Andrew Birden Credit: Andrew Birden

A few years ago I decided to teach my sons how to stack wood like they really meant to finish the chore.  My offspring had been doing this onerous job for the past few weeks, apparently at the rate of one stick per hour and several restroom breaks every quarter hour. With winter approaching and the leaves preparing for their colorful transformation to mark the end of summer, I knew it was time to get this dang chore finished.

So that Saturday morning I drank my morning coffee, rousted the children out of bed and put them to work stacking wood. Laughing at their groans and complaints, I used my most cheerful voice to tell them, “We are going to stack wood until we are done.”

They were still complaining moments later as I was pulling a hunk of wood out of the woodpile, when, without warning, I pulled my back.

Of course, the phrase, “pulled my back” doesn’t do the experience any justice. What actually seemed to happen was a horde of rampaging Hells Angels riding real hogs (not motorcycles but actual snorting rabid swine with sharpened hooves and barbed wire wrapped in their little curly tails) hurled across my lawn and smashed into my lower back, where they immediately started doing wheelies, burnouts and screaming obscene vulgarities at anyone who happened to be passing by.

I flopped to the ground, crying out as if someone had just dropped a running chainsaw down my shorts.

My wife, observant angel that she is, looked at the love of her life writhing on the ground and screaming like a little girl, and she asked, “Hon, are you OK?”

I heard her question through a mist of pain, and I looked up at her in what I envisioned was the same haunted expression that saints had when they were in the midst of being martyred. “Do I look OK? I hurt my back.”

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The problem, of course, is that the only visible symptom for a hurt back is that the victim is crying out in pain. In my opinion, when you pull a muscle in your back, sirens should go off across the city, flames should shoot out of your butt, and a SWAT team should parachute down into the backyard to set up a perimeter and shoot anyone who doesn’t immediately acknowledge that your pain deserves attention, sympathy and perhaps a visit to the emergency room.

Through the red haze of agony clouding my vision, I thought I saw my oldest son give his brother a knowing look. I saw my youngest gesture at his father collapsed on the ground and then give a nod toward the pile of wood.

If the SWAT team had actually been there, I would have had them tear gas my children.

By the time it was all over, I had managed to crawl to the couch in the living room, the rest of the family had stacked the wood, and I no longer would ever have the moral stature to shame my kids into finishing a chore ever again.