Jerry Zezima, a Newsday assistant editor who writes a nationally syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The Show More
How much wood could a woodpecker peck if a woodpecker could peck wood?
Only a birdbrain would ask that question. So it should come as no surprise that it has been on my mind. It also should come as no surprise that my mind is in the gutter. This explains why, despite a paralyzing fear of heights, I recently had to climb up to the roof of our two-story Colonial, not just to reattach the gutter, but to battle a demented woodpecker whose mind -- and bill -- must have been in there, too.
The problem began when my wife, Sue, and I were rudely awakened at 6 o'clock one morning by what sounded like machine-gun fire hitting the house.
"Whoever is shooting at us is a bad aim," I said drowsily.
"No one's trying to kill us," Sue replied. "That's a woodpecker."
Sure enough, we suddenly had a fine feathered friend that came back at the same time every day to serve as an avian alarm clock. Then we noticed that part of the gutter on the corner of the roof had come loose.
"It can't be," I said to myself, because Sue had already gotten up. "A woodpecker couldn't have done that."
There was only one way to find out: Send Sue up there.
"There's another way to find out," she said firmly.
So I got the extension ladder from the garage and, armed with a power drill and a set of gutter screws, started a climb that would have given a mountain goat nosebleeds. I don't like to be any higher off the ground than the top of my head. Unfortunately, the top of my head would have to reach the top of the house.
Complicating matters was a weeping cherry tree that partially impeded my long ascent.
"If I fall," I told Sue, "I'll be a weeping Jerry."
Life has its ups and downs. So did this project, during which I went up and down the ladder about half a dozen times, frequently getting entangled in the cherry tree's branches. I registered my displeasure in language that can't be repeated here.
"Hon," said Sue, who was watching this pathetic scene from the safety of terra firma, "you're talking to a tree."
Pretty soon I was talking to the power drill and the gutter screws, expressing similar sentiments because, like all inanimate objects, with which I have been waging a lifelong losing war, they wouldn't cooperate. Finally, I got a hammer and banged a new screw into the aluminum gutter, its vinyl backing and the wood on the face of the house. For good measure, did the same with the loose screws (in the gutter, not my head).
While I was up there, I noticed some holes in the wood. I put 2 and 2 together and came up with 22. "The woodpecker!" I thought. "Maybe now he'll go away."
I figured he wouldn't peck the aluminum gutter or the vinyl siding on the house, but just to make sure, I looked up "woodpecker deterrent" on Google and was directed to the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Under "general woodpecker deterrents," there were tips for getting rid of the birds by tactile, visual and sound means. Among them were aluminum foil strips, windsocks, handheld windmills, plastic owls and an electronic distress call system.
"Instead of windsocks, maybe I can use my own dirty socks," I suggested to Sue.
"That would poison the woodpecker," she said. "Then you'd have to deal with the animal-rights folks."
I wasn't about to climb back up to the roof and hold a windmill in my hand. And I didn't want to nail a plastic owl to the shingles. I suppose I could have recorded myself doing a Woody Woodpecker imitation, but one of the neighbors might have called the cops.
So I put some aluminum foil strips up there. So far, the woodpecker hasn't come back. Still, I wonder: How much aluminum could a woodpecker peck if a woodpecker could peck aluminum?
Only a birdbrain would ask that question, too.