I am completely and totally afraid of heights. I can admit it. I don’t like ladders, standing on chairs, eating on elevated revolving restaurants above the city below (unless someone else is paying, of course) and rooftops. I hate rooftops. I get sweaty and nauseated on fair rides. I pray to myself when I get on an airplane that there are no bumps and that the pilot took his or her antidepressants.
I actually try to book flights early in the morning because I was told there are less bumps in the morning. If I can’t get an early morning flight, then I make sure my ATM has plenty of room for in-flight acquired liquid anesthesia. It might say Virgin America on the side of the plane, but it’s really Gray Goose-amnesia airlines.
I admit am vertically challenged. I love terra firma. Little did I know that this job, which seems to have a firm footing on land would put me in some very uncomfortable if not nauseating situations.
I think God loves to mess with me. I believe it. Sometimes I think the good Lord sits in front of his (or her) version of the “almighty edition” of X-box and sees us little guys playing life. Just when it seems safe, I get a smoke alarm to change, maybe a spider just outside of reach, an ex-wife, or of course, Christmas lights to hang. Now, you would think that my respect for God would buy me a couple of points. I mean, I put up the Christmas lights sometimes in the most hazardous of situations. You know the reach to get the cord on the hook, 12 feet up with one foot of the ladder sinking in the dirt after a good rain, right? You would think I could get a pass on a rooftop jumper or crook running from me on a rooftop. No, of course it does not.
I remember a little while back, I was called to a transition house in our downtown. It was located in a four story building. (Reader, please pause for an important message from me, loaded with sarcasm and a little irreverent.) OK, a message to shrinks and administrators of these places….transitional housing in a FOUR STORY building is not so smart. A bad day in a one story structure is maybe falling on the lawn from your bedroom window. A bad day in a four story building will really hurt. No soft lawn, just concrete, or maybe some poor soul riding a bike or taking a walk below to break the fall. But hey, if teaching a lesson is what you want, well, by all means, shoot for the 7 story building. Bigger thump, much more impressive – and more time to do tricks on the way down.
The call at the transition house was for a jumper on the roof. Of course this was an 1800’s era building, with no elevators and really narrow stairs. My blueberry muffin down the street, with a perfectly made cup of coffee would go cold for this call. I had to go to this and there was no way I was going to quickly eat it only to temporarily store them in my stomach for them to appear again in front of my pals. I mean, I like my coffee and muffins, maybe a little too much, but not enough to experience them twice.
I lumbered up to the roof. The stairs were narrow and as I ran up them, I bounced off of the walls all the way up. It was easily 3 left turns per floor all the way up. I was dizzy when we finally arrived.
When I got to the top, with my partner, I saw that our bad day was going to get much worse. First, no oxygen tank for me to suck off of, second, no railings around the roof and finally no beautiful member of the opposite sex trying to get me to wake up, like it was a bad dream.
What’s worse than a rooftop negotiation session with an unhappy person? The gravel roof she is standing on. For all that mattered to me, it might have just been a rooftop of ball bearings. My heart stopped beating. I’m sure I looked like I was walking on a tightrope above a mine field. My feet felt like they were in concrete.
The jumper was a woman, about my size who was in a pink nighty AND –had yucky vanilla scented lotion all over the exposed parts of her body. I could actually see her arms were all shiny. She smelled like a vanilla shake and had this nighty on, but I don’t think the two worked well together. The nighty I think it was from Fredericks of Hollywood. Not my style. A little contrived for my taste, plus everyone knows black is slenderizing and the “in” color.
When I realized I was on the roof and there were rocks at my feet, (a sensory trick, by the “Almighty” used to lure me into believing I was on the ground…) I had this weird thing come over me. Suddenly I felt like there was a magnet over the side of the roof and I was made of cheap metal. This mania comes over me when I am high up. I literally feel like I am getting pulled closer to the side. Same thing happens to me on the Golden Gate Bridge, with pizza and on fire ladders.
I was not a hostage or crisis negotiator yet, so I did not have anything to offer this lady to comfort her or maybe convince her that cement poisoning was really painful. Most of my professional experiences centered on what happened after a victim’s brisk and purposeful walk over the side. I can say I am an expert when it comes to the terminal application of concrete to the body, but at the time of this incident my heart was not into this call. Don’t forget – Muffin and cold coffee! Really high up with rocks…and no railing, not good at all!
