Jerry Zezima: Out on a limb

By Jerry Zezima - Tribune News Service

Jerry Zezima is a columnist for MCT. (MCT)

Jerry Zezima is a columnist for MCT. (MCT)

Because I have acrophobia, which means I am afraid of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head, I could never imagine being a tree trimmer.

It’s a condition I share with Ralph Serrano, who owns a tree company but is, unlike his brave and acrobatic employees, afraid of heights.

Even though I was standing on terra firma, which is Latin for “the ground you will land on, and then be buried under, if you fall out of a tree,” I was dizzy just watching one of the crew members from Aspen Tree Service of Long Island, N.Y., who came over recently to trim some dead branches from a couple of big oaks in my backyard.

The man on the flying trapeze was Lucio, a sinewy and fearless 19-year-old who attached a pair of spikes to his boots and breezed up the larger of the trees until he reached a height that would give a squirrel vertigo.

As I jerked my head to look up, which made me not only a jerk but a pain in my own neck, Lucio waved for me to get out of the way. And no wonder: I was standing directly beneath a branch so massive that if it crashed onto my dense skull, I would have had a year’s worth of firewood, the result being that the house would have burned to the ground because, unfortunately, I don’t have a fireplace.

After I had backed safely away, Lucio revved up his chainsaw and started cutting the branch. Sawdust rained from the sky, covering my noggin and giving me a bad case of woody dandruff.

A minute later, the branch fell, its descent slowed to a gentle thud by a rope that was attached and handled by one of the other four crew members.

Lucio, a rope around him, too, swung to another branch and then to the adjacent oak, felling more lifeless limbs before gliding back down, a smile on his face and nary a drop of sweat on his brow.

I fainted.

“He’s good,” said Miguel, the foreman of the crew, which cut up the downed limbs.

“Aren’t you afraid to be up so high?” I asked Lucio.

He shook his head and said, “I like it.”

When I met Ralph, I told him that his workers were fantastic.

“They’re braver than I am,” he said. “The first time I saw them go up, I said, ‘You guys are nuts.’ You couldn’t pay me to do that.”

Ralph, who worked for another tree company before founding Aspen 20 years ago, recalled the first time he did a pruning job.

“I started to climb,” he said. “It took me about an hour. The homeowner was staring at me. ‘What are you trying to do?’ he asked. I couldn’t even get up the tree. I had to come back with a regular climber. I was petrified. Now I leave it to my guys to do the job.”

“If tree climbing were an Olympic sport, Lucio would win a gold medal,” I said.

“It’s definitely a circus act,” said Ralph, who’s 57.

“And the height of your profession,” I noted.

Ralph nodded and said, “We have plenty of puns. When people ask how business is, I’ll say, ‘We’re branching out.’ And we always go out on a limb for our customers.”

“You don’t,” I reminded him.

“Not literally,” Ralph said. “But I make sure to give them good service.”

“So you’re not a bump on a log,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “But we do haul logs away. And we offer free wood chips.”

“Is that your stump speech?” I asked.

“Now it is,” Ralph said.

I thanked him for a great job and told him to give Lucio and the other guys a raise.

“When it comes to tree trimming,” I said, “they’re a cut above.”

Jerry Zezima is a columnist for MCT. (MCT) Zezima is a columnist for MCT. (MCT)

By Jerry Zezima

Tribune News Service

Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of three books. His latest is “Grandfather Knows Best.” Visit his blog at Email him at

Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of three books. His latest is “Grandfather Knows Best.” Visit his blog at Email him at

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