Friday, December 19, 2014

Up on the Rooftop

We didn't put up outdoor Christmas lights this year. (Not that we have ever set up a spectacular winter wonderland in the past; we have always put up a modest string of lights or two just so the neighbors didn't think we were a family of Scrooges.)

Simply put, I looked at the outside of our new house and realized lights could not be put up without climbing up on the roof. Longtime readers will think this is because of my recent ladder incident. Although there may be a smidgeon of truth to that, the real reason was that in my old age, I have become scared of heights.

My 12 year-old self would never have believed this. Although I certainly never did handstands on the edge of tall buildings, heights never bothered me, and I sometimes very much enjoyed them.

Back in the day, my family annually put up a somewhat elaborate display of Christmas decor including lights, wooden reindeer pulling a wooden sleigh carrying a wooden Santa Claus. After getting vandalized one year, we started putting the reindeer and sleigh on the roof as appropriate. Our two story split-level house had a lower roof on one story and a higher roof on the two-story side. Originally we put the reindeer on the lower roof but decided people might miss it if coming down the road from the opposite side. So my brother amazingly convinced my parents that we should put the reindeer on the higher roof.

We set up our ladder on the lower roof only to find it didn't quite reach. I think we were going to try it anyway by climbing up as high as possible, grasping the overhanging ledge with a hand or arm and then pulling the rest of our bodies up. Luckily smarter minds decided we should borrow the neighbor's ladder instead.

Our house also had a basement which actually sat above ground on the side and in the back. This meant a three story drop from the top roof to the concrete driveway. Of course the first thing we did up on the roof was to glance down to appreciate the long drop. Then we sat and took in the panoramic view thinking we could see the entire world. Setting up the reindeer wasn't much fun, but I loved being up on the high roof.

Flash forward thirty years to find myself standing on a ten-foot step ladder getting ready to climb on the roof of my one-story house. From the step-ladder, I would have to throw my body onto the roof while I imagined myself quickly sliding down the slope and down onto the patio below. I stood on the ladder a long time before I finally talked myself into it. I survived and learned that using the step-ladder wasn't so bad.

Ten years after that, we now had an extension ladder which should have made climbing onto the roof even easier. After a big hailstorm, I watched roofers all over the neighborhood practically sprinting up ladders and stepping onto roofs. I decided I could do the same. After chickening out a few times, I climbed up the ladder without thinking and without stopping. I made it to the roof easily.

I spent about an hour cleaning up debris and cutting branches from an overhanging tree. As I cleared the debris, I realized I wouldn't get closer than five or six feet from the edge. The closer I got, a nervousness grew in my stomach. I imagined myself getting dizzy and threw branches from as faraway from the edge as I could.

"This is strange," I thought. "I've never felt like this before. I still remember running around on the top roof of my parent's house never worried about falling."

When I finished I walked back to the ladder and sat down on the roof. I realized I would have to go to the edge to climb down the ladder. I slowly slid down the roof from my sitting position until I rested next to the ladder. I turned and tried to set my left foot on a rung only to push the ladder away. Luckily it didn't fall but that made me sit back down and rethink my predicament.

After a few more failed attempts, I realized the ground was only about ten feet down. A jump wouldn't be so bad. Or better yet, if the gutter could support me, I could just slide down, hold onto the gutter then drop easily to the ground. I seriously contemplated this until I realized the gutter would never support me. Twenty minutes later, probably too tired to care anymore, I finally managed to slowly get my feet on the ladder and climb down.

There are other incidents which make me think I'm scared of heights now, but being afraid to go on the roof has mystified me. Maybe it's just a matter of age perspective:

Twelve-year-old self probably looked down and thought, "If I land just right and drop to the ground like a paratrooper, worst case scenario is a broken arm or leg."

Current self looks down and thinks, "If I fall, best case scenario is a broken arm or leg."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rule 34A: Ladders Can Turn on You

I try to live my life by a few simple rules. For example:

1. The workday ends at 6:00 p.m. unless there's a life and death reason to continue. (Note: this mainly applies to weekends and finishing up household chores and duties)

2. Happy hour starts at 6:00 p.m. (this rule also helps St. Pauli Girl tolerate rule number one)

These are just a couple of examples, but I never know when I'll be adding a new rule.

Our new house has motion detector floodlights in the backyard. We never noticed this until one morning after a vicious thunderstorm, St. Pauli Girl saw the lights flashing like a strobe light on a disco ball.

"The poor dogs probably didn't get any sleep," she said.

"Yeah, well they were probably dancing."

She didn't find that humorous and later that day, I climbed up a ladder to disable the motion detector. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a power switch; instead I set the sensor to its lowest setting and aimed the detector at the wall. Unless we had an earthquake, the lights shouldn't come on again.

A week later, we went to put the dogs outside at about 11:00 p.m. For some reason, the lights were flashing, and no one was dancing. I pulled the ladder from the garage and set it against the house. This was an extension ladder where you could slide part of the ladder higher and some sort of locking mechanism would hold it in place.

