It's time to drape strings of electrified illumination around your house to increase the urban festivity quotient. In the old days, men got up on a ladder and nailed 14 multicolored bulbs the size of a butcher's thumb on the eaves and left it at that. Now you have options. As we all know there's nothing like options to confuse a person, and make them thrash the pages of the newspaper begging for guidance. We are happy to answer your questions! And just as happy to make them up.
Q: Should I go with LEDs? What are they, anyway?
A: LED stands for "Leery of Expensive Decorations." Which most people are, it seems. If more people bought them, the price would go down. Judging from the price, each bulb socket is hand-moistened with ambergris for optimal connectivity. They don't use the usual incandescent filaments, but get their light from tiny mutant fireflies raised at Chernobyl and imprisoned in plastic by men in lead suits using tweezers. They keep dropping the tweezers because the lead mitts are so thick. It's very time-consuming.
The LED box has some features that set it apart, including "cool to the touch when lit." Finally! I'm sick of rubbing butter all over a smoking patch of seared skin when I brush up against the lights. Every year I plug in the artificial tree, and it's a puddle of plastic in half an hour.
The price: $15 for 70, vs. $20 for 300. Granted, they use less power — a long-term cost-benefit analysis performed by about 3 percent of people when they're laying out for lights. On the other hand, you can connect 45 sets together, according to the box. That's $675 for one-fifth of a mile. But the same amount of money buys you three-fifths of a mile of lights, or more than 70 strings of regular lights. Yee-hah! Of course, when you plug in 70 strands, a nuclear fuel rod shoots out of the Prairie Island reactor and embeds itself in the wall. But now they have a new coathook. It's a win-win.
Q: Do they still make lights that blink on and off in patterns?
A: Yes. They're up to 16 functions now, like "Sparkling (A), Sparkling (B), Sequential, Mixed, Fade On/Off, Rev Fading, Stepping, and Stepping On." And of course "Combination," in case you're dissatisfied with "Mixed." So all you people who didn't buy 15-function light sets because you said "It's Sparkling (B) for me or nothing," pony up. Next year there will be 18 functions, including "Spasmodic Flurry" and "Rolling Blink Wave" that mean nothing.
Q: Have you ever read all the instructions, as the warning label recommends?
A: Yes. After three paragraphs it trails off into poorly translated Proust.
Q: Every strand has a plastic envelope with two tiny silver things. What are they?
A: Delicious mints! They're like sprinkles. Save 'em up and put 'em on cupcakes.
Actually, they're fuses. If your lights stop working, do not assume they are shoddy goods from a Chinese factory whose manager was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for discharging a million gallons of arsenic into the local river. That usually gets just 10 years. Do not assume that one bulb went dead, and you must test and replace each one until the search for the burned-out bulb becomes a metaphor for life and you drop the strand and wander into the dark, overwhelmed with futility. It could be the fuse. These are located in the plug, behind a secret sliding compartment that has already frozen shut. Have you ever tried to replace these things? It's like performing a vasectomy on a beetle with a pair of salad tongs.
Q: What is the difference between regular and Commercial Grade?
A: The latter are twice the price, to pay for the commercials used to advertise them.
Q: What does "icicle style" mean?
A: It means the lights hang down from individual strands that have been tightly packed for six months, do not relax when put out in cold weather and look like someone strung up some W's.
Q: Lights are nice, but I really want to impress my neighbors with my festive spirit. Any suggestions?
A: If you're willing to part with a couple of idle Benjamins, there's something called the "Musical Laser Light Show" at Menards. It has "15 Holiday Animated Musical Stories plus Halloween Happy New Year's Eve and Happy Birthday." (Commas cost extra, it seems.) It paints the side of your house with "over 25 minutes of original animation," and that could be an interesting addition to the neighborhood, especially if it gets stuck on Halloween and neighbors notice that witches dance on your house to celebrate the birth of Christ.
But. Let's say you go on vacation and set it on automatic; squirrel knocks it over; it beams Santa-shaped laser pictures into every plane going overhead; flights are diverted for days. Of the many things no one wants to come home to, "warrants" are a few steps above "busted pipes."
Q: How long should the lights stay up?
A: The end of January at the latest. February is the full measure of pitiless winter — it has none of January's shiny new promise and cannot claim the faint green sprigs of hope embodied in March's St. Patrick's Day iconography. May is our reward; February is our punishment, and should be suffered in darkness. Besides, it's against the law to have them up in February, $500 fine.
You believed that? Really? OK, here's another: When one bulb goes out, the rest stay lit.