When I was a senior in high school, some friends convinced me to play football. I hadn’t played since the sixth grade, having committed to only playing football of the flag variety after encountering too many 12-year-olds half my height but desperate for an impact I had no desire to receive. Nevertheless, against my better judgment, I was talked into joining the team my last year of high school. The same kids from six years prior growled at me again on the other side of the ball, only now with facial hair protruding out of their chin straps and a hundred or so more pounds of body mass. They were scruffy, foaming balls of potential energy eager to smash against any lanky sap such as myself, too slow to play wide receiver and therefore doomed to a season on the offensive line.
I was miserable every second. I was not fast enough, strong enough, or committed enough to try to stop any of these miscreants hellbent on sacking the quarterback, so I mostly feigned an effort and let them pass on by. I remember one game, after the outside linebacker had blitzed for the umpteenth time, the QB turned to me and said, “You got to stop that guy. He’s killing me.” I just shrugged. Our QB, realizing what lay ahead for the rest of the evening, simply put his head down and nodded, steeling himself for another wallop.
I recall during practice the following week, our coach stopped play and started yelling at me, trying to light a fire under my ass and maybe get me to block someone for once. “Jesus, Webster! You can split a fricken atom but you can’t figure out you’re supposed to block the defensive end on that play?” I simply shrugged again – I was a much better shrugger than blocker – and watched as the coach put his head down and nodded, steeling himself for another loss that week.
Futile as it was, that football coach’s expression rings in my head whenever I struggle to do something that seems effortless for other people. Or to not do something. For example, I have come to believe that most people, geniuses and non-geniuses alike, don’t rip a pair of pants every few months.
I’m sure I’ve had a pants ripping problem most of my life, but it really became noticeable once I started a professional career that necessitated me wearing a suit every day.
The problem started with office chairs. Or, more accurately, it started with me trying to sit in said office chairs. I would come back from court and plop down at my desk, only to catch my front pocket on the armrest on the way down. My butt would continue on its path to the chair while the pocket stayed behind to enjoy the view from a slightly higher elevation. The first time, the rip was so long that I couldn’t simply cover it with a jacket. I had to staple the pants together, then head over to Target to find some pants that could get me through the rest of the day. I came back to the office with the closest size and color I could find, which kind of resembled deep purple capris on my frame.
After that, I learned my lesson. Not a lesson about how to avoid splitting my pants, mind you. Just a lesson to have a spare pair in the office for such emergencies. And the spare pants were used more often than I’d like to admit. There were more armrest mishaps.
There were times I would bend down for a file and hear that awful tearing sound. I’d act cool and waddle back to my office to begin the inspection.
Sometimes it would just be a small tear near the back pocket, where I carried my wallet. For that reason, and that reason alone, I stopped carrying giant wads of $100 bills in my back pocket. Now I keep them in a fanny pack, like a true G.
Once, when I was in trial, I sat down and felt a refreshing breeze where none should have been. I tried to act unperturbed until we adjourned for lunch, though I wondered what sort of view the judge and court reporter might encounter should they happen to glance under counsel’s table. I didn’t see either of their faces turn ashen or beet red, so I figure they must not have noticed. Either that, or they’ve developed good poker faces after enough years in a courtroom.
Sometimes, the pants don’t even make it out of the front door. I’ll be sitting on the bed and will lift a leg to tie a shoe, only to feel my pants sua sponte turn to cut-offs on one side.
It isn’t just at work when this misfortune happens, either. Once, at a friend’s wedding reception, I was busting a move, my choreography naturally influenced by the dance scene in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze (featuring Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap,” aka, the greatest made-for-film song of all-time). On a squat, I suddenly felt the middle of my pants tear from top to bottom, like the curtain of the temple at the hour of Jesus’ death. The sacred and the profane briefly united while I finished out the routine.
This past week, I was outside doing yard work and stepped back down off a retaining wall. A loud crack of thunder echoed across the neighborhood, and I looked down to see my pants torn nearly in two. Sheepishly, I walked past my visiting mother-in-law on my way to my bedroom. She saw me grabbing my shorts and asked what happened. At first, she thought I said that I had pissed my pants, not split them, which might have been more embarrassing but at least I could have cleaned them and worn them again.
Now, a self-aware person who regularly encounters this problem must accept that one of two things is true: either I am a little overweight and need to get pants that fit my actual (rather than my desired) size, or I am the Incredible Hulk. After all, this phenomenon doesn’t happen with such frequency to normal people, as far as I can tell.
I have considered those two possibilities at length and have accepted reality. As my old football coach pointed out, I’m no dummy (though, in truth, I am far better at splitting pants than I am at splitting atoms). So, these days, I order plenty of backup pants when I get a new suit. Because it’s important to have a spare pair of pants for the next time I Hulk out.
Oh my Lord, Caleb. I missed this when you first posted it, and don’t ask me why I went back and read it tonight (actually, it’s because I’m emailing with a friend who’s grieving and I was reminded of something you’d written and wanted to read it again, and stumbled across this in the process), but anyway, this is hilarious. I just laughed out loud at my kitchen table.
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