ANT FIGHT 2017, PART 2

May 3rd, 2017

I was at the dentist, fantasizing about my ant problem, also possibly on a stronger-than-usual anesthetic, when I finally came up with a solution for the pavement ant infestation. The kids and I had been talking about Eragon or one of the other books in the Inheritance Cycle by my good pal Christopher Paolini, and realized he could probably help me. So I called him:

Me: “Hello . . .Chris?”

CP: “Yes?”

“This is Ben.”

CP: “Who?”

Me: “Your friend, Ben Hewett.  Soon-to-be-famous author.”

CP: “Uh . . . how did you get this number?”

Me: “Your agent. Listen, I just need a little help. Shouldn’t take long.”

CP: “Er. . . okay. Anything to give a fellow author a boost, I guess.”

Me: “Actually, the writing’s going fine, thanks. I just need help killing ants.”

CP: “Wait. . .Who is this?”

Me: “Ben Hewett. And it’s not unrelated. It’s hard to write when the ants go marching across your fingertips. While you’re typing.”

CP: “Listen man, you’re a writer. Write a  letter to your HOA. They’re responsible for animals that enter your home from the exterior.

Me: “Um. Yeah. How’d that HOA letter thingy work for Thorin Oakenshield?”

[Awkward silence.]

CP: “More like, ‘How did it work for Smaug…’ ”

Me: “Of course you’d side with Smaug.”

[Even more awkward silence.]

Me:  “Listen, Chris. What I really need—besides your endorsement on my next book—is for you to send Eragon over to my house real quick. He can just sort of… you know… do that thing he did in Eldest.  It seemed like a pretty weak plot device at the time, but this idea of sucking the life-force straight outta the entire ant colony has really grown on me in the last few weeks.

CP: “Eragon isn’t like that anymore. He carefully considers the impact of each action and . . .”

Me: “This is sort of important. The pavement ants are recolonizing faster than my neighbors and I can poison them. Faster than Galbatorix learning new, obscure languages, actually. Your guy wouldn’t even have to kill that many. Just like. . . eight ant queens. And anyways,  My neighborhood would be more grateful to him than the whole continent of Alagaësia. Remember how much crap he got just for blessing that poor purple girl? Come to think of it, pest control’s a great fallback position for him. It’s safe, fun, and he could definitely minimize the environmental impacts of pesticides like Termidore and Anthrax.”

Click.

Me:  “Um, hello? Chris?”

See what I mean?

Nobody wants to help.

ANT FIGHT 2017, PART 1

January 1st, 2017

 

The rattle and crack of Russian-grade fireworks in the backyard wakes me up.

It takes me a minute to realize the kids are traveling with their mother, and that the detonations are in my neighbor’s yard, not mine.

Ahhh. Good. Not my problem.

I put a pillow over my head.

But it is my problem, because the new neighbors are West Coasters still acclimatizing to the dictates of Central Standard Time.  The detonations continue.

At 2 AM when wake up yet again, I realize that it isn’t just about New Year’s. This is payback. Both to the HOA, and the pavement ants that the HOA has refused to deal with. I say a few hurrahs and stack another pillow on my head. Can’t think of a better use for fireworks.

To understand this attitude, you have to understand pavement ants. They don’t bite, but they’re into everything: crawling across the kitchen counter, drinking from the toilet bowl upstairs, and tripping through my leg hairs while I write this post.

According to the Pest Control guy, our townhomes are parked right on top of a “super colony,”  a quarter-mile, underground ant complex complete with multi-lane traffic signals and 8 different queens, who all argue about whose day it is to wear the pANTs. (Juvenile, I know.)

The Pest Control guy says I’ll need some ANThrax to kill them, but I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, even in Texas.  Termidore is a close second-choice, but Termidore costs more than Anthrax, says the HOA, so they’re not going to spring for it, and their level of engagement only declines from there:

ME: Please? There are, like, a billion ants inside my house.

HOA: “It’s a town home, not an apartment, sucker. Everything inside is your responsibility.”

