“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”
I employed a guy to paint my house. Simple enough, I’m sure many of you have done the same. At the time I lived in what they call a chalet bungalow, or as I preferred to describe it, a bungalow with an upstairs in it. Apart from the gable ends there were very few really high bits and most of it could be reached with a small bay of scaffolding, which I had.
So the painter came along, a youngish guy, in his early to mid thirties probably, slim build, but wiry and strong. Not overly tall, maybe 5’ 9” or 10”, but with fairly long, spindly legs. You’ll see the point of describing the legs later.
I helped him set up the scaffolding and up he went to get started prepping the fascia board and soffit first, and I went indoors to my home office to get some work done. About a couple of hours later I reckoned I needed a cup of coffee and I went outside to see if he would like one as well. He said he would and we sat down outside to drink the coffee and do some damage to a packet of milk chocolate digestive cookies.
When we were done, he thanked me and climbed back up on the scaffolding to get back to work. He was a good worker, didn’t waste any time, and he was on a job rate, rather than per hour, so there was an incentive for him to get it done as soon as he could.
It was a nice day, quite warm, and I had most of my chores taken care of for the morning so I decided to sit outside for a while. Somebody once said, “I love hard work. I could sit here and watch it all day.” And I can sympathize with that statement. I was watching the whole affair from my vantage point, sitting on a low wall about ten feet behind him.
As he got closer and closer to the edge of the planks, I though to myself, “He’s going to fall off.” (You see I was the smart one, I’d figured that out. He hadn’t.)
I told him he was getting a bit close to the edge, but he either didn’t hear me or thought I was being overly cautious. He just talked on and painted on.
And I watched on.
He kept taking steps to his left, ever closer towards the edge, talking away and painting away, oblivious to everything else.
And then it happened. He took another step to his left, and then another. And then another, only this time he couldn’t get anything to set his left foot on.
Maybe you had to be there, but my goodness it was funny. And the great thing was, it seemed to last for ages. There was his left leg in mid air, padding frantically at the empty space for something solid, but finding nothing.
Whatever was going on in this poor bloke’s head I don’t know, but his solution to not falling off, wasn’t to take a step to his right, back on to the planks. Oh, no. Absolutely not. Far too easy. Instead he had made up his mind that the thing to do was to keep sticking his left leg further and further out to the left, into mid air, possibly in the hope that there was another invisible bit of scaffolding somewhere with reach.
Of course, there wasn’t, and, as many women have testified, gravity is a really unforgiving so-and-so and it will always get you in the end. And it certainly got my painter friend. Down he went.
Captain John Sheridan, (no he wasn’t the guy on the scaffolding, he’s a fictional character in the TV sci fi show Babylon 5, played by Bruce Boxleitner) said that his dad always used to say, “If you’re falling off a cliff, you may as well try to fly. You have nothing to lose.” And to give the painter a bit of credit he flailed about with both arms and legs trying to push against the air as he plummeted earthwards.
It took little more than a second I’m sure, but it was a glorious second of pure comedy. And then there was a “flump” kind of noise and he disappeared in behind another tiny wall about two feet high.
He was dead!
No, no, of course he wasn’t dead, but he could have been as far as I was concerned. He could have fractured his skull, or an arm, or a leg, or had all sorts of horrific injuries. But if that had been the case and my swift intervention could have saved him, well, I’m afraid this bloke was a goner. For quite a number of seconds I was as powerless to do anything as he had been at flying. I was just in an uncontrollable state of laughter.
When I’d settled myself down a little, I got up to walk over to where he had landed to assess the damage. Just then a hand and then the bottom half of his left arm appeared, clutching at the top of the small wall. Then his head appeared.
I thought the funniest thing I had ever seen was him falling to the ground, trying to fly. But the expression now on his face beat that by a mile and then some. It’s hard to do it justice in a description here, but you could tell immediately by his face that he was completely mystified about what had happened, or even where he was. Those were his very next words in fact.
“Where am I?” he asked.
