Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Lights


Compared to much of Altadena, my neighborhood is pretty conservative. Come October, we don’t have severed limbs on the lawn or bodies hanging from the pines. At Christmastime, you won’t find an inflatable Santa dolly on the roof. For winter decorations, the palette red and gold, ambiguous, from a religious perspective.

A while back, say three years pre-gentrification, in the early 2000s, a guy a couple of houses down from mine would put up a plastic Nativity scene. Whenever the wind blew, which it does at this time of year, the holy heads would pop off and go rolling down the street. “Hey Ronny,” I’d say, after a walk with the dog, “Moses is in the gutter at Punahou Road.” And he’d nod, thank me, and go fetch the head. My friend Matt, who loves it when I’m wrong, said, “Sweetheart, Moses? That was Joseph or a Wise Man.” Big deal, so Matt went to Catholic school.

Growing up, our family did not engage in garish holiday displays. No one in the neighborhoods did, though everyone put up some festive lights. My parents agonized over this – We had a front yard so manicured, so manipulated, it was practically Japanese. Mom and Dad would no sooner string up blinking lights than paint a Madonna on the garage door . How could we join in this singularly American custom without sacrificing artistic integrity?

Finally, Mom and Dad decided on dark blue and green lights to line the roof. At the first lighting, my sister, brother, and I stood in the glow, assessing the result. My brother said, “You guys look like someone beat you up.”

Sometimes nothing is better than something.

“I like it,” my friend from middle school said when she came to spend the night. “It’s creepy.”


(Questionable lighting choices aside, no one could build a snowman like my dad. That's me and my old man.)

56 comments:

  1. Better to have "creepy" than none at all as it is here...not much point when there's no one to see them

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  2. I've always liked the understated Christmas decorations. White trees with blue ornaments, houses with lights of only one or two colors.

    For the extravagant, everyone know the Balian House at Allen and Mendocino, but there are some really interesting house fronts on one or two of the side streets west of Allen closer to Pasadena.

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  3. In 1974, due to the energy shortage, many cities prohibited outside displays of Christmas lights. I thought that was great since it got me off the hook and it was one less chore to do. So the next year, when fuel was available again and the prohibition lifted, I planned on not putting up lights again. Wrong, the first MsDubya said. I tried to point out that this was good for the environment and we should be diligent about not wasting fuel. I lost that argument. Perhaps that's one of the reasons she is now the ex-MsDubya. The current MsDubya has enough decorations to make our house look like Nordstrom's at Christmas time. Unfortunately for me they made the trek north and are stacked in the garage. No Christmas lights here, though. We don't have a ladder high enough. At least not yet.

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  4. That's a hell of a snowman. We always used to make them when we were kids, but I don't remember my dad indulging. Maybe when we were little.

    I like all colors of Christmas lights but I'm nostalgic for the really old, heavy glass teardrop-shaped bulbs. They're real dinosaurs now, energy hogs. But nothing modern rivals their thick, drenched color.

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  5. I would love to participate in this conversation. Alas, I am forbidding in indulging in all things Christmas until Pearl Harbor day, which is the day after my youngest daughter's birthday. She is something of a tyrant and does not appreciate the baby Jesus stealing her thunder.

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  6. Your dad was really handsome! I thought the photo was a clip from a movie. And I'm drooling over every sentence you've written here.

    Bought some LED Xmas lights yesterday, but the color's too bright white, so I took them back. Petrea's right, the thick, drenched colors are best.

    There are some lovely displays on South Grand down from the Superior Court building, but my current favorite is a little house in South Pasadena where the train tracks cross Hope Street.

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  7. Looks like it's the Lincoln Memorial of snowmen. You can actually sit in his lap!

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  8. Gotta love the photo! I feel nostalgic for your past--
    And, I actually really like blue and green lights---

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  9. Heh...Your recollections of Christmas made me chuckle. Don't we all have fond remembrances of those occasionally wacky things our parents used to do back in the day? My fav is of the plate of cookies and a can of Colt 45 that we used to leave out for "Santa" every Christmas Eve. Apparently, our "Santa" was lactose intolerant.

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  10. Look at you in your little snow suit! I love the way your dad's holding you.

    And this made me laugh out loud: “Moses is in the gutter at Punahou Road.”

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  11. When my kids were little, we used to always leave out a plate of cookies and glass of milk (no Colt 45) for Santa. Our Christmas Eve tradition was to go to the in-laws for dinner and liberal amounts of adult beverages. Since the kids would often be asleep when we got home, we'd leave the cookies and milk out before leaving the house.

    One year, after returning from the in-laws and putting the kids to bed, I went into the family room and found half the milk and a couple of cookies were gone. There was a note from Santa thanking us for the goodies. As I mentioned, the Christmas eve dinner included quite a bit of beer and wine, so I wasn't thinking real clearly. My first thought was that a smart-ass burglar had broken into the house, ate the goodies, and left a note. I stormed into the living room where the tree and presents were to see what was missing and saw a red power mower. Now I was really confused - I asked MsDubya#1 "who the hell put a damn lawn mower in the living room?" I still hadn't figured out that she'd had someone deliver my Christmas gift while we were out.