ME: “Um… but the ants are coming in from the outside.”

HOA: “That’s what you think.”

ME: “No! I’m serious! Here are three videos of them peeking through the windows before they work the latches. It’s really creepy.”

HOA: “Mr. Hewett, please stop trying to give us evidence. We’ve already hired expensive attorneys to help us avoid this responsibility.”

Now you understand why my neighbors have resorted to ant-bombing under the cover of New Year’s.

But this isn’t over.

I once was a 4th Grade teacher.

Shaving Bag on Harry Paper

 

In December 2005, I was teaching 4th grade in Coppell, Texas.

It was a challenging job, and the pay was . . . typical, but I’d made it to my third year, and was really starting to feel the rhythm of the classroom. I remember watching their eyes widen as they grasp concepts for the first time or their tongues stick out as they navigated increasingly complex math problems.

As a teacher, I still had a lot to learn (e.g. the proper execution of a class party), but I always did my best.  It was meaningful work. I had autonomy. And I enjoyed the teacher carpool and our discussions on life and the proper way to motivate tricksy ten-year-olds.

One day we were doing some basic geometry in class and the kids were looking a bit sluggish. So I added facial hair and angry eyebrows to one of the triangles as a reward to the more attentive, fully planning to leave it at that.

Somebody giggled, and suddenly every student was on high alert. Equilaterals are fine and good, but no kid wants to miss a joke.

To build on that success, I adopted a grumpy, sarcastic voice for the rest of the lesson and let Harry the Triangle teach. He was not gentle with the remaining geometries.

I’m not condoning insulting behavior here—insults hurt, whether hurled at a perfectly drawn sphere, or a tall and tan Norwegian isosceles. Instead, I made it abundantly clear that Harry the Triangle was neither role model nor paragon of kindly virtues, and the kids were falling out of their chairs. Laughter crying. Demanding that every math class be taught by Harry.

Math had never been so fun. For me or them. For the rest of the year, they did Harry the Triangle fan-fiction in their notebooks and perked up when math class drew nigh. They even played back that scratchy, sarcastic voice at random, inopportune moments.

Ahhh. The halcyon days of explaining the chorus of scratchy, 10-year-old voices to the school principal. If only my parties had been comparable.

I must have been a special case, because I always had multiple room parents. Shortly before Christmas break, they managed to cut me from my herd.

RPs: “Mr. Hewett, what’s the plan for the holiday party?”

Me: “Uh. . .”

RPs: “Nevermind. You just teach. We’ll handle the details.”

That was the best party my 4th graders ever had. The details are a bit hazy, but there was an abundance of adult supervision, spilled soda cups, and pizza, which was which was still a huge success back then, but you had to wait about 4 hours for it to be hand-molded and delivered on an old Italian bicycle.

And there were teacher-gifts.

Teacher gifts are the second-best thing about being a teacher. Kids are often generous with their favorite teachers, but this year was even more epic. Every kid wanted to thank me for making math less boring. I got beautiful Christmas cards (defaced with hand-drawn images of Harry the Triangle), books for the classroom library, more drawings of Harry the Triangle, gift cards, and chocolate.

And a shaving bag.

—-

Really? Like, for travel?

Like, for carefully gathering and arranging toiletries so you knew you were perfectly packed before going on an actual airplane trip? The kind that helped you ensure your toothbrush, paste, razor, floss, chapstick, deodorant, nail clippers, soap and shampoo were all packed and ready for that big, important business meeting in Detroit? I mean, I knew what it was intellectually, but I didn’t travel. I was a teacher with small kids at home and a single income.

I smiled graciously at the student though. I made sure she knew how much I appreciated her gesture. When her shy smile came out, I relaxed just a hair, glad to see that my bemusement hadn’t shown through. What if you were the only kid to give your teacher something different. . . like a shaving bag . . . and then he didn’t like it?

As a teacher, it is important to be diplomatic.

