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FURNISHINGS : Yule Tree Decorator Has Seen the Light


I actually kept a New Year's resolution this year and I'm sorry I bothered.

The promise was made last December just after I had spent almost two hours untangling Christmas tree lights from the year before, the ones I had unceremoniously yanked from the tree and hurled into a box.

"Nevermore, nevermore," quoth I as I removed the tinsel, labored over the knots and replaced the bulbs broken by careless handling.

So, when Christmas '89 was officially over, I oh-so-gingerly removed the lights from the tree, picked off tinsel and pine needles, and laid the strings out in a large, sturdy box.

And it worked. This past weekend, after I had installed my tree, preparing the lights was a snap. They came out of their place of repose with ease and I lined them on the floor without a snag--or a knot, either.

The problem came when I tested them. One whole string of 140 lights was dark. (Forget that the box says, "If one goes out, the rest remain lit.")

I tested the wire by plugging one end into the wall and the other into another string of lights I knew worked. The latter jumped to life, proving that electric current was indeed passing through.

Off to the store for replacement bulbs, then the laborious task of finding the defective bulb. Starting with light No. 1 (of the 140), I patiently took each old one out and inserted a new bulb, then removed the new bulb and reinstalled the old. Light after light it went that way until I reached No. 74 and stopped to run out for Chinese, carefully marking the spot with a loop in the wire.

After dinner, for no particular reason, I resumed the task at No. 140 and worked my way back to the tell-tale loop. As luck ( my luck, anyway) would have it, the bad light was No. 75. There was a tiny piece of tinsel in the socket, which was apparently shorting out the entire string. I would, of course, have found it immediately after dinner had I simply picked up where I had left off.

But that's OK, I told myself, because had I picked up at No. 75, the bad bulb would have been No. 140.

No matter, there was light! All 140 bulbs shone brightly and I was sore pleased.

Up the stepladder and round and round the tree I went, carefully planting each light for the best effect, some tucked inside close to the trunk, others dancing lightly on the ends of the limbs.

I plugged them in and suddenly the travails of the day just didn't matter. They were perfect--no gaps, symmetrically wonderful.

For about two minutes.

Then the whole top of the tree went dark.

"To hell with this," I said, and dragged the string out to the trash can.

I drove to the closest drugstore, selected a box containing a string of 200 new lights clearly marked, "If one goes out, the rest remain lit," paid the $14.99, plus tax, took them home and installed them.

I should have read the entire box. That oversight was noted by my older son when he appeared much later in the evening. "Hey, tree looks good," he said, "but I thought you hated blinking lights."

"I do," I said, "but I thought we'd try them this one year."

And that's the truth. When the trash man picks up that tree after Christmas, it's still going to have those lights on it. Next year too--and the year after that.

Where else can you buy peace of mind for $14.99?

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