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Stupid, stupid, stupid

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Martha, come quick; that idiot did it again.

Let’s recap. My first “Stupid” blog was February 19, followed by “Stupid, stupid” on April 15, and today is June 27. So apparently, roughly every two months I take thorough leave of what minimal intelligence I was born with. I report these to you not merely for the sake of providing amusement. (Although, it’s true there’s not much funnier than watching someone else do something idiotic – reference any episode of the Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, or the nightly news.) No, I do this to make a point, usually regarding safety.

A water spot appeared on our bedroom ceiling a week ago after a storm. It dried and in a maybe-it-will-go-away sense I ignored it. Another rainstorm, another water spot. Knowing that there was a vent pipe on the roof roughly above that spot, I knew I had work to do.

Got the extension ladder, got a utility knife and flashing caulk, and up I go. I’ve never been on this roof before and, not prepared for its steepness, at the top of the ladder had second thoughts. That should have been an alarm claxon – I’d been up on roofs previously and have no fear of heights or climbing, but I mean this roof was Steep. I scrambled up to the vent pipe. Sure enough the old caulking on the pipe flashing had deteriorated and I cut away the old stuff. Now, effectively using a caulking gun requires two hands, and I quickly learned just how steep the roof was when I put both hands on the gun and I slid an inch. I opted for the one-handed gun approach while hanging on with the other.

Job done to my satisfaction I simply tossed the gun and utility knife to the ground and started to move back down to the ladder. I moved down an inch, and slid about four. I moved down another inch and slide five. Another inch, slid four inches. For the first time ever, I’m rethinking not having a fear of heights.

At this rate, it took nearly 10 minutes to cover the 10 feet back to the ladder, where I wedged my foot securely against the gutter. (Fortunately, I was smart enough to place the ladder at an anchor point on the gutter, where my foot now rested.) After a moment to catch my breath I went to get on the ladder, only to discover that I couldn’t possibly do it without taking my foot out of the gutter, and every time I attempted that I started to slide vigorously. And every attempt to get my other foot on the ladder resulted only in tilting the ladder away from the house. I was stuck.

So for the next minute I just lay there thinking about what to do. As it happened I had my cell phone in my pocket but I was loathe to call anyone lest appearing an idiot. (Well, I WAS an idiot, but no sense appearing as such.) After a few more fruitless tries at getting on the ladder it became obvious that it just couldn’t be done without a second person.

Now, I use my cell phone almost entirely for either long-distance calls or calling my wife’s cell and have few local numbers programmed, but did have the neighbor’s on either side. I called neighbor to the right and breathed a sigh of relief when they answered, only to learn that they were on the road and couldn’t help. Called neighbor on the left, got their answering machine, and hung up.

Now what? Sally was due home in only six hours so I thought maybe I’d just wait up there on a black-shingled roof in 92-degree heat, but ruled it out after 15 minutes. I was already baking, the small scrape on my leg from sliding on the shingles hurt, and my foot in the gutter was cramping something awful. I tried the not-home neighbor again; when the answering machine came on began leaving a message in the hopes they were home and just couldn’t get to the phone the first time. Ten seconds into my message, they picked up. She came over and after struggling to control her laughter held the ladder steady, allowing me to get onto it and off the roof.

So, what does this have to do with woodworking? Glad you asked. If you recall, when I was about to step onto the roof I had a moment of doubt. At that moment, I should have stopped, listened to the silent alarm in my head and reassessed what I was about to do. In the shop I have lots of moments like that – feeding a workpiece into the router using only its guide bearing; turning on the lathe for the first time after mounting a very large workpiece; just before ripping an unwieldy extra-large piece of stock on the table saw, and dozens more examples. In each of those cases I do stop and reassess. I recheck that router setup, hand-spin the workpiece on the lathe to double-check for clearance and security, get a second person to help with that board on the table saw. This is simple woodworking sense.

This whole roof ordeal would have been avoided if I had listened to that silent alarm and applied a bit of woodworking sense to the real world by calling my neighbor first. Next time I get up on the roof, I will.

Of course, a suspect there will be another, different “next time.” I suspect it will be called “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.”

Till next time,


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