Friday, November 25, 2016

Feats of Derring-Do

Being a homeowner, I’ve discovered, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, you’ve got a roof over your head and a chance to build equity. You’ve also got property taxes, yardwork, and home repairs. Back when I was renting and the furnace cut out on me, I could just call the landlord. Now I have to get it fixed and pay for it. And since I live in a mobile home park, I’m still paying rent anyway. Show me the advantage of that.

And every fall, when the trees have finished shedding their leaves, I have to go out and clean the gutters.

This is not a fun thing for me. I have a stepladder, so I can get to the gutter that lines the awning. That’s not a problem. The problem is, the ladder’s about ten feet and the roof is twelve. I’m a short woman. Between the ladder’s and my own lack of height, we’re both just a couple inches too short to let me safely climb onto the roof so I can get to the main gutters.

Why didn’t I buy a taller ladder? Because I got this one from some neighbors who were moving and had it for sale at a bargain price. The neighbor was a guy and didn’t have to worry about height issues. Why aren’t I taller? Blame genetics.

I can clean the house gutters with my ladder, in spite of our shortcomings. I can safely climb the ladder high enough to reach them. I did this last year. That was roughly an hour’s worth of: 1) set up ladder; 2) climb ladder; 3) clean about two feet of gutter (as far as I can reach in either direction; 4) climb down ladder; 5) move ladder a few feet and set it up again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I don’t enjoy doing it. That flippin’ ladder’s heavy and not easy to lug around, and all that climbing wreaks havoc with my out-of-shape leg muscles. There has to be an easier way.

There is, of course. Get on the roof and clean the gutters from there. I could probably do it on my ladder if I climb all the way to the top, and  risk falling and breaking something, like an arm, or a leg, or my neck. Remember the word “safely,” quoted above?

Luckily my neighbors are all in the same leafy boat, and some of them do have ladders that will reach the roof. This year I borrowed one for the task before me.

I’ve been on my roof before this, using a neighbor’s ladder. However, that was several years and almost forty pounds ago. I’m older, heavier and in worse physical shape. Also, that time the neighbor held the ladder for me, while another neighbor stood by to call an ambulance in case I didn’t make it to the top. This time I had the ladder and that was it. I was on my own.

Another problem: that other time the ladder was one of those sturdy wooden ones. This time I had an aluminum model, easier to carry and set up but tending to wobble when two-hundred-some pounds of nervous human being starts scrambling around on it. As I discovered on my first attempt once I was halfway up. All of a sudden that roof looked ten miles away. Ditto for the ground. I would have kept going had someone else been there, but it was just me and the leaves.

I came down. Thought about it. Tried again. Panicked again. Went in the house to gather my courage. On my next attempt I tried repositioning the ladder. If I leaned it on the awning where it joined to the house, I could grab onto both for support if I had to, and use the awning as an extra foothold to get me onto the roof.

This worked. Had a couple tense moments the closer I got to the top, but when I ran out of rungs the awning was there for me to push myself onto the roof from. The ladder trembled but didn’t fall over, and neither did I. Yay for me!

From there it was a breeze. I had full access to the gutters from end to end of the house, along with the top of the awning where leaves had accumulated. The roof allowed me to reach spots I couldn’t get to the previous year using the move-the-stepladder method. I even found the guts to stand up a time or two. Mostly I kind of crab-scuttled along on my butt and dug leaves out by hand. Wet leaves in some spots, decomposing into loam. I probably should have just left the whole moldy mess and planted crops up there next spring. But I got the gutters cleaned. Took about an hour, with less effort and strain on my legs than last year.

That part of the job was a breeze. The big problem arose when I got done, and had to climb back down the ladder. That’s when I discovered the ladder’s position, which had gotten me onto the roof, wasn’t the best for letting me back down again. I’d have to either balance on the awning, which might not take my weight, for figure some way to get at least one leg over the edge and onto a rung so I could swing the rest of me down, while hoping the ladder didn’t shake or tip. My weight had worked to my advantage, holding me steady against the house while I climbed. Plus I could see where I was going. Going down backwards, not such a good deal. This is why you should always have somebody around to hold the ladder for you. Or better still, for you to hold the ladder for while they go up on the damn roof.

Fortunately, I wasn’t trapped for long. One of my neighbors across the street came out to rake. I got her attention and she came over, repositioned the ladder, held it steady and guided me down until I was back on solid ground again. She says she never goes up on her roof. She leaves that to her 16-year-old son, who’s probably taller, in far better shape, and a lot more courageous than I am. It’s my own fault; I forgot to have kids. What the hell was I thinking?

But that’s it for this fall season, at least. The gutters are clean for another year. And I am never doing that again, not unless someone lends me a cherry-picker or airlifts me up there or something. Next year I’m hiring a guy. Let some macho male dirty up his jeans, scrape his palms on the shingles and risk life and limb climbing a ladder. I’m done.

Or, better still … don’t clean the gutters at all. Let the leaves dissolve into soil and plant marijuana up there. Then the cops will clean the gutters for me. I won’t have to do housework either, because I’ll be in jail. Sounds like a plan to me.

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