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One Small Step ...

It’s an emphatic, strongly worded, “in-your-face” warning: DANGER. Do not stand or sit.

If you’ve used a stepladder since the days when folks simply nailed short horizontal pieces of wood to longer, vertical pieces of wood, you’ve seen this warning. And, if you’ve used such a stepladder, I’m guessing at some point, you’ve shunned the warning and stood on the top step, or as I like to call it, the “summit.” (I’m not a handy person, so anytime I use tools or implements that portend a DIY project is taking place, I like to add some spice to the experience, seeing myself as something of an explorer.)

I get it. From the outset, a stepladder isn’t the most stable piece of equipment. While my geometry acumen mirrors that of my DIY skills, I can tell simply by looking at our standard, 6-foot fiberglass ladder (you likely have a similar model hanging in your garage), that it offers only a minimally-acceptable level of safety and stability, according to OSHA, Underwriters Laboratory, the PTA, your local Elks Lodge or whatever governing body controls and sets the standard for this sort of thing.

Yet, every time I use that ladder – and it has been with increasing regularity since we’ve been sequestered these past few weeks – I not only scoff at, but blatantly disregard that warning (not the sitting part, just the standing). “Why?” you ask. I’ll tell you exactly why.

I need it. I need it because every time – every single time – I use that ladder, I need to get just that much higher, and it’s that top step that gets me there. Make no mistake, like any climber making a bid for the summit of one of the great peaks, I never take this adventure for granted.

Rather, I approach it strategically and with great caution, always making sure my shoes are tied, the ladder is on a flat and level surface, and I have a structure to lean against or grab to steady me.

In fact, it could be said (likely by myself only, since I’m no doubt trying to rationalize my stupidity), that I’m so careful when I take that last step to the top of the ladder, that I’m actually safer than when I’m standing on the ground. (Sadly, given my track record for household accidents and general clumsiness, that might be true.)

Now, I’m not pointing this out as a challenge for others. To the contrary. There is danger in standing or sitting on the peak of a ladder. So, much like sword-swallowing, doing backflips on a trampoline or eating ghost peppers, I implore you, “Please don’t try this at home, and if you do, take all necessary precautions to prevent injury.”

The reason I point this out is that, much like summiting the peak of a great mountain, getting to and using the top step of a ladder, while a notable achievement, is never quite enough, is it? Because every time I use that step – and I feel the momentary thrill and exhilaration of hitting the peak -- I wish I had one more; one more foot of height to grab that flower pot out of the garage attic, or to reach that bunch of leaves in the gutter.

In other words, I believe when it comes to stepladders, we’re always falling short … by one step. If we have a 6-foot ladder, we need a 7-footer. And then, when we go out and purchase that 7-foot model, we soon realize we need an 8-footer, and so on.

So, I ask you, where does it stop, what is the Everest of stepladders? With that said, is it possible the stepladder companies know all this, and they’re all just playing us, hoping (and probably knowing) that someday our garages will be filled with ALL the heights, and if they can just keep cranking out new and taller models, we’ll keep coming back for the latest and greatest?

As you ponder that last “semi-rhetorical” (and quite wordy) set of questions, think about this. The big, block letters on the top level tell me it’s dangerous to stand or sit on it (by the way, the only time I’ve ever seen anyone sit on the top step of a ladder is in our high school yearbook drama club photo), this “non-step” is outfitted with a molded portion that can “presumably” accommodate a can of paint.

OK, you might already see where I’m headed, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this. If I’m not smart enough to either 1) know the risks of standing (or sitting, if I’m a high school thespian) at the peak of something I have -- with my rudimentary mathematical knowledge -- deemed geometrically unstable or 2) exercise maximum caution while doing so, then how in all that’s good and right with the world does this – or any -- ladder company believe I have the physical and intellectual wherewithal to successfully navigate and manage a full can of paint sitting six feet off the ground without said can either a) crashing down on my head, covering me in a heavy coat of robin-egg blue semi-gloss, b) crashing to the ground and spilling onto and over everything in its path or c) both a and b?

Just some food for thought. To conclude, please, please exercise caution and obey all warnings and guidelines that come with your household tools, gadgets and conveyances. And, if you’re tempted to “go rogue,” always know your limits and consider the “risk/reward” of your actions.

Finally, though it doesn’t say so, NEVER put a can of paint in that slot on the top step of your ladder. Because you’ll never regret or resent a can of paint that doesn’t fall on your head or crash to the floor.

© 2020 David R. Haznaw

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