Tightened wire makes house once again calm and bright

December 16, 2006|By ROB KASPER

The household's Christmas tree, a towering Fraser fir from Gil's Garage in Ruxton, had been secured in a no-nonsense tree stand. Green and red bulbs, the same multicolor lighting pattern that graces Baltimore's Washington Monument, were glowing on its branches. The Metropolitan Museum of Art angel was perched at its top. All was calm, all was bright.

Then the lights went out. The circuit powering the front hallway and living room, where the Christmas tree resided, had stopped working.

The tree blacked out after my wife turned on the vacuum cleaner. In the drama that is family life, I knew my role. I was supposed to shake my head at her apparent misstep that caused a short circuit. Slowly I would make my way to the basement, open the circuit breaker box and look for the switch that had flipped off. Once I found the switch, the Christmas tree would gleam again and I would emerge as a basement hero.

This circuit breaker panel box is a new fixture in our home. Thanks to an elaborate rewiring job, the gray metal box bears a certificate proclaiming that it is up-to-code, a lofty status few parts of our old house have attained. Its mode of operation is simple. When a power mistake happens, a short circuit for example, the breaker flips off, cutting the flow of electricity.

Yet, as I looked over the panel, none of its breakers had tripped. Sometimes breakers fool you. Like teen-agers doing their homework, at first glance they look like they are working, when actually they are not. So just to be sure, I switched all the breakers off, then back on. I knew this action would mean many of the electric clocks in the house would have