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  • When Harry Potter hit the scene, kids noticed my scar.

    Mr Ben you have a lightening scar too.

    I grinned. It’s not a lightening scar, I told them. It’s a stupidity scar.

    We moved off the island in 1988 when Carly was 3 to a winter of exile in the suburbs outside Philadelphia. I got a job in the first place I walked into. A surveying outfit doing development, construction and property surveys.

    The boss, buried behind a scarred oak desk heaped with rolled plans, asked if I knew any math.

    I had a year of calculus that hadn’t stuck so I only half lied.

    I started the next day.

    The guys loved to tell me that surveying is the second oldest profession.

    We were the guys people hated to see in their neighbourhoods. We were change agents and when we piled out of the battered van the office provided, set up the instrument, located and tagged property markers with fluorescent pink plastic tape, and painted cryptic numbers on the pavement everyone knew development was imminent. Mostly neighbours gave us a wide berth. We were a rough crew and even though the head office told us not to bring out the machetes in suburban areas, we just couldn’t resist using them to trim a bush here and there.

    Pete and I got sent one grey winter day to set monuments in a new subdivision. A lot of property corners are marked with iron rods pounded into the ground and adjusted to the 100th of an inch by bashing the ground next to it with a sledge hammer. A monument is a 3-foot concrete cone. It is a more permanent marker set in a mathematically exact location. To set a monument you have to dig a precise hole three feet deep.

    We were armed with a digging bar and a shovel. The digging bar is a 5 foot iron rod with a wedge at one end. It weighs about 30 pounds.

    We had a stack of about 30 monuments in the van and a production quota from the boss.

    About a foot down the frozen, sticky, red clay turned to shale.

    Lift the bar up. Bring ‘er down. Chip by chip we carved the holes, set the monuments, moved down the block. Lift the bar up. Bring ‘er down.

    Over and over.

    By 3:30 it was getting dim. My back ached, my shoulders ached worse, my hands ached the worst.

    My feet, when I thought that far down, were froze.

    I wondered how deep the hole was getting.

    I leaned over to look down the hole.

    Thing of it was I hadn’t stopped digging. While my head leaned over the hole, my hands brought the bar up.

    Slap bang into the center of my forehead. I knocked myself back and down and out.

    I looked up. Blinked a few times and wondered what Pete was saying and why he was so far above me.

    When you want to see how deep you’ve dug, it’s a good idea to stop digging first, I tell the kids.
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