My Dad Had A Ladder

ladderIt seems like everybody has a story about how their dad abused them. Dad abandoned the family, screwed the maid in front of the kids, or got drunk and threw darts at the family pet. I felt left out of the club. MY dad was boring. He loved his kids, treated his wife like a queen, and he never EVER threw darts at the dog.

But when I thought about it hard enough, I realized that I too had a tale of paternal abuse. My dad didn’t have a drinking problem or a hair-trigger on his slapper. But my dad had a ladder.

This was no ordinary ladder. This was a monster: 75 pounds of slick metal and tall enough to reach the pinnacle of our two-story Victorian house. The ladder figured prominently into a number of my traumatic childhood experiences.

Not only did my dad have a gigantic ladder, he had an endless supply of chores that needed to take place high off the ground, an acute fear of heights, and an able-bodied son. Do the math.

Easily half of the jobs I did on the ladder required me to perch just above the step labeled “not a step.” The fact that I inherited my father’s near-crippling acrophobia didn’t dissuade him from sending me up the ladder. Quite the opposite. It amused him to see me white-knuckled, two stories high, desperately clasping the ladder with my knees and trying to drive nails with hands trembling like Michael J Fox after a quintuple espresso. “Building character” is what he called it.

The most fearsome character-building experience I can recall involved the ladder, a saw, and a walnut tree.

When you live in a hundred-year-old house, you have hundred-year-old trees. These trees are very tall. And my dad was particularly fond of his ancient walnut tree. I never understood why. We did not eat the walnuts. The only purpose they served was to make mowing the lawn more exciting. Accidentally roll the mower over one and it would pepper your shins with nutty shrapnel, or fly out whole at a thousand miles an hour.

Unlike a traditional walnut tree, with a wide, spreading canopy, our tree stood straight up like a telephone pole. The branches stuck straight out of the sides, like a child’s drawing of a tree.

The tree grew unhealthy as it assailed the seasons. The lower branches died, and it dropped fewer nuts in front of the lawn mower. This caused my father great consternation.

Dad got it in his head that the tree needed pruning. Extreme pruning. Character building pruning. The only way to save his tree, was to wait until the dead of Winter, then chop off damn near every single branch. (Like I said, my dad was a CPA, not an arborist.)

This job fell to me. The winter rain relented just enough that Dad considered it safe to prune the tree (well, not safe enough for HIM to climb up a wet ladder in the wind, but safe enough for his only son to do so). I wrestled the heavy ladder over to the diseased tree. I pushed and struggled until it was leaning up high against the slippery bark. Then I tugged the rope to extend the ladder to its maximum, terror-inducing altitude.

And that’s when I discovered the first problem. The tree was narrower than the ladder, so there was no good way to lean it. The rungs of the ladder were round and the tree had a round trunk. So no matter how I placed the ladder, it slipped back and forth easily. The weight of the ladder sunk its feet into the mud, and that was the only lateral support I was going to get.

I sighed, grabbed the saw and climbed with my free hand. Did I mention my fear of heights? Because it made the job a tad harder. Hugging the ladder with my whole body, while at the same time trying to lean out far enough to cut off a branch isn’t easy. Moving the saw back and forth hard enough to cut through a branch, but not so hard as to wobble the ladder ain’t easy either. But I developed sort of a rhythm.

When the blade was nearly though the first branch, I encountered the next scrotum-shrinking, butt-puckering, I-want-my-mommy-crying problem.

Anybody who has ever pruned a tree knows that when you cut off a branch, it doesn’t fall straight off the tree. No. When there is a little tiny bit of wood left holding it, the branch swings down and strikes the trunk of the tree (and any ladder that happens to be leaning against the trunk of the tree). And if you happen to be precariously balanced on the wobbly, wet, ladder of doom, the branch hits it, and the ladder feels like it is going to shoot out from under you. More than once, I dropped the saw when the branch swung into me, but I stayed aloft.

And so it went. Branch after God-forsaken branch. Saw. Swing. Crash. Pucker. Climb. Saw. Swing. Crash. Pucker. I exhausted my puckerer and drained my adrenal gland, but I finished the job. I don’t know if I built any character, but I pruned the living shit out of that Walnut tree, and I survived another encounter with Dad’s abusive ladder.

