I decorated my house with Xmas lights today instead of going to the Tamale Festival, fixing the toilet, or sleeping until 2002, three things which I was more inclined to do. I put them up quietly while maneuvering around my wife who was on a serious renovation tear. She can be pretty single-minded around the holiday. She calls it focus. I call it frightening.
It was almost sunset when Viv decided that she'd festoon the place with the seasonal trappings. I don't mind making the house look Christmassy. It can be fun. But it was half-past four in the afternoon. We were losing light. That didn't matter - The Vivinator was on a mission.
The first sign of impending doom was when she opened the garage door. It rattled the house even down at my end where I sat at my desk, innocently, mouse in hand, thinking deep thoughts. The sound of the my wife opening the garage door is terrifying. It means trouble. Always.
See, we have territories, or at least we like to think we do. When we first moved in, the garage was my area. Lawnmower, edger, tools, wheelbarrow, workbench, you know, a guy's garage. Heck, I even used to put my car in there. Over the years, however, it has become just a gargantuan version of her purse, a place to store those big domestic items for which she has found replacements (do not ask me about how we are now on Amy's fifth bed... don't ask... I'm serious... I'll hurt you). Over time, my stuff gets relegated to the inaccessible areas, the dark corners, places seen only with night vision goggles. Hearing the padlock is like hearing the pump action on a 12-gauge shotgun. It's loaded with meaning.
I got up, went out to the porch, and asked her what she was up to. Right there, any long-married man worth his salt will tell you that was Mistake Number One. The smart husband, the wise husband, upon hearing a garage padlock will move like a cat for the nearest set of headphones or maybe even take a shower.
"Whatcha doin'?" I said.
"I'm cleaning up a little so we can put the decorations up." She had a broom and was moving leaves around.
At this point in the account I should just create a whole new website about psychological triggers, gender roles, guilt, resentment, sons and mothers, daughters and fathers, marriage, manipulation and all that other stuff that makes us the healthy happy people we are today. My site will make clear, through graphs and diagrams, pie charts and polls, how I've got it all figured out, how all these seemingly disparate elements are intertwined in a mysterious symbiosis that keeps men wanting marriage, keeps the economy moving, and keeps that low pressure area swirling over the Gulf of Alaska. It's all a delicate balance.
Knowing that the lights were in boxes marked 'XMAS' stored up in the rafters of the garage, and knowing that a smaller person like Viv would do a more efficient job of retrieving said boxes, and knowing that she'd need a ladder, and knowing that a couple of years ago I went out and bought a "guy ladder" that was too heavy for her to handle easily, and knowing that if I went back into the house and put on the headphones now I'd be a dead man, I cheerily set up the ladder for her next to the area of the rafters where the boxes were stored. I showed her the setup, and stood ready at the foot of the ladder to receive the boxes as she would be handing them down to me.
Whereupon she decided instead that now would be a good time to remove all the outdoor carpet from the porch.
Of course. What was I thinking?
So she moved the chairs off the porch, got out a box cutter, and started hacking away.
Since the chairs were now on the grass, I thought I'd rinse them off with the hose to remove the dust and cobwebs, making them all nice and clean and shiny for a happy couple, whoever they might be, to sit in.
Halfway through the rinse job, she was ready to bring down the boxes.
I left the half-washed chairs on the lawn knowing we'd need the space on the porch for working with the wires. I'd been careful to keep the spray of the high pressure nozzle on the grass and not in the plant beds under the eaves where mud would make a difficult and messy job of putting up the cheery festive lights. I turned off the water, went into the garage, and helped her to bring down the boxes.
As I began to untangle the strings of happy merry lights, Viv decided it was time to rake leaves. On the wet grass. Of course. And, you know, untangling strings of lovely joy-inducing Christmas lights is so much easier when one person does it. Two would only make it go faster, and why shorten a holiday tradition like that?
So she raked leaves into piles while I laid out the strings - around the piles, on top of the unraked leaves, and around the chairs.
I wasn't mad. No. No no.
By the time all the leaves had been raked, whaddya know, I was done untangling all the strings, had them connected, and had checked that they worked. The sun was down now, but we were nearly finished. I got out my little stepstool and began to lay out the wires under the eaves.
This is when Viv decided to hose off the porch. With what I can only call my most communicative brow, I offered a look that suggested this might not be the appropriate task to perform right now. She didn't see it. Too dark out. In retrospect, this may have been a good thing since she was wielding a high pressure nozzle.
She made quick work of the dusty porch. Never mind that mud was now directly beneath the eaves. Never mind that the porch was now just a bunch of puddles. For me to stand in while holding electrical wires.
I can take a hint. You don't have to hit me over the head with an inflatable Santa.
This explains the new life insurance she took out on me just last month.
Anyway, the lights are up and they twinkle nicely, the porch is spiffy, and a couple of the chairs are clean enough to sit in.
Now I'm off to Best Buy to find a pair of headphones that work in the shower.
"Christmas Time Is Here" -- Vince Guaraldi -- A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
"Great joys must be controlled."
- Colette, The Seamstress