When I woke up this morning, and grabbed my gear to get ready for a day of panels and networking, I stopped and laughed at my younger self. There it was. The 15-year-old Adidas shaving bag from my outside-the-box thinker.

The shaving bag I thought I didn’t need.

The one I take on every trip.

 

 

-February 15, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Update for Viddy

“I swear I’ve been writing.”
–Benjamin Hewett (or maybe Patrick Rothfuss)

 

Deathly Cold Office Potter Sword (JPEG)

For a long time now I’ve been secretly plotting to culture my kids. It’s a sinister job, but one that parents are obliged to do. Imagine me sitting in a dark, cold basement, dry-washing my hands while scheming up ways to trick them into liking opera music before the age of 40.

Okay, so Houston doesn’t have basements.

Or cold places.*

But I was scheming.

And while I was scheming in my office after normal work hours,  I came across a promising flyer from the Houston Symphony:  “HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN™ IN CONCERT.”

They’ll never know this is culture, I thought.

I prepared carefully. I introduced the topic of attending the symphony nonchalantly at dinner.  When they groaned, I mentioned it was a “Harry Potter 3” concert.  Groans dissipated to mild disinterest. As we talked about  appropriate symphony dress and behavior, they gave appropriately irritated responses, but said nothing truly alarming.

So I purchased “affordable” tickets. We arrived Friday night, dressed to kill, black ties and button ups, or black skirts and high-heels, as appropriate. And the first thing we see getting out of the car? Professor McGonagall. Not making this up. Seems like everyone at the Houston Symphony is in full fantasy getup, except us. My son turns to me and says something like, “Wait, why are we all dressed up, again?”

I’m not complaining. They enjoyed the program and only teased me a little about having left the Draco, Hermione, and Luna costumes at home. We’re getting up to leave, snapping some shots in our overdressed state, and I hear a voice behind me:

“Ben!”
“Viddy!”
“When’s the next book coming out?”

Just like that. Almost no preamble.

Besides hanging out with my kids, that was the highlight of my evening. When a friend I haven’t seen in ages asks me to account for my writing activities and then posts my response on Facebook to all his friends, that lights a fire.

This post is for you Viddy. I swear I’ve been writing:

Activity Report  Spring/Summer 2018

  • Traveled to France for work. Did off-hours research for Shadowcloaks.
  • Joined a writing group.
  • Retro-outlined Plaguerunners per writing group’s recommendation.
  • Began cutting and restructuring Plaguerunners based on consistent advice from two very talented agents.
  • Finished drafting Shadowcloaks.
  • Finished second draft of Shadowcloaks. (Almost.)
  • Wrote statement of work  and bid out cover and concept art.
  • Visited family and friends in Seattle and Utah. Worked more on Shadowcloaks.
  • All this time, I’ve been getting better. I think you’re going to like the results. #December2018

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*My office in Houston  is cold. Deathly cold. Deathly Hallows cold. (Remember that part where Harry’s trapped under the ice in nothing but his boxer shorts?) That cold. In fact, to celebrate the similarities, I’ll ship my personal copy of RINGS–complete with marginal notations and edits–to the person who posts the best caption for the photo above in the comments. There may also be consolation prizes. Let the contest begin!

 

Miranda Rights for Parents

Olivia 24-7 Amalgam.jpg

“Anything you read can and will be used against you.”
-Any seasoned parent.

It’s been a while since I had a four-year-old at the house. It’s been a while since I walked into a room and felt the punch-gut fear that comes from seeing your oldest make a speedy get-away, smelling of smoke and clad in nothing but whitie-tighties and a cloak of guilt. It’s been a long time since I’ve pulled a smoking pillow or pink blankie from the top of a halogen lamp.

But I still remember the good old days, when the light was hazardous but the books were not.

Now, my kids are reading things they shouldn’t. The bills and alumni magazines piled on my kitchen counter. The books hidden in my closet. Or—most infamously—the copy of How To Negotiate With Kids left carelessly at the top of the bookshelf.

