Painter’s Predicament: What to Do When You’re Stuck on the Roof of Your House (The Final Word Opinion Column)

Stranded on his roof, our writer is forced to make a desperate choice

“Oh (off-color epithet), I can’t get down!”

It’s funny what can go through your mind in a dire situation. Evening was descending after a glorious Hudson Valley autumn day, the foliage ablaze in orange, cranberry, gold, and the last vestiges of green, all reflected in the mirror of my pond. I’d been enjoying the scene from my perch on the garage roof while I painted the cupola. “It don’t get no better than this, Bubs,” I thought as I happily slopped primer under the weathervane and savored a season rich with our family traditions — picking apples and pumpkins at local farms and partying with friends around our annual Halloween bonfire.

I’d forgotten all about my climb up the shaky aluminum ladder with a gallon of paint, a brush, and sandpaper in hand, and my dicey maneuver from the top rung onto the hot, black shingles. After slowly crawling up the steep incline, I straddled the peak like a rider on a horse and surrendered to my reverie, which was now shattered by the terror of getting back down.

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After inching on my butt toward the ladder, ominously sliding an inch or two at a time, I realized I couldn’t turn onto my knees and put my feet on the top rung. My hands were too full, the paint can wouldn’t stay put on the incline, and I needed someone to hold the ladder steady.

A man of great dignity, I started shrieking for my teen son. He was inside our house with a friend, only 40 feet away but consumed by the oblivion of Resident Evil, the video game they could easily play from here to eternity. The windows were closed and my piteous cries, if they registered at all, surely sounded like part of the game’s soundtrack. The boys had no reason to come outside and wouldn’t miss me. My wife and daughter were away until the next day, and my oldest son was working until late that night. Our neighbors live too far away to hear me and, besides, no one was around.

“Maybe I can jump,” I thought as my stomach rumbled with hunger and my nearly full bladder tugged on the sleeve of my awareness. It was only a 10-foot drop, but it would surely result in a quick tumble down a steep embankment. “Right. I’ll break my leg or my stupid neck. They’ll find my frosty carcass in the morning, if they think to look for it at all.”

As the day’s warmth dissolved into what promised to be a very chilly night, I tossed the brush and sandpaper, and then realized I’d left the paint can lid on the ground. My mind raced. “I wonder if anyone will see me if I tinkle up here,” I thought as my bladder barked. “With my luck I’ll end up on the evening news.”

Soon, I could put it off no longer: I had to get down. I weighed the cost and extent of the two mucky choices I had. And so — as the first stars came out and the harvest moon rose — I did the only thing a truly desperate man could do.

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“What is that huge mess on the lawn?” my wife asked the next morning.

It was either me or the paint, I explained. I had no choice but to add a big splash of color to autumn’s majestic palette before I could awkwardly make it down to safety. And white grass was vastly preferable to blood red.

» More from writer John Rolfe

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