Sunday, April 15, 2012

365 Jobs: The Hum of Ladders

Thursday, April 30, 1976

A young man bought an extension ladder at Sears Roebuck in San Francisco.  Besides the ladder, he bought two gallons of paint and a box of jelly doughnuts. 

Tied to the roof of a Volkswagen Squareback, the twenty-foot ladder hummed aluminum tones in the sea wind as the young man drove along the Great Highway by the Pacific Ocean.  He needed the ladder for a cottage he was refurbishing, a nest where at that moment his wife was four months pregnant with their first child.

Next to a sand dune, he stopped for a cheerful hitchhiker who had a bushy white beard.  While stopped, the young man checked the ropes holding the ladder while the hitchhiker studied the tags still attached from the store.  "You just bought your stairway to heaven," the old guy said.

The hitchhiker was your basic 'Frisco derelict: half-blind, half-deaf, fully-inebriated.  An old salt in bad health who gladly accepted a jelly doughnut and then half-recited, half-sang a poem — or song — who could say which? — harmonizing roughly with the humming ladder.  He seemed to be composing on the spot.  It was about an Irishman who fell off a ladder and was offered a glass of water. 

    Tell me, sweet lass, in a job so risky
    How far must I fall for a glass of whiskey?
The young man dropped the jolly folksinger among the house-boxes of Daly City and would never see him again.  Now he wonders: To what subdivision of heaven did the old man climb?

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