I suspect they’re skillfully applying these things against me, but since I haven’t read the source material, I can’t be sure. And all this mature content just falls from their hands into a giant, ever-growing pile of slush I’d love to read but can’t.

As a dutiful father, I’ve tried to provide kid-appropriate reading alternatives: Alcatraz versus The Evil Librarians, The Hobbit, and Calvin and Hobbes (sigh). But in spite of my redoubled efforts, they still manage to find the dangerous stuff.  For example, the other day I caught my youngest  reading Safety 24/7.

I’m told that kids like to try out adult stuff sometimes. “Don’t worry about it,” the experts say. “It’s part of growing up.”

Really? Safety primers for heavy industry?

And my nine-year-old daughter didn’t  “get bored and put it down.” Does this make anyone else uneasy? When a fourth grader can read and take pleasure in standard-fare management lit, shouldn’t we worry about the intelligence of the American management community? (Or maybe we just need to add more trendy business words to keep kids confused.)

She was still reading Safety 24/7 the next day. I know because she was walking around the house making annoying safety comments. In other words, I basically got to read Safety 24/7 twice, because I’d already read it for work. And I hate doing work twice.

When I took my kids in for an annual doctor’s check-up, the nine-year-old brought Safety 24/7 along for the waiting room. She was already on page 60.

Me: “I didn’t realize you liked that book so much.”

Daughter: “Daa-aad!”

M: “Seriously.  You haven’t given up yet. You must be learning something.”

D: “I liked how Kurt got the painter on the ladder to be more safe without saying something that would make the painter mad.”

M: “Anything else?”

D: “I liked how he got people to use the word ‘incident’ instead of ‘accident.’ That way they remembered to have responsibility.”

In this moment I realized we could have our own little safety teaching moment. I pointed to her bare—I blame California—feet.

M: “What about you? Do you know the risks of going barefoot into the
doctor’s office?

D, grinning: “There’s  always more risk this way, but I can mitigate some of
that risk by my increased awareness of the problem.”

Her words, not mine. I should probably be a little more careful about what books I leave lying around.

 

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Three Hawk Aerial Combat

Dropped the kids off at their mom’s tonight. Was sitting with her and our daughter in my Toyota Sienna, doing the usual co-parent scheduling, windows open, because it didn’t feel like Houston in June.

And the hawks started screeching.

I stuck my head out the window and looked up to see three hawks wheeling, cursing each other. Down came something fresh, like two golf balls spinning on an axis, a bloody mess of feathers and meat.

Glad it hit the grass and not the pavement. . .

And then this hungry beauty was there, closing one claw around the kill, balancing awkwardly on her other foot. I say “her,” but I don’t actually know.

She spread her wings almost immediately to shield the kill (or steal?) from prying eyes.

“Nothing to see here folks.”

I took a picture anyways, my 11-year-old passing me a phone as quick as you can say “raptor.”

“Dad!”

Hawk

And then it was gone, friends in hot pursuit.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. About a year ago another bird dropped a one pound mullet (fish) in my lap. The mullet was still alive after falling a hundred feet or more, but the seagulls weren’t as gutsy as this hawk, or maybe they figured we’d cook it up ourselves.

Instead, we put the it back in the water. . . It didn’t float, but it didn’t exactly swim either. Oh well.

It’s a beautiful—and sometimes weird—world we live in.

 

Closet Secrets.

Closet Schlock.jpg

My son found them in my closet, stashed  behind my least favorite dress shirts.

I knew, because I caught him trying to sneak them out.

“Those are mine,” I said.
“I just want to read them.”
“I know. That’s why I hid them in my closet.”

This is the kid who—as a six-year-old—singlehandedly  loved my entire Calvin and Hobbes collection into oblivion. There’s a reason six-year-olds aren’t supposed to be good readers.  The parts of the books that  eventually made it back to the bookshelf were only spared the rubbish pile because I couldn’t afford to replace them, and because a house without a Calvin and Hobbes book (or scrap pile, as case may be) is a house not worth living in.

