The High Art of Elevated Dumbery
By: Stephen Bishop
Some people think you can just do dumb things without any forethought, but learning how to do dumb things responsibly takes years of diligent practice. And some people, realizing how difficult it is to do dumb things responsibly, try to avoid doing dumb things all together. My wife is one of those people. She just let’s me do all the dumb stuff and then reaps the rewards.
For instance, last week a smoke detector started chirping in the middle of the night and was disturbing her slumber. With a sharp elbow to my ribs, she then disturbed my slumber and said, “Fix it.”
Our old farmhouse has twelve-foot ceilings, and I didn’t feel like going to the barn to retrieve the ladder, so I did what any reasonably trained person in the art of doing dumb things would do. I erected a makeshift tower using chairs and advanced engineering practices (big chairs on bottom; small chairs on top), climbed it like King Kong, and then used a plunger to extend my reach and twist down the smoke detector (really, your standard plunger fits your standard smoke detector; try it). Then I went back to bed. The next morning when my wife woke up and saw the chair tower still standing, she was deeply impressed and said, “That was really dumb. I’m surprised you didn’t fall.”
What my wife didn’t realize, however, was that tower represented years of study in the art of doing dumb things and stood as a monument to my specialization in elevated dumbery, or the branch of doing dumb things from heights.
I had been building and climbing chair towers ever since I was a little boy searching for hidden Christmas gifts. As a child, I climbed with natural aplomb, but getting down was sometimes a different matter. Once my neighbor Andy and I got stuck in the top of a magnolia, and my mom threatened to call the fire department. That got us down fast. Nothing negates the gratification earned in climbing to a treetop more than having one’s mom request an embarrassing emergency rescue. Even Andy realized we’d be better off taking our chances with gravity than living with a rescue on our permanent record. After my mom motivated us “to get down now,” it was no time before Andy was down and blissfully biking home with orders to say hello to his mom. Erstwhile, once my feet touched terra firma, I was ordered straight to my room. That just goes to show you that you’re usually better off performing courageous climbs at a friend’s house and being extradited than performing them in your own parent’s jurisdiction.
In college, I finally got serious about elevated dumbery. In fact, whoever decided to add brick latticework to the side of the freshman men’s dorm should have just put a three-story rock-climbing wall. I graduated with a degree in English, but, to be honest, the experience climbing has probably proven more valuable.
If I had to estimate the value in bees I’ve gotten from catching swarms or doing cutouts on a ladder, it wouldn’t be unsubstantial; it would at least be enough to pay the first installment for a decent orthopedic surgeon when the time comes that I do fall. And I suppose the older I get, the closer I get to that time. Once when I was clinging to the top of an extension ladder that was wavering unsupported in midair, I thought the time was nigh. Above me was a swarm hanging from a limb. Below me was my wife’s poppaw who was holding an A-frame ladder steady, to which the bottom of the extension ladder was securely latched with a few strands of old bailing twine. Never have I ever been so happy to safely walk down a ladder again. I promised myself that I would never do anything quite so dumb again at an elevated position.
I’m not sure what the life expectancy is for a beekeeper who does elevated cutouts, but I know enough to know now that when someone calls with a cutout in a second story soffit, I let the young guys take it because I figure they’re a lot further away from finding out what that expectancy is. I may be well-educated in the high art of elevated dumbery, but I ain’t stupid. So just remember this: Discretion is the better part of valor, especially when bees, ladders, and saws are involved.