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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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nothing so cool as a twelve-foot stepladder
september 6, 2003

Years and years ago, while Mary and I were still living in California, we were driving through a small resort town with, in our backseat, Constance, Mary's niece, and a little boy who was a friend but not, Constance made clear, thin eyebrows raised as she emphasized the point, a boyfriend, when Constance asked if we would buy her an expensive toy she spotted, out the back window, displayed in one of the passing storefronts.

Mary turned around in her seat, still in her twenties, blonde hair down to her waist (she looks even more beautiful now). "We'd really like to, sweetheart, but we don't have enough money."

Constance sat up. "You have a checkbook. You can just write a check and get money."

It's always struck me as odd, that the one tree everyone agrees they don't have growing in their backyard is a money tree. You never hear a parent say, "I'm sorry you have a bad cough, Andre, but after all, we don't have a health tree growing in our backyard." Or, "It's unfortunate you're so depressed, Sylvia, but last time I looked, we didn't have a happiness tree in our backyard." (Plus it's always the backyard. I guess because if one did have a money tree, it would be foolish to plant it in the front yard, where the neighbors could pluck off bills, which shows that the people stating they don't have a money tree have at least thought about the prospect long enough to figure out where, if they ever did get one, it should be planted. Myself, if we had a way of growing money, I'd grow it in the basement, if we had a basement, where you could just clomp down the wooden steps and lo and behold there'd be, across the dirt floor, a spread of stout little growths, like mushrooms, and all I'd have to do is stoop over, peel a few presidents off the caps.)

The other night we were both upstairs working on projects, when Mary returned from downstairs with a piece of paper on which she'd written, $459.

"What's this?"

She pointed to the amount. "Do you believe that?"

"What is it? What does it mean?"

I was a little alarmed at seeing $459 on a piece of paper, because we had been spending more money than usual this week.

Mary's still having problems with her eczema. I've been wracking my brain trying to think of some way to help her. I called a dermatologist in town to see if we could get an appointment, for another opinion, but the receptionist told me they were closed to new patients until at least October (What is it about dermatologists, anyway? I can cold call a cardiologist or neurologist and get an appointment a few days off, but call a dermatologist, and there's like a two month wait for an appointment.)

I remembered a commercial on WRR, the Dallas classical music station I used to listen to when I was still taking Mary to her speech therapy sessions at Pate Rehab. The commercial was for Skin Zinc, an over-the-counter cream which supposedly works wonders with eczema and other skin disorders. I went on the Internet, found a site selling it, tried to find other sites that might have comments on its efficacy, came up short. But I thought, why not try it? (I asked Mary's dermatologist about Skin Zinc during a visit. He gave the amused smile a doctor gives at the suggestion he or she might not be the only solution. "It serves no purpose. Let me correct that. It does serve the purpose of what is referred to as 'wealth redistribution'." Thanks, doc.)

So I clicked on the Buy Now! link, and a one and a half ounce tube of the stuff is something like thirty dollars, with a ten dollar shipping charge.

Forty dollars is not a whole lot of money, you can barely fold it, but we do have expectations of how much we should pay for an item, and forty dollars seemed kind of expensive for one and a half ounces of a skin cream (unless it really works). I don't mind spending twenty dollars to buy a DVD, but if someone wanted to sell me a twenty dollar jar of pickles, I'd really want each bite to transport me back to the delicatessens of my childhood.

I ordered it. If it helps Mary, it's worth it. But still, that's like, cocaine prices.

Another item I had no idea how much it should cost, which we shopped for this week, was a twelve-foot ladder.

If you haven't bought a twelve-foot ladder, tell me now how much you think it should cost.

We needed a ladder that tall because we had decided to re-do our bedroom. We've been in our home twelve years now, and although everything was brand spanking new when it was first built, over twelve years, some areas have aged.

We spend a lot of time in the bedroom. The walls have a dozen years of cigarette smoke, dust and cat dander. Plus our cats, who naturally hang out there too, with us, that's our den, have more than once messed up the white carpet.

So we figured, let's repaint all the walls, get the carpet pulled up, new carpet tacked down.

We decided to paint the walls ourselves, because it sounded like a fun project to do together. We like doing projects together.

One of the things we enjoy about our home's design is that each room has a different style of ceiling.

In our master bedroom, the ceiling slopes up from either side to an apex. The apex is fourteen feet high. The slope on the east and west sides of the bedroom starts about eight feet up.

So to paint the north and south bedroom walls, we needed a stepladder twelve feet high.

We went to Home Depot.

Walked down a long wall of stepladders six feet high, eight feet high, you see where this is going, the prices increasing, like at a funeral parlor where the director dips you in the water at the two thousand dollar plain pinewood boxes, then escorts you by the elbow towards the gleaming mahogany coffins, asking where the two of you first met.

