Tuesday, December 14, 2004

You light up my life

I was the last person on my side of the street to put up outdoor Christmas decorations this year.

For some reason, my neighbors all seemed in a hurry to decorate their places. I don’t know if it was because they were in unusually festive moods this season or if they just wanted to get the chore over and done with, but it seemed as if they jumped up from their Thanksgiving dinners, pumpkin pie still dangling from their lips, and ran outside to decorate.

By the day after Thanksgiving, my street looked like the Las Vegas strip. There were so many waving Santas, nodding reindeer, flashing icicles and blinking trees, I was afraid low-flying aircraft might mistake the street for a runway and come in for a landing

As I lay in bed each night that week, unable to sleep because of the combined whirring of all of my neighbors’ electric meters, I felt compelled to un-Scrooge my house and decorate…or at least attempt to. Past history had taught me that anything that’s electrical and I should not be in close proximity of each other. Sure, I’d made things light up while decorating in the past, but unfortunately, the things that ended up glowing in the dark had nothing to do with the Christmas decorations.

Last week, I finally gave in and dug out my cardboard chest of Christmas decorations. Stacked right on top were two boxes of rope lights. When rope lights first came out a few years ago, I thought they were going to revolutionize Christmas decorating. I mean, lights sealed inside clear plastic tubes that could be bent and shaped without the risk of the lights popping out of their sockets and falling off seemed heaven-sent to me.

I have no idea why, but I picked the coldest night of the week last week to decorate. Armed with two 18-ft. strings of rope lights, I started to wrap the front-porch railings. The lights were pliable and easy to wrap at first, but as they got colder, they got stiffer and wanted to stand up straight rather than curl around anything.

After winding 36 feet of lights, making certain that every loop around the railings was perfectly even, I plugged them in. One whole rope lit up. Only half of the other one did.

I rushed into the house. “Does it make sense that only half a rope of lights would light up?” I asked my husband.

He shook his head. “Usually if something’s wrong, the whole thing will go out, not just half of it. But then, with you, anything is possible.”

“But I plugged them in before I took them outside,” I said. “And they all worked fine in the house.”

“Maybe all of your jostling them loosened something,” he said. He stepped outside to check the lights. He jiggled the rope, snapped it a few times with his fingers and said, “Yep. Half of it is dead all right,” and went back into the house.

I checked the box the lights had come in. The directions said, “Do NOT attempt to replace the bulbs!” I continued reading until I came to, “If one bulb burns out, a section of 24 lights also will go out.”

I just stared at the directions and thought how dumb the manufacturer had to be. I mean, why, on a strip of lights where the bulbs can’t be replaced per penalty of death, would they be constructed so that an entire section of bulbs also will be killed off when only one bulb dies? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to construct them so that the one bulb would go to its demise quietly, practically unnoticed, rather than take 23 of its buddies with it as if they all were part of some sort of bulb suicide-cult?

“The remaining sections of lights still will operate,” the directions said, as if that was supposed to make me feel any better. Who still would want to hang a string of lights with a section of 24 bulbs totally dark and the rest of them shining brightly?

So I went to the hardware store and bought a new string of rope lights to replace the half-dead one. Once again, I carefully wound it around the railing, and then plugged it in. I breathed a sigh of relief when all of the lights immediately glowed. Suddenly, however, they began to flash in a way that made them look as if they were trying to race each other in a marathon.

I grabbed the box. “Contains one set of chase lights,” it read, stating that I could turn the little dial near the plug and make the lights chase each other faster or slower. I rolled my eyes. The older rope of lights I’d previously put up on the other railing didn’t chase anything. It just sat there looking very dull and boring. I wanted those lights to chase something, too.

So I returned to the hardware store and bought another box of the chase lights. Soon, my railings were dancing with moving lights. I smiled with satisfaction.

The box says that the average life expectancy of these new rope lights is about 10,000 hours. The way I figure it, they should be good for another 133 Christmases… if one of the little ringleader lights doesn’t decide to say “goodbye cruel world” in the meantime.