Paul Andersen: Eavesdropper pays for brain fart
There was one last detail, one last job on the roof before I could call the project complete. An errant shingle needed a nail and a line of caulk before full confidence could be placed in the sheltering integrity of my humble home. So, I went out to do the job and almost died.
It was all because of a brain fart ? a lapse in judgment at a critical time. I know I’m not alone in that experience because brain farts happen every day to people like you and me.
Forget to glance in the rear view mirror and CRUNCH, your new SUV has a crease in the fender. Step off a curb without looking and SQUISH, you’ve planted your clog in a pile of dog feces. Neglect to nail a cleat behind the feet of your ladder and you’re writing a column about a near catastrophe that still gives nightmares.
Here is the typical formula for a brain fart: Take a guy like me ? a homeowner builder who knows just enough about construction to get into trouble. Add a 15-foot ladder, a hammer and a caulk gun and you’ve got the potential for a serious accident with life-threatening consequences.
I climbed on that roof a hundred times last summer in the role of amateur roofer. I carried up rolls of roofing material, power tools, sheets of plywood and pieces of foam insulation. I had felt so at home on the roof that I could dance on the peak like Barishnikov.
The brain fart hit just when I thought the work was over. I had removed the cleat from my deck and called the job done. Then, a couple days later, I glanced at the ridgeline and noticed a slight unconformity. One of the shingles along the ridge vent was protruding.
“This will take just a minute,” I promised myself, and before I could say, “Hey, wake up you stupid suicidal idiot before you do something really dumb that’s gonna hurt like hell!” I was climbing the ladder with both hands full and no cleat on the deck. If I climb like a cat, I reasoned, the ladder will stay put.
Just as I was about to set foot on the roof, the feet of the ladder slipped out from under me and gravity took over. As the ladder dropped, I crashed onto the roof. The ladder clattered onto the deck as I flipped over backwards with nothing between me and the deck but 10 feet of thin Colorado air and the aluminum ladder.
I know that eavesdropping is not a laudable occupation and I had no intention of testing what Newton so aptly proved with an apple, but there I was, plummeting to the ground at the velocity of a speeding locomotive.
It took only an instant before I crashed down like a rag doll, landing on the ladder with my lower back. Just as instantly, I picked myself up and stood there assessing my injuries. There was pain, but not the searing, white-hot pain of a broken back. I figured that if I was standing, it couldn’t be too bad.
Then I noticed a spatter of blood on the deck and realized that my back was partially numb and my fingers were bleeding. My wife rushed out, having heard the crash of the ladder and seen my backwards swan dive.
I assured her I was OK, but that I needed a Band Aid. She checked my back and winced at the sight of a large area of planed-off skin. I glanced at the ladder, the rail of which was dented about an inch, and I winced to think that my back had done that. How could I still be standing?
There are rare moments in life when the cosmos (and the body) are aligned such that minimal damage occurs from a disastrous event. People in car crashes have this experience, as do skydivers. They miraculously walk away unscathed from a total wreck or a chute that failed to open.
For me “This Old House” would have become “This Old Man” except for providence. The part of my body that took the full impact and dented the ladder was the jutting pelvic bone that protects the small of the back. That bone took the hit and saved my spinal column and the cartilage and soft tissues around it.
I took two aspirin and settled gingerly into a soft chair. I felt woozy and spent an hour recovering from shock. Then I got up, collected my hammer and the caulk gun, and climbed back onto the roof to finish the job. This time I nailed a cleat to the deck.
[Paul Andersen feels like he’s living on borrowed time. His column appears every Monday.]
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