Joco Opinion

Denise Snodell: Climbing the ladder of failure

Don’t let these tempt you to grab a ladder. Ask yourself one question: Can you fly?
Don’t let these tempt you to grab a ladder. Ask yourself one question: Can you fly? File photo

Leaves flutter into roof gutters. Dirt and pollen cling to windows. Paint fades.

Unfortunately, these quiet events prompt us to reach for awkward extension ladders.

Always this time of year, when I see puttering folks in plaid shirts climbing up toward their rooftops, I think about my dad’s fiasco. Fall is the most appropriately named season. I’ve discussed this safety issue here and there before, but it’s been a while. To prevent even one case of what my family went through, I’ll risk sounding like a broken record.

Eleven years ago, when my dad was 75, he climbed one of those flimsy aluminum stairways to hell. He was partaking in seasonal home maintenance. My mom knew he was in one of his Mr. Fixit modes, so she said to him when he went outside in his paint-speckled old flannel, “Don’t go on the ladder.”

Did he listen? No. A loud crash and a harrowing ambulance ride later, he found himself fighting for his life. Long story short, too many weeks later he returned home with a heavy toolbox of titanium rods and screws — all implanted along his spine. It was a miracle he was able to walk through his front door again.

During that horrible stint of long, risky surgeries and rehab, our homes and phone lines became makeshift confessionals for former ladder enthusiasts. Many people told us about their own mishaps. Concussions, broken arms, bruises, muscle tears. And for what? Clumps of gutter-clogging maple leaves? Strings of holiday lights? Sherwin Williams’ latest look in beige soffits?

In my own butler-less lifestyle, there are occasions I’ll dare to take several steps up a smaller A-frame. I allow myself to be an idiot in modest doses, because even some mundane tasks require risk. I’ll gain just enough reach to clean the top half of a window, paint an upper dining room molding or change a smoke detector battery.

But there’s no way I’ll ever allow my toes to rise more than four feet above the ground. No way. The Home Depot mega extension ladders that can lure you to the nearest chimney caps are banned from my life.

Some things must be left for the professionals. Especially altitude.

Around this time of year, though, we struggle to resist the climbing. Rain will spill waterfall-like from our roof. It drives my husband bonkers: “This is bad for the foundation!” During storms, he looks out every window. He paces. The gutters are jammed! He wants to scale the house like Spider-Man. But I gently remind him about that other superhero, his father-in-law Titanium Man. It’s a harrowing time, because I have to wait until the trees are completely bare. That’s when I call the off-duty firefighters who have a gutter cleaning business. They know how to avoid gravitational forces.

I have done the math. One simple call to people who are trained to climb safely is way cheaper than phoning the paramedics.

If you find yourself or a loved one reaching for a portable staircase, consider this handy questionnaire, and maybe tape it to that evil ladder lurking in your garage:

Do I really need holiday twinklers outlining the roof peak? If yes, pay an installer.

My exterior paint is peeling. Should I hire a painter? (Hint: The answer is always yes, unless you live in a low-slung yurt.)

Am I over 50? Hire it out.

Am I under 50? Call the handyman.

Am I exactly 50? Check Nos. 3 and 4.

Can I fly?

I will now remove this preachy safety monitor vest, mainly because I look horrible in reflective neon. Here’s to all of us staying grounded.

Denise Snodell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at On Twitter: @DeniseSnodell