Just Plain Stupid

Broadway, courtesy of Mwanner under GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2

This is how three Vermont teenagers spent their evenings during the summer of 1960. They were caddies at the White Face Inn, a resort in Lake Placid N.Y.  Their solstice home, however, was the Hotel Alpine in Saranac Lake, which had seen better days. The tariff was a dollar a night per kid.

Blodgett was game, but Brian and I had our doubts about him. We decided to explore downtown Saranac Lake. I know. You’re wondering how such an harmless activity could possibly be a JPS (Just Plain Stupid) exercise. Yes, we were very familiar with the surrounding streets. We knew the location of all the bars and saloons and which restaurants served homemade mashed potatoes with lots of gravy. We didn’t know what was atop those establishments however and so began the great overland route adventure.

The Alpine was located at the north end of Broadway, a fairly long thorough fare lined with one to three story business blocks. Our quest was to see how far we could travel along this street without our feet touching the ground.
Our jumping “up” point was a three story brick building not far from our hotel. (Jumping “off” would have been incorrect.) A wrought iron fire escape ladder, located in an alley on its north side provided the means. Somehow, we had to grab the last portion of stairs and pull it to the ground. It was not designed for people to go up. Coming down would not be a problem as the weight of the those escaping would gently lower the stairs to the ground.

We gave each other hand lifts to do avail. We cursed. We tried standing on each other’s shoulders but that failed, leaving large welts on our rotator cuffs. We cursed. We simply could not reach the bottom rung of the iron ladder. What to do? Give up and have a beer? Admit defeat? We cursed some more. Ah ha! What is that over there? Why, it’s a bunch of rubbish barrels. We stacked two and ordered Steve, the tallest among us (and more importantly, the rookie of the bunch) to climb up and see if he could grab hold of any part and pull it down.
Our jerry rig was rickety. We assured Steve we wouldn’t let it collapse. After some prodding, he very reluctantly scaled the barrel apparatus but still couldn’t reach any metal.

I thought of a resolution to our dilemma and said, “Ok, no problem, Steve. Just jump from the top barrel and grab the iron and hold on. It will slowly descend to the ground.”

“Yeah Right,” muttered Mr. Blodgett. “I’m supposed to take advice from a guy who lit my pants on fire?” Huh?

Our alley antics were beginning to make the Keystone Kops look adroit. We could have been Keystone Bandits. I’m surprised no one called in a burglary in process. Our stealth beginning became a raucous spectacle. Finally, after repeated cajoling from Brian and me, Steve said “fuck it.” He crouched down as if he was Superman preparing to fly and with a huge grunt exploded towards the wayward escape ladder. His left hand missed, but his right hit pay dirt, as the trash containers and contents spewed in several directions. He dangled by one arm as the steel slowly fell to earth. I thought I heard him say on the way down, very quietly, ”Thank You Lord.” I paid no heed as I attributed his religiosity to another example of foxhole piety. We were on our way.

We traversed five roofs of various heights before we hit the first major obstacle. Oh, there were challenges up to this point but done were insurmountable. We had to jump from a three story roof onto a two story roof. Though it was dark, we could make out what appeared to be a suitable landing spot. Unbeknown to us, the site was next to a sky light, which we very fortunately avoided. Wouldn’t that have been something?

Navigating from a one story block to a three story structure was kind of interesting. We climbed up a drain pipe to a ridge and then carefully inched along to another fire escape that brought us to the top. Cool. But, how were we going to deal with our first alleyway? The lane was not wide, maybe eight feet. Brian said he could leap that distance from roof to roof with a running start. Both were three story structures. I thought so too. Blodgett started hmmming as I learned he is want to do when he contemplates serious stuff.
“Lets talk about this,” he opened. “If we miss, it’s splat city. What if we trip on our approach? There’s gotta be a better way.”

Brian, shaking his head said, “There is only one way to get to that building other than walking on the ground. That is to leap through the air from building to building, period.”

“Maybe there is a third way,” I offered. Each building had a fire escape opposite each other with landings at every floor level.
“lets climb down to the third landing and then leap. It’s distance is only about four feet across.”

We did and we made it except for the record, Blodgett did his leaping form the first floor landing. Looking back, he was the smart one.
The second alleyway posed another problem other than its separation. The Saranac Lake Police Department occupied the bottom floor of the building we had to reach. There was a side entrance to the office in the lane which saw lots of use. The buildings’ emergency exits were located at the rear of each block. Somehow we had to find a way to reach the roof of the next structure without the benefit of fire escape landings and without attracting the attention of Saranac Lake’s finest. Was it time to admit defeat? Despite my previous bravado, I was sure that a jump attempt would fail, causing serious and probably fatal injuries. We would either be pronounced DFF ( Dead From Falling) or, if we survived, arrested on the spot or should I say “plop?”

Blodgett hmmmmed. Lyford clicked his teeth. I twirled my hair as I often did when contemplating a problem or when I was with a lass and wanted to appear vulnerable. We looked like a cross between Moe, Larry and Curley and the three monkeys that couldn’t see, hear or speak about evil.

