all the kidding over the photo, they were helping Fred raise money to rebuild, which in the end is what Fred wants to do most. Fred was gracious. I told him what I knew to be the truth, and I apologized to him for the strange sort of attention we had brought him, something he seemed to be taking very goodnaturedly."
And so, for that matter, did Temple -- considering that his newspaper has taken it in the shorts. (The cover photo has been mocked coast to coast, most recently in Tuesday's Washington Post; the bid on ebay.com for an original issue has reached $9.99.) In addition to putting the photos online, Temple added a Web poll where readers can register their own opinion for what may, or may not, be hanging out of Finlay's shorts.
Despite Temple's explanation, by Tuesday afternoon over 40 percent of the voters had opted for the delicately worded "It is his scrotum."
Fred Finlay has become a true poster boy for the fires, putting a face -- and something more -- to the tragedy. Radio fans are helping him rebuild. This week, a fellow is driving up a load of trees; the fire took Finlay's. A group of elderly quilters donated a blanket. "What are eighty-year-old ladies doing listening to Lewis & Floorwax?" Lee muses.
For their part, Lewis and Floorwax still believe the photo showed Fred's ball -- as does Finlay. Lee is standing by her shadow bet. (For the record, Lewis and Floorwax both wear very long shorts, she says.)
But like a good journalist, Lee is basing her opinions on more than one source. "I've seen it many times at a pool," she says of the eggs-sunnyside phenomenon.
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"And I've seen them pop out of denim shorts. What's up with not wearing underwear when you're wearing short shorts? Do you not feel when air is going up your shorts?"
Or when someone's blowing smoke up your ass?
Temple may refuse to recognize it, but tight shorts or no, the boys of summer are on the loose.