So it was normal for me to hide my newly-purchased Schlock Mercenary books in the master closet. A guy should be able to read a book at least once before the cover falls off. And my plan would have worked if the meddling kid hadn’t noticed the mailer-receipt I’d carelessly abandoned on the kitchen counter. After the hunt began,  no room was sacred.

I’m not a big connoisseur of comics, but this one has stuck with me.  I’ve followed the online iteration for several years now. Schlock Mercenary delivers a sci-fi punch line in every strip, and it’s written and drawn by one of the smartest people I know.  And I work at NASA.

Incidentally, I got to sit with Howard Tayler  and his chief of staff Sandra for an hour at LTUE in February and plug them about the do’s and don’ts of quitting your day job. They gave me some good advice, signed the previously-mentioned closet copies, and told me random stories about bog butter and what it takes to maintain the creative genius under duress.

Interviewing Howard and Sandra Tayler was definitely in my top three for the LTUE conference. (Getting there  in a Dodge Mkmsdmmhgmmhmr  ranks fourth.)

So there’s the setup.  I have a box of funny books in my closet from a funny cartoonist. I also now have a funny thirteen-year-old in my closet reading through the 700+ page collection because I told him the books don’t leave my closet until I’ve read them all. And while I still have a full-time job, he only leaves the closet to forage for Cheez-Its.

If you like medium-hard  (yes, I made that up) science fiction / space opera humor, check out Schlock Mercenary. The early cartoon drawings are “rudimentary,” Howard insists, but that makes them even funnier in my opinion, because I’m super mature.

I’m also super glad Howard quit his day job.

–Ben

Howard and Sandra Tayler1

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Anecdote: Sports Car

Hemi Ben.JPG

Enterprise Car Rental
Salt Lake City
9:37 PM

Oh. You.” her eyes say as she looks me over carelessly.  “Go stand over there.”

For a moment, I wonder if she’s going to do me like airport security, who didn’t actually frisk me, but made me feel naked just the same. Makes a guy want  another layer of protection for his next flight , like maybe some stretchy pants.

And the stretchy would double-up for warmth.  It’s like -40 degrees in SLC,  and I’m layered to the gills and still freezing.

My body’s gone soft, because there’s no such thing as winter in Houston, and now I’m in the middle of the Rocky Mountains with an improvised winter ensemble.

Dang it! Where is the Enterprise Attendant? She’s been gone for two minutes, and the people standing in the line behind me are all getting in their cars and driving away. They probably pulled  me from the line because I rented  the cheapest compact car available, and because I also fantasized about renting from Alamo.  And because I’m attending a writing conference instead of writing my next book.

And then she’s appears out of nowhere like some parking  garage opera phantom, scaring the imaginary stretchy pants off me and waving a pair of key fobs in my face. “Would you like a Dodge Mkmsdmmhgmmhmr?”

“Pardon?”

“ I got you a free upgrade.”

I still don’t know what she’s talking about, but I like the sound of an upgrade, especially one that’s free.”

“That sounds great! Thanks”

And then she’s gone again, gesturing vaguely into the  parking garage. “It’s just over there . . .”

It takes five minutes to figure out what a Dodge Mkmsdmmhgmmhmr is, because some idiot keeps pressing the unlock button on a black sports car three cars up and to my left, which distracts me from finding my own car. I don’t have time for this. I’ve got another hour to drive, an 8:00 am lecture to deliver to a class of graduate students, and a full day of writing panels to attend and interviews to conduct. I’m tired and I’m cold. In desperation I pop the trunk to my invisible vehicle, since the fob beeper system doesn’t seem to work.

The black V8 Hemi nods at me. “Maybe, ‘upgrade’ wasn’t the right word,” I think to my phantom fairy godmother.

And I can’t stop the wicked grin from spreading all over my face, across my neck, and into my hands and chest and feet. It’s going to be a great weekend.