“Well,” Brian whispered, “We could get a big running start. Both roofs are flat with no impediments. I’m willing to go first.” Brian, always the warrior, thought he could have made the US Olympic long jump team.

“There’ll be no roof top jumping,” piped up Blodgett, with an agitated look on his face, “At least for me. I’m outta here.”

Oh, oh, dissension in the ranks.

“Wait!” I responded. “I have a possible solution and it doesn’t include getting damp.” Lyford laughed at my pun, which was a form of Non-Speak. Steve just looked at me like I was nutty and all wet. He said,

“The arsonist has a solution? What? Create a smokescreen to divert the cops?”
He chuckled at his joke, But I didn’t.

“No, Mr. Stoweman,” (All of a sudden we had become the Punny Brothers) What’s that over there?”

Steve and Brian turned and followed my outstretched finger. Located near a chimney were several wide planks that were part of a staging rig. I continued,
“Those boards are at least 10 feet long. We could place one from roof to roof and shimmy across.”

“You are either kidding or in need of sexual release,” replied Steve. “I’m not gonna do it. I’m not!”

He did and we did. It wasn’t as bad as it initially seemed. The lumber was very wide and one of us held it in place while the others crossed on hands and knees. We had to tell Blodgett to tone it down because he kept loudly muttering about all the things he had yet to see and do in his short life, including the growing of arm pit hair. It was a trip watching him crawl across the abyss. Steve is not religious but you would have never known it that evening. No. He prayed constantly to his creator, out loud, often humorously and with non-stop staccato digs about fire bugs and puking Olympic long jump hopefuls. Brian and I asked if he were referring to Mayo and Bevins, or perhaps Jack the Sprat and Ole. We wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of acknowledging it was us to whom his vitriol was dedicated.

“Oh Lord, is it I?”

This third city block contained Saranac Lake’s sole movie theater. Playing that week on its lone screen was Hitchcock’s Psycho, which the three of us had seen the night before. The upper story of the adjoining building contained an apartment over looking the cinema’s roof. It was a very warm evening and the screened apartment windows were open. You could tell it was not very fancy housing. No. There was a very portly gentlemen, adorned in a grungy gray tee-shirt that was once white and tattered boxer shorts, sitting in his kitchen, sweat pouring down his face, guzzling what appeared to be a large bottle of Old Duke and mumbling something about knives, taxidermy and screams.

So, let’s see. We are on the roof of the movie house which is currently showing one of the scariest flicks of all time, Psycho. We are watching through an open window protected only by a screen, an inebriated guy swigging a fine claret. The movie sound track can be heard through the roof. What can we do with this?

Steve went first. He took his hand and like a mouser clawing a sofa ran it down the screen while at the same time, uttering a barely disenable WHEEIIEEEIER. The gentleman dropped his bottle and jumped up from his chair. He then quickly picked up his flask and said to no one,

“Fucking cats.”

It was Brian’s turn. He starting tap, tap, tapping on the widow sill like he was a wood pecker and kept whispering “nevermore” in a high-pitched squeaky voice. Startled, the man looked towards the window with his mouth agape and red liquid drooling down the side of his chin.

“What the fuck…”

He staggered towards the opening as we skedaddled. He stood for a while glaring out the screen and finally said something to the effect he was going to switch to Wild Irish Rose.

It was now my go. What could I do to top what they did and elicit a good laugh? I slowly tip toed to the window and with two hands, started clawing and swatting the screen and at the same time screaming in falsetto:

“Help me. Help me. Help me. Oh, Please help me. It’s a very big knife. I’m to young to be stabbed with a knife.”

He froze. He didn’t move for several seconds. He finally grabbed his fortification, sprang from his seat and wobbled out his apartment door on the other side of the building, muttering to no one “Oh God, I will quit. Oh God, I will quit, Oh God, I will quit.” We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with the man. (It wasn’t our aim to be malicious. Looking back, however, our intentions had gone to hell on a paved highway.) We decided it was high time, since we were about three stories up, to bolt ourselves, which we did.

We ascended to earth over three city blocks from our starting point. It was our first JPS event with Steve and, all agreed it went well, Steve’s mid-route protestations to the contrary not withstanding. In the midst of our celebration with our roomies, who by the way thought we were certifiable, Brian became serious and exclaimed to no one:

“Oh, oh. We’re really stupid.”

I replied, “Yeah, I know but we did it and we made it”.
“No, I’m not talking bout that. No.”

“It’s the plank, right?” Piped up Blodgett. “What do we do with the board that’s straddling those two three story buildings above the PD?”

“Simple,” I responded. “We merely go the other way tomorrow night and put it back in its lawful place. Hee. Hee.”

The group stared at me as if I was a simpleton, thinking about it, I was.
“No,” I said, “You don’t get it. You know. Lawful place, police department. Get it?”

“Ah so,” replied the group as if they understood my meaning, but secretly wondering which planet I was from. Especially since I had recently postulated to any who would listen that all words in the English language were actually acronyms. We backtracked the next night and put the lumber back in its lawful place.

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