24 December 2006
YEAR IN LIGHTS: MY NEIGHBORHOODS
YEAR IN LIGHTS: MY NEIGHBORHOODS
All Is Calm
I had no idea it had become a tradition the sibs care about, our in-no-way unique "drive around neighborhoods 12/24 and make colorful (mostly off-color) commentary on homeowners and the motives behind their houses' exterior illumination" routine (97% off-color). I definitely had no idea we had settled into an exact jumpoff time. 7:41 or so, BBM&A all started asking me how my famous Christmas Light mixes were coming along, what itinerary I had planned for the night, whether there was room for "Fergalicious" on the second disc, etc. 8PM we were off just like usual apparently, with Funky Christmas in the player, dad in gun, and absolutely zero room on the second disc, mostly due to its non-existence.
The itinerary was pretty impromptu at first, mostly us remembering long-forgotten names of kids from grade school, driving to their houses, and making generalizations about the kids based on light displays they had nothing to do with. I'll pass over the bad ones. My friend Pat's house went less-is-more this year, white lights on the trees and shrubbery, nothing on the house except wreathes on the windows and two floods of light from two well-placed spotlights. There is no question in my mind that my friend Pat put up these lights. It's way too classy for it not to have been him--plus I feel like I remember seeing the same display in 1994, when 7th grader Pat maybe sorta bragged about "his" lights, also the same year Pat hired me into his landscaping business. He owned all this speciality lawn equipment, scags and edgers and wackers and snowblower attachments and even a trailer I think, bought all from money he had made mowing half his neighbors' lawns, before he even had a drivers license. No outlined-roof landing pad type shit, no hideous light "nets", no mechanical reindeers--there was no question Pat was behind this.
Same street, there's this huge tangle of PVC piping that's shaped, seriously, like a brontosaurus. This brontosaurus is three-dimensional, and enormous, and is set up such that it looks like it's snacking on some tree leaves. My sister loves that dinosaur and insists we drive by it every year just to see if the owners have changed the lights back to their original Barneyish purple. That was 02 or so. The year 9/11 happened I think the brontosaurus was lit up red, white, and blue, and also in the shape of an American flag.
For all the Jews I know now, I didn't know too many in my neighborhoods, so I don't know what it's like even second- or third-hand to be Jewish in a suburban neighborhood during Christmas, to explain to your Jewish kids that the totally sweet fat dude driving around on a fire truck is giving presents to all the other kids in the neighborhood tonight but not you Sarah, not you Jakob, to look at the nativity scene in the guy across the street's lawn and see the mega-cute baby Jesus and not have the slightest worry that maybe you were wrong about the whole Jesus Isn't Lord thing. I mean I have no idea. But on the way to Ryan's house I saw this huge, blown-up, lit-up bear on the lawn of an otherwise undecorated house. The bear was wearing this pretty sick blue outfit, and was playing pretty contentedly with a dreidel the size of a beachball. Also the enormous bear's feet were stamped with the Star of David, just so you know for sure it's an enormous Jewish bear, not an enormous Christian bear that accidentally found a dreidel that night and just happened to be playing with it. That was absolutely not the case. This Jew Bear knew exactly what he was doing with that dreidel.
The big oh-christ moment for me during this year's trip was this one house near Matt's house. Several years ago, in my "drive by the christmas lights, make out in front of an awesome house, freak out in slasherflick terror because I thought I heard a monster but it was actually just like a belt buckle" low-budget date years, this house was the house to drive by and make out in front of. It was decorated by brute force, with absolutely zero thought put into design except more and faster. One year there was a playtrain moving around on the lawn, a radio station broadcasting caroles, all sorts of anime-shaming, epilepsy-inducing Drudge-style sirens. This might actually have been Drudge's house. And last year, after a tradition of griswolding the shit out his neighborhood, Drudge had absolutely zero Christmas decorations except one, a blow-up light-up right in the middle--an inflatable Grinch. I remember seeing that last year and being totally blown away at the audacity--not the Grinch per se, just the low-returns niche humor. This was a joke for/by/about hardcore Christmas light enthusiasts. How many people would get the joke exactly? Did I get the joke? Total genius. Anyway this year the Grinch was out again, this time joined by his friend Santa, that's it, and my big oh-christ moment was, basically, oh christ, I really miss the lights.
Halfway through the trip I realized I could probably write a blog post on this so I wouldn't have to help assemble the pool table my parents bought themselves, and that's when I started having all these cockamamie and downright wrong Christmas light theories, like how the lights ostensibly signify how much the homeowner loves Christmas, so the commonsensical theory would be the more lights, the more he loves Christmas, the better design, the better quality of Christmas he tends to enjoy, whatever that means. But that cockamamie idea was basically a strawman for another cockamamie idea, which is that there can be no unifying theory of Christmas lights, since Christmas lights signify the So Much that is Nada.
At best, I envision the lights as this post-Edison deck-the-halls competition among neighbors; at probable, a guilttripped by the masses, "oh christ let's just throw up something dear" husband-to-wife situation; at worst, yet another mindless American indulgence, driving up electricity demands, driving up oil shortages from all the fools driving around looking at mostly middling ensembles of lights and pneumatic lawn decorations and really just a load of shit that doesn't even try to look like real icicles, which of course means driving up air pollution and driving up Al Gore's I Told You So quotient. To say nothing of eating while driving while commenting on mindless American indulgences such as Christmas lights, an ancillary problem which drives up (we'll call it) personal pollution problems in the car--not that any of us noticed it tonight, in December, since it's like 60 degrees and we all had our windows down.
Nobody wants to be the guy who farted on Christmas.
So for now I'm totally loving Christmas a whole whole lot, mostly for these ancillary traditions I didn't even realize existed in my household. My one dog totally chomped on the L-side of my headphone foams, and I threatened to stomp the dog's head in the next time I saw him, and apparently I've said this the last five Christmases. At some point this week, when my mom's family comes over, one of my brothers or sisters will ask me to find that picture of the guy on the internet who looks exactly like our Uncle John, and this year, just like every year, it'll be this one.
Then there's the story my dad tells every year I've realized, about this guy from his high school who used to do his house up real big, another holiday cheer by brute electrical force deal that got the guy written about in the Reporter every year, that allowed the guy to say something like "don't you know who I am? I'm the fucking Christmas Lights guy" and rest assured that at least 1 in 8 people might know what he was talking about. "He used to get the shit kicked out of him every day in high school," my dad says.
Anyway one year somebody stole all the guy's decorations. Somebody, probably several somebodys, had promoted all his decorations from his shed, something like $15,000 worth of eight-foot NOEL signs and plastic Mrs. Clauses snacking on snowflakes, etc. Huge article in the Reporter, huge community outrage, the anonymous thief was in complete sincerity called "the Grinch who stole Christmas," I mean it was a mess--then somebody ratted. The guy had "stolen" his own decorations actually, dumped them in a remote storage facility, then pretended they were stolen in hopes of defrauding his insurance company, possibly to buy another $15,000 worth of decorations. Now this guy was (same paper) "the Grinch who stole Christmas," and he got shamed out of his neighborhood, and his kids got beaten up a lot, and that's when we cut my dad off because it's clear he didn't even go to high school with the guy anyway.
Somehow though my dad knew where the guy lived these days; this is just something my dad tends to know so we don't question. My dad also insists he is a councilman now, but admits to not knowing which council exactly. We drove by the new councilman's new house tonight. It's this modest one-floor gig right by the Montgomeryville/Horsham township lines. It had lots of white lights in the bushes, and no goofy blow-ups anywhere, and probably a wreath somewhere, and all in all it looked pretty awesome.