Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 26, 2012

Garret Leiva: Christmas lights more convoluted than a tax form

Sometimes I'm not the brightest bulb in the Christmas light strand.

Stringing together multicolored lights can make a 4 a.m. Black Friday trip to the mall downright sane. Both holiday traditions risk life and limb: one involves electricity and balancing on an actual tree limb; the other concerns your limbs being torn from the last Lalaloopsy doll.

'Tis the season when twinkling lights or gift-buying pugilistic grandmas can put you in the hospital. I've put off the present purchases for now, but this weekend it's time to revisit the 110-volt wire ghost of Christmas past.

It happens every year. The Christmas lights I carefully coiled in January end up more convoluted than an IRS tax form. It takes me an entire afternoon to untangle this unholy mess. I'll do it with a smile on my face, however. My 10-year-old assistant light stringer will be within curse-mutter range.

Rather than run around adorning every shrub, tree and parked vehicle in sight, I methodically test each bulb to make sure they light. I then haul out the World's Largest Ball of Extension Cords. I'll also grab the stepladder that always comes up a rung too short.

Every year I string together multiple lights in a configuration that would make Rube Goldberg scratch his head. Then comes the moment of truth: plugging it in.

For a few glorious seconds our yard will be lit like Las Vegas or Uncle Fred on New Year's Eve. Just about the time I cross my arms in triumph, the bulbs will flicker and the night turns to black. It's a pre-Christmas moment neither holly or jolly.

I'll wiggle wires and tap bulbs in search of the electrical grinch. I'll also let a few four-letter words fly that don't include ho-ho. From high atop the stepladder, fingers and feet freezing, I'll once again become my father.

Thirty-some years ago it was my dad up in the air cursing a strand of colored bulbs covered in lead-based paint. In fact, he probably stood on a similar ladder step with red-letter warnings written my teams of ladder company lawyers that say don't stand here or you'll die — and that's your fault.

For what seemed like hours of entertainment, I watched my father match wits with red, green, blue and orange 30-watt bulbs. Every year the scenario played out the same: See Dad plug in lights. See every other bulb light. See Dad climb ladder and wiggle wires. See bulbs light up. See Dad climb down ladder. See half the light strand go out. See Dad climb ladder and replace bulbs. See bulbs light up. See Dad climb down ladder. See bulbs blink and blow a fuse. See Dad do the same.

Today it's my turn to do the stepladder dance. I'll be up in the air wiggling wires until I realize the stupid reason for all this frustration — me. I'll discover some enlightened insight on Christmas lights, like the concept of plugging them in.

Yeah, pretty dim-witted, but a bruised ego hurts a lot less than a Christmas shopping trip that ends with a right-hand hook from grandma.

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