Last month I had a “Wile e coyote” moment. I was replacing a down-light globe in our kitchen, and as I stretched upward toward the ceiling on an aged aluminium ladder, the side extrusion broke a rivet. The ladder buckled on one side, the cross support arms flipped upward, freeing the ladder from its “A” configuration, and I was left, suspended in mid-air, holding up a little “Help” sign, with sagging ears and haunted bulging eyes, as the ladder flattened out from under me and crashed to the floor. The Road Runner did his little “beep-beep” routine, pecked at a little pyramid of seed, and sped off down the hallway. Luckily I was able to land upright with feet either side of the ladder in a perfect dismount. A solid 9.7 from the judges. No damage, no injury. No startled soot covered face or piano accordion style walk off. I dismissed the incident, retrieved another (newer and more robust) ladder from the shed and continued on with changing the light bulb, knowing that what had just happened would not even rate in the top 50 list of the most stupid things I have ever done.
But as I fiddled with the light connection again (with wife Susie white-knuckling the sides of the replacement ladder to keep it steady this time), I remembered another not so clever ladder performance back in 2002, one that currently sits mockingly at #4 on the stupidity charts.
In a hurry to drive my young kids to school (our daughter Emily was 8 and our son James was 5), I accidentally pulled the front door shut with my car keys still inside the house. That in itself was pretty stupid, as I am in the business of importing/wholesaling door locks for a living and I should know better. I decided to hurriedly climb an extension ladder up onto the roof of our home and climb through a second storey window. Easy. Should only take a jiffy, grab the keys, and get the kids to school on time.
A year or so earlier my Dad had given me a very long and old wooden extension ladder that he no longer had a use for, cheerfully informing me at the time that falling off a ladder was the second most common way for males over 55 to die. I grabbed that old ladder and hastily set it up on our rear patio, leaning it up against the roof guttering. It extended so far beyond the roof line that I was going to be able to step directly off the ladder and onto the roof. No problems at all.
I wish I had checked to see if the ladder had rubber stoppers at its base, and I wish I knew more about physics and opposing forces. I reached the top of the ladder and moved to the side and leaned against the rungs while I stepped onto the roof, and in doing so, I shifted a lot of the weight onto the top end of the ladder, allowing the bottom of the ladder to lift and take off. The roof line is over 3 metres off the ground, and standing upright, my pea-sized brain was elevated roughly 5 metres above ground level, and I suddenly felt very much in the same kind of deep shit our coyote is accustomed to.
The ladder disappeared. I had one foot standing on the guttering and the other was now supported by very thin air. The “Help” sign came out again, along with the whole coyote “eyes of doom” routine. There would now be a whistling descent sound ending with a final impact “poof” and an expanding debris cloud at the bottom of the canyon.
Having spent a lot of my youth perfecting splash-bombs off diving platforms and off piers behind ferries, I was able to become horizontal, roll in the air to one side, cradle my head with my hands, and absorb the full force of the brick paving below on my right shoulder. If I had been off-balance when the ladder vanished or had rolled any other way, it may have ended very differently. It was a clean descent, although my inside leg collected a timber bench seat on the way down, which was not ideal.
I wish that my son James hadn’t seen it all unfold, and the cry that he gave out as he rushed to get his sister for help is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
I lay there where I landed, happy to be alive, but unhappy about pretty much everything else. The kids ran next door to get Helen, our neighbor, to help me.
10 minutes later we were all standing in Helen’s kitchen next door, and she asked what the hell I was doing on the roof. When I explained that We were locked out of the house without a key, she outstretched her left hand and retrieved our spare key from a hook on the kitchen wall, saying “Why didn’t you just come and grab this one?”
Because I am an idiot. That’s why.
But of course I still had to get the kids to school. My right ankle was a mess, my brain had been pin-balled around inside my skull, and my entire inside leg (down to my ankle) was soon going to feature a hematoma of biblical proportions, but there was still time to get the kids to class before the end of their first lesson.
I knocked apologetically on the open door of James’ prep year classroom and was about to explain his late arrival, but stopped when I saw the sheer horror and disbelief on the teacher’s face and on all the young children’s faces in the room. The teacher jumped to her feet and rushed toward me, motioning me back out into the corridor and closing the door behind her, shielding the sight from young impressionable eyes.
Apparently the only thing missing from the scene was an axe handle hanging out of the side of my head. My head, face, and clothing was splattered with dried blood that had leaked out of the gash on the side of my head, which I, in my state of shock, was totally unaware of. In my haste to get the kids to school I had exited Helen’s kitchen before she had a chance to explain how I looked. I had covered the side of my head with my hands on impact so I assumed that my head was ok.
I groggily took the advice of the teacher and sought medical help from a clinic situated a short drive up the road. The two reception staff started running when they spotted me in the waiting room, one to grab me and the other to rustle up a doctor, whose immediate questions were “What happened to you?” and “How did you get here?”
“I drove from home…after dropping the kids at school.”
I wasn’t sure why the Doctor’s jaw dropped. What? had I done something wrong?
Top 4, no doubt about it. Profoundly stupid. At times, since 2002, I have thought that other acts of stupidity might have given the “roof incident” a run for its money – there is still plenty of time and it’s not like I’m getting any smarter – but for now it’s good thing seated at number 4.
If there is ever a silver lining to these things, my son James learnt to kick on his non-preferred foot playing Australian Rules Football. He was originally left-footed, but when we played together at the park with my sprained ankle, I had to kick on my opposite foot and so he did the same, and he finished up preferring his right foot rather than his left. A very handy skill, having equal kicking ability on both feet at such a young age.
It’s just a pity that I had to throw myself off the roof to facilitate improvement in my son’s football skills.