There are jokes out there. Not particularly good jokes, but even the most clever can fall into the trap. How many Ruben Amaros does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Five. One to flip the switch and four to stand around telling him that nothing is broken. Or something. The punchline that delivers zero laughs is based on what is supposed to be an undisputable fact. It is EASY to change a lightbulb. We must now rewrite every hacky joke book in the world.
I’m old enough to remember two things. First, when a light bulb was actually shaped like a bulb. I bet that’s HOW THEY GOT THE NAME. I also remember when you just screwed them into the darn light hole. You couldn’t make a mistake. Perhaps you screwed up your wattage and you accidentally got mood lighting in your kitchen, but I bet you never returned a light bulb to the store. That’s right, time was you could just stroll into a grocery store and get a generic bulb. There were only a few choices–but who cares?
The light bulb (now a name with no meaning like “woods” in golf) has undergone a dramatic change. I suppose this is mostly due to environmental reasons? We’re saving energy? Saving filament? For a while light bulbs started to change their shape, but you could still just screw the cusses into the fixture. The light might be SOFTER, meaning you couldn’t actually see anything, but the bulb would last for 3 billion hours and you had a clear conscience. I wasn’t too bothered by this development. I let everyone else save the world and I just went on buying my regular light bulbs, an old curmudgeon sticking to his unfiltered Lucky’s.
The bulbs finally got me, though. This week the revolution came to my doorstep. A nifty, decorative, barely functional light fixture in the kitchen had been down a bulb for some time, but we soldiered on in slightly enhanced darkness instead of trying to change one of the magical bulbs. But then, light number two vanished and the entire room was illuminated by one meek light that wouldn’t satisfy a toddler who was afraid of the dark. The lights had to be changed, and they weren’t going to take your basic Sylvania Soft White. No, Sir.
I was prepared for the battle. I knew that the “bulbs” in this fixture were actually FOR SHOW. They came out to reveal these tiny little mutant lights that are likely designed by the tiny fingers of Santa’s elves in the off-season. Written on the fixture itself is a handy little tip. It says, 12 Volt T4 Bi-Plug. Only one part of that information is useful. I won’t spoil which one it is just yet. I write this gibberish down on a note and head to SEARS HARDWARE.
Sears is very close to where I live and I wanted to do my best not to go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, because it could take me the better part of the evening just to find the light bulb aisle. Plus, I could have impulse bought all the supplies for a Beirut Table and frankly I don’t have the means to transport that home. But, anyway, I’m in Sears, trying to drum up some American nostalgia, or better yet be the last customer in the HISTORY OF THE CHAIN. Sears is so awful right now, and it’s sad, but true. They’ve been conquered, and aren’t even trying.
Much to my delight, Sears does have these gypsy bulbs and I spend three to four minutes staring at the section. I see some buzzwords “T4” and “Bi-Pin” on some signage above the display, but on the shelves there are no T4s. There is a T3 and some other junk, but I was expecting to see what I had written down in bold and obvious type and that WAS NOT THE CASE. So, I swallow my pride and ask a guy. Asking a clerk for help in a retail store is, for me, just slightly more appealing than living my life in darkness. The kid had NO IDEA about the bulbs. Can you blame him? Who would know this stuff, but he scurried off to get me some educated help.
It never arrived. The old guy that ambled over and I shared a nice conversation that revealed he knew nothing about the bulbs. He suggested I go to Lowe’s. Great. My problem was, I thought I was on the right track after seeing “T3” in print. I wasn’t. T4, written on the fixture is a completely useless piece of information. You’re welcome.
I arrive at Lowe’s several minutes later, it’s not close to Sears really, not when you are starting to think about what you are going to have for dinner. To my surprise and contained elation the light bulbs are front and center at Lowe’s. No search required. But, in the section I saw no mention of T3s, T4s, or really anything that I had on my handy paper. There were plenty of bulbs that KIND OF looked right, but they all have slight variations. I’m sure an electrician could tell you why, but I bet I wouldn’t make too much sense.
At this point I realize it’s likely I will need the actual bulb to make my purchase. I do not have it–can you imagine taking a regular light bulb into a store for reference? So, I make my best guess and leave Lowe’s with two bulbs. They cost more than my dinner.
Seven point three seconds after arriving home I know that I have the wrong bulbs and this makes me quite angry, but I guess I did this to myself. Who doesn’t bring the light in so they can match up the width of the base? TOTAL AMATEUR MOVE. It was one more night in darkness and then back to Lowe’s, with my bulb, with my incorrect new bulbs, and with my receipt–SCREW YOU FOR MAKING ME KEEP A RECEIPT, light bulb.
I go right back to the bulb aisle. I know my way around now. Pro. There’s another kid there. We have the following conversation:
Me: Do you know anything about these (pause so I don’t say f&cking) specialty bulbs?
Kid: (Look of abject terror) Uh, let me get the guy who works in this department.
There’s a department? I take everything back, these new bulbs are CREATING JOBS. It took a few minutes to find the light bulb guy, I imagine he’s in high demand, but he comes over and he’s throwing off a bit of a hippie vibe. He examines my bulb like he’s looking at a bit of designer marijuana. He’s not saying a damn thing, so I spit out the stupid information I have on my paper. This is when I found out that it was mostly useless, so I produced the bulb from pocket and let this guy take a look.
What would have been reassuring is if he took one look and grabbed the bulb I needed immediately. That didn’t happen. He examined, he pondered, he speculated and then gave me his best guess. The light bulb guy, at Lowe’s, the man in that department, couldn’t give me a guarantee I had the right bulb, but what choice do I have?
I’m back in the kitchen. It’s getting pretty late again, I’m starving again and I start wrestling with the damn light fixtures. These things just kind of jam into the fixture like a misshapen puzzle piece. There’s not satisfying click, no reassuring screwing motion–it feels a bit like you might electrocute yourself at ANY MOMENT. I wedge one up in there, go over, flip the switch and nothing. That was the moment where I almost lost my composure. A man cannot make three trips to Lowe’s to get a light bulb. I think you have to move out of the apartment before you do that.
I end up dismantling the last working light on the fixture, trying to see what kind of trickery I need to perform to get these things to work, and finally after about 12 minutes, a bit of brow sweat, and a shoulder tweak, I finally said, “Let there be light.”
It was a truly horrible experience and I know the third light is probably due to go out at any moment. If you are wondering why you just read 1,500 words on changing a light bulb (did anyone make it this far), it’s so I can deliver my Christmas list. Send candles, please.