I believe it was Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb, who said, “Holy tungsten! Have you seen Winterhaven? Candy Cane Lane looks like the Vegas Strip. I hear one guy had so many lights on his house he blew out a turbine at Hoover Dam.”
Or it could have been my dad, the Master Sergeant, who said it. He loved Christmas lights and knee-high plastic figurines with lightbulbs in them. Every year he set out a plastic glowing hobbit-sized holy family in front of the oleanders. “Looks like they’re in Bethlehem.”
He loved cruising Tucson’s neighborhoods at Christmastime. “Get in the Fairlane! We’re going to go look at Christmas lights.” The crazy guy on 27th. The two-story with lights strung on the ham radio towers. The lunatic with the Pink Floyd Laser show welcoming the Prince of Peace to his front yard. The ranch house covered in styrofoam to look like it was made of ice. The guy who sat in the middle of his front yard surrounded by a billion mini-lights dressed like Santa Claus and grinning like Burl Ives. Hark the herald angels sing, what blessings doth Tucson power and electric bring?
We’d judge the houses, sometimes leaving unsolicited anonymous evaluations in mailboxes. “Tired theme. Too much purple. Who lives here? Prince? Love the lights on your saguaros. A delight for those who like giant electric barber poles. ‘A’ for effort!”
When I hang my lights, I listen to MIX-FM because it plays Christmas music 24 hours a day, which must drive the voice talent pah-rum-pum-pum-pum crazy. I’m waiting for the on-air talent to snap. I bet their heads don’t stop jingle-bell jangling until late spring. Jingle too many bells for too long and you’ll lose your inner clapper.
My Saturday began with my sugar plum asking me what our theme was going to be for our yard decorations this year. Are we doing the Grinch meets Charlie Brown at the North Pole again? Nope. I had different theme in mind. “Martians.”
“Yup. Picture it. Martians land on our roof in a big flying saucer and they climb down to present a banner to Santa that reads ‘Peace on Earth’. Rent a smoke machine. Hire Flam Chen. I’ll pipe in some Mannheim Steamroller.”
Sugar plum shook her head. “I warned you about hitting the eggnog so early in the day, my little rum cake! This isn’t Green Valley, y’know!”
What does she know?! “I’m telling you we got ourselves a Golden Socket Award winner here, Sugar Plum!”
I was still bitter the Snickersons won last year’s Golden Socket Award with their dancing-waters light show programmed by Elon Musk. “It was so Bellagio. Whose birthday were they celebrating? Elton John’s?”
Sugar Plum asked me,“Do you really think we can win, my little rum cake?”
“Do javelina stink? Does Padre Kino’s horse wear tiny Santa hats? Does Frosty the snowman eat snow cones?”
She looked perplexed. “Wouldn’t that be cannibalism?”
“Nothing! Let’s do this!”
“I like your spirit, Sugar Plum! I’ll get the extension cords, the hammer, the nails, the chicken wire, the glue, aluminum foil, the blowtorch, the ladder and the special eggnog the kids haven’t found. I love you, my sweet little rum cake. Together we are going to create the most awesome Christmas yard display Tucson has ever seen!”
And that’s why I’m on my white flat roof on a bright December day looking at the blue Catalinas, holding my staple gun like a gunslinger, wrangling millions of lights and rewarding myself with immoderate glugs of Sugar Plum’s Special Egg Nog.
Don’t tell the kids. Ho,ho,ho.
Hanging lights is in this town’s blood. Here in the Old Pueblo, in the heart of the Old West, when an angry mob shouted, “String ’em up!” odds were good folks were talking about Christmas lights.
Here then is the way of the light hanger.
1. To quote the great philosopher Buddy the Elf: “Don’t be a cotton-headed ninny muggins.” Hang safely.
2. Last year’s lights will never work this year and you will always regret throwing away those little fuse things.
3. Don’t overload your electrical outlets. And don’t overload your calendar. Either way you could burn out and short-circuit.
4. Life is like the only extension cord you have left in the house. It’s way too short.
5. Inflatables in a desert? Really?
6. Winterhaven is a state of mind.
And most importantly at this time of year:
7. Be the light that brightens your home. Merry Christmas.