Great, Horrible Ladder

I’ve just moved, this past December. I bought my flat in 2016, but it was little more than a hole, back then—a big, fenced-in hole by the KFC, across from the Dollarama, where the Canadian Tire used to be. So I paid, and I waited, and I waited some more, and at last, the big day came. About a week before it did, I discovered something surprising: a 120-foot ladder had been installed on the median strip, directly outside my window. It led nowhere. Served no-one. It was art.


It was art. It was there. It was really, really there. I suppose I should’ve been annoyed: I paid for a mountain view, not a ladder view. None of the architects’ renderings had a ladder in. But there it was, a ladder—a great, hulking suicide ladder, waiting to start its body count.

The artist (Khan Lee) says it’s a hopeful ladder, meant to get people to “reach upward and beyond to achieve perceivably unattainable goals.” Nice idea—only he’s stuck it in a historically poor neighbourhood on the verge of gentrification. And it’s got Plexiglas—Plexiglas up its first twelve rungs, to keep off the climbers. So what we have is a really tall ladder with nothing at the top, designed not to be climbed, and parked in front of a tony new development in a working class neighbourhood—like, “hey! This is the property ladder, and you can’t get on it! And even if you did, you’d still be going nowhere. Neener-neener…and might I add, boo-boo.”

I mean, I like this neighbourhood. It’s my sort of place. But this building, man–my great-uncle died. He was generous in his will. I got lucky, is all. I’m up the ladder, but I could as easily be on the ground. I should be on the ground.

And here’s a thing about the ladder: birds don’t sit on it. All those rungs, and this is a birdy-ass neighbourhood—all those rungs, and nothing perches. We’ve got eagles, goldies and baldies. We’ve got crows and gulls, starlings, those wee blue and yellow things, sparrows, all the birds, and they all scorn the ladder.

They should’ve made the rungs from windowboxes, filled them with plants. Flowering plants, to attract bees and hummingbirds. They should’ve grown ivy up the sides, or some sort of moss, something green and slippery. Think of it: that would’ve solved the suicide-by-ladder problem. Windowboxes wouldn’t support a climber’s weight.

Someone’ll die here, one day. I can feel them getting ready to. Twelve rungs behind Plexiglas, those might discourage your drunks, your kids, your casual climbers–but one day, someone….

I don’t want to watch someone die.

Y’know, it sounds like I’m down on the ladder—like I really hate that ladder. I didn’t always hate the ladder. I don’t entirely hate the ladder. The ladder…I mean, I was afraid to come here. I was worried about moving, anticipating everything that might go wrong. Then, I’d think of the ladder, and I’d laugh. The ladder cheered me up. I couldn’t wait to make fun of it on Facebook. I was excited about seeing it every morning, this great stupid ladder giving me the finger, rain or shine. And it does—I mean, it’s comforting to look out and see it towering over Kingsway for no damn good reason. I love it when delivery drivers can’t find my address, and I tell them to look for the great, stupid ladder–and they’re all “that thing—right; see you in five!”

Still, I dream of someone at the top, letting go. In my dreams, I never notice till it’s too late to call to them.

Maybe it’s not the ladder I like, so much as its absurdity. It mocks me. It frightens me. What’s to like?

Things that would go better than a giant ladder, outside my window:

  • A giant tree, full of branchy cradles for birds to build their nests;
  • A gently-flowing stream, carved into the median strip;
  • A walrus head on a stick;
  • A big rainbow windsock;
  • Really, anything you can’t throw yourself off. Anything at all.

Hashtag bigstupidladder. Hashtag nope.

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