I started climbing the ladder then paused to shield my eyes from the blinking floodlights above me. Suddenly, the ladder slid down by one rung. The locking mechanism must have failed. Luckily, I kept my balance and remained standing on the ladder. Then everything seemed to go in slow motion.

The ladder slipped down another rung. I held onto the ladder but this time my left foot got caught between two rungs. A sharp stab of pain shot through my foot. At this point I realized the ladder would continue to collapse rung by rung, so I would have to free myself. Luckily, I noticed I stood only three rungs above the ground. Before the ladder gave way again, I stretched and got my right foot on the ground. This improved my situation, but my left foot remained stuck in the ladder.

I yanked my left leg hoping to pull my foot from the ladder. Instead the entire ladder pulled back from the house toward me. But the top heavy ladder shifted and started falling to the ground left of me, pulling my foot with it. I danced and hopped on one leg toward it as it fell. When it hit the ground, it spun me around, and I fell onto my left arm on the concrete sidewalk. As I lay on the ground cursing and wondering what part of me hurt more, Bonny the dog came over and licked my face in a friendly gesture. Either that or she hoped to eat my dead carcass.

The good news was that my foot was no longer stuck in the ladder. The better news was that my foot no longer hurt or maybe it just didn't hurt in comparison to the pain in my arm. I suffered enough injuries in my youth to realize nothing was broken. I self-diagnosed myself with a bruised elbow and sprained wrist.

After a sleepless night, I spent the next day wondering how cavemen survived. "I could hardly type much less kill a sabre-tooth tiger or even gather nuts and berries," I thought. "Stuff like this must have happened to them all the time."

After six weeks, I'm mostly recovered although I probably couldn't operate a tomahawk right now if I had to. Luckily I'm right-handed. But this incident forced me to add a new rule/caveat to my life:
Nothing good happens that involves a ladder after 11:00 p.m.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Where's Lassie When You Need Her?

As I had mentioned in a previous post, we recently moved again. During the first few weeks in the new house, a multitude of workers came and went fixing this and that or turning on utilities. One day, when I wasn't expecting anyone, I answered the door where an older woman waited.

"Hello," she said, "I'm your new neighbor. Sorry to meet like this, but do you have a grey dog? I just saw a grey dog I hadn't seen before running down the street."

"Oh that's impossible," I said. "He's locked in the fence in the backyard. I'll double check. Thanks for asking."

I walked through the backyard only to find no sign of Bo. I then ran to the front yard and wandered down the street. About three houses down, I saw a grey blur darting through a backyard. Luckily he stopped when I called his name, and I carried him home.

I inspected the backyard and noticed that the fence gates won't close completely unless you turn the handle while closing the gate. Some visiting worker must have left the gate open. From then on, I inspected the gates after workers left.

A couple of weeks later, we acquired a new puppy named Bonny. Her energy overwhelmed all of us including Bo. Bonny definitely believed she had the job of pack leader and couldn't tolerate Bo getting any attention.

One day as dusk fell, I realized I hadn't seen Bo in a while. I walked through the backyard and found no trace of him. I checked the gates, but they were all secure.

"Looks like Bo got out again," I told St. Pauli Girl. "We must have a hole in the fence somewhere."

We wandered through the neighborhood then drove around in the car but could not find him and at that point it would have been difficult to see our grey dog in the dark. I walked with Bonny through the backyard one last time hoping she might provide a clue. But she never left my side, and Bo never responded to my calls. We finally gave up and hoped someone had taken him in for the night.

The next morning I wandered around the yard hoping Bo had come back to the gate. Once again, there was no sign of him. I went out through the garage, ventured down the driveway but came up empty. As I walked up the driveway, I glanced at the well-house in the backyard and noticed a board sticking up out of the roof.

"Oh no!" I thought as I ran to the backyard.

Our well-house is a brick shed built into the side of a hill. The entrance is on top and drops down about eight feet. Unfortunately, the hinges on the door had rusted away, and the opening now was simply a board on top of the hole, and the well inspectors had failed to secure it with the bricks that had been on top.

I ran to the top of the well-house and pulled out the board that had been sticking out of the opening. I peered down and sure enough, Bo stood there looking up at me. Then he ran around a bit so I knew he wasn't hurt.

"Really Bo?" I said. "You couldn't have barked?"

He wagged his tail.

I went back to the house to get St. Pauli Girl and a flashlight. I would need help to pull Bo out, and I wanted to make sure I could see what I was climbing down into as the well-house seemed like a great home for snakes and scorpions.

I climbed down the ladder into the well-house, grabbed Bo and hoisted him up and out to St. Pauli Girl who gave the hungry dog a treat. Then I made sure I secured the top as best I could although I doubted Bo would ever run across it again. Bo survived the ordeal just fine.

Later that day, I played fetch with Bonny. She would fetch the ball then show it to Bo as if to demonstrate her superiority before she returned the ball to me.

"You sure weren't much help last night," I told her. "You're no Lassie."

She looked up at me and wagged her tail. She had a gleam in her eye; she definitely liked being top dog. Then I started to wonder, "Hmmm, maybe Bo was pushed?"