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"Withering Heights"

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One of the things I discovered when I bought my house is that being a homeowner is the height of folly. This was frighteningly evident the first time I went up on the roof to clean the gutters and discovered that I am petrified of heights.

It doesn't help that I live in the Mount Everest of houses. To the untrained eye (I have two, so the house seems twice as high) -- it's a two-story Colonial, but for me that's high enough. All it took was one climb to realize I was over my head.

That's why I recently called in a specialist to help me get over my acrophobia, a Greek word meaning "Don't look down!" His name is Rob Disalvo. He's not a shrink (imagine bringing a couch up there) but a roofer I had hired to fix a leak around the skylight above the family room.

Originally, my wife wanted me to go up on the roof to see if I could solve the problem. Even though the skylight is above the first-floor addition, only about 10 feet off the ground, I hate being up there. I am afraid I will slip, fly off the roof, do a triple somersault that would win me a gold medal in the Olympics and land on my head, in which case I wouldn't get hurt. But it would be pretty embarrassing.

So you can imagine how I felt when I had to go up on the roof above the second floor, where I could practically see passengers with window seats on passing airplanes. Instead of getting used to being up there, I was more frightened every year, until I finally got smart (or, at least, less stupid) and bought gutter guards.

When my pathetic efforts to fix the skylight failed, I called Disalvo, who owns RGI Construction in Miller Place, N.Y. He came with his ace assistants, Brian Lavoie and Brian Hurst.

"We're going to cure you of your fear of heights," Disalvo promised.

"Or die trying," Lavoie added.

"Who's your next of kin?" Hurst asked.

"Very funny," I muttered as I slowly climbed a ladder that Lavoie held. When I got up to the low part of the roof, Disalvo explained what had to be done to the skylight. Then he said, "It's not so bad up here, is it?"

"I guess not," I replied with a weak smile.

"Good," he said. "Now we're going up to the highest part of the house."

This entailed climbing up to another low roof above the kitchen and the garage and, from there, making the last climb to the summit. It took me approximately as long as it would take a kindergartner to read "War and Peace."

When I was finally up there, I swore I could see the Great Wall of China, though it may just have been the fence surrounding my yard.

"We're only 24 feet off the ground," said Disalvo, who had taken measurements.

"That's 23 feet higher than I would like," I responded nervously.

To allay my fears, Disalvo and the two Brians told me stories of rooftop adventures, including the one about a co-worker who fell through a roof and climbed back up before anyone had noticed. Disalvo, 38, said he once walked off the back of a roof. "Accidentally," he noted. Hurst, 32, and Lavoie, 23, have had minor mishaps, too, but they haven't been hurt because they're careful and they use safety equipment.

"I actually like heights," said Lavoie. "There's nobody to bother you up here."

"Except Rob," Hurst pointed out.

"See what I have to put up with?" Disalvo said.

It was great putting up with all three of them, not just because they did a good job on the skylight, but because they really did lessen my fear of heights, mainly by helping me climb down.

Now that I am back on terra firma - and the firmer the terra, the better - I can honestly say that it was one of the high points of my life. And if my wife ever wants me to go back up there, she can call the roofers.

Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima can be reached at JerryZ111@optonline.net. His blog is www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

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