I put up my Christmas lights this past Saturday, and in doing so, had a few quiet moments up high on my ladder to reflect on my love-hate relationship with the ever-popular tiny white icicle lights. I used to dread the moment of truth, when I would plug them in and see, with indescribable angst, that not all of them were working. I fear that moment no more, thanks to a wonderful little tool I found last year. The tool that might possible have saved my very life. I chronicled this heart-wrenching journey of pain and discovery over the previous two Christmas seasons, and putting up my lights again this year has made me want to share it with you again. Enjoy!
“The Five Feet of Christmas I Despise,” originally posted on justasmidge.com December 02, 2009
Since I’m a Christian, I really enjoy Christmas. We get to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with our family and friends, joyfully thanking God for His greatest gift to us. And besides, I really love sugar cookies! There is, however, one aspect of Christmas that I don’t like. Actually, “don’t like” isn’t strong enough. Loath. Hate. Despise… yes, there is one aspect of Christmas that I despise. It has to do with Christmas lights.
It’s not the lights themselves. I love those. I really like the way they make the house look. My wife likes icicle lights; the kind with the individual light strands of differing lengths that hang down from the eaves to simulate a sparkling frozen wonderland. They give the house a warm glow while at the same time making us feel like we have a winter paradise in our otherwise non-frozen California front yard. It’s really quite magical, and brings joy to my heart every time I pull into the driveway from work.
It’s not putting up the lights, either. I don’t mind that chore. I might even go so far as to say that I enjoy it. It’s usually a nice, crisp fall day. I’m bundled up against the early December breeze, high on a ladder, as the boys frolic in the red and yellow autumn leaves on the lawn below. They “help” by holding the ladder, and climbing up to my feet when I’m down low. It seems like the essence of being a father and a family man is all wrapped up in that one chore, and it makes me feel content with my life.
The problem comes when I plug them in. Night falls, and I make the extension cord connection and then stand back to proudly admire my work. And there it is. The five feet of Christmas I despise: The five-foot section of icicle lights that is out, right in the middle of the string.
We’ve got plug end, five feet of lit string, five feet of dark string, five more feet of lit string, and the prong end. Awesome! Right in the middle of the front of the house. My house could be a magical, sparkling, winter wonderland, but instead, that five-foot section of lights, out of the ninety-five total feet of lights, makes the entire house look stupid. The five-foot outage actually takes the whole effort and turns it upside down. Instead of improving the look of the house for the holidays, I have detracted from it, and made it look like the Christmas equivalent of the neighborhood delinquent’s house where the lawn is never mowed, there’s a car with a 2-inch layer of dirt and four flat tires in the driveway, and the screen door is hanging on one hinge. What a wonderful night!
My wife comes out and asks, “Didn’t you check them before you put them up?”
I grit my teeth.
My smart-ass neighbor yells from across the street, “You missed a spot!”
Yeah, thanks, Ted. Why don’t you go back inside now?
My son asks, “How come you didn’t put any lights right there?”
Time for you to go inside now, too, junior.
I would fix it, but I don’t know how. I don’t understand how it’s possible. Is the electricity jumping from one spot to another in the cord, bypassing some of the lights? How on Earth can both ends of a continuous string of lights be lit, but the middle is dark? It’s like turning the hose on at the house, cutting it in half in the middle, and still getting water out the other end.
I’m almost positive I used that string last year and it worked, otherwise I wouldn’t have kept it for this year, right? So please tell me what happened to it while it was tucked away in a plastic tub in my garage for the past eleven months. Did the copper wires melt during the summer? Did the electrons go on vacation? Does it just hate me?
To make troubleshooting even harder, I can’t recreate the problem on a string that works. I’m fairly sure it isn’t a bad bulb, because I can pull the tiny individual bulbs out of their tiny two-copper-wire-prong sockets in the lit strings, and the rest of the string stays lit. Why? Can someone please tell me why? Please! Why???
Oh, well. At least the Christmas tree lights work. Wait a minute…. The whole left side just went out. Great! Someone find the lawnmower while I fix this screen door hinge.
I need a sugar cookie.
And the solution:
Excerpted from “The Cool Yule Tool,” originally posted on justasmidge.com December 08, 2010
This past Saturday, I performed one of my most cherished and anticipated holiday chores. I put up the Christmas lights on the front of my house. (Those two sentences truly highlight for me the overwhelming worldwide need for a sarcasm font.)
I should back up a bit and start at the beginning. If you are a long-time reader, then you already know how I feel about the icicle lights we put up – and by “we” I mean “I” – on the house each year. I hate them.
Now, for you new readers, please don’t misunderstand. I love the look and feel of the lights on the house, and I love all things Christmas, but I hate my lights. It’s not the lights that are lit that I hate. I love those. It’s the five-foot section of lights in the middle of the string that don’t light that I despise from the very depths of my soul. We’re talking real, honest, loathing here.
