National Lampoons Visits DeWitt, MI

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

This past weekend, per the "tradition" dictated to me by Mrs. Smitty, it was time to hang the Christmas lights.



That about sums it up.

Now that said, I do not have 25,000 bulbs, as Clark Griswold does. In fact, comparatively, I have very few lights., though we have all sorts of other junk like bows, wreaths, and authentic, tree-bough-like garland.

Normally, I wait until there is several inches of snow on the ground and that driveway is nice and icy before I put the ladder up, defy death, and perch myself on the shingles of my roof for a hair of traction to keep me from plummeting to my broken-limbed demise. This year, God was good and gave me a sunny, 33-degree day with a dry driveway.

Here's the deal: I am absolutely terrified of heights. The measurement from my driveway to the peak of my garage is 20 feet. To the eaves-trough along the front of my house? a whopping fifteen feet. But understand, folks, 15 feet might as well be a one thousand-foot cliff. I have a high-quality ladder that is a sturdy as the frame of a skyscraper, placed firmly on level ground, and I am still terrified.

How did I ever survive the Marines? Willpower and teamwork. When we had to rappel down towers or out of helicopters? I asked the Marine behind me to push me hard enough that I had no choice but to go. Mountain warfsare training? I looke UP the whole time, and knew I couldn't go back down because there were people right behind me. Parachuting? Again, I turned around and screamed "KICK MY PACK HARD!" And kick they would, sadistic motherfuckers. That's how I survived: I was forced to.

So every year since our marriage, the weekend of Thanksgiving, I swallow my fear, stare-down my ladder, and just go. It is important to my wife, and now it's important to my kid(s) too, to have lights on the house. If it's important to them, then far be it for me to let a little debilitating fear get in the way.

I grasp the string of lights in my teeth. I fill my pockets with the little plastic light-holders. I slow my breathing. And rung-by-rung, I climb my mountain. I hug the ladder, I stick a light holder on the string of lights, I hold the ladder with one hand in a death grip, and lean, just a bit, to stick the holder under a shingle on clip it onto the eaves. Repeat, repeat. Descend from my sheer cliff face over sharp rocks and sharks below, move the ladder a few feet, and start over. 5 strings of lights takes me an hour, but it gets done, a step at a time. Shaking, nervous, sweating, swearing, panting, straining, it gets done. It's important to my family.

And then I have a high-gravity beer.

10 comments:

Mike 7:41 AM  

Yikes.

I too am, shall we say, not fond of heights. And my "how the hell did I ever manage that?" story comes not from the Marines (yeah, right!) but from the same age:

When I was 19 & 20, my summer job was house painter. And one of the tasks was painting the chimneys on these McMansion-type house. Approximately 40 feet up, on a single ladder, carrying a 10 pound paint bucket and a brush, no safety harness.

I swear my stomach is flipping right now just thinking about it. I have no friggin idea how I managed to screw on the bravado to do that.

Man, 19 year-olds are idiots. I should tell you one of my "driving on a road trip" stories from that same summer. Sheesh.

Bob 8:28 AM  

I am OK with heights, but terrified of falling.

The definition of bravery is not a lack of fear, but the balls to face the fear and do what you have to do. That said, you are not defending your country Smitty, you are hanging lights. You said:

"It is important to my wife, and now it's important to my kid(s) too, to have lights on the house."

I fully believe in equal rights among the genders, which includes men doing work that was traditional reserved for women and women doing work that was traditionally a men’s job.

Let Mrs. Smitty hang the dang lights.

Smitty 8:50 AM  

When I was 19 & 20, my summer job was house painter

Ha! I read you. For a summer, I was a tender for a bricklayer. Up and down 40-foot ladders with buckets of mortar and straps of bricks. Like you: how the Hell did I ever manage?

I should tell you one of my "driving on a road trip" stories from that same summer

Oh, do tell. I will even make you a contributor to the blog so you can post something like that...

Let Mrs. Smitty hang the dang lights.

She does all the other crap, like the tree, the infinite amount (6 storage box worth) of decorations and the like. The least I can do is defy a little death.

Bob 12:00 PM  

She does all the other crap, like the tree, the infinite amount (6 storage box worth) of decorations and the like.

All of which can be done close to the ground.

GabFest 2:04 PM  

Wow. I didn't know you were a member of a same-sex couple. Or that you live in a mansion with a 60-foot turret where the fall would surely kill you.

B Mac 3:33 PM  

I am OK with heights, but terrified of falling.

As my physics professor used to say in college;

Falling doesn't kill people. The rapid vertical acceleration at the bottom, however, does.

Smitty 6:17 PM  

I didn't know you were a member of a same-sex couple

Huh?

Mr Furious 1:05 AM  

I think there's sarcasm in there, Smitty...but I'm not sure.

--

Ah, when I bought our house in Ann Arbor the first major home improvement-type investment was a good ladder. I mean a serious Type I heavy duty fiberglass extension ladder. 28 feet of rigid blue security.

I've been on those wobbly-ass twisty aluminum Lowes jobs, and that shit is scary.

That ladder would reach all but the very highest peak of my roof (the equivalent of three stories) but I don't think I could climb higher than that, nor wrangle a 36 foot ladder by myself.

The new house is a one-story bungalow, so it's less nerve-wracking, but a ten foot fall still can fuck you up.

I love my ladder. It looks serious so I feel like a bad-ass, but more importantly, it really helps to feel secure on a sturdy ladder, even if I'm just hanging lights on the porch roof.

There are a few things I won't skimp on, hand tools and ladders for sure. I know a guy who lost it on a ladder working on his one-story cape and broke both his arms at the same time—and I watched my dad open his hand up on a lawnmower blade when a cheap socket wrench split on one side.

If it or the activity can hurt or kill me, I go for quality.

Mike 7:32 AM  

one of my "driving on a road trip" stories from that same summer

Oh, do tell.


Perhaps I will somewhere down the road (as it were). Anyhow, the short versions:

1. Road trip to our college town. Should've taken about 3-3 1/2 hours. We made it in just under 2. (Man, that '84 Grand Prix could make some tracks once you got it rolling straight forward).

Other elements of the journey include a radar detector, a full cooler of beer in the back seat, a drunken chick straddling the console between the front seats at one point (not quite as drunk as the ummm . . . driver), flying over a railroad track embankment at about 60 MPH (with the drunken chick straddling the console). To this day, one of my friends who was in the back seat swears the car went airborne. And he's not someone prone to hyperbole.

Suffice to say I earned plenty of "man behind the wheel" points from my friends that weekend. And I haven't even gotten to the drunken climb up the 20 foot face of a gorge part of the story.

(Or the getting kicked out of the high school girls dormitory part either.) Ahhhhh, good times.

2. Seeing Pink Floyd's The Wall at the cineplex . . . in the "proper condition," shall we say.

Then driving about 60 MPH on a windy, tree-lined, just one-lane-in-each-direction road in the dark of night.

In the left lane.

As I've said many times, if I have a son, he doesn't get his license til he's 21. Young men should never be allowed behind the wheel.

Rickey Henderson 10:00 AM  

Hah, Rickey shares your phobia of heights. Rickey gets freaked out when changing a light bulb on the kitchen ceiling...

To spare you this horrific ordeal, Rickey recommends going for the minimalist look to Christmas lighting: a wreath on the front door and single electric candles in each window facing the road. Simple, tasteful, and kind of colonial looking.

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