I couldn’t answer. I mean I knew where he was all right, but the look on his face had me doubled up with laughter. I couldn’t say anything.
“What happened?” he went on, his voice shaking.
I pulled myself together.
“You fell off that scaffolding,” I told him.
“What scaffolding?” he then asked.
Again I couldn’t answer. I put my hand over my mouth and did one of those coughie-laughs, or is it laughie-coughs, I’m not sure, but I did it. By this time he was on his knees and attempting to get up. I walked over, still with my hand over my mouth, and held out my arm to help him. Together we got him to his feet and I sat him down on the wall. He was badly shaken, but no injuries, not a scratch on him. Lucky!
“I could do with a smoke,” he said, and he pulled out small tin with all the doings. He was what they call a “roll-up” man. But his hands were still trembling and the first couple of attempts to make a cigarette were a disaster. There were bits of tobacco everywhere but on the cigarette paper. I’m not a smoker and I’ve never made up one of these things in my life, but I tried to help as best I could and between us we made something resembling a cigarette, albeit a very crooked and crumpled one. He wasn’t having a lot of success with his matches either, so I took them and held one for him. He lit the makeshift cigarette and took several deep drags.
“Just sit there a minute,” I said and went in the house to make him a cup of tea. I’d always heard that a cup of sweet tea was a good thing for someone in shock, and this bloke was definitely in shock. I brought out the tea, he drank it, finished his cigarette and sat on the wall for a while longer. Then, when he’d got his wits back again (he actually had only half of them, but we’ll get to that) he said he felt okay and would get back to work. More power to him for his attitude.
We located his paint brush, which had landed in the garden just about the same time he had, and back up he went on to the scaffolding. I decided to stick around for a while just to make sure he was okay. He seemed fine, and as he painted he started chatting away again just as before. All was good.
For a while.
“He’s getting very close to the edge,” I thought to myself as I watched.
Closer and closer to the left edge of the scaffolding he got.
“Bloody hell,” I said to myself. “I do believe this idiot’s going to do it again!” I remember actually saying that second bit out loud and looking round for someone to share this incredible moment with, but unfortunately there was no one.
The tension and anticipation was almost unbearable. And I couldn’t move. It was quite a surreal experience. This was real life, it was happening right in front of me, but at the same time it was as if I was watching the whole debacle on a cinema or tv screen, or a youtube video on the computer (oh how I wish I had had a video camera – this was a million hitter for sure).
And then, like a slow motion replay of the first time, out went the long, spindly left leg padding the air for more non existent scaffolding. Out and out, farther and farther into mid air until his balance was lost. Our old friend gravity took charge again and away he went.
He did try to fly again, arms and legs flailing about like a mad thing. But he was no better at it than the first time, and a second later he disappeared from view in behind the same little wall accompanied by the same ‘FLUMP’ sound.
I didn’t laugh just so much this time. I was more amazed that it was possible for someone to be stupid enough to do the same thing in the same way another time. Even when his left hand and arm appeared clutching at the wall, or his bewildered face came into view, I was able to contain myself reasonably well. I was quite proud of myself this time actually.
But then, as he got up on his knees, and started to stand up, he said something that sent me off on another laughing fit.
“Where am I?” he asked again.
Then, his voice shaking as before, “What happened?”
“You fell off that scaffolding,” I told him, as best I could.
That was it. The final straw. When he said, “What scaffolding?” there was no coming back for me. I was gone. Up he got, sat down on the wall, tried to make another cigarette, all without my assistance this time. My right hand was on my brow and I was staring intently at the ground, my entire body vibrating with spasms of laughter.
We sat there for a good few minutes, neither of us able to say anything or do anything, for different reasons. Then I said that I though he should go home for the day.
“I think maybe I will,” he agreed. And off he went.
I walked over to the garage, found a piece of rope, climbed on to the scaffolding and tied it around the edge about three feet higher than the platform floor as a make-shift guard rail.
Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day for painting.
Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.