Saturday, April 12, 2008

All my tubes and wires and careful notes

bear head

Couple of weeks ago, we visited Bob's brother Joe and his wife Jeannie at their place in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Joe and Jeannie make their living telling children stories with puppets (really! although it's a running joke that Joe is secretly a C.I.A. agent, as nobody can seriously support themselves as a puppeteer). Their house, consequently, is full of cool stuff. Musical instruments and picture books, juggling equipment, wigs, giant yoga balls, and puppets.

The kids were horsing around on the floor one afternoon, and one of them knocked over a heavy little cube wrapped in electrical tape. Instantly, about twelve strings of Christmas lights came on all over the room. A mercury switch! Magic! They played with that thing for an hour.

It reminded Bob and Joe of a weekend, decades ago, when Joe lent his Washington, D.C. apartment to their sister Anne and her husband. Joe wasn't at home when they arrived - late at night and after a long drive. Fumbling around in the dark, one of them kicked the mercury switch. Instantly, a million colored lights illuminated Joe's apartment, which was - as now - filled with many interesting objects, including a headless mannequin, around whom the lights were wrapped in an intimate way. The stereo came on, heartily pumping out "Jingle Bells" at full volume. Something mounted on a turntable started rotating. So Anne and Mike suddenly found themselves in a loud, luridly-lit Christmas funhouse in the middle of the night, with no idea how they had turned everything on, and no idea how to turn it all off.

This story reminded me of a weekend, easily ten years ago, when Bob and I stayed at my parents' house when they were out of town. I know that house pretty well - I grew up in it - so I know the little quirks. I know how to work the security system and which lights are on timers.
My dad enjoys fiddling around with technology. I showed Bob the lightswitch in the downstairs bathroom that operates on a motion sensor.

The first morning we were there, my dad's alarm clock went off - loudly - at 6am. When Bob ventured into my parents' bedroom to see about turning it off, he couldn't find the lightswitch. Sliding his hands around the wall in an increasing panic, all he found was a blank switchplate. "Aha!" he thought. "Motion sensor!" So he stood in the middle of the room waving his arms in wide swings, as if he were trying to flag down a truck on a dark country highway.

After a minute of this, he thought, "Wait, he's not going to put a motion sensor in the bedroom - the light would go on every time you rolled over in bed." Then he thought of Dad's security system and froze. It was JUST possible that my slightly paranoid father might have installed motion-sensitive video cameras around the house in case of a break-in.

In which case he would arrive home to footage of his not-yet son-in-law standing in the middle of his own bedroom, nude, waving his arms like a pornographic snow angel.