No More ‘Up on the Roof’ for me

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The pollen has passed, and spring cleaning has commenced, a process that likely will continue until summer arrives.  Last week, I pulled out the pressure washer to begin the arduous but fulfilling task of cleaning the house, deck and driveway. My Beautiful Mystery Companion asked me the other day if I enjoyed spending hours holding on to a pulsating plastic trigger as an intense stream of water washed away the pollen, with my nostrils streaming nonstop as well — thanks to the pollen.

The answer is yes, I do enjoy it. I have always taken satisfaction in cleaning things, whether it’s tidying up the kitchen after she cooks yet another delicious meal, mowing the lawn, or pressure washing. It provides a momentary feeling of accomplishment.

The logical way to clean outside is from the top down. Until last year, I didn’t hesitate to climb up on top of the second story of our house to blow off the leaves and pine straw. The pitch of our roof isn’t terribly steep, but the second story ledge is about 30 feet off the ground. A fall would likely result in an obituary. So for the past two years, I paid our daughter’s boyfriend to climb up there and blow the stuff off. The modest amount I paid him is money well spent to keep out of the newspaper: Foolhardy Old Man Plunges to His Death.

After a storm swept through, the roof was again littered with pine tree peanuts a few weeks later. I don’t know the official name for what pine trees around here drop like the dickens in April and May, but I call them pine peanuts. If these were the edible type of pine nuts, I could start a lucrative side business.

Then my OCD kicked in, and I decided to clean off the lower portion of the roof, the part one can actually see, and dragged out the folding ladder bought nine years ago during my brief and spectacularly unsuccessful career as a real estate inspector. For six months, I followed a licensed inspector as an unpaid apprentice, crawling on roofs and into attics. I spent hundreds of hours studying for the state exam, learning plumbing and electrical codes, and passed the state test on the first try. But I soon learned it was tough breaking in to the local inspection business and gave it up to return to journalism. “Dance with the one that brung ya,” as they say in these parts.

My mentor in the real estate inspection business was a spry 71-year-old and a great teacher. I marveled at his ability to walk across a steep roof or balance along an attic joist. I hoped I would be able to do the same at his age, since at the time I was a mere whippersnapper at 56.

Nine years later, at 65, I now know the answer.

Climbing onto a roof from a ladder requires one to swing one leg, then the other over the top of the ladder and onto the shingles. This maneuver never used to bother me, but the other day there was an uneasy feeling floating in the pit of my stomach. Still, I proceeded. I swung my left leg onto the roof, then pushed off to bring my right leg over, which grazed the top of the ladder. I felt myself tipping back, about to fall. Panicking, I face planted onto the roof, scraping my hand on the asphalt shingles. After blowing off the pine tree peanuts, I made my way down from what was my final foray onto this roof.

As I sat on the steps, examining my bloody fingers and pondering my brush with either death or decrepitude, I recalled what a doctor friend once told me at the gym. Most ladder deaths are from falls of 10 feet or less. I went online after bandaging my fingers and confirmed what he had told me. According to the World Health Organization, the United States leads the world in ladder deaths — another instance where We’re Number One! Each year there are more than 164,000 trips to the emergency room and 300 deaths in the U.S. caused by falls from ladders. I could have been one of those 300.

So, I’m done climbing up on roofs via a ladder, along with chewing gum or fingernails (cracked crowns); drinking diet soda (bad stuff inside those cans); and eating anything that “tastes like chicken” but is something else, like rattlesnake or possum.

The list is growing.

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