Christmas Lights and the Loss of Manhood

by Elison Alcovendaz

Ladders and I don't get along. They're tall and wobbly and slippery and let's face it, when I'm not planted on my feet, I'm pretty much useless (I can't ski, skate, and don't even ride a bike that well). But it's Christmas time and I grew up in a household where tin statuettes played "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" all night and inflatable snowmen were tied down to a roof and Santas were painted on walls and miniature ceramic, snowy, New England-ish towns spread across the hearth and laughs bounced around the walls until they were drowned out by karaoke contests where only Christmas songs were song (I even made the finals once).

 

My old room, decorated for Christmas. 

My old room, decorated for Christmas. 

As a result, I love this time of the year. I love corny Christmas songs. I love having the fresh scent of pine fill my nostrils when I walk through the door. And I definitely love Christmas lights. So now that we're spending our first Christmas in our new house, Patty and I wanted to put lights up. Nothing fancy. No icicle lights or flicker-to-music lights, just normal, get at Walmart and string-'em-up lights. It was the day after Thanksgiving, only one house on the surrounding three streets had lights up (and just on their bushes and trees) and we would be the first on our street and we would be proud. The problem? Ladders. Balance. Heights. She wanted lights along the trim of the second story, a good twenty-five feet in the air, and I could only think about falling off the roof and breaking my neck. I said no (I'm pretty sure it was F$%@ No!!!! but this is a family show).

I'm pretty sure she didn't understand my hesitation. I'd heard her childhood stories of her father putting up a twenty-five foot Christmas tree, leaning off the top rung of a ladder at least that tall to tie wire from the top of the tree to the wall, of once hanging from the gutter, more than fifteen feet up, when the ladder slipped while nailing the lights in place outside. And my own expectations from my father, who seemed to make a Do-It-Yourself Show every Christmas. Did I mention he placed a twelve-foot tall inflatable snowman on the roof? He put a twelve-foot tall Santa next to it. And reindeer. Maybe I'm making this up, but I'm almost positive he built a manger for a nativity scene. He wallpapered the whole house in Christmas gift wrapper. Every weekend after Thanksgiving, he carried box after box from the spider-filled attic and the weekend after New Year's carried those boxes back up (while my brother and I "helped" by watching and making jokes). This is the manliness factor I had to live up to - swinging from gutters and building shelters for the Savior of the World. Certainly, I could hang lights up on the second story eaves.

So I researched. If you Google "How to string Christmas Lights on the Second Story" you will find mostly articles about safety. If you read the comments on those articles, you will find that most people don't actually hang lights up there and those that do are firemen, marines, lumberjacks (okay, that's not true). Some people said they use a ladder to climb atop the second story roof (not doing it). Some people used a kind of forklift contraption (not doing it). Others just stood on the first story roof and tiptoed (and slip and die? Not doing it). I went to the window upstairs and tried to imagine myself negotiating that roof and my Achilles snapping and tumbling to the concrete straight on top of my head. Nope, not doing it. 

Patty was disappointed at first but she got over it. I didn't. I still don't own a ladder, so my father came over to let me use his and ended up putting the lights up on the sides of he roof, which were higher, because he didn't feel I looked sturdy enough on the ladder and he was worried I would fall. I held the ladder for him and listened to my manhood drip onto the concrete and trickle down the driveway and into the gutter. I put up the rest of them, though, and even that I couldn't get quite right: the lights are not spaced equidistantly from each other, some point up and some point down and some point in any random damn direction they want to. 

 

So beautiful, right?

So beautiful, right?

I've never been the physical type. Even when I played basketball, any success I had came from the mental side of the game. I was never going to outrun or out jump anyone, but I could figure out how to trick them into fouling me, how to shoot at a proper angle to avoid getting blocked, how to talk trash into their ear and get them off their game, how to no-look a defender and create space for an open teammate. Most of me, of who I am as a man, exists on the mental side. I can be creative and speak well and think critically at times, but damn if I can't use that fickle-ass Stud Finder to find where to drill an F'n hole. 

After we put up those lights, the neighbors followed en suite. I'm happy to say that most of them did not hang lights on the second story. But a couple of weeks ago, as I was getting the mail, our neighbor, a twenty-something man whose father bought the house he lives in so he and his garage band friends can sonically kill all the dogs in the neighborhood, was on his first-story roof, setting a ladder on the slippery tiles, and, without a spotter and the ladder shaking, climbed fifteen feet to the ultimate top of the house. What a bastard. I didn't want to seem too in awe, so I semi-hid behind our SUV and peered through the beginning-to-fog windows as he slid himself up and down the slopes, half of his body hanging over the edge as he spun hooks underneath the gutters and slid the lights' cords over them. That's a man, I thought, like my father-in-law and my father, and I'm the guy writing about them, sitting at the Ikea desk he had trouble putting together, wondering how in hell he got emasculated by some dumb lights.