The Ralph Method, Episode 1: A Ladder, A Creek, and the Old Oak Tree

Everyone knows a guy like Ralph. He’s that guy who, to look at him, seems perfectly boring and ordinary. Like he packs the same ham sandwich for lunch every day. That kind of ordinary. Yet he always comes up with the most outrageous stories. Not the grandiose adventures of a Walter Mitty, but the kinds of stories that when you repeat them to your friends you find yourself at some point saying “you just can’t make this stuff up”. This is one of those stories.

One bright and sunny summer day, Ralph was getting ready for his usual Saturday yard work. Ralph always did yard work on a Saturday. He had weekends off from his investment banking job in the city, while his wife worked at the family ice cream shop she took over when her parents retired. The shop was always busy in the summer. Especially on Saturdays.

This was perfectly fine for Ralph. It gave him time to do the things he loved most in life, like playing golf and riding motorcycles with his friends. The only problem was that Ralph’s wife would never allow him to buy what she referred to as a “death machine” and none of his friends actually played golf. So instead, Ralph did yard work.

Today was going to be an especially productive yard work day. Ralph’s wife left a note on the fridge reminding him that the old oak tree needed a trim. This was not a euphemism, though it did made Ralph chuckle the way fart jokes did. The aforementioned oak tree sat in the southwest corner of the yard and grew so aggressively over the years that one of its lower branches had extended all the way to their kitchen window. Much to his delight, this would often scare Ralph’s wife in the evenings as they ate dinner. One such evening Ralph tied a mannequin he had borrowed from his sister’s clothing store to the branch and tapped on the window. His wife’s ensuing terror gave Ralph much joy.

Ralph did love his wife though. Or he was afraid of her. Or both. Either way, he was determined to trim the old oak tree. And so Ralph set out to retrieve his ladder and saw from the garage, and start the day.

The thing about Ralph is that he’s not what one would describe as “handy”. He was a proud man though, and held no reservations about giving it the old college try. Unfortunately, his endeavors typically ended in disaster. Even simple tasks like changing the batteries in the smoke detectors for example, mysteriously required at least three trips to the hardware store. Although these moments confused Ralph’s wife, his anguish gave her much joy.

Because he was not “handy”, Ralph didn’t own “handy” tools. Or even modern tools for that matter. His ladder was a dusty wooden extendable that splintered in several places. The kind one might find hanging in an old farm shed next to a rusty handsaw, which just happened to describe the very handsaw Ralph wielded on this sunny summer day.

The old oak tree was massive. Its trunk Ralph couldn’t help imagining, was the size of a dinosaur leg. The tree’s lowest branch, the one he needed to cut, was a good fifteen feet up. Ralph suddenly wondered if the ladder would even reach that high. Only one way to find out, he thought. Extending the ladder as far as it was physically able and digging its legs deep into the ground, Ralph propped it up, giving a few good tugs to test for sturdiness. Confident, he began climbing one rung at a time taking care not to drop the saw which made a cartoonish wobbling noise.