I can’t say the same for the Walnut tree. 18 months later, it was firewood.

Catching Fire While Pumping Gas

Pumping GasI’ve never been one to worry too much about the day to day dangers in the world around us. Sure, I could get shot by the gangsta I just cut off on the freeway, or poisoned by bad sashimi at the all-you-can-eat sushi buffet, or choke on Bon Scott’s vomit, but it’s PROBABLY not going to happen. But I’ve never really been good with the whole death thing; and as I get older, it’s not getting any better. On top of that, one of my greatest fears is to go out as a result of some stupidity. You know, the true life equivalent of jumping too many barrels in Donkey Kong. I really really, really don’t want my last words to be, “OH, Shit!”

Which is probably why I was a bit alarmed a few months ago when I caught this piece on the local evening news. I know what you’re thinking, these are the geniuses that bring you such brilliant teasers as:

“Drunk Drivers! They’re Drunker than ever! And they’re out to get YOU! Film at 11:00”.

But somehow this piece about the dangers of cell phones & gas pumps stuck in my mind. According to this newscast, the electricity generated by an active cell phone is more than adequate to ignite gas fumes. It was accompanied by a black and white minimart surveillance video run frame by frame, that went something like this

Man is pumping gas into his SUV.
Man registers surprise at noise coming from his pants.
Ahh! It’s a cell phone!
Man looks at phone, pushes button.
Man bursts into flames.

My first thought that while watching this slow motion pantomime of doom was to issue a Nelson-esque “Hah HAH! Dumbass!” and move on with my life. But since then I have noticed that it is impossible to pump gas without someone taking a call within 20 feet of me. Apparently people can’t go more than 2 seconds without multitasking these days, so the pumps at the Chevron are a veritable hotbed of cellular activity. And each time I tell myself, “Dude, relax, what are the odds…” while fighting the urge to run screaming across the parking lot and dive headfirst into the PoWerAde! cooler.

But it’s not like there’s a lot of warning about this at the actual gas station. If you’re lucky, perhaps a small, innocuous sticker on the back of the squeegee box that says, “Please keep all electronic devices in car while pumping gas.” So I have no backup. But this paranoia has turned me into the world’s hall monitor. It actually makes me want to approach these people in my irrational state:

“Nice phone. Did you know it could kill us all? It’s True. I saw it on TV.” No way. Way too geeky.

“What, are you trying to kill me? Do I look like I wanna go out like Ghost Rider? No? So F#$% off with the cell phone already!”. Nope, too aggressive to affect REAL change…

How about:
Can I have your cell phone number? There’s something I want to try after I pull away from here…” Naahhh. Who would give ME their cell phone number?

So somehow, despite my fear of going up like the monk on the Rage against the Machine CD cover, I have managed to restrain myself. But please don’t be alarmed the next time you are downloading some unleaded while discussing whether or not to pick up some milk on your cell, and you see someone nervously backing away from you. It was just something he saw on the news…

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Mexican Food In Omaha – A Poem

mexican food in omahaFinally caught your eye
Only been here 20 minutes
Menu & some water
Some chips that ain’t delicious

You gonna take my order
But you forgot your pen
Then it’s another hour
Til I see you again

Mexican food in Omaha
Mexican food in Omaha
Order ribs or fries or slaw
Not Mexican food in Omaha

The chips inside this basket
taste like they’re made of balsa
Nothing here is spicy
Especially your salsa

Ordered chicken tacos,
but got a quesidilla
I think I see a cockroach
Baked into this tortilla

Mexican food in Omaha
Mexican food in Omaha
Order ribs or fries or slaw
Not Mexican food in Omaha

The bus boy here is sneezing
And I don’t feel to well-ah
Maybe its tomain
Or even salmonella

The waitress ain’t good lookin’
And neither is her dish
She’s offering me chicken
But all I smell is fish

Mexican food in Omaha
Mexican food in Omaha
Order ribs or fries or slaw
Not Mexican food in Omaha

Listen to me, honey
& try to understand
your cheddar’s in a bottle
your tortilla’s are all canned

This food, it don’t taste Latin
Though your Muzak’s mariachi
Stop cookin’ your fajitas
On top of the habachi

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