When I was a boy, my father lived in a blue beach house with a long deck. Along the railing, one Christmas, he wound a long, heavily bulbed string of Christmas lights. For nearly a decade afterwards there they remained, features of the house. This always felt a little sad to me: the lights would only ever get switched on for occasions or moments my father would deem special, on summer nights or on foggy afternoons.
Each bulb was about the size of a wine cork, just big enough to grasp entirely in your hand. Their flaking green, red, and blue enamel, subject for so long to Californian weather systems, had forsaken its gleam. They were rough to the touch, I remember. A third of them, maybe, fizzled rather than burned as normal lights do, and a handful were shattered entirely. However, these lights still held for me a shoddy magic all their own. Freed from their festive purpose, they took on a paradoxical effect, a dull splendor, a crummy sacredness.
I’m still sensitive to that memory: the melancholy of those busted-up Christmas lights, redeemed somehow by their tired, hungry resilience. I feel a pang whenever I think about them.