Monday, December 29, 2008

Rigging up the lights

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A woman I work with calls me, quote, "Christmas Boy -- no, well, Christmas Man. Actually 'Christmas Boy' sounds better."

It's not because I was born on Christmas. I just love everything about it: giving presents to people, getting presents, sneaking around in the attic a few days before to sneak a look at my presents, if I can find them, buying a tree, watching the dogs try to eat the tree, shoveling snow, schmaltzy music, acquiring even more schmaltzy music, watching the same badly animated TV specials, listening to "A Christmas Carol" on the iPod over and over, comparing three or four different film versions of "A Christmas Carol" and writing/directing The Ultimate Christmas Carol Version for the little film studio in my mind, having huge meals of roast turkey, drinking heavy beer and alcoholic pancake batter with cinnamon, picking over the various pickable candy and salty snacks my mom and dad leave out on the dining room table for guests, seeing the family and listening to them tell embarassing toilet-related stories until they leave for Midnight Mass -- your basic Christmas stuff everyone does.

Christmas lights are another story. I like having them on the house, and I like seeing them on other people's houses. I think we should have sets of lights of different colors for every month of the year. I even sort of like hanging up the lights, even though it's tedious work in frigid weather and since last year I've lost the electrical staples I nail into the porch woodwork to hold the wires up, so I have to go to Home Depot and buy more. It's no problem -- I'll probably find those missing staples sometime in May, when I'm looking for something else, and will lose track of them again in late October. It's a Christmas tradition.

But dead lights drive me batshit crazy. I'll test the lights, they'll work fine. I'll hang them up, they work fine. I'll leave them running for a while, they work fine. Sometime later when I'm confident they'll be all right and this will be the best Christmas ever, I'll notice half a string has gone dead.

I put lights on the porch this year and actually planned out the electrical connections perfectly, considering how stupid I can be about those kind of things, the less being said about the time I fully strung up two sets with the female connectors together the better.

So all the lights were working great. Then this happened:

See that? That section that's out? It wasn't like that when I tested the lights!

I was upset about it for days. Ready to rip that string down and buy another one. It ruins the artistic integrity of the entire installation, that missing bit. It cheapens the whole Christmas holiday, that kind of sloppiness.

But the lousy economy and common sense prevailed. Besides, it's on the side of the porch, and there are other lights there to distract persnickety Christmas-light critics like myself.

But so just while I was getting used to the idea, my wife peeks out the door one night and says, "Did you fix those lights on the porch? They're working again."

And they were! Somehow, someway, they were lit again. It was a Christmas miracle!

I had full sets of Christmas lights working all over the house for about one day. It was a frabjous pre-Christmas day!

Then this happened:













These pictures show the banister going from the first floor of my house to the second. The first photo was taken just after I put them up. The second photo was taken -- you ready for this? -- just after the porch lights came back.

They died right afterward. It's like I couldn't have a full set of working lights anywhere. This, needless to say, takes a pee-pee all over my happy fucking holiday.

Even now, just after Christmas, I'm debating whether or not to take this down and buy another new set of lights. I can't stand the fact that all the lights aren't working perfectly. Honestly, I get more and more annoyed just thinking about it. It's kept me awake.

But if I did replace them, the Ghost of Christmas Light Failures Yet To Come would strike elsewhere next. Would it take out the candles in the windows? The red and green C7 bulbs I screwed into the porch sconce, which don't provide nearly enough light to illuminate the front walk or guide my key in the front door but which look festive as hell? Would the next thing to go be the tree -- not the TREE?

It's gotten worse, too. See the lights above on the front porch? The strings going around the columns and along the banister? Every other bulb is dead. I tried to convince myself for a few days that they were just blinking very rapidly -- so rapidly the human eye would perceive them as being turned off -- but that's bullshit. They're fucking broken and I know it. One of those sets of lights is brand-new. They were killed, as far as I can tell, during a snowstorm.

So yeah, basically, this sucks. Most of my lights are dead or blinking wrongly or on their way out. I'm torn between wanting to tear it all down with my teeth -- because if it's not perfect it's flawed, and flawed light displays are a goddam travesty -- and wanting to say, "Fuck it, leave it up, lights are nice for the holidays."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Another in a long line of reasons why I don't particularly like talking on the phone

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Today, the day after Christmas, I spent the early morning at work, at the newspaper. Around 5 a.m., I had the following phone conversation, or something very close to it:


ME: Hello?

MAN: You may think this is strange or what have you...but could you tell me what day it is today?

ME: It's Friday.

MAN: [snorting] Fridee. So you're the fourth person to tell me today is Fridee.

ME: It is.

MAN: [curtly] I don't know why I should believe that. I went to work on Mondee, I went to work on Tuesdee, went home, and now you're saying it's Fridee. I don't think that's right.

ME: Um, it is. It's Friday, December 26th.

MAN: And you're the second person to tell me today is the 26th.

Then there was an awful, creepy silence for more than half a minute while both of us sat there, breathing. I waited to see how long this would last. It wasn't possible to tell what was happening on his end of the phone. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore.


ME: Hello?

MAN: Yeah?

ME: Are you all right?

MAN: So you're saying it's Fridee?

ME: Yes, it's Friday the 26th.

MAN: You're saying you had your merry Christmas -- what, yesterdee?

ME: Yes. With the tree and the presents and everything.

MAN: [sighing] I think you're sending me to work on Christmas when I shouldn't be going in -- but whatever. All righty.

Then he hung up.

