Friday, December 14, 2012

They All Go Out

So it’s that time of year again. It’s the season for idiots all over the country, maybe all over the world, to climb up on ladders, belly-crawl across roofs, maybe even hang off a gutter with one hand while fruitlessly waving a long hooked pole with the other. It’s a time when cries of “you be careful up there” ring out over neighborhoods far and wide, in the city and the country. Those words are spoken as if the people saying the words think those folks have never clung to ladders or hung off gutters one-handed before; as if those folks who are routinely seen standing firmly on (or even above) the rung on the ladder marked ‘Do not Stand On or Above This Step’, those folks who are taking their very lives in their hands simply to honor a tradition passed down from father to son for generations are hearing those warnings for the very first time. As if the climbing people have never, ever, heard them before.

Trust me. We’ve heard the warning before. For as long as idiots like me have been climbing ladders and roofs while dragging wires and cords behind them there have been other people standing right there to remind us to be careful, to test the strings before we go up the ladders, and to ask why we get so upset over something so simple when it does not work. We heard it all last year, and the year before that. We heard people warning our fathers, and our fathers heard people warning their fathers. There have been idiots climbing and people warning them going practically back to the very day Thomas Alba Edison flipped the switch and filled Menlo Park with a dim glow to the gasps of astonished wonder from that evening’s crowd…

Yup. I’m talking about putting up the Christmas lights.

Weekend before last I broke the house lights out of the shed where they spend the warmer months. Come the Christmas season the front of my house is decorated each year with dangling icicle lights that run the length of the roof-edge. This little project includes both the climbing of the ladder and the crawling across the roof hanging on to the gutter edge described above. It also includes the ‘testing the strings before going up the ladder’ that I mentioned. All this means is plugging the damn lights in while they’re still on the ground to make certain they all light up, since it’s much easier to isolate and repair the problem when you don’t have to make multiple trips up a ladder to do so.

Yes, I speak from experience here. Horrible, cold, clinging-to-the-side-of-the-house-and-holding-replacement-bulbs-in-your-teeth-while-tears-and streamers-of-snot-freeze-to-your-face experience.

It was not pretty.

So I checked the lights before I even tried to climb the ladder. These are not the old-fashioned light strings either, where if one light goes out they all go out. Oh no! These are newer technology, where if one light goes out then just that three-foot section goes out! Much better to work with than those old ‘all for one and one for all’ type of light strings!

So I plugged in the lights, expecting as usual that 4-5 sections wouldn’t light, the way it is every year… but lo and behold it was a Christmas miracle! There was just one three-foot section that remained dark — the first section in the string. This was going to be the easiest year in quite a while if this was any indication! I sat right down and started checking lights, looking forward to climbing that ladder and crawling over that roof… well, looking forward to getting it all over with, that’s for sure!

I put a pile of replacement bulbs next to me and started testing them, plugging them into a working part of the string to make sure the replacements themselves weren’t burnt out or broken. All good. Next I started, one at a time, checking all the bulbs in the bad section of the string. I’d pull a bulb from the dark section and plug it into the working section next to it. The bulb would light up, that section of the string would light up, and I’d pull it out again to pop back into the bad section where I’d found it. Then I’d pull out the next bulb and repeat the process.

And again.

And again.

Whenever a bulb didn’t work, I’d replace it from my pile of good bulbs. It took me about an hour, but eventually I’d either verified or replaced every single light in that unlit section of the string.

The string remained stubbornly unlit.

I took a deep breath. Then another. Then another. Then I realized I was actually hyperventilating and went in the house to get a paper bag to breathe into. Many of my exhalations, once the bag was firmly attached to my face, sounded a lot like ‘Christmas miracle my rosy red @$$!!’ being said again and again, but I’m sure that was just a trick of paper bag acoustics. From there I went straight to the Jeep and drove to the nearest CVS pharmacy, where I purchased an entire new set of lights for a modest sum. I went back to the house, unpackaged the new lights and tested them. They all worked.

“Look! Look! A Christmas miracle!”

People driving past slowed down a bit to watch as I danced about the lighted string, looking quite a bit like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway during the scene where he manages to finally make a fire… except bald. And wearing winter clothes. And being in a driveway rather than in a deserted island. And it wasn’t life-giving fire I had there, but a string of stupid Christmas lights. Okay, it was nothing at all like that scene in the movie, but the feeling was the same! I was practically ready to draw a face on Handsome’s soccer ball and start chatting with it… but I had to get up that ladder. And across that roof.


Now, fast forward one week to this past weekend. There I was, standing before the Christmas tree holding another set of lights in my hand. It’s a set I’d had for quite a while, with a plastic ring that goes around the top of the tree and eight separate light strings that then drape down toward the floor — much easier than the old-fashioned lights that had to be wound either around and around the tree or to and fro across the front. I loved this set of lights! Before I hung them on the tree, however, I plugged them in. Just to test them out. Just to be sure.

Not a single bulb lit up.

I sat there, looking sat the dark heap of my favorite Christmas lights. I pictured myself sitting there as I had the week before, testing the tree lights as I had the house lights, though there were a lot more bulbs to check here than there had been for the house.

Then I pictured myself scooping the whole mess off the floor and throwing it forcefully into the kitchen trash can, then dancing out to the Jeep in a fashion that would have made Michael Flatly himself green with envy, all to run up to CVS and buy a while new set of lights for just $9.99.

Long story short, it was the best ten dollars I ever spent.

…and I think some of the cars that slowed down to watch me dancing toward the Jeep were some of the same ones that slowed to watch as I danced and hugged a soccer ball the week before.

Ah, tradition!

Talk to you later!

P.S. — Just to answer any questions you might have, the soccer ball and I have talked about it, and we are just friends. Just very, very good friends.

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