Bombs-Away Dream Baby
|I don't have a fear of heights; it's a healthy respect for altitude.
Gravity's always there to yank you down into some terribly uncomfortable position if you
aren't careful. As a child, I watched while the neighborhood kids imitated Superman by
tying towels around their necks and threw themselves off of garage roofs with high
abandon. I never understood that. I get vertigo walking down the aisle to my seat in the
stadium's upper deck.
I suppose the ribbing I took as a kid for having common sense forced me as an adult to prove myself the master of loftiness. Recently one of the pine trees growing behind my garage began resting its branches on the roof. They had to be trimmed.
I'm a firm believer in the right expert for the right job. If I have leaking pipes, I call a plumber; if the power flickers, I call the electrician; if the trees are ripping the shingles off of the garage roof, I call the tree guys.
"What? Waste all that money hiring some guy to cut a couple of branches?" my wife asked. "Why'd you buy that chain saw if you're not going to use it?"
I shrugged, not wanting to tell her that the branches were 20 feet off of the ground. And, I bought the chain saw because of that tool gene that pops up in my family every other generation like the strawberry birthmark in the shape of Milton Berle that afflicts the men of the royal family of Bohemia.
As any manly man faced with yard work, I decided I had to go to the hardware store. I bought a 16-foot fiberglass extension ladder with an optional ladder stabilizer. It came in a wonderfully virile neon orange, the kind used by Professionals.
Our garage has a reverse gable. That means its peak is perpendicular to the driveway. When I mounted the ladder against the front of the garage I was too far away from the branches. I moved the ladder to the side. Even with the stabilizer I didn't like the ladder's angle. Only one alternative go behind the garage. Brrr.
All flotsam and jetsam from the yard ends up back there: three-foot high plastic flower pots, birdbaths, lengths of chain-link fence, chunks of kryptonite, the Holy Grail, busted oscillation overthrusters, all that old junk.
Dodging rusting bicycle frames and carnivorous weeds with prickles as sharp as hypodermic needles, I worked the ladder between the back of the garage and the trees. It was a steep angle and the 16-foot ladder looked like it ended just above the summit of K2. I took what little courage I had left and began climbing.
I've since determined that it isn't so much the heights that bother me as it is transitions. Making the passage from the ladder to the garage roof left me less than calm. I kept telling myself that losing all the feeling in my hands was a symptom of altitude sickness, not fear.
The roof shingles were as rough as a cross-cut saw and I realized donning shorts for this work was not the wisest thing I'd done that day. I worked my way up the roof on all fours, dragging my little chain saw behind me on a rope like a particularly reluctant dog going for a walk.
I tried reaching up a couple of times to take a cut at the branches, but near the edge of the roof they were too high for me to reach. I soon realized that as I went up the roof, I was farther and farther away from the base of the branch. By the time I reached the peak, I was only able to cut about six inches off of the 10-foot overhanging limb.
That's when I learned my first lesson in relativity. While I was climbing up the roof, it seemed as rough as a #10-grit sandpaper washboard. Going downhill, the roof now seemed as slick as an ice rink covered with ball bearings. Teflon-coated ball bearings. I was stuck holding the roof peak for fear of slithering down and being impaled on a rusted Schwinn "Lady Cruisemaster."
Being the soul of machismo, the first thing I did was start hollering for my wife. From my vantage point I could see her in the kitchen, but the windows were closed and she was on the phone. It was then I noticed the kid next door lost in uncontrolled fits of laughter at my predicament. If he thought I was humorous now, he would think I was a riot when I got down and twisted his nasty little ears off. However, at the moment he could hear me while my wife couldn't.
I asked him to get my wife. After a few minutes of negotiating, he promised he would do so if I gave him five bucks. He thinks he got the best of me; he didn't know that I was willing to go as high as ten.
A few moments later my wife stood watching me from the drive.
"I know how this looks," I said, "but I don't want to hear one word about it."
"And what would you like me to do?" she asked in that most annoying way of hers.
"There's a rope in the garage. I want you to tie off one end of it and toss it up here from the front. I'll use it to rappel to the ladder."
The shaking of the roof as the garage door opened didn't help my confidence. My wife came out a few minutes later with the rope.
"I wouldn't move around too much if I were you," she called up. "A lot of the boards under the shingles look rotten."
I regretted not losing that extra 10 pounds I put on over the winter.
"That would make it all the better for you to toss me the rope with alacrity."
Will Rogers can rest peacefully knowing that his reputation as a trick rope artist will not be challenged by my wife. Her first and last attempt at throwing the rope ended up with it being six feet out of reach and snagged in the gutter so she couldn't pull it down.
"Now what, Houdini?"
"Toss it up here and I'll use it to snag the rope."
The rake came sailing up and landed only three feet beyond my reach.
"What do I send up next?"
"How about the hedge clippers. Only this time, throw them really hard."
She did and only missed my head by six inches. I watched them skitter down the back of the garage and entangle themselves in the ladder.
A hoe, a shovel, and a camp axe later, I had the rope. It was all the neighbor kid could do to hold his water. I threatened him with the loss of his five dollars after he suggested my wife throw me a bowling ball or some lawn darts.
"Now be sure to tie off your end to something stable," I called to her.
She disappeared and I heard her shout "OK!"
I pulled the rope taught and rappelled down to the ladder carrying an assortment of garden implements. The firmness of the earth never seemed so sweet as that first step back on terra firma. My security was short-lived when I saw my wife had tied her end of the rope to the bumper of the car. I had sudden visions of water skiing down down the drive on my rump behind a red Ford.
The next week I watched as an arborist scampered up the tree like a squirrel and cut down the offending limbs. I could have helped him, but it would have meant tying a towel around my neck.