Jerry Zezima: Withering heights

All my life, I thought I would end up in the gutter. And last week it almost happened. So it’s a good thing I have gutter guards.

I got them because leaves, twigs and acorns had clogged the gutters so much that there was barely room for my mind, which was in there too.

When my wife, Sue, and I moved into our house 25 years ago, the gutters didn’t have guards. I had to climb to the top of the two-story Colonial to clean out the leaves every fall.

I came to the frightening realization that the word “fall” could also apply to me. That’s because I have acrophobia, which is an extreme fear of heights. Since I am 6 feet tall, this means I am afraid of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head.

So we got gutter guards, which enabled me to stand safely on terra firma instead of shaking like a leaf on the roof, where I could almost see people in passing airplanes laughing at me.

When we got a new roof a few years ago, our ace contractor, Anthony Amini, took me up there to check out the job and alleviate my fears. It didn’t work because one of my sneakers became untied and I just stood there, frozen in terror and afraid to bend over to lace up my size 11 shoe. Anthony kindly did it for me.

After I climbed down, which took roughly as long as the Super Bowl halftime show, I vowed never to go up on the roof again.

A couple of years ago, Anthony and his great crew replaced the siding on the house and installed new gutters. Unfortunately, they didn’t come with guards.

Not wanting rain spillage to get behind the siding and damage the walls, and refusing to relive haunting memories of the days when I had to clean the gutters myself, I arranged for Anthony and his terrific assistant, Carlos Garcia, to put on new gutter guards.

They came over with several boxes of the thick metal strips, which are perforated to allow rain through but which prevent gutters from being filled with ugly brown foliage and other disgusting gunk.

Before installing them on both the dizzying upper roof and the two lower but still scary roofs, Anthony and Carlos cleaned the gutters.

After the guards had been attached, Anthony invited me up to a lower roof to check them out. Even though it’s only about 10 feet above the backyard, I was petrified at the prospect.

“I’ll hold the ladder,” he assured me. “Climb slowly and don’t look down.”

Things were looking up because I made it without sliding off and landing on my head, in which case, of course, I wouldn’t have been hurt.

“What do you think?” Anthony asked.

“I think I’m about to go into cardiac arrest,” I stammered.

“No, I mean the gutter guards,” he said.

“They’re great,” I replied. “Nice and shiny.”

“And they’ll keep all that nasty stuff out of your gutters,” Anthony promised.

“Wonderful,” I said. “Can I get down now?”

After taking a picture of me admiring my new gutter guards — “It could run with my obituary,” I suggested — Anthony tried to help me get one foot onto the top rung of the ladder.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I have a better idea.”

I pulled out my cellphone and called Sue so she could let me into the house through the bathroom window on the second floor.

She didn’t answer, but Anthony finally succeeded in getting me onto the ladder and talking me down.

Just then, Sue came outside.

“You didn’t fall,” she said.

“Disappointed?” I asked.

“Not really,” she answered with a smile.

“Good,” I said. “At least I didn’t end up in the gutter.”

Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Tribune News Service and is the author of six books. His latest is “One for the Ageless: How to Stay Young and Immature Even If You’re Really Old.” Reach him at [email protected] or via