Now let’s get back to this past Saturday morning…
Have there ever been times in your life when you have stopped and wondered why the you of the past was working against the you of the present? A perfect example of what I’m talking about occurred on Saturday.
I pulled out the two big plastic tubs labeled “XMAS LIGHTS” and popped the lids off. I stood in the garage in disbelief, staring down at a spaghetti-style mess of tangled light strings stuffed into plastic shopping bags. “Why would 2009 Marc have done this to me?” I asked myself. I extracted the first wadded up ball of icicle lights from the tub and slowly untied them into a straight line on the garage floor. I held my breath and plugged one end into the wall socket. There it was. The stomach acid-forming five-foot section of unlit bulbs, right there in the middle of the first string I pulled out of the tub.
I cursed under my breath, and a little over my breath, and retrieved another wadded-up string. This one was different when it was plugged in. The five feet in the middle worked fine, but both ends were out.
I tried to regulate my breathing as my temples began to throb and my right eye began to twitch. Why on Earth would 2009 Marc have done this to me? Why didn’t 2009 Marc throw these out? He had to know that 2010 Marc might have a stroke if he saw more bad light strings come out of the tubs. Did 2009 Marc wish 2010 Marc ill? He knows we’re the same guy, right? Why do I hate myself? Why????
I pondered what to do next. My 2009 alter ego had endured a humiliating Christmas season spent with a house that was 7/8 lit and 1/8 lame, resulting in 100% ugly, and amazingly, had done nothing to remedy the situation for the next year. Here it was, 2010. And there I was, standing in the garage, staring down at two malfunctioning light strings, trying to stop my eye from twitching.
I needed to make a decision. The way I figured it, I had two choices. It made no sense at all to put these lights back up on the house. Why would I intentionally make my house look like the Christmas equivalent of an abandoned Chevy Nova? No, the lights would not go up. I could either go inside and tell my wife that I would not be decorating the house this year, or I could put up some of the first string, wait until no one was looking, “fall” off the ladder in order to intentionally break my arm, and spend the rest of the day at the hospital.
I didn’t like option two at all, and after pondering option one for a minute, I decided it would likely end the same as option two. I was badly in need of a third option.
I was just about to start calling around for Mexicana Airlines one-way ticket pricing when it hit me like a ton of bricks. “The LightKeeper Pro!”
I had heard about this unbelievable tool last year when I was calmly discussing my five-foot outage issue with someone at work. He had heard from a friend of a friend about a mystical gun-shaped tool that fixed Christmas lights in the blink of an eye, just like magic. For some reason, 2009 Marc stored it away in his memory, but neglected to actually buy one for 2010 Marc. That guy is really starting to irk me.
I stopped dialing my travel agent, and dialed my local Ace Hardware instead. Justin answered the phone, and I inquired if he happened to have any LightKeeper Pros left in stock. He said that he had only a few left, and he had already sold 15 of them that morning. It was only 10:00 am. He promised to keep one at the counter for me if I promised to be there in ten minutes. I made it in four.
I slid sideways into the Ace parking lot, dove from my car, hurled open the doors, and pounced on Justin. He informed me that he had indeed saved a LightKeeper Pro for me, and asked if I could please let go of him and let him up. I dusted him off and gladly paid him $21.64, and raced home with the tool that I hoped would be the key turning point in my relationship with Christmas lights.
It did not disappoint.
Please know, I do not say this lightly. (Get it?) The LightKeeper Pro is the best thing that has ever been invented, anywhere, anytime, by anyone. The space shuttle, canned beer, baby wipes, the microchip, the wheel, bottled beer, air conditioning, disease resistant crops, nuclear fission, draught beer, soap, penicillin, the printing press, spandex, and even the home keg-erator all take a back seat to this marvelous, magical, marvelous, marvelous tool.
You simply pick any one of the tiny bulbs in the section that isn’t working, plug it into the front socket on the LightKeeper Pro, pull the trigger, and presto, the section lights up. I have read up on how it works, but I wouldn’t dream of boring you with the technical stuff. The only thing you need to know is that it works. It is amazing.
I happily hung up all my lights. Half of them didn’t work. I didn’t care. I hung them up anyway, and 10 minutes later, with the help of my new LightKeeper Pro, the entire house was lit continuously from one end to the other. There are really no words to describe the sense of sheer relief that this marvelous, marvelous tool has brought to my life. This small, hand-held, light-weight, twenty dollar tool not only saved my house from another year of neighborhood shame, but it may very well have saved my marriage and even my life in the process!
To top off the day, as if my new-found tool-of-the-millennium wasn’t enough, when I was hanging the lights my six-year-old came outside and announced that he would like to rake the leaves in the front yard… for fun.
Some days are better than others.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen
Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
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