    That's my Santa's cookies story, although I like the twist of Colt 45 instead of milk.

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  13. Okay, Laurie, let's try to type this again...

    “Moses is in the gutter at Punahou Road.”

    Without question, my favorite quote of yours to date.

    (That is SOME snowman!!!)

    WV: resties I need resties because I'm making typos all over the place.

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  14. That's ok, Laurie. I can't spell palette. Let's blame it all on the Colt 45.

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  15. “Moses is in the gutter at Punahou Road.” That is from Exodus. It's what Joshua told the people when Moses went missing. He couldn't tell them that Moses was up on Mt. Sinai in a lightning storm getting tablets.

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  16. Gotta agree. "Moses" quote had me chuckling. Awesome snowman. My sisters and I used to dress ours up in all the scarves and hats we hated. Then bribe the neighborhood kids to steal them so we wouldn't be forced to dry them out and wear them again.

    I want to move to your neighborhood. There are so many blowup santas, reindeer and sleds in our neighborhood, I fear a tornado may develop if they all sprung a leak at once.

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  17. One more fan of the Moses line. One of your best. In fact that whole paragraph is a doozy of mini-story.

    So you're #3 or #4 in the Great Chain of Siblings? If I knew that, I'd forgotten. Maybe someday you'd have fun comparing you and yours to the psychological stereotypes of sibling chronological rank? As an only child and a schizoid fan-skeptic of all psychology, I can tell you it's scary-fun biz. I'm sure this is old news.

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  18. Middle, Banjo, and I'm pretty true to type. We played that game here a couple of years ago. I'd get the link but I can't find anything on my blog. Someone needs to clean up around here.

    Lincoln Memorial of snowmen. Absolutely right.

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  19. My mom was a bit wacco and she decided to hang plastic apples on the tree one Christmas. I was easily humiliated and would close the curtains when no one was home. It went on for a couple more years until I finally convinced my dad to buy an aluminum one with the light that changed colores. I was in heaven.
    A metal tree today would embarass me.

    Almost everyone in my neighborhood now has icicle lights as well as in the surrounding areas. I'm sick of them. Maybe I'll string plastic apples this year.

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  20. There's also a desire within, to purchase a Red Ryder BB Gun and go on a drive-by shooting spree to wack all those giant inflated santas, elves and reindeer. I just don't think they should be let out of Walmart.

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  21. Funny, Pierre. About the apples, and about the inflatables. They do scream WalMart. Either that or "my kid made me buy this."

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  22. he gave the snowman human ears. far more frightening then blue and green lights

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  23. that's because to ear is human

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  24. Thought so!

    Colors of bruises; great story.

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  25. That is one impressive snowman. He obviously was not built in Altadena.

    We don't do the decorations outside, either. I hang a wreath on each of my gates, and red bows on my post lights, and that's it. Once I hung a wreath out the attic window so it was at the top of the house, but it was too friggin' cold bringing it back in come January.

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  26. Nice cap.

    D.

    wv: subst = substantial

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  27. The lights we had outside in our house down south was a single strand of the old, large colored lights...(and don't let DB fool you...hanging them only took about an hour or two given that he had the forsight to put hooks up that stay up year round...so all he has to do is string 'em up!!!)

    My favorite lights were the old bubble lights...now those were some Christmas lights!!!

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  28. It didn't take an hour or two to put up the lights - more like 30 minutes. It's the lights on the tree that seem to take forever. Our first Christmas together I strung the lights and started putting ornaments on the tree. The Chieftess made comments like, "don't put that ornament there" and "don't you know, an ornament like that goes low on the tree." I quickly realized we needed a distribution of workload on the Christmas tree. She picks it out. I carry it to the truck. I install it in the stand. She decides which side faces the room. I install the lights and she does the rest until it's time to take it down.

    I've come up with the "self-actualization of Christmas tree buying" theory. In my first marriage, it was a major chore. We had to see every tree within 20 miles of home. I want to shop for a Christmas tree like I do shoes. I want to buy the first one that's shaped like a Christmas tree, is fresh, and priced right. Wife #1 wanted it to be an experience. Every year it was a battle. We graduated to tree farms where there were acres and acres of trees. She'd find one that was nice. I'd ask if she wanted me to cut it down. She'd respond not yet, but to remember where it was. I'd point out that we were in a frigging forest where all the trees look the same! It always resulted in an argument. Then, one year I figured it out. I approached it as a walk in the forest amongst a bunch of nice smelling pines. I wasn't pressed for time and every time she'd ask if I liked a tree, I'd always respond I did and ask if she wanted it. She'd finally get tired of the game and pick a tree which I'd cut down and carry to the car. In the meantime, while walking around, I'd listen to all the idiots who weren't self-actualized yet. I'd hear family disputes galore - lots of swearing and anger. I found it amusing. After a couple of years of this, the wife apparently got bored of not having any drama so she'd send me and the kids out to get a tree. I was usually back in 30 minutes. Then we divorced, and after 8 years, I shopped for a tree for the first time with the Chieftess. I forgot the lesson the first year and suggested Home Depot because the trees were all identical and cheap. Wrong suggestion. I now go wherever the Chieftess wants to go and we usually pick out a tree within 15 minutes, and with no drama.

