Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Christmas in July

The call came in as a reported fire hazard, Christmas lights presenting a hazard. Knd of an unusual call for the middle of summer I thought to myself as we drove the short distance to the RP's location. We parked in front of the RP's house and walked up to the door.

We were met on the porch by a lady in her fifties. "Did you call" I asked her.

"Yes I did" she replied. "I thought that I told 911 not to make contact with me"

Oops. I didn't bother to read the dot matrix print-out that we used to get, you know, before MDC days. My bad.

"I'm sorry, my fault" I told her "How can I help you?"

She pointed across the street toward a large fir tree. In the waning light, I could see a long string of Christmas lights draped over the branches. Inside, I was glad it was getting dark - I kind of wanted to see the lights come on. Kind of like that first Friday night after Thanksgiving, when the early birds turn their lights on for the first time.

"My neighbor still turns on his Christmas lights. I think it's a fire hazard. I'm afraid he's going to burn the tree down and take my house with it."

I pondered her statement for a few seconds, trying to determine if her complaint was legitimate and if so, what could I do about it. I decided that I needed more information.

"How long have they had them up there?" I asked the RP.

"Since around last Christmas" she told us "he turns them on almost every night."

I did the math and figured that they were likely in pretty decent shape. Even if they weren't, I really didn't have inspection authority to enter onto his property, ladder his tree and look at his lights.

"Ma'am, I'll go over and talk to him and maybe take a look at those lights"

"Just make him take them down, they're an eyesore" she replied. "Talk to him about his cars parked in the street too"

Just as the sun burns off an early morning fog, suddenly, the picture began to clear. Perhaps not everything is what it seems.

We walked across the street and met the neighbor who by now, had stepped out into the yard. I noted several skateboards and bikes lying in the dirt front yard.

"How ya doin'?" I ask him. "One of your neighbors is a little concerned about the condition of your Christmas lights"

He turned on the lights and we both looked up into the tree. The wire I could see still retained the green color, the bulbs though faded somewhat, didn't seem to have much paint chipped off them.

"How old are these lights?" I ask.

"I bought 'em before last Christmas. They're still in pretty good shape" He replied. "I can't believe she called you guys" he muttered "She always complains about everything. My boat, my kids, my cars, my lawn she always calls me to complain."

Then he adds "she bitched me off after Christmas about not taking my lights down quick enough so I decided not to take them down at all. I know it pisses her off, I just didn't think that she would call you guys".

I was being used. Like a dirty bomb in a crowded market, I was being used to spread toxicity around the neighborhood.

A part of me understood her issue, this house was kind of an eyesore. I just didn't feel that my services were the right instrument for affecting a change.

I cautioned him to keep an eye on the lights, unplug them when he went to bed and when he left. Then I complimented him on how beautiful they were and left his house to walk over to the RP's.

I spoke with RP and told her that the lights were being used as they were designed to be used and that they appeared to be in good shape. I also had to tell her that it was not against the municipal code to operate Christmas lights in July.

She didn't seem like she was that unhappy with my actions, although I am sure she was still frustrated with her neighbor. I had the engineer slow down as we pulled away, I wanted a last look at the fir tree, shining brightly in the summer evening sky.

Thanks for reading,



  1. You gotta wonder what goes on in HER house that makes her so sour to see lights and life in her neighbors yard! Keep up your peaceful missions, Joe! It takes all kinds of Schmoes to make the world go round!

  2. Man, what a small world...that was YOU that came to my house? Can you believe she's still bugging me about those lights? Keep up the good work Capt.

  3. Hey, I think you met part of my family! Were they all wearing pajamas and were there chickens in the yard? That would pretty much confirm it.

  4. No Mrs. B, I didn't see any chickens or pajamas. There was an old, scrawny naked guy though, sitting in a chair. This firefighting business is scaaarrrry.