The sudden, painful explosion of the ACL in my left knee on Thanksgiving Day, 1983 (see Part I), was a devastating occurrence for a number of reasons. First, it effectively ended, or at least drastically curtailed, a life-long predilection for athletics. Gone was the ability to play football or basketball at any level of competence relative to that of my peers; I simply couldn’t move as fast, and my ability to change direction became comparable to that of the Titanic. My body, once a sleek, twin-engined speedboat (I say this with full confidence, since few of you knew me then), began over the years to slowly add tonnage port, starboard, fore and aft, so that at present I more closely resemble said ill-fated vessel not only in movement but appearance as well. This story would have been tragic enough were it not for my apparent purpose in life as a depository for life’s evacuatory processes. God gave me two knees, with an anterior cruciate ligament in each; life still had opportunity for another squat.
December 15, 1994 dawned cold and bleak. The temperature never passed the lower forties; this was bitter cold by Tucson standards. From the low, dreary skies fell a steady drizzle of rain mixed with intermittent sleet. Normally, my partner and I would gleefully call it a day (upon waking) and stay home, but we had a deadline to meet and a full schedule in the coming days more resistant to movement than a herd of fat, contented cattle.
Cement work in these conditions is slow and tedious; most of our work with concrete and mortar is visible and commands a clean, finished look. In intolerable weather conditions such as the ones we now endured, the curing process moves slower than a broad-butted woman in a Costco aisle at Christmas time. We found ourselves babysitting wet, sagging grout joints that behaved like obnoxious little brats in need of a good smack and brisk shaking. Soon we were soaked to the bone, cold and shivering, and to make matters worse, the fifty-two ounces of coffee I’d consumed to combat the cold now assailed my bladder mercilessly. I had to pee.
Herein lies one of the truly great things about manhood: the world is your urinal. Try and find a man who hasn’t clandestinely marked territory in his own back yard a time or two. There is a certain peace, a sense of order in this otherwise chaotic world when man is free to openly engage creation with his most prized appendage. Still, in a public setting, he must acknowledge a certain need for discretion and decorum, lest he offend those fettered by cultural norms. I went off in search of a discreet location where I could let off a little “steam”, as it were (it was really cold).
I found a deep drainage culvert, perhaps twelve feet deep and lined on both sides with large, smooth river rock. Though no one seemed to be within sight, I felt an unusual shyness and need for stealth (customers tend to be almost universally disapproving of surreptitious tinkling on their properties). I moved carefully down one side of the ditch, walking like a geisha in a tight kimono, until it felt reasonably safe to proceed. It was here that things went tragically, painfully and yet comically wrong.
Things started well enough, with the process beginning in good order and with it the wave of relief and contentment in knowing that pathetically wetting one’s self was still likely years away. I was fully involved, employing said culvert for its intended purpose, when suddenly I lost my footing on the wet stones. I slid helplessly down the embankment; my right leg was caught underneath my body as I went. My knee sounded the alarm that I knew so well – a snapping sound like two people yanking on the wishbone of a California Condor – and then white sheets of pain enveloped my every sense.
It’s interesting how a sense of propriety can rule over even the most dire of situations. As I lay at the bottom of the culvert, covered in my own urine, and that which was most uniquely my own splayed out for all to see (admittedly, “splayed” may be a generous word, for as I mentioned before, it was really cold), I managed to keep my screams of pain between my ears. A more pathetic personal display I could not imagine, and at the time I simply wasn’t willing to let anyone else see it. (Strangely, though, I’m certainly willing to share it with you now).
Now, almost twenty years later, the full result of these two calamitous events may be coming to full bear. My knees bark like a couple of disobedient dogs. Every day I bust a move with the Pants Dance – one leg through, then a terrifying ten second display of teetering, pathetic hopping and silent personal encouragement before the other plops more or less into its appointed hole. Often the team I coach is a girl short in practice and I will “step” in; my girls giggle at my slothfulness and I make light of it, too. The reality comes later, when I mosey around the house like an old, bow-legged camp cook and each step is a reminder that things taken for granted may not always be there for you.