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  29. DBW: Yes. The object is to approach everything as a walk in the forest!

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  30. That's right, Mr. E. The sooner one realizes that, the better off they are.

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  31. That walk in the forest thing isn't exclusive to men, by the way. It works for everybody.

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  32. This metaphor is getting on my last nerve. Don't make me turn this car around.

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  33. LOL!!!!

    WV: Reant. I reant the metaphor!

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  34. There's one problem about DB's self actualization theory about Christmas Tree shopping...the more you hear it, the less effective it is!!!

    (Actually, the funnier it gets!!!)

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  35. Did I not provide an accurate description of our Christmas tree shopping and decorating ritual Chieftess? Since we now live in a forest, I see no need to bring a tree into the house this year. I suggest we appreciate the fact that our home is surrounded by Christmas trees and leave it at that.

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  36. Quite accurate DB...and since I haven't seen a single Christmas tree for sale yet up here, you may get your wish!!!

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  37. I've had it up to here! To here, I tell you. No more fighting in the back seat. You either settle down or I don't care how far we've driven, this car is going home. And dinner? Well, you can forget about dinner.

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  38. It's a lovely evening, isn't it Karin?

    DB and Chieftess gave me an idea for a part of a novel where a couple play out their relationship by airing it out in comments on someone else's blog.

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  39. You know I adore them, even if they aren't getting any dinner.(More stuffing for me!) Besides, I want to see how this turns out.

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  40. Ahhhhh, Hiiiker....but I don't wanna go home...and I'm hungry!!!!

    Could be a best seller Mr. E!!!

    Ahhhh, Hiiker!!! We love you too!!!

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  41. Are we there yet, Karin? Are we? How soon before we get there?

    WV: gurge - What I will do if we don't get there soon.

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  42. I'm not sure on which side of this thing I fall. I love nice decorations (usually involving lights), but those inflated sants and things, are terrible....

    LOVE the photo! I sure wish I had more early photos of my life...

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  43. White fairy lights. That's my idea of Christmas decorations. But I'd love to build a snowman if I ever had a white Christmas. Lovely to see you and your dad, KB.

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  44. Great comments! These are novella in themselves (?).
    Awesome snowman! I always thought snowmen and Moses both fit right into the nativity.

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  45. the snowman sculpting gene did not pass from one generation to the next. I'm beginning to think my dad's artistic talent was a freak of nature, because nowhere else does it show up in the Bugge family, before or since.

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  46. That is one enormous snowman! You could probably hollow it out and live in there.

    My Dad always put Christmas lights on the house, although I'm not sure the way he used the word "Jesus" was entirely keeping with the whole intended spirit.

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  47. I hate decorating, such a hassle, but for...

    I spend an entire day decorating a tree with 400 or so blown glass ornaments of antique design and origin. i should post pictures...

    i don't mess around.

    Dad looks pleased.

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  48. Talking about Christmas lights I want to point out:

    http://www.roadsideamerica.com/set/lightbulbs.html

    and to Phobus:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebus_cartel

    Who had the goal to not exceed a lifetime of 1000 hours to all bulbs.
    That’s why you have to change these broken bulbs after doing the arrangement!

    Personally I haven’t been thinking of Christmas yet, not even the Christmas tree, we are still talking November folks!

    Only the cold outside and snow and two houses to keep warm (actually only one warm) concerns me. Lucky I have a lot of firewood. If these are carrying on, I have to consider moving up to the farm next winter and forgetting my city life.

    Btw: It’s – 17 outside and it’s not funny. We are talking a record of 75 years or something.

    D.

    Wv: sureadur, I don't know what it means.

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  49. Bandit, I demand photos on your blog. Sounds beautiful.

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  50. black and blue can be Christmas too...

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  51. Our tree went up this weekend. Along with a tiny rosemary tree that Little Bit saw at Osh, just had to have, and insists is now her pet. (Named Rosemary, of course. Because "sometimes, Mommy, you don't have to be clever you know.")

    Please give DB and the Chieftess some dinner. I think they have low blood sugar.

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  52. Oh, and as to outdoor decorations -- I still haven't taken down the Halloween stuff. Oops.

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  53. Laurie - All is fine with Dbdubya and the Chieftess. That was last night. We had dinner then and turkey soup tonight.

    WV: chamit - what The Chieftess says when she gets angry while eating saltine crackers.

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  54. That's a great story. Why do I have Chevy Chase in my brain? You and your old man. What a great pic.

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  55. That's a great story. Why do I have Chevy Chase in my brain? You and your old man. What a great pic.

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  56. Carolynn said:
    My Dad always put Christmas lights on the house, although I'm not sure the way he used the word "Jesus" was entirely keeping with the whole intended spirit.

    LOL!

    Reminds me of my favorite line from A Christmas Story:
    "Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master."

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