The Wide Angle: A Christmas story or how to swear at lights

Published 7:01 am Sunday, November 19, 2017

Anybody who is well acquainted with me knows of my growing ire towards the holiday season.

It’s not that I hate Christmas or Thanksgiving, it’s that I’m growing to dislike aspects of it — like how we just roll over Halloween on a race to Christmas spending. Does this make me jaded? Probably, and I could go on and on about how as Americans we have become enamored with the shiny things rather than the spirit of the holidays. How we’ve forgotten that these times are about family.

I could go on, as I’ve had in the past, about it doesn’t matter if somebody says “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays.” Enjoy the wish of the season, even if that wish doesn’t come from a background you agree with.

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Instead — let’s talk about Christmas lights.

As I write this, my girlfriend’s words haunt me “You don’t have to do it.”

No I don’t, but my family has always liked the Christmas lights. My mom is a huge fan of Christmas, perhaps its No. 1 fan as she routinely breaks out “White Christmas,” or “Holiday Inn,” roughly about the time we’re getting back from vacation the second week of July.

I don’t go that far, but I do like stringing me some lights on the house and the Christmas tree. And for the record: No, you don’t get a fake tree. It’s a real tree or no tree, end of argument. You are welcome for my reassuring words as you no doubt were reaching for the sham that is a fake tree.

Listen, if you aren’t stepping on needles three months after the fact, are you really enjoying Christmas? I don’t think so.

Since we bought the house, I’ve begun putting the lights on the front. A simple string at first but then last year we decided to put those icicle strings up. You know, the kind that dangle, giving the twinkly impression of icicles hanging from the roof.

Throughout human history, there have been some pretty big mistakes. Captain Edward Smith continuing to sail the Titanic into iceberg-infested waters, Ford building the Edsel, Napolean invading Russia in the winter. Add to this notable, if not unfortunate list, Eric Johnson buying icicle Christmas lights.

On paper and in a head noted for its long string of bad ideas [including, but not limited to imitating Marty McFly from “Back to the Future” as a teen and letting a car literally drag me down Main Street Lake Wilson without the very important skateboard] this seemed very much like a good idea.

And that first year, they looked very nice, adding a simple yet eloquent frosty touch to the front of the house.

Fast forward to this year and on a fine November Sunday I went about the task of putting them back up. It was a Norman Rockwell type of afternoon. The sun was shining, the temperature was mild, the Minnesota Vikings were winning and I was dangerously close to being in the Christmas spirit.

The lights went up with surprisingly little trouble and at the time I chalked my success up to the well-oiled Christmas decorating machine that I am. Looking back, I now see they were the gray clouds of the storm gathering on the horizon.

I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and into the evening I relished the opportunity to see what the lights looked like when the sun had left us for the evening. When that time came I ambled out of the house and plugged the lights in to the garage. I might even have been humming “Jingle Bells” as I walked to the front of the house.

I saw the first soft blue lights as I neared the corner and with a honeyed tenor voiced “fa, la, la, la” on my lips I rounded the corner to find two gapping, dead spots of lights. It’s convenient the “F” of fa-la-la-la was still on my lips.

@#^@#$^ @&*%^&(@# Christmas lights. Rough translation: Nope, still not printable.

I contemplated leaving them. Honestly, I did, but the holiday perfectionist that I am wouldn’t have let me, so the next day I ventured out, bought two more banks of lights and later in the day went about the task of replacing them.

The bright and mild sun of the previous day was replaced by murky gray skies and a slightly stiffer breeze out of the north. I was no longer dangerously close to the Christmas spirt. I was, however, dangerously close to yanking out the four bushes in the front as well as the awning above the door.

At every turn, these objects lived up to the very definition of the word “obstacle.” While the day before I had somehow deftly worked around these things, this day, a Monday of course, they had grown extra limbs and had become more obtrusive.

And then there were the lights themselves. The year before I got the two strings to stretch across the front, yet for some reason that defies physics they did not this year. I strung the entire set only to come up a full foot short.

Let me tell you about challenge. A challenge is keeping your wonderfully expanded and creative vocabulary in check as I.J. Holton Intermediate School students are outside across the street.

At this point I hated Christmas lights. It’s also here that the lights showed just how much of a pain they are.

Lights get tangled. That’s a fact, but icicle lights have those extra strands that get knotted and on a ladder become a new kind of headache. The kind that makes you think that maybe those students across the street are ready for some adult-sounding words.

So now, I’m at the point of figuring out how to make these lights stretch. I decided, quite simply, that I will not wrap around the awning I so nearly took a sledgehammer to, but rather, I went over it pursuing the tactic of “I don’t care.”

They fit easy enough and with a little extra maneuvering made them even out. After which, I began cleaning up and looked at the box and noticed something very peculiar. Each of the two strings was 300 lights of 19 feet.

WHO IN THE [creative saucy language here] MAKES A STRING OF LIGHTS 19 FEET LONG?! WHOOOOOO?!

If the company who made these things had made them 20 feet using the seemingly theoritical common sense method of rounding up, I could have in some way made the lights fit and I could have enjoyed the first day where the Christmas spirit floated about me like the scent of a freshly roasted turkey.

But nooooo. Somebody, somewhere thought, “Hey, you know what? Let’s just leave these lights at 19 feet. I bet there is a guy with a unique take on the English language who would appreciate the irony.”

You know what, why don’t you just fa, la, la, la yourself and then … ummm … maybe we just stick with bah, humbug.