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Damned if ya do, damned if ya don’t

It’s true you can have a lot of fun while you’re aging. But unless you’re a card-carrying masochist, aging itself is no fun at all.

The Golden Years are rife with all sorts of aches and pains, shakes and strains, worries and weaknesses. Young people don’t believe it’ll happen to them, and if they even know about it, it’s only because they read it in their grandparents’ copy of the Reader’s Digest Guide to Falling Apart.

While I don’t get any kicks out of the aforementioned slippage and sloppage, I understand that Collapse on the Installment Plan is inevitable, and I accept it. Let’s get real: There’s nothing special about us homo sapiens — dogs, cats, fish, trees, birds, bacteria and everything living eventually returns to the dust whence it sprang.

But I’ll tell ya what DOES bug me. It’s being reminded I was once young and reveled in its Glorious Perks… but no longer do.

I was a serious runner for several years, then a recreational runner for many years … then a plodder … then a hobbler. Then, after a hip replacement, I was none of the above. I know and accept that. But still, when I’m driving and up ahead I see some young hardbody flying over the asphalt — like I once did — I get hit by a sharp attack of The Wistfuls.

It doesn’t happen all the time — just enough to keep things interesting. And by that measure, last week had one very interesting highlight.

Up and at it

An ice dam had formed on my roof, and I wanted it gone. To do that, I needed three things: an ax, a ladder and a friend. I have my own ax, and I had access to the others, in the person of the Emir of Elevation.

You don’t know the Emir of Elevation since I just made that handle up — you know him as Ron Burdick. The reason for his lofty title is he not only has a ladder; he has THE ladder. First, it can be put in more positions than a pole dancer. And second, it’s absolutely solid and stable. This means it’s also about as heavy as a blacksmith’s anvil.

Ron showed up at the agreed time, and we immediately got to work.

First we dragged the ladder out of the truck and hauled it over the walkway and down the slope at the side of the house. Then, standing in knee-deep snow, we started to extend it. After we did that, we leaned it up against the house, where its top rested just under the eaves.

Now here’s the thing: If I were standing on the roof, ax in hand, chopping that ice off would be pretty easy. It’d also make me a bigger damned fool than I am. My days of standing on a roof — any roof, especially in winter — are gone … and they ain’t ever coming back. But getting at the ice from under the eaves presented a real problem, since there was no way I could use an ax with one hand (allowing for a death grip on the ladder with my other).

“I’m gonna hafta use a hammer,” I said.

“Think that’ll work?” said Ron.

“Only one way to find out,” I said, and I started up the ladder.

It was firmly anchored and didn’t flex at all. Still, while I climbed steadily, I did NOT climb merrily. See, I don’t like heights. Or more exactly, I like looking up at them, but I hate looking DOWN from them. Cliffs, rock faces, balconies, walkways — anything high and exposed makes gives me the screaming abdabs. Heights bothered me when I was young; now they terrify me. But I managed to climb up the ladder, hammer in hand, and start pounding on the ice.

Within 15 minutes I realized it was futile. All the hammering had chipped off only small bits of the ice. Besides, I was getting tired, and I was hammering with ever-decreasing strength and speed. At that rate, the ice dam would melt before I could clear it off. I invoked my mantra for such cases: If at first you don’t succeed, the hell with it.

Down and away from it

Back on terra firma again, I told Ron, “OK, let’s call it a day.”

“You sure?” he said. “Want me to give it a try?

“No way,” I said. And I meant it. This was my shauri, and there was no way I’d put him at risk of a fall.

Taking the ladder down, folding it up and then rassling it back up the walkway was a lot harder than bringing it down, since gravity had been with us then … and was against us now.

My bad knee was throbbing, and my good knee ached. My arms were going leaden. I was breathing heavily and sweating. But with male ego at stake, there was no way I’d ask for a break.

Finally, we’d hauled it onto the driveway and only had to hoist it into the truck bed.

Ron raised the front end, and I grabbed the other. Then I squatted and lifted. And when we did, I heard a loud “Snap” and a sharp pain tore into my lower right side.

I doubled over.

“Bloody hell!” I cried.

“What?” said Ron.

“I don’t believe it,” I said.

“Believe what?” he said.

“I think I just ruptured myself,” I gasped.

Neither of us said anything. He looked in shock, and I WAS in shock.

But I needed to assess the damage.

Gingerly, I put my hand in my pocket and was about to press on my side when I was hit by another pain. But this one was in my hand, not my side.

I took my hand out and there, sticking in the tip of my index finger, was a razor-sharp sliver of plastic. I removed it and tossed it aside.

Then I reached back in my pocket and brought out the remnants of a shattered Tic-Toc box. I held it out to Ron, and both of us burst into near-hysterical laughter.

When we finally stopped laughing and caught our breath, he spoke.

“Gave me quite a scare there,” he said.

“Gave YOU a scare?” I said. “It about gave me a heart attack.”

I shook my head, thinking over the whole scene from start to finish.

“Ya know,” I said, “If I’d gotten a hernia just now, it would’ve been a fitting end to the day.”

“How so?” he said.

“Just dragging the ladder down and back up from the house has pretty much wiped me out,” I said. “Just not as strong as I was. I’m not as ANYTHING as I was.”

I shook my head.

“Hey,” he said, “We ain’t 60 anymore.”

“Even worse,” I said, “in my case, I ain’t 70 anymore, either.”

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