C.W. Gusewelle is away this week. His regular column will return. In the meantime, here is one of his favorites, first published in 1997.
It was the day for putting up the tiny lights and fake greenery that decorate our front doorway in this season, announcing to the neighbors and passing strangers the stupendous happiness of all who dwell within.
Every year this event takes us to the very brink of divorce.
“The greenery isn’t even.”
“What do you mean, not even? It looks even to me.”
“No. There’s more on the right-hand side.”
“All right, I’ll do it again. But this time give me an eye. Don’t wait until I’m finished!”
The infernal stuff is taken down and rehung.
“That looks nice,” she says.
“Good. Now hand me the lights. We have to end up with the plug on the left side.”
Some minutes pass. The lights are nearly up.
“Wait a second,” she says. “I think we may have a problem. The plug seems to be on the right.”
“What? The socket is on the left. I was counting on you!”
“Well, I’m steadying the ladder,” she snaps. “I can’t do that and everything else too.”
The stepladder is a new 5-foot aluminum model, replacing the rickety wooden one that came with the house 25 years ago. She bought it just last week expressly for this purpose, on the chance it might prevent her from being prematurely widowed.
This expenditure was supposed to simplify our public display of merriment. In fact, it has complicated the chore.
“You’re standing too high,” she says. “You’re not supposed to be on that step.”
“Why would they put a step there if you can’t stand on it?”
“I don’t know. But I’m looking right at the sticker under your heel. It says, “Do not stand at this level. Highest standing level: 2 feet 10 inches.”
“You’d better read the instructions.”
It has never occurred to me that I would require directions for the use of a stepladder.
“Come down and read them anyway,” she says.
The various warnings and caveats cover at least four stickers affixed to different parts of the ladder.
“Failure to read and follow instructions,” says one of them, in big type, “may result in injuries or death.”
There is a picture showing a man plunging to his death from a height of slightly more than 2 feet 10 inches.
The instructions themselves are in type so small I have to go get my glasses to read them. And they are very elaborate. One says the ladder requires occasional lubrication. Another says to be sure to wear slip-resistant shoes — probably on the chance some lubricant got spilled on the steps.
The ladder is only to be used by someone in good physical condition. And never in front of a door that isn’t locked. Not just latched. Locked, the sticker says. Also, windy conditions may present special hazards.
“I think we may have to call it a day.”
“Why?” she says, her disappointment plain.
“Because I may have on the wrong kind of shoes. And I thought I felt a breeze rising.”
“But we’re nearly finished.”
So we struggled on, and in the end we did get the plastic greenery and the lights up. And I came down from the ladder, feeling lucky to escape with my life.
“Plug in the cord,” I tell her. “Pray they come on.”
And by some miracle they do — signaling to the world how incredibly joyful we are and that we’re together for at least another year.