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Cover image: ‘A Christmas Carol’, 2009, directed by Robert Zemeckis. 

All of this fall people have asked me why I looked like I do, so let me explain.

My two youngest daughters wanted to try out for the local production of A Christmas Carol, so I joined them for some father-daughter time. We filled out the audition papers, and one question asked what part we would consider playing. I put that I would be happy with no part at all and could just work on my next book while I waited for my daughters. But, I wrote, if they had a small part that needed to be filled, I would help out.

They asked me to read the part for Scrooge, and I did. Later that evening they called and asked me to come for callbacks. I did, and the next day I received an email asking me to take that part.

I had to consider it for a while. I had just had knee replacement surgery, and besides spending lots of time in therapy, I was still in a lot of pain. Also, I had extra work at the university and was also trying to prepare my next book for publication. As I took the few days allotted for me to respond, one of the people in charge said they hoped I would take the part because Scrooge needed to be mean, and I was the only one who acted mean enough. I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not, but I did decide to take the part.

Once I had accepted, I was asked if I could grow mutton chops for it. For those who don’t know, chops are long sideburns to the chin. Because I work at a religious university with a dress and grooming code in which chops are not allowed, it took a little time to get permission. But within two weeks, the chops had come in thick, I felt that I already looked really stupid, and I still had months to go.

I teach music to the children at the church I attend, and they hadn’t seen me for those two weeks, so they were curious as to why I looked like I did. “Well,” I joked, “I am in a play, and back in that time period, men would compete to see how ugly they could get.”

One darling little four-year-old excitedly worked to get my attention. When I called on her, she spoke enthusiastically. “You are doing a good job. I think you’re going to win.”

My students at the college started calling me Wolverine, and I didn’t even know what that meant until one of them brought me a picture from X-Men.

One Sunday afternoon I lay down for a nap. In the middle of it, a fly landed on my newly grown whiskers. In my sleep, I reached up to swat it away. In doing so my hand brushed my new facial hair, and, in my sleepy state, I thought some kind of caterpillar was crawling on my face. I grabbed it and pulled, and the pain brought me completely out of my sleep.

When my daughter and her children came to visit from California, my three-year-old grandson looked at me and said, “Grandpa, you look . . . ” He paused, so I filled in.


He nodded. “Yeah.”

When my twenty-two-year-old son came home from college for Thanksgiving, he looked at me and just started laughing, unable to talk. People that I know and say hi to just stare at me. Others, knowing where I work, ask if I have retired. Seriously, I’m not that old.

And today, I went to pick up my daughter. She was at an after-school activity. I parked the van and went in to tell her I was ready to go home. I finally found a group in the cafeteria that looked like it might be hers. As I approached them, one girl in the group turned and stared at me. She then turned back to the others and whispered, “Don’t look now, but there is a really creepy guy here.” My daughter poked her head up above the group, saw me, and called out, “Hi, Dad.”

But I’m a grown man, so why would looking like this bother me? I mean, I only have thirteen days, five hours, and twenty minutes until the end of the last performance when I can shave my chops off, but who’s counting?