When lights fail, he keeps his watts about him


IF A LIGHT BULB burns out, does anyone change it? No one I live with.

When the lights go out at our house, I begin to wonder if these people I live with are actually related to me.

They seem to be creatures of darkness. If they encounter a lamp with a burned-out bulb, they keep moving, plunging into the abyss as if nothing were the matter.

I, however, am a creature of light, a compulsive changer of bulbs, a lighter of lamps.

As soon as a bulb fizzles, I feel the need to immediately replace it. If I don't have the right type of replacement bulb in storage I get irritated. I do not rest until I have been to the hardware store, secured the correct replacement, and restored the once dull fixture to its proper luminous condition.

Tolerating dim bulbs runs counter to my upbringing. I was brought up to believe that household illumination was an indication of moral fiber. A dark front porch light was a sign that a slacker lived within. A burned-out backyard flood light meant a backslider dwelled there. And a failed bathroom light was an indication that certain standards of health, hygiene and bodily illumination were not being met.

I inherited these beliefs from my father, a man who liked order, efficiency and bright lights. He was, as you might have guessed, of German extraction.

I keep hoping that our two teen-age sons will display some of their grandfather's Germanic traits. So far they have behaved more like their grandmother and the Irish side of the family. Namely that when they encounter a household problem, they work around it. If one light in the room doesn't work, they simply find another in the room that does. There is no cause for alarm. It is just a burned out bulb, not a stigma.

To kept current on the dim-bulb front I undertake periodic domestic reconnaissance missions, sweeping through the house checking light fixtures. The other night on one such mission, I discovered that a lamp in one of the kid's bedrooms was not working. This lamp presented a new bulb-changing challenge for me. Instead of using the normal incandescent light bulb, this lamp used a quartz halogen bulb. Halogen bulbs are the latest in light bulbs. Their fans claim these bulbs provide more light and use less electricity than the old-style incandescent bulbs. But halogen bulbs also burn much hotter than conventional light bulbs.

When you have a halogen lamp there are list of rules you are supposed to follow to reduce risk of starting a fire. Rules like never putting halogen lamp near an open window where a strong wind could blow curtains or drapes on the lamp. Rules like never putting a towel on top of a halogen lamp. And rules like never touching the glass part of the halogen bulb with your bare hands.

The guys at my neighborhood hardware store informed me of the no-fingers on the glass rule when I bought a replacement. The bulb looked like a glass pencil with ceramic tips. The hardware store guys told me to wear gloves when I installed the bulb. I was told if I touched the glass with my bare hands, oil from my fingers would remain on the bulb, causing the bulb to shatter when it heated up.

So I wore gloves -- the thin, transparent kind they wear in hospital emergency rooms. Before I began "the bulb replacement procedure" I also made sure the lamp was unplugged. I didn't want the bulb to explode, sending glass flying through the room and sending me and my gloved hands to a hospital emergency room.

Using a Phillips screw driver I loosened screws holding down a protective cover over the bulb. Then I popped the old halogen bulb out, and put the new bulb in. Next I plugged the lamp back in, and snapped on its switch. Nothing happened. So I unplugged the lamp, and fiddled with the bulb, this time making sure that each end of the bulb was firmly in place in the light socket.

This time, when I put the protective cover back on, plugged the lamp back in and snapped on its switch, the bulb sprang to life, almost "singing" as it worked.

I pulled off my gloves, feeling like a surgeon who has just mastered a new procedure.

Where once there was darkness, now there was light.

I wondered if anyone in the house would notice.

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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