It’s hard to say exactly when a seemingly good plan is revealed to be a bad plan. “Hey, let’s invade Russia!” Bad plan. “Hey, let’s form an internet startup company!” Okay, seems like a good plan, but ...
Mine was a simple plan, really: I would climb the loose wooden rungs of a 75 year old wooden ladder set into a crumbling masonry wall, squeeze through a narrow trap door 20 feet over a concrete floor, walk across a sagging asphalt roof, then stand beneath a corroded 600 pound bell slung up inside a bell tower that was showering pieces of masonry onto the sidewalk.
What could possibly go wrong?
The Albion Town Council voted to have the bell tower removed from the old Town Hall, at the recommendation of contractors who inspected the roof, then ran away screaming and were last seen curled in a fetal position. When polled, 80% of the contractors said the entire building needed demolished, 10% said they could fix it up for just slightly more than the cost of a new one (plus life insurance), and the last 10% petitioned the Pope to declare the building’s continued existence a miracle.
The miraculous thing is that anyone working there who gets thirsty needs only tap the ceiling, and a stream of water comes right through. It’s been that way for so long that the drinking fountain was removed as an unnecessary duplication. Weight and age were blamed for the leakage -- and isn’t that just the way it is for people, too?
Still, it’s a cool looking building with the tower, and a plain rectangle without it. Besides, it’s only a bit older than three quarters of a century -- in Europe, structures like that are still classified as “new” – so as a Town Council member I needed to check it out. Plus, I wanted pictures.
As a firefighter I’ve climbed lots of ladders, but they aren’t usually attached to the wall at a 90 degree angle, and the rungs don’t suddenly turn in your hand from being so loose. And the burning buildings are sturdier.
I was told the hatch was light, but in 1930 “light” was a relative term. I had to jam my feet against the ladder rungs, brace my back against the hatch frame, and push up with both hands. The hatch slid off, leaving a piece in my left hand, and a much smaller part stuck in my right hand. You could call it a splinter, in the same way you can call a tornado a mild breeze.
I should have turned back right there.
Still, a little blood is a good thing – it means your heart is still pumping. The people need to know if their town councilman is a zombie: Well, I am not a zombie.
I’d been fooled by the parapet wall into thinking I could easily reach the bell, but the tower – well – towered over me. I could see a camouflage pattern covering the roof, from numerous past attempts to make it do roof stuff; I could see cracks radiating across the face of the tower itself, but I couldn’t see the friggin bell.
The truth is, that’s what I wanted to get a look at. I’ve worked for years on a history of our fire department, and I suspected the bell might be the very first one, purchased to alert the volunteer firefighters in 1887. If so, it was moved from the original firehouse, on the south side of the courthouse square, to the second one where the Town Hall stands now. Then it was taken down and remounted, when the present building went up in 1930.
That’s history; I get unaccountably excited by history, the way some people get excited by
American Idol, or beer.
Look, we didn’t have to decide whether to tear down the bell tower: It was coming down by itself, chunk by chunk. We could buy a few extra buckets for the leaks, and liability insurance for the concussions, and maybe have anyone working inside wear a hard hat. Give it a few more years, and there would be nothing left of the bell tower but a handful of lawsuits and chunks gouged in the sidewalk out front.
Besides, what qualified me to make any judgment? There I was, standing on the roof, saying, “Yep – it’s a roof.” No, I wasn’t giving an expert opinion -- I wanted to see the bell.
So I developed a new plan. I would lean that hatch against the side of the bell tower, making a ramp. Then I’d dash up the ramp, grab hold of the edge of the tower, and vault over into its exterior. And, that’s exactly what I did.
I remember thinking, as I lay there staring up at the bell, waiting for the numbness and stinging to go away, that I hadn’t factored in how I would get down.
I was lying on another hatch.
There were two hatches! It was like being on an episode of “Lost”. Could it be I’d gone up the wrong hatch, and that’s why I’d had such trouble? But, I could see nothing below but a crawl space, probably populated by the bodies of people who’d pulled the same stunt I had and couldn’t get back out.
At least I could die knowing the bell was completely covered with corrosion inside and out, and I couldn’t read the inscription if I had x-ray vision, and that’s why several people walking downtown heard the gong as I banged my head against it.
So I took some pictures, then jumped off the side.
Obviously I survived, so what’s the point of embellishing the return trip? Emily applied peroxide and bandages, and I came away thinking that next time I’d remember to take rope and sandpaper, except she slapped me upside the head and informed me there would be no next time.
Or maybe I could take a whip. I can’t help thinking Indiana Jones would have found that inscription.