"Honey, would you put up the Christmas lights?" my wife asked.
Don't tell me it's that time of year again. It might be her favorite holiday, but it certainly isn't mine.
It's that time when household budgets can go off a fiscal cliff. It's when you buy things for your friends and family that they really don't want. I try not to get them something nice. If I do, they just re-gift it anyway.
Then there's the tree — nothing but a blinking fire hazard that leaves oddly placed needles around the house for the next six months. I finally talked my wife into getting a fake one. You can't beat the aroma of natural plastic.
But the worst are those outdoor lights. At first, I hired a couple of undocumented Canadians to hang them for me. But when the big recession hit, my net worth fell though the floor like an elevator at Disney's Hotel California. Something in the budget had to give, so I volunteered to do the task myself.
Big mistake. The first order of business was to get into the attic and find those endless strings of lights. They were in several cardboard boxes originally labeled "Hostess Hostess Twinkies." There was also a hand-sketched diagram of what plugs into where, along with several extension cords.
I should have been in the Navy instead of the Army. That way, I could have learned how to untie those cord knots much faster. But after three hours, things looked pretty good, and it was time for the big test.
The lights stretched out from the front porch to halfway down the public sidewalk. I flipped the switch — nothing.
Of course, that usually means one bulb is out, which prevents all the other lights from functioning. That means unplugging each string and testing them individually. Even if that one string is found, identifying the offending bulb is a task I wouldn't wish on my endlessly talking Southern California sister-in-law.
Falling off the ladder was not that big of a deal. Fortunately, I crashed into the azalea bushes so my wounds were only superficial.
Finally, the chore was done and the lights were up. After hours of effort, I was quite proud of the result.
"Look, Honey, don't you think I did a great job?" I inquired.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Well ah, it's a, it's a train. Yeah, that's what it is. It's a Christmas train. See where the wheels are for the locomotive and the cars? There's Santa looking out of the cab window."
She just gave me one of those "are you serious?" kind of looks, turned around and headed for the door. She didn't say a word.
"What does she expect?" I thought. How could I compete with my neighbors? One hired a crane and put Santa and his sleigh in a redwood tree. How about that Clark Griswold guy whose house has a bigger carbon footprint than an all-night drag race?
Well, folks, that was the last time I did Christmas. When my wife asks me each year to put up the lights, I just give her the same excuse. It's appropriate and works so well for the times. In a soft voice with a pious look, I simply say:
"We just don't want to offend the atheists, Hon."
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.