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Tiny Lights

Island Life

With the clock radio flashing over the head of the bed in the dark, I knew the time it displayed would now be totally wrong, rather than the six to ten minutes ahead of normal time that it’s usually set at. This had been one of those relatively quick power outages in the middle of the night, but the light being generated from the incorrect blinking time was good news in itself, as it showed that we once again had power surging through wire and conduit. What the real time was, however, remained a mystery, until a short time later when the trusty wind up mantel clock downstairs chimed six times. If it had been on any half hour, we would have had to wait thirty more minutes for the hourly count down. If it had been any time shortly after midnight we would have had to wait till two a.m. to find out when it was, because the two half hours, with one o’clock in between them, are all marked by a single bell.

    This of course brings to mind one of my great childhood mysteries. Actually, it wasn’t really a mystery, because this and any number of things were the stuff that I didn’t question back then. This particular one, while odd, didn’t really set me to pondering since I was more interested in getting on to the good stuff of the day- the Popeye cartoons- rather than trying to understand what Captain Jack McCarthy meant at the beginning of every show when he rang the ship’s bell three times and then said, “three bells- 5:30 and time for Popeye the Sailor”. This mystery was self-solving for me when we came home from a trip to Maine with a ship’s clock for my Dad’s den. With all the nautical types around here, it should be no mystery at all that the ship’s clock is based on a four hour watch, with one bell meaning either 12:30, 4:30 or 8:30 and the whole hours are multiples of two, with a pause between each doublet. Ding ding…… ding will always be Popeye time, regardless of whether it’s 5:30, 9:30 or 1:30.

    And yes, it is sometimes odd how we mark the time. I am thinking of more recent times here- more specifically, a time a few weeks ago when coming home in the fog and the dark, and my back was aching from the latest simulated rowing session on the erg machine. In combining the pain, the dark and the fog, I almost didn’t notice the truck by the side of the road lowering an unlit candy cane to the ground. It was much later that day, on the way home from the massage therapist and with some of the pain erased, that I noticed that all of our power pole seasonal decorations had been removed. It was then that the earlier morning vision in half-light came back to mind as perhaps being the pre-dawn beginning of the end to the holidays.

    This decoration extraction seems early to me. I may be way off on this, but I seem to remember thinking in the past, as we proceeded toward spring, that it would have been more appropriate to have lit up shamrocks or bunnies with colored eggs rather than pairs of red and white Christmas candy lining our main thoroughfare. On the other hand, having something there, regardless of what it was, seemed okay. Having them up there glowing away as spring approached gave them an entirely different context from when they were put up, way back at the beginning of that “most wonderful time of the year”. Instead of holiday cheer they were now just lights and color. Rather than being a collective warning sign that the clock was ticking and the shopping had better be done…..soon, they were an anachronism, but a cheery one nonetheless. But there is that time thing again- what would Captain Jack say? Two canes- time for Santa? But Santa is long gone for now, so I guess it’s perfectly okay for them- the canes- to go as well.

I think it is mostly the lights that I miss, but I also think that it was perhaps the lights that were the reason for their early departure. It would make good conservation and environmental sense to not waste the energy on holiday frivolity, especially as said holiday drifts into the history books. But while I find I can give a pass to some holiday lights (as opposed to the “Parade of Lights” and its ilk which now tends to pass for “news” if the display light count registers in the 1000’s), I find the trend of adding lights to everything one plugs in quite disturbing. It is the night that reveals a more subtle, if not insidious, source of light intrusion around the house. As the sun sets, a multitude of colored starlets become visible from beneath desks and behind chairs. One can’t tell anymore what is on or what is off, as in many cases the tiny lights are always on, whether anybody is home or not. Some people call these lights vampires as they constantly suck at your power lines while spinning the dials on the power meter.

There are the dumb lights that sit there glowing at you , and then there are the blinking, smart ones that talk in code about what your cable and internet are saying to one another. The other night while turning over to avoid the pain on one side (which most recently has begun to thankfully subside- a whole other story in itself) I opened my eyes to note a change in the magic signal boosting device talked about here the last time. It should be noted that contrary to previous reporting, its signal boosting capabilities are not all they’re cracked up to be. I do not know what that means. Nor do I know what the two red lights coming on and going off in the middle of the night meant, when all four of them should have been green and steady. All I know is that when the power goes off, all these lights go away, while the clock downstairs keeps ticking and chiming. Sometimes that is a comfort, even though you don’t really need bells to know which watch we’re on.