When the lights didn’t light

“Wow! You’ve done a lot already,” my wife said. “Did you try plugging them in before you put them up?”

Blank stare.

It was the annual hanging of the outdoor Christmas lights. I don’t go all out. That takes time, effort, and more patience than I care to spend. It’s not that I don’t know outdoor lights. I come from Tampa, by golly, where my Latin brethren are Christmas light junkies, going to such extremes to outdo each other that they often have to be medicated.

I didn’t grow up in a Latin neighborhood, but if you wanted to see Christmas lights, you searched one out, following the glow on the horizon until you came upon streets that never knew darkness. And what a sight you would see. They would string thousands and thousands of lights on a single azalea bush, smothering and cooking the poor thing. Transformers would burn out on a weekly basis, and it wasn’t uncommon to see a yard spontaneously combust in a flash. No bother, out would hop the family with boxes of new lights to replace the old, and the whole process would repeat itself.

Now, these were not lights like you and I would buy, but industrial-strength bulbs like you find on airport runways. With such equipment, satellites flying overhead were blinded.

There were Santas marching across rooftops and manger scenes so large that the baby Jesus looked like a grizzly bear. And from everywhere, multi-colored light streamed across the world!

It was as tacky as it was awesome to see, and optometrists made a killing on burned-out retinas.

I always feared that this cocktail of Cuban, Sicilian and Kentuckian blood that roars through my veins would one day breed a Christmas light lust in me. That I would be overcome by the urge to string lights across my house until the city forced me to hand out welders goggles to passersby.

But I’ve never fallen under that spell. Instead, each year I pull out a couple modest strings of icicle lights, run them across a few rusty nails left over from the year before and call the whole thing good. It takes time and effort, but nothing elaborate.

And I certainly don’t exhibit any kind of light mastery. So weak are my powers that even a wife’s jinx — that subtle questioning that directly causes calamity — stops me dead in my tracks.

“Wow! You’ve done a lot already,” she said. “DID YOU TRY PLUGGING THEM IN BEFORE YOU PUT THEM UP?”

Blank stare.

Now you’ve done it, honey! Of course they’re not gonna work. You jinxed ‘em!

Lo and behold, a section right along the front porch was out, making my house look like a gap-toothed kid with a big toothless smile.

I stared up in disgust and cursed the light gods. “This can’t be happening,” I shouted. “I’m two-thirds Latin!”

A fighter, I refused to give up. It takes a good electrocution to send me packing. So I decided, while standing on tippie toes, I would unplug every single light and test them on a working section, a relatively easy task that in the best circumstances only takes two weeks and a banana boat full of frustration.

Down the line I went, one by one, until I found the culprit, whose body I threw across the yard.

But once replaced, still nothing. My neighbor John walked by and let me in on a little secret — the strings have little tiny fuses you can replace. My eyes lit up and I went for the buck knife to pry open the plug. My wife’s eyes popped out, and she headed for the gauze, peroxide and the suture kit.

More time later and I was at the same dead end. As darkness fell, I threw in the towel. Where was the skill, the power, the knowledge I should possess? Where was my heritage? My genetic prowess?

Maybe with time, the urge and the proficiency will come. But for now, I’m a two-string man who can only dream of the good ‘ole days in Tampa.

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