Answering the phone at a newspaper when you work odd hours is a depressing aspect of the job, sort of like working a Samaritans hotline that also answers drunk people's trivia questions. I probably deal with it a lot more than some other editors, because I work the dark hours, when weird people do weird things, and because I tend not to shoo people off the phone line even when they're shouting obscenities or nonsense into it. I imagine people like this must call the newspaper because a newspaper is almost like an authority figure, but it's not the cops or the government. We have something like power -- not me, really, but I know someone who does.

So at least every few months, I answer the phone and wind up having disturbing conversations with people. Some are with people who are very clearly, diagnosably, crazy. I'm not being flippant -- I mean insane and untreated. Some of them probably have Alzheimer's and still know how to operate the phone but not what to do with it. I have no idea how to handle them and wait until there's a natural decrescendo in the conversation so I can tell them so long, thanks for calling.

I sometimes get phone calls from people who are not entirely crazy, but mostly desperate and painfully lonesome, steeped in the kind of boredom that drives people to throw themselves nakedly at the nearest stranger -- old people who have talked to me for half an hour or more for no reason about their grandchildren in Virginia or their war service or about listening to Cab Calloway records, or this lady who has started calling every so often lately, who's a nurse, who works early mornings and who makes toast (I thought I heard a toaster pop once) and who is 45 or 47 or something, and asks how the Bruins did, then talks to me for 20 minutes about how she used to watch games when Bobby Orr was playing, which I wouldn't've because I sound young -- or who wants to know the Megabucks numbers, then engages me in a conversation about how she plays her daughter's birthday and describes what she'd do with the money if she got it.

Other callers are temporarily crazy. They call in the same white-hot rage that I imagine perfectly normal people have when they snap and murder someone, and they unload streams of profanity and ugliness, furious about things I can't ever picture someone being furious about. It's simply not a symptom of sanity to scream at a stranger for 25 minutes about someone on your block habitually parking a shade too close to a fire hydrant -- and then when I suggest calling the police, telling me I'm an idiot because the police haven't cared so far. Why at half-past 1 at night? What possessed that guy to call right then? And what did he expect the newspaper to do, exactly? Shine a light on the person's parking misdeeds? Most of these people burn out after a while then, strangely, end up being polite, and thank me no matter what I've said, even if it was just a periodic "um" to let them know they weren't yelling into a dead phone. They just needed to scream at someone for some reason. I suppose it's better to yell at me than someone they might actually offend.

Other people, I have no idea what's going on. Like today's guy. I've had days where I wake up hazy as to whether it's Tuesday or Wednesday, but I've never needed to make four phone calls to strangers to sort it out. This guy didn't sound crazy, temporarily or permanently, and didn't seem drunk -- just had no idea what day it was. Did he miss Christmas? Seriously? Did he suffer a blow to the head? Was he in a coma for two days, or was it just a regular sleep the whole time? I sometimes have anxiety dreams where I'm too busy or distracted and accidentally miss Christmas or my wife's birthday -- is that what happened here? Or was he just wasted the whole time?

In the spirit of the season I'd like to think he was visited by three spirits who showed him his past, present, and future, and he woke up discombobulated, unsure if he was supposed to give all his money away. But he's probably just got dementia.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Followup: The beer undrunk (Part 2)

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Since the last time I tried to make a pumpkin-flavored beer at home, I've mostly been sticking to pumpkin-flavored coffee. What I do is, I buy pumpkin-pie-spice-flavored ground coffee at Target. Then, when I put the grounds in the filter, I add several shakes of actual pumpkin pie spice. Yes. The pre-flavored stuff is very good but not flavorsome enough. I'm like a smack addict who needs greater and greater hits until he's eventually walking around with an IV drip on a wheelie-rack. Except substitute the word "pumpkin" for "smack," and where it says "IV drip on a wheelie-rack," put the word "pie."

Anyway, I did get many wonderful suggestions on how to make my own pumpkin beer without making an ass of myself, many of those suggestions coming from the comments section of my previous post. Eric, in particular, made the ultimate sacrifice of drinking a flavored beer for me. Well done, sir. He gave me some ideas on where and how to get pumpkin-flavored syrup (Monin makes a good one apparently) that I could add to any beer of my choosing. Or, indeed, could drink straight from the bottle, splash onto my chicken salad sandwich, or rig up some sort of IV drip on a wheelie-rack.

But I haven't gotten it yet. Mostly because it's the Christmas season and I don't like to buy things for myself that maybe other people might get me. Not that I expect to get a bottle of this stuff -- I think my wife has pretty much had enough of my yammering on about pumpkin this and pumpkin that and doesn't want to enable another bad habit. But you never know.

Anyway, I did treat myself to a pumpkin-flavored beer the other day, one that was actually made by a brewer and bottled professionally. Sea Dog Pumpkin Ale, it was. To be perfectly honest with you, I wasn't particularly impressed. It tasted more like pumpkin pie than some other beers I've had (I'm waving my naked ass in your direction, Blue Moon), but wasn't exceptionally pumpkinish. It didn't even taste like a great beer -- sort of bland, fizzy, with not much strength except a tiny bit of bitterness afterward. Tasted like I'd had a piece of pie sometime earlier, and some chunk of crust was still tucked behind my wisdom teeth, so I washed it down with a Rolling Rock. Which I wouldn't. I would brush it out.

I'm starting to wonder if maybe I've cursed myself. Have I built it up too much? Maybe I won't ever have that Great Pumpkin Beer feeling again. Ever. The same way I won't ever eat anything as magically, heartbreakingly delicious as the dinner I had in Rome at Il Quadrofoglio in June 2001 with the lamb and the limone liqueur. Perhaps the beer undrunk is the beer most savored. Maybe I should never drink a pumpkin beer again, to preserve forever the memory of the great Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale I had when I wa--

Who am I kidding? I'm buying five cases next September. Less than a year to go. Man, sometimes I say the stupidest shit.



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