December 4, 2007
When I met my wife, Nina, a little over twenty years ago, we were dating exclusively. Ever the doting boyfriend, I bought her gifts, flowers, and took her out on expensive dates, even though I still lived at home with my parents at the age of twenty three. I had moved out of state for a while and lived with some friends until circumstances were such that I had to move home again to New York. My mom and dad were happy to take me back in not only because they were wonderful parents who would do anything for their child, but because I became their house boy. Still, Nina looked past all of that and dated me anyway. I'm a lucky guy to still have her, especially after a certain incident which occurred after we’d been dating for about a month when she saw me in my underwear. I should also mention that I was in my parent’s backyard at the time.
On the date in question, it was summertime and I returned home from work to my parent’s house. That particular evening I was supposed to take my Nina out to an expensive restaurant. My dad confronted me as I was about to climb the stairs to my old room with Led Zeppelin posters still hanging on the walls from high school, and told me I wasn’t going anywhere until I painted the outside windows. He meant the ones on the second story on the rear of the house. One didn’t argue with my six-foot tall, muscular, father with the deep voice which scared the hell out of all of my childhood friends. I think I said something like “But, dad, I’m going on a date.” And he replied with something along the lines of “You’ll have a date with the dentist if you don’t get on that ladder right now.” Maybe those weren’t the exact words, but I didn’t squabble over it because I didn’t think Nina would date a homeless guy.
Outside I sized up the daunting task of hoisting my dad’s rickety, aluminum, extension ladder up against the rear of the house. There’s a wooden deck under the window and the ladder had to stand on top of it. After moving an outdoor table and chairs, I grabbed the paint can, brush, and a couple of rags and began to scale, rather cautiously, this flimsy stepladder which I’d propped up against the eaves of our Cape Cod-style home with a rear-facing dormer.
It is at this point I must state that I actually like painting. I just don’t like painting in a spot where I would be safer doing the job while leaning out of a blimp. In that location, I would paint about a foot of space, climb back down the ladder, move the ladder, worm my way back up to the top, careful not to shake the aluminum frame too much, and paint another few inches of window frame. The sun was still bright in the sky at that hour. It was about six o’clock in the evening, Nina was due to arrive at about seven o’clock, and I was hoping to finish at least one window, change out of my cut-off jeans shorts and white tee shirt, shower, and be ready for my hot babe of a girlfriend to pick me up because I didn’t own a car. As I write this, I am still wondering why she stuck it out with me.
Towards the end of the job, I was becoming frustrated. The paint can dripped all over the new deck below which meant I had to get down there quickly and clean up the spots before they dried or my father would add my blood stains on the deck in some sort of morbid, Jackson Pollack, outdoor scene. As I held the open paint can in one hand, the paint brush in two fingers of the other, I began the decent from the ladder to the deck about ten or twelve feet below me. That’s when the ladder slipped. It stopped, caught at the edge of the extended eaves, the shingles of the roof barely holding onto the tiny safety hooks at the top of the ladder frame. I grasped onto the sides of the ladder for my life completely covered in paint.
When the paint can hit the deck, all of the paint inside erupted back up at me in a Warner Brothers cartoon style and splattered me from toe to forehead. My glasses became opaque. Paint found its way up the legs of my shorts and into my Fruit of the Looms. My tee shirt suctioned itself to my torso, cold and wet with Benjamin Moore’s Antique Semi-Gloss White. When I breathed, the ladder slipped a millimeter or two more. If it fell, I would have at least broken my arms and legs. My father would have finished the job and crushed the rest of my skeleton.
After what seemed like a day, but was more like five minutes, I moved in slow motion to the bottom step of the ladder, with paint dripping into my eyes and down my entire body. When I eventually reached the bottom, I picked up the ladder and threw it across the yard with all of my strength. My parents, who were always aware when I had the TV on at a whisper at three o’clock in the morning in my room, somehow were oblivious to my cursing and swearing as I damned the ladder and the paint can to an eternity in Hell.
My shorts and tee shirt were dripping all over and I had to strip them off and then run to the side of the house in my underwear and retrieve the garden hose. I gave the deck a good dousing and the paint came off better than I thought it would. When I was satisfied that no permanent stains were going to result from my near-death experience, I aimed the nozzle at my body and showered myself in high pressure, very cold water. That’s the moment Nina showed up.
“What the…” She walked into the backyard attracted by my yelling and cursing at the ladder, only to witness her boyfriend taking a bath with a garden hose to clean off several coats of all-weather paint. If the neighbors heard me hollering and cursing, they covered their ears when she laughed her head off. To this day, I’m still explaining this one; not to Nina, but to my father.
“Next time, anchor the feet with rubber.” He said. Dad wasn’t angry, but it wouldn’t have been in his character to not at least give me instructions on how to avoid killing myself the next time out. He waited until he was in the next room to laugh at me. I did take a lesson from all of this, though. I proposed to Nina so at least I can say “hey, you married me” if she decided to tell anyone the story later on in life, and as soon as I bought my own home, I invested in vinyl siding.
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