By the time we reached the twelve-foot stepladders, we were up to $219.

Is a twelve-foot stepladder worth $219?

I don't know. That's about ten DVD's, four lunches for two, 7.5 ounces of Skin Zinc.

I guess it is. There's something majestic, albeit structurally insectile, about a really, really tall stepladder. It's one of those truly cool things to own. When you have guests over, you can lead them into the room where the stepladder is standing opened, let them experience being in the presence of a structure that incredibly tall, right in front of them, a structure you can even, like a kid, climb up if you want to, I mean that is the point to a stepladder, isn't it?

(Some of you reading this are probably thinking, Big deal, a twelve-foot stepladder. But if you do feel that way, go to a Home Depot, get a twelve-foot stepladder down from the rack, open it, stand in front of the steps, craning your head back to look all the way up, climb up to the top, then e-mail me a sincere apology.)

But we didn't want to buy it at Home Depot, because too much of it would hang out the rear of our Honda CRV, and the tall stepladder section of Home Depot is generally deserted anyway, as it was this day, no orange-aproned clerks to collar.

I went on-line, to Home Depot. And guess what? On-line, their ladders only go up to six feet.


So I bought it from Lowe's on-line. With tax and shipping, our twelve-foot stepladder is now $285.

Jesus, did I ever think we'd spend $285 for a ladder?

They delivered it the next day, this past Wednesday.

Mary and I carried it sideways through the downstairs rooms, like the longest, stiffest boa constrictor in the world.

Its length barely made it from the kitchen through the L-shaped short hallway into our first floor master bedroom.

Once we angled it into the bedroom, we both wrestled to get it upright, to snap open its huge legs, snap down the aluminum braces halfway up the steps.

It's against our wall, now.

It's scary.

Looking up its narrowing height, with a top platform so small you expect to see, squatting, a circus performer, is like looking down into the abyss.

And I have to clamber all the way up there, with a wet paint brush. Quite a few times.

So I was a little money-conscious when Mary showed me the white scrap of paper on which she had written, $459.

"What is $459?"

"Our electricity."

The nickel dropped. Or in this case, the $459. "This is our electric bill?"


I stared at her note. "This is our electric bill? Our electric bill last month was $459?"


It's the goddamn cats. They're indoor cats, but we let them out into our attached garage during the day, so they can play. They like the dirt and the disarray. About a week ago, I said to Mary, "I'll bet this increases our electric bill, because we're leaving the door to the garage open, the garage is not air-conditioned, all the cool air is being sucked out there, so the air-conditioner has to work overtime to keep our house cool."

I went downstairs to fix a drink, make some Hidden Valley dressing for the salad we were having that evening with our chicken cordon bleu. Some of the cats were lounging around the food bowls in the kitchen. I put the carton of milk down on the counter. "We're not letting you out in the garage anymore! It's too expensive! It's over-working the air-conditioner. We've got an electric bill for almost five hundred dollars!"

They blinked back at me.

I thought: Rob, you're going insane. You're talking to the cats like they understand what you're saying.

I added some mayonnaise to the milk. "Anyway, I know you don't have a clue what I'm saying, but no more garage! Not until it gets cold again, and we switch from air-conditioning to heat, which is gas-powered and a lot less expensive."

As I shook in the Hidden Valley mix I thought: Rob, you're still talking to them! You're even justifying to them why they can't go out there, adding all this energy source shit! You're cracking up!

I bent over, petted Sweet Pea on her small head. "I realize I got a little technical, but no garage! Not until Winter!"

I received my first royalty check, and royalty statement, yesterday, Friday, September 5, from Bookbooters for my novel, Father Figure.

It was really touching.

Some authors may get royalty checks almost every day, and may even have secretaries who handle the checks for them, but Father Figure is the first novel I've had published, and it was a real trip to open the envelope and see this check made payable to me for the previous quarter's sale of my novel.

It's hard to convey the different world the check suggests. Earlier that day, I mowed our front lawn, we went in to Dallas so I could get my teeth cleaned, and so we could pick up ten cases of Spaten Optimater we had ordered from a chain liquor store. We come home, get our mail, and here's this official-looking check in my hands.

The royalty statement itemizes the different Internet sites, partnered with Bookbooters, that have sold e-book versions of Father Figure, as well as the number of trade paperback copies of the novel sold through Ingram's (an international service that supplies books to booksellers). The Ingram's figure is the one that really touched me, because it meant people went into different bookstores, wherever, and requested that the bookseller order a copy of my novel for them.

We haven't yet, but at some point, the next day or two, I'm going to ask Mary to do the corniest thing in the world. Take a photograph of me holding my first royalty check.