No doubt you have your lights up. The annual ritual of hanging Christmas lights started about seven minutes after Master Bradford cleaned the last buffalo wing off the Thanksgiving plate in New Plimouth, in 1621. Since that very day we, as a reasoning people, have been asking ourselves why we get sucked into buying more of those little twinkle lights every year.
These insidious strings have over 100 small, incandescent bulbs stuck in little sockets like poison darts. At the store they appear smartly packaged in plastic frames, efficiently coiling 25 feet of 3-ply electrical cord. The bulbs are lined up like little glass medical phials, waiting to be plucked from their beds. There is even a bonus packet containing a blinker bulb which, when engaged, turns the whole string into a tawdry window display for an all night pizza stand.
And the price for this residential street weapon: dirt cheap. So it’s not hard to throw a couple more strings into the shopping cart during the weekly trip to ACE Hardware. The rationale behind the purchase is that this year we are really going to show that supercilious twit across the street how we can tart up our roof gutters, window frames, mail box and chimney wreath better than him any day, hands down.
Which gets to the nut of the problem. Once the tangle of a thousand lights has been festooned across every stationary object on our front yard including the lawnmower, we turn on the power. Just like the movies, three strings don’t fully light. 150 bulbs are freezing dead black, at the top of the crabapple, and wrapped in and around a downspout.
They worked fine when we tested them in the garage. The act of hanging however has a terminal effect I’m sorry– I can’t begin to explain this many-layered pun to you.
It is the conundrum I repeatedly face: how can a civilized and sophisticated species like ours invent machinery that can create such elegant packaging, but can’t get the blinking (sorry) lights to work??
Anyway, moments before the recycling truck came rumbling down our street yesterday, I salvaged the three “dead” strings from the bin, and took them back to the basement. I threw them onto the workbench like a bushel of seaweed– this green tangle of plastic, copper and glass spikes. I plugged in a set, and fingered down the glowing string until I came to the block of 50 dead lights.
Then I did something radical, and unwittingly logical. Unplugging the string, I cut the dead block of lights off with my pliers. Plugged the string back in, and the first 50 bulbs lit up, with no spray of sparks or numbing jolt up my arm through the back of my head. Encouraged, I cut the the other two strings, and smiled at my thriftiness. I had three strings of lights, shorter, but working.
Getting braver, I wondered if I could save the three dead strings too. A little more tricky, I attached a new plug to one of the severed strings. Flying on one wing now; metaphorically, driving 60 miles an hour into a fog bank. I plug this string into the wall, but the lights don’t go on. In fact, all the lights go out. Not on the string, but in the house.
I am pretty sure that the circuit breaker in the darkest part of the basement hiding behind a curtain of cobwebs will be switched off, and if I am quick, I can get it back on. This is not the problem. The real challenge is to re-set the clocks: the stove clock, the microwave clock, the alarm clock and then endure a 7-minute blackout on the TV waiting for our beloved cable company to resume its flow of NCIS re-runs. And then– to reset my ears. They have been pinned by my better half, the lady who grudgingly allows me not quite enough rope to hang myself on a daily basis.
This year, I am going to let “Sparky” across the street have his moment in the glow of 18,000 lights. With any luck, the electric company will make him a “preferred customer”, and send him to Niagara Falls to take notes.
Mean time, I am going to ACE.