THERE COMES A time when you have to get physical with your fluorescent lights, when you have to slap them around. I found this out when the fluorescent light in the laundry room went disco on me. This once calm and steady source of illumination suddenly turned hyper. It flickered, producing the kind of intermittent, strobe-effect lighting found in disco-dance joints and in secret-police interrogation rooms.
After spending a few minutes under the annoying light, I was willing to confess to any offense (Yes, I voted for bond amendments without reading them!) if only the thing would be turned off.
With the laundry room light off, however, it was hard to distinguish the white socks from the dark socks. So I got out the step ladder and began to grapple with the task of turning this light back to its mild-mannered ways.
I started by grabbing one of the two tubes in the light fixture. They were sizable fellows, about 4 feet long, and they weren't easy to work with. But my many years of duty as the household's chief light-bulb changer had taught me that loose bulbs respond a firm hand.
So I boldly rotated one fluorescent tube about a quarter of turn, moving it until the metal pins on its ends snapped free of the light fixture's sockets.
Next I roughed up the pins on the ends of the tube, rubbing them with a piece of fine-grit sandpaper, then wiping them off with a paper towel. This scouring session was supposed to remove any minute deposits of dust or corrosion. It also sent the tube the message that I meant business.
Then I threatened to straighten out the pins with a pair of needle-nose pliers. It was tempting to pinch both pins with the pliers at the same time. That seemed like a good, send-the-tube-a-message procedure. But I refrained from the dual pinch for two reasons. First of all, I had read that pinching both pins at the same time usually results in breaking off the end of the tube. Second, the pins didn't need to be pinched. Pinching is used to straighten out crooked pins and these pins were already straighter than a string.
I gave the tube the "old switcheroo." I reversed it. The end that had been sitting in the socket at the northern end of the fixture now resided in the southern end, and vice versa. I figured by changing the posture of the tube, I would change its attitude. I feel the same way about the posture of my kids. For some dTC reason, I feel that if kids sit up straight, they will behave.
After repositioning the tube, I climbed down from the ladder, turned on the wall switch and felt like a genius. Disco was dead.
I folded up the ladder and, in a moment of hubris, turned the light back on to savor my victory. This time I felt like a loser. Disco was back.
I was furious. But I knew what had to be done. It was time to take the misbehaving tube to the basement.
I yanked the flickering tube out of the laundry-room fixture and stomped down to the basement. There I switched it with a tube in a low-hanging light fixture. I took the basement tube up to the laundry-room fixture, snapped it in and it went right to work. It knew what to do.
After sitting in the dark basement for several hours, the misbehaving tube seemed ready to mend its ways. It did its job.
However, after a few days its demeanor changed. It went back to its old, flickering ways.
The ceiling in our basement is much lower than the one in our laundry room. So instead of climbing up a ladder I could stand on the floor and get my hands on the tube.
I reached out and gave the tube a wallop, landing a shot next to the pins. It was a blow with a purpose, but it wasn't strong enough to knock the tube loose. After I whacked it, the light behaved.
Now the fluorescent tube and I have an understanding. If it gives me any of that disco routine, I beat on it until it stops.
Someday I am going to break down and spend $2 to buy a new tube. But in the meantime I am content to keep my eye on the old one, and when it strays, slap it back into line.
Pub Date: 10/17/98