COLUMN: Home decorating fraught with risks

NANAIMO – Another year slipped by and I’ve forgotten to buy a good ladder.

Given a choice between Halloween and Christmas decorations I’ll choose Halloween because I can scare children with them – and because I’ve learned to fear putting up Christmas lights.

Last Sunday my wife dragged me out to put the lights up around the house.

Whenever we do this I’m reminded another year slipped by and I’ve forgotten to buy a good ladder.

I fear heights and ladders. Few things draw profanity from my mouth like the terror of being  20 feet up – OK, it’s more like 12 feet, maybe six feet at my feet– a flimsy 40-year-old aluminum ladder that wobbles all over the place when you climb on it.

So here I am, on an unstable ladder, can’t find stable footing on the river rock garden in front of the house, wobbling and cursing, and my wife hands me a soaking-wet string of plugged-in Christmas lights.

“Why do you have the lights plugged in?” I ask.

“So I can tell which ones aren’t working,” she says.

We’ve been through all this before and I know further argument is pointless, so I just swear some more as the ladder wobbles and pray the lights short out through the aluminum ladder instead of my heart.

My job includes listening to fire and ambulance calls on an emergency frequency scanner, and just about every day of the week this time of year I’ll hear some 911 dispatcher sending first responders to a “fall from a ladder.”

“You know if I fall off this damn thing I don’t get workers comp,” I say, wondering how many guys have died or been left horribly maimed falling five or six feet from a ladder.

“If you’re so scared I’ll go up there,” she says. Heights don’t bother her.

“If I don’t like it up here, I’m not sending my wife up here,” I say, male pride getting the better of common sense.

While I’m up there, I reach into the roof gutter to clear the drain, grab slimy lumps of decay and toss them on the lawn.

“I suppose I’ll be picking that up later,” wife says.

I’ve been getting a touch of vertigo the last few months – from some mold allergy, my doctor tells me – so when I look back down after staring up for a while, the world starts spinning and I cling to the wobbly ladder for safety and curse some more until the spinning subsides.

The lights are finally strung across the first five feet of gutter. It takes a while, but the lights eventually get strung over to the entranceway and across the front of the garage.

Then it’s time to hang more lights in the Japanese maple next to the driveway and the magnolia tree out in the lawn. None of these trees make lights appear like they’re hanging on anything remotely like a Christmas tree.

With my hands, shoes, lawn and plugged-in light strings soaking wet, I’m fatalistic about actually surviving this ritual. But at least I’m off that damned ladder.

By now there are at least 10 strings of lights all plugged in to one power bar. That many strings of incandescent bulbs used to practically melt the outlet, but I thought they had a nicer sparkle and they challenged my wife to seeing how many strings she could connect before blowing a circuit breaker.

It was dark when we were done. I’d made it through another one of these sessions without cashing in my life insurance policy and we gazed at her creation.

I eyed a space in the lawn where we had a graveyard for Halloween.

“It’d be kind of fun to put some Christmas stuff down along there,” I say.

“That’d be nice, but that stuff almost never comes on sale before Christmas,” she says.

Now I’m praying she doesn’t find those stupid Christmas-light lawn reindeer on sale somewhere.

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