At the time my biggest crisis in life was where to find a good plate of gnocchi. I really was a simple kid with no real connection to this gal’s misery. I tried my best stuff, including my standard line of “hey have you ever been to Jamaica?” “You can’t die until you have been there.” That actually worked once, but apparently this gal was not a fan of Red Stripe Jamaican Beer and instead of being mesmerized by the thought of white beaches and people selling stuff to you that you don’t need, she walked closer to the side and looked over. My heart took one giant pump, and then stopped again. I remember saying something under my breath and she asked what I said. Ding-ding-ding! I was on to something. I did not intend this, it was not a skillful training thing, and it was an absolute accident.
I started to talk normal and looked away a couple of times. I was really good at talking under my breath. I went to Catholic school and I was no genius, so talking under my breath – asking for test answers, with a turkey sandwich chaser offered to my cheating confederate, was how I passed Biology.
My new tactic was like reeling in the big fish. It was working! She walked a little closer with each statement; I’m guessing so she couldn’t hear what the heck I was saying. When she was close enough, my partner and I took a quick big step forward and grabbed her.
Remember the lotion? Ya, the fight was on! She slipped from our hands. It was like trying to catch a chicken on a rooftop. I don’t think this gal was really interested in jumping, because after our little slip-a roo she could have just run over and taken a leap of faith.
All of us ended up on the gravel roof. The one lucky thing about the lotion and the gravel was that the little sharp rocks, used for roofing material, stuck to her skin. It made her palpable. It also poked her with just the slightest of squeeze, an unintended consequence that worked really well for me. Each time she squirmed and tried to pull away, I squeezed her arm, gently, of course. She went from devotedly suicidal to really angry. I like to call it an attention-getter. We handcuffed her and she went off to the crisis unit for a little TLC and a tune up. I have not and will never go back up there. I am certain that my place is on the ground. I like the ground. We Italians don’t do really tall buildings very well, Take the leaning tower of Pisa for example. Need I say more?
Running on a rooftop is not like a Bourne movie. It sucks. Especially so, in the dark. One night a crook was in an upper room at one of our local – by the hour – motels. I learned he was a parolee who was wanted. After I confirmed he was in the room with a woman, who I like to call an exotic social engineer, I knocked on the door with my partner.
This was early in my career, so I was naïve and announced “Police.” The next sound I heard was this weird sound like someone was kicking something. I was right! I looked up on the roof and could see the upstairs room window was open and a guy was kicking at the bars. My pal and I booted the front door and ran up the stairs. Just as we made the top of the stairs the suspect kicked off the bars on the windows and jumped out.
I popped out the window and noticed immediately, its dark and I am on a roof. Not my idea of fun. On TV the stunt guy gets this honor.
Like many good cops before me, I was sucked into the moment and ran after the criminal. What I, and apparently he, could not plan for, were the wires securing the TV antenna to the roof.
As he reached the end of his flight, at full speed, he tripped on a wire and fell off the roof. I actually think that was the hand of God escorting him to the pavement below, very quickly. I stopped, then carefully walked toward the edge with my gun now out as I peeked over the side. I had my best “Stop Police” voice cued up and looked over the side. Poof! Gone! This guy vanished. I was blown away. I expected a lump on the ground, but found nothing. Not even a spot where his DNA hit the deck.
I walked back to the room and down the stairs with my partner. We walked to the end of the building but could not see this guy anywhere. I looked at my partner as if to see if maybe this was a goof or a ghost. He simply shrugged his shoulders. We then went from door to door under the escape route looking for this guy.
I stopped and listened before knocking on each door. About halfway through the rooms downstairs I heard the sound of a person whimpering on the other side of the door and knew this was either my bad guy, or maybe my displaced social engineer. I knocked on the door and a non-involved party, who looked afraid, came to the door. You always know these guys; they have really big eyes and are sweating. I whispered for him to step out and said “He’s in here, right?” I got the nod. My partner and I entered and found a guy whose elbow looked like it had extra parts to it. I mean, it bent in unnatural ways. He no longer looked like big strong convict. He looked like he was in pain. Pain is the great equalizer.
I think this guy was glad we found him. The paramedics took him to the hospital and he was later escorted back to another room with bars on the window, this time not as an hourly guest, but as an invited resident of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to finish his parole time.
Remember, Always-always look before you leap. Let us know if you want more.
Until the next time......Ralph.
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