Hemi 1.JPG

FINISHING THE BOOK: MOTIVATING WITH SMALL MILESTONES

“The days are long but the years are short.” –Gretchen Rubin

Not bragging, but in high school I scored a role as one of the lusty muleteers in The Man of La Mancha. For those of you who know me, this is totally out of character. For those of you who don’t know me . . . er . . . take my word for it. But I was good in auditions. Really good. For every show, I was the guy throwing a kicking-and-screaming Aldonza over his shoulder and hauling her off-stage.  Great fun, discounting make-up and tight pants.

 

Aldonza and Muleteers

(I’m not in this photo.)

 

I have one, not-so-fun memory about that production though. I was supposed to play a song on the lute and sing a solo with it. I had a lute. (Dad.) And a decent voice. (Mom.)

But every time I looked at the sheet music and thought about bar chords, time signatures, and picking, I got intimidated. With two weeks to spare, I confessed to my drama teacher that I wasn’t going to be able to play and sing at the same time. She was mildly disappointed, but shrugged and said we could use the pit orchestra, and that everything would be fine. No big deal.

But that moment stuck with me. It wasn’t talent or time that beat me. It was intimidation. This is a lesson I keep learning—one that keeps coming back for second helpings.

Earlier this year I told a potential agent that I’d have a rewritten novel manuscript to him by mid-March. It’s taken a lot of work to make it this far, and I continue to get positive feedback from other writers and editors, but my confidence went way down every time I looked at the forward work. “I’ll never be able to do all that, let alone before March.” Comparing the few spare hours I have each week for writing with the enormity of project left me emotionally bankrupt. How can I even start on a project that “will never be finished?”

Our brains are wired for quick pay-offs. If you don’t believe it, check out the research by Teresa Amabile of the Harvard Business School, here or here. En bref, the quick reward of finishing something today is more important today than the promised reward of finishing something large and meaningful several weeks down the road. For the less ambitious, Tim Urban does a funny Ted talk about what happens in the mind of a chronic procrastinator.

When I was complaining about my lack of motivation, my wife suggested, “Why don’t you make a paper chain link for every hour’s worth of work you think it will take. Then you can cut off a link every time you do an hour of work and measure your progress?”  I was dubious about the motivational power of paper chains, but with cheap subcontracting (my son), I got a chain suspended in my office in no time. It started at 178 links or 178 hours. A bit of depression sets in when you realize your 10th draft needs more than 40 hours a week for four straight weeks. (Obviously, I’d need more than four weeks to make up the time if I was to keep my regular bread-and-butter job and have a family.) But the kids keep begging to cut links for me, and now I have to scramble to keep up with them.

And the exercise made writing therapeutic again. The project wasn’t Mount McKinley on the horizon anymore. It was 178 day hikes spread out across as many days as needed to do it right. The real value didn’t come from the begging children, as cute as they are. It came from chunking out the work, parsing it into one-hour units. It came from breaking down the problem into constituent, achievable parts and identifying which pieces could be done anywhere with a red pen and a shade tree, and which pieces need two or three quiet hours in front of a computer screen.

Suddenly it was much easier to do a few pages each day, and seeing the redlines materialize on the printed page gave me that small kick of accomplishment I needed to do a little more.

I still haven’t learned to play that Man of La Mancha song on my lute, but I’ve made some serious progress on the manuscript . . .

What are tricks do you use to get motivated on challenging projects?

 

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Anecdote: The Pain of Shaving (Your Legs)

“Legolas! What in Durin’s name am I supposed to do with this thing?”
–Gimli

I need a bigger razor finished

I’ve never liked shaving. It’s too close a compatriot to tender skin and bleeding chin. And now I have another reason to dislike it. . .

Some of you know I like soccer. I play on an Over 30 indoor team and play pick-up on Saturday mornings when I get the chance.  Or perhaps I should say “I played.”

Here’s a bad formula: Uneven Soccer Field +  Trash-talking 36-year-old + Changing Directions = Knee Surgery

One minute you’re an all-star and the next minute you’re flat on your back staring up into the concerned faces of 20 friends, wondering when you got old and what you’ll write about this painful experience. You worry that now you won’t be able to finish your novel by the deadline, and all sorts of other irrelevant things.

