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Another Portland Blog

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Xtreme Christmas light hanging

Every year, for one reason or another, I get suckered into hanging Christmas lights around the outside of my parents' house. This is not an activity I enjoy, primarily because with each passing holiday season they add more and more stuff to their display. They're currently sitting on a cache of 24 strings of multi-colored lights, 9 illuminated reindeer, 1 three-foot tall stack of glowing presents, 2 strings of plastic candy cane lights, another string of snowflake lights and 1 three-foot tall Santa Claus. It's not quite as extravagant a display as the one Chevy Chase used to torture his neighbors in Christmas Vacation but it's getting there.

I set aside Sunday afternoon for the project...the same Sunday a massive windstorm was scheduled to begin a two day rampage through the northern half of the Willamette Valley. Undaunted, I proceeded with the plan. Why? Well, why do squirrels dart into traffic? Why do senior citizens blow their social security checks at casinos? Why do base jumpers... do whatever it is base jumpers do? For the thrill of adventure and/or an adrenaline rush. As moronic as playing with live electrical wires in near-hurricane conditions might seem, it's only 1/100th as reckless as this.

The fact that my Mom and Dad didn't talk me out of this is either a testament to their open-mindedness and confidence in my safety skills or a prime example of their foolhardy commitment to getting holiday chores accomplished on schedule. I began the tedious task of testing each cord in the safety of their living room before covering myself head-to-toe in Columbia Sportswear gear. I finally began the exterior work around 2 PM in the early hours of the storm. The wind was barely blowing but the rain was coming down steady. Hanging the roof lights was immediately ruled out, if only because neither one of my parents were stupid enough to head out into the elements to hold the bottom of a ladder.

Committed to at least some level of safety, I dried off each cord's outlets and immediately insulated them with electrical tape. The always busy public park across the street from the house was vacant. The only souls dumb enough to be out there with me were a few jogging zealots, the occasional Tri-Met rider and a lone squirrel. All of them offered some expression of condolence as they passed by, even the rodent.

The storm and the wind picked up about 4:30 and I still hadn't set up so much as a single reindeer. At this point, even the most audacious member of Jackass would have told me to head for cover. Still, I pressed on. There were four strings of lights left to go and I'd be dammed if I didn't use every last one of them. For better or worse, this had become a challenge I wasn't going to walk away from, be on foot or on a stretcher.

Stuck in a temporary mindset somewhere between that of the Grinch heading back into HooVille on Christmas morning and Martin Sheen in the last five minutes of Apocalypse Now, I grabbed the lights, the candy canes, a three-headed extension cord and a reindeer before heading to a bush where the property line meets the curb. My parents' house sits on a sunken lot mostly hidden from the street, making my mission even more ridiculous and pointless. These were the raw materials that would matter, the stuff that would actually be seen by foot and auto traffic.

My intentions, at first, were good. I set up the reindeer, a doe gingerly eating grass, under a tall fir tree and attempted to build a peace symbol in the bushes out of a string of white lights. When I plugged in the extension cord, my earnest attempt to construct a message of peace and goodwill towards men became a disaster. The lights on the head of the doe were burnt-out and the string in the bushes looked more like an anarchy symbol. I did my best to salvage the display and rearrange the lights on the doe. Unfortunately, my parents now have a plastic, glowing reindeer in their yard that looks like its butt has been blasted off by a desperate big game hunter.

With the wind howling into my hood, my face soaking wet and my artistic vision compromised, I draped another line around an Oregonian box and tossed the candy canes in the bushes. In my near delirium, I considered taking down all the lights I'd spent hours arranging and tossing them around the front bushes and the fir tree along with all nine reindeer, effectively turning my parents house into an anti-Peacock Lane. Sure, the residents of an Eastside neighborhood would have dug a display like that, possibly considering it some sort of commentary on the commercialization of Christmas. Unfortunately, my parents live in the much less cool and decidedly pro-commercialization Vermont Hills area.

I dragged my mother out into the rain a few minutes later. She gave her approval to the butt-less deer and the light-drenched newspaper box before nagging me to bring the candy canes back inside. Three days later, the remaining eight reindeer, the candy canes and the roof lights are sitting in my old bedroom, waiting for someone to put them up. As far as I'm concerned, my sister can deal with them. I've helped spread enough holiday cheer for one year.

Despite my dumbassery, the Reckless Award of the Weekend goes to a certain cat that made the mistake of trying to sharpen her claws on one of the deer. Not only did she get one claw caught in its tinsel coat, she backed into a cat door and somehow got stuck in that too. After being rescued, what did this fearless feline do? She ran back into the room to launch a second attempt.

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