Odd Thoughts: Fear trumps fear on a ladder

I have a house that needs painting, a 20-foot ladder, and a fear of heights.

I have a house that needs painting, a 20-foot ladder, and a fear of heights.

I expect you think you know where I’m heading with this.

But I haven’t mentioned the wasps yet.

Or the spiders.

In fact, the spiders have practically nothing to do with this. I have serious arachnophobia, but there are no spiders up that high.

I have no idea whether or not that’s true, but when faced with the possibility of an encounter, I meditate on their absence until I have convinced myself of it — Donna calls it my “spider zen” — and that gets me through the day.

I’m not particularly afraid of wasps. They don’t usually bother to sting me, and when they do, it’s not really a big deal.

To me, a wasp sting is kind of like the doctor says when he’s about to give you a needle, “You’ll just feel a little pinch,” except despite the fact needles really don’t hurt, I’m as like as not to faint dead away at the sight of the metal entering my flesh… and that, apparently, is no less common than arachnophobia. Go figure.

But now I was 20 feet up a wobbly ladder and my spotter had run off because wasps terrify her, because wasps, hornets, and practically all kinds of insects that have the wherewithal to bite or sting will take every opportunity they can to attack her, and her immune system reacts badly when they do.

I told Donna to get away from the pesky wasp that kept buzzing her — she could leave me alone up the ladder on condition that she kept her ears peeled and stayed prepared to implement our special emergency protocol.

The protocol has three parts, and goes like this:

If she hears me shouting loudly, she is to come running.

If she hears a shout followed by a large thump, a clang, or banging sounds followed by shouting at a higher pitch, she is to call 9-1-1.

If at any time the shouting stops abruptly, she is to tell them to hurry.

Trouble is, once she left the foot of the ladder, the wasp decided to see what was at the other end — me.

As I stood atop the ladder, paintbrush in one hand and paint bucket in the other, I comforted myself with the knowledge that wasps don’t normally want to sting me.

That’s notwithstanding the incident at the farm a few years ago when I was stung about 20 or so times while crawling over a wasp nest… don’t ask.

When the wasp landed on the back of my leg, I admit, I became at least a tiny bit trepidatious.

The ladder seemed to be wobbling somewhat more than before, and then, as I attempted to zen that wasp out of my personal universe, I had the misfortune to remember the time I was explaining to Donna that a wasp buzzing around us was probably just lost because we were standing on a twig or blade of grass or some other landmark that it was using for navigation to and from its nest.

All we had to do was step aside, I explained.

As we moved to allow the wasp to regain its bearings, it landed on my bare forearm.

I seized it as the perfect opportunity to prove my point.

“I’ll just stand still and not bother with him,” I told a nervous Donna, “and he won’t bother with me.”

After a moment, I added, “See, he has no reason to sting me.”

And at that precise moment, he stung me.

Funny thing is, while the wasp was on my leg, I never once thought about my fear of heights.


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