Everybody’s milling about, telling you to stay down. The doctor in the group has you by the ankle and calf—you don’t remember him picking your leg up—and is checking to see if everything lines back up. The hot Texas sun is pounding on your face and the St. Augustine grass is stabbing into your bare arms. And there’s the white hot pain of knowing you screwed up.

They help you get to your feet and tell you you’re done for the day, even if you think you can play a little more. After a few steps you realize you’ll at least be able to make it to the car.

It’s hard to know right away just how bad it’s going to be, but after the swelling and the denial wear off and the doctor orders an MRI, things come into focus pretty quick: lateral meniscus, medial meniscus, and anterior cruciate ligament, all blown.

I don’t do things halfway.

Now for the humor. Plenty of things to manage during this whole process: recovery time,  family obligations, writing schedules, and telling my indoor team the bad news. But I didn’t expect hair growth to be one of them. On the morning of the surgery, I’m lying in the hospital bed and a nice girl comes in and wants to see a little leg. The hospital smock isn’t exactly modest, but I pull it up past the knee anyway. Best not to argue with them, not when they’re holding power tools and you’re in a drafty smock and getting an intravenous drip.)

The nice girl shaves my knee bald-baby in less than a minute. She wipes the area down to sterilize. Because my knee feels cold and and naked, she lets me cover it back up. Then the sleepy drugs kick in. I dream about getting wheeled to out to the car and pretending to eat some food.

I wake up a few weeks later in physical therapy doing an excruciating knee bend.

ME: “Where am I?”
DEVIL: “The place where bad little children go.”
ME: “Really? Why?”
DEVIL: “You missed your shot in that soccer game.”
ME: “Ah. Makes perfect sense.”

During that first hour of therapy I re-notice the hair: my right leg is perfectly normal, but there’s a swath of deforestation, ending mid calf where the surgery prepper left off with her power tools. The transition from bare leg to hair is so abrupt that every time I look down I forget about the pain of rehab and wonder what might come crawling out of that jungle and onto the empty plain. It’s seriously distracting. I keep waiting for the therapists to say something, but they never do. They see weird stuff every day, I guess. One more half-shaved leg isn’t going to throw them.

But the naked knee and the Black Forest on half my calf is a problem, even if the physical therapists don’t say anything about it. People in Houston are still wearing shorts in December, and I want to fit in. Every time I go out in public, I know people are staring that that transition line and wondering why I didn’t just shave the whole thing. “Doesn’t he know how bad it looks?”

Don’t laugh.

Eventually, the stares get inside my head. This is not the sort of thing I want attention for. People shave their legs, right? I decide I can make two-equally naked legs and grow it all back the same length. Problem solved.

Smart men consult the internet before taking on a job like that. Smart men start with the hair clippers and then use a razor, if they must. Other men (men like me) just watch their wives surreptitiously and then go for it. It can’t be that hard, right?

Well, first off, twenty years of not shaving your legs can make the first outing a bit rocky. Where did all this hair come from? I can’t even grow a full beard, but one little swipe on my leg is enough to put my Gillette Mach 3 out of action.  I sit in the shower for an hour, wiping the excess off my razor, cursing myself for another dumb idea.

I’ve got golf-ball-sized bare spots all up and down my leg and now the shower is running out of hot water, and everything looks just as hairy as before. I can’t let the hair go down the drain because I’m the one who handles the clogs, and I may have teased my wife a bit about her bathroom sink, so if I clog this one . . .

Then I start to notice how cold the bathroom really is. It may feel like summer outside, but a Texas bathroom always knows it’s winter. The tile is cold. The air is cold. The shower curtain is slimy and cold. The lukewarm water only makes the goose bumps worse.

There’s a writing lesson in this, but I’m going to save it for next week. The important thing? It took me three days to finish. I went as high as men’s 1970s basketball shorts and called it quits.

This is why I will never tear my ACL again.

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