THE OTHER morning I found myself playing out a familiar domestic drama. I was swaying atop a ladder, hammer in one hand, level in another, trying to hang a "priceless" piece of family artwork.
Below stood my wife, giving instructions, offerings suggestions and getting frustrated.
The dialogue went something like this: "Move it a little to the left. No! Not that much. Now a little to the right. It's still crooked."
Success seemed so simple, yet so elusive. After scurrying up and down the ladder like Charlie Chaplin, I eventually got the "priceless" work in place and all parties were pleased.
Moreover, I fell in love with the ladder. It was a collapsible number, one that I had borrowed. One that I now feel I can't live without.
There are several reasons I refer to the artwork as "priceless." First of all, it was made by my wife. It is a needlepoint of a woven Navajo rug pattern and was inspired by a visit we made to a Navajo reservation in Arizona a few years ago. She sketched the pattern onto graph paper, then, needle in hand, sewed the pattern onto fabric.
She did this over a period of about two years. On some evenings as she was working away in the family room and I was nodding off in the nearby Barca-lounger, I felt like a slacker. But I soon got over it. When the work was finished, it was very impressive, and pretty large, about 4 feet by 2 1/2 feet.
Another reason the work is "priceless" is because it spent some time at a framing gallery getting beautified. There it was blocked, straightened, stretched, padded, framed and maybe even massaged. My wife handled all these transactions. I do not know what they cost. When a copy of the bill floated across the kitchen table, it disappeared before I could see it.
I must say the artwork emerged from the beautification process looking exceptional. Once it arrived home, I surmised that my responsibilities toward the artwork were confined to appreciating it - "gorgeous" and "stunning" seemed to be approved adjectives. I was also supposed to hang it on a wall. The spot that had been chosen for it was a wall over the stairs leading down to the kitchen. This location presented problems. Positioning a ladder on stairs would be tricky. Moreover, I knew that my trusty old six-foot stepladder was not tall enough to allow me to reach the spots on the wall where I needed to attach the picture holders.
I tried to look on the bright side of the situation. This was not just a nettlesome chore, instead it was a chance to buy a cool new tool, or in this case, a new ladder.
I had been on the prowl for a new ladder, and knew that size matters. If a ladder is too large, it is cumbersome to handle. In addition, a big ladder makes you eligible to work on big projects, such as painting the house or cleaning gutters. Better to have a short ladder and a long list of excuses, than a long ladder and short list of excuses.
As I tend to do in times of domestic uncertainty, I meandered over to my neighborhood hardware store and sought the counsel of the guys working there. One of the guys, Mickey Fried, not only showed me, via microfilm, a selection of foldable ladders, he also let me take one home for a trial run. He lent me his very own 12-foot foldable metal ladder.
It was one daunting piece of metal. As I approached it, my palms began to sweat. It seemed to have more locks than Supermax. It could put itself in more contorted positions than a gymnast. I swallowed my anxiety, wiped my hands, read the directions on the side of the ladder and went to work.
After a couple of false starts, I got the ladder into its full, locked and upright position. I carried it to the stairs. There, with its feet resting snuggly against the risers, the ladder offered support and comfort as I battled with the "stunning" but crooked artwork.
Up and down the ladder I went, hammering new holes for the picture hangers, repositioning the artwork, checking to make sure it was level.
I kept at it for about two hours. The top of the artwork would be centered on the wall, but the bottom was catawampus. Eventually I found a comprising, eye-pleasing, if not totally centered position. It turned out the walls I was working with were not true. Or as the Navajo might say, life is uneven.
The saga had a happy ending. The artwork enhances the beauty of our home. The kitchen stairs never looked better. And I have ordered a new ladder. It is similar to the type I borrowed. If anyone asks how much the new ladder cost, I will reply that like many of life's treasured possessions, this one is "priceless."