After Officer Mooney left I spent some time setting up my animation shell for the Skowhegan Construction presentation, but it was a warm, sunny day and I felt restless inside so I decided to do some house painting after a while. I had already painted everywhere I could reach without going up a ladder. It was time to face that fear of heights demon and leave the comforting reassurance of earth beneath my feet. I set the forty-foot ladder up in the front of the cottage.
I took my time opening the can of canary yellow and making sure it was completely mixed. It was virtually homogenized when I was done. Then I tied my sneakers, adjusted my nether regions, weeded the garden, and picked at a nagging hangnail. A film was starting to form on the paint so I got down to it and climbed the ladder.
Six feet off the ground was no problem. I was bolstered by fresh confidence. I could do this. I was overblowing it in my mind, making it more of a source of anxiety than it really was. Twelve feet off the ground my shoulders tensed and my knees went a bit rubbery. I clung more tightly to the ladder and pushed away thoughts of what would happen if I fell from this height. I thought about stories of people in the news who had survived falling several miles when their parachutes didn’t open. This was only twelve feet, insignificant in comparison. I climbed another couple of rungs.
My knees were on very shaky ground now. My feet were tiring from the tension of clenching and a slight light-headedness was setting in. I looked across the street at Roy’s house and that had me reeling. Then I was saved. Roy came over and asked me if I could help him get his lawn mower going.
“Yep, sure thing, Roy!” I climbed down much faster than I had gone up.
Roy’s red Toro was locked up. The pull cord wouldn’t budge the motor. I disconnected the spark plug and turned the whole mower on its side. Roy told me about what he was planting in his garden while I looked things over.
“Beets, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers.”
I tried to turn the mower blade with a stick. It resisted at first and then spun freely.
“The lettuce was a disappointment last year but we were lousy with tomatoes. The only thing was they were spongy on account of all that rain we had early in the summer.”
I set the mower back down on the ground where all things belong and returned the spark plug wire to the white tip. It clicked reassuringly into place. I grabbed the handle and gave the pull cord a good tug. The mower coughed and went back to sleep. I gave it another tug and it sputtered and smoked and then cleared itself out and roared happily away. Roy asked me what was wrong with it.
“I dunno, Roy, I think it was just stuck.”
Roy happily launched in to his mow. It was time to go back up the ladder. I was about ten feet up this time and experiencing the same increasing discomforts when I heard a tiny voice at the base of the ladder. I rested the paint can on a rung and looked down. It was Ali from next door. I climbed down again.
“Hi Ali, what’s up?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, Ken, but I was wondering if you could help me with something.”
“Of course. What’s the problem?
“I just switched to Direct Satellite TV and I can’t get my VCR to play.”
“Let’s have a look.”
Me and Shorty followed our pretty white-haired neighbor into her little Cape Cod house. I pushed the green button on the VCR/DVD player once so it toggled to the VCR side of controls. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ came up on the screen.
“My word, what did you do, Ken?”
“It’s this button, here, Ali. It switches between VHS and DVD functions. That’s all.”
“I have been trying to get this movie to play for three days. I feel so silly. I hate this technical stuff.”
“It can be frustrating. Anything else?”
On my way out through the kitchen, Ali called my attention to a newspaper on the counter. At the bottom of the page was an ad for a Graphics Assembler. I called the number right there and I got Kyle, the owner of the company. I asked him if I could come in and talk to him about a job. He told me to come straight away.
I put the lid back on the paint can and hammered it closed. Then I washed up, put on my lucky red plaid tie, and drove to Bucksport.