SINCE I WAS GOING TO the hardware store to buy some house paint and brushes, my wife asked me to pick up a bag of manure for our plants. A half hour later, I was standing in line in the gardening department with manure on my hands. Farmers must have this problem all the time, I told myself, working in the fields without a sink nearby.

A few feet to my left, a small fountain was on sale. The water came out of little bamboo tubes before trickling down fake rocks. I considered going over for a quick rinse, but it was Mother's Day and I was pretty sure Mother wouldn't have approved. Not that I could put my smelly finger on the reason why. A gentleman, perhaps, isn't supposed to get manure on his hands. But, I would have asked my mother had she been there, what about a gentleman-farmer?

The line I was in didn't move an inch for several minutes because the cashier had left his post. Waiting for him to come back from his price check, cigarette break, or second career as a Fuller Brush salesman, I idly watched the blonde several places in front of me picking up the plants in her cart and inspecting them one by one. Well into her thirties, she wore white capri pants, a sleeveless black top, and platform sandals that made her stand about nine feet tall. With her reddened face and slightly bulging eyes, she looked to be a former fashion model who was still partying like one.

This, anyway, is what I uncharitably thought as I waited to pay for my things. And mine would have remained a passing impression but for what happened next. The blonde giantess bent down to fuss over one of her flowerpots, and by doing so caused the back of her thong to shoot up above the top of her low-slung pants--exposing the triangular interchange where the strings of this undergarment conjoin.

Yawning, I got out of line and headed back into the main part of the store to look for a working cashier and perhaps some water to wash my hands.

The first time one encounters a peeping thong, the effect is, I confess, titillating. The second time surprisingly less so; around the third time, the tawdry display becomes tedious. Also, I am just now realizing that these supposed wardrobe malfunctions aren't malfunctions at all. They are entirely by design, in keeping with the bare-midriff style in which the tops of pants are lowered and the bottoms of shirts are raised.

Thus is the dreary ascendancy of the American bad girl endlessly flaunted. From Monica Lewinsky to Britney Spears to Sex and the City to Victoria's Secret commercials, the feminine half of the species has been turned into a writhing temptress of insatiable desire. The girl next door has been replaced. By the slut next door.

A friend told me the following story. He was in a bar when a fellow customer collapsed. People called for an ambulance. Others nudged forward to see what was going on. Luckily, a medical professional was on hand, a young woman who identified herself as an EMT and said she would try to help. A hush fell over the room as she stood over the collapsed patron and then bent down to get a closer look. At which point ("Boing!" my friend says), the Good Samaritan's thong crept into view for the entire bar to see.

A Virginia legislator recently tried to pass a law that would forbid teenaged boys from walking around with the waists of their jeans hanging down to expose their undershorts. This style supposedly originated in the prisons, where convicts are apparently prohibited from having belts. (I understand no better than the next person how it is that what thuggish law-breakers do with their pants influences what suburban teens do with theirs.)

Now the difficulty has spread to the female population. Women, as they've developed a thing for thongs, have not taken measures to spare the rest of us. Here, too, the sartorial inspiration seems to have come from the wrong side of the tracks; I would guess from strippers. For now I've determined to look the other way, but one of these days I'm going to get fed up, and on that day I'll walk over to the offending woman and stick a folded-up dollar bill in her waistband. My guess is, I won't even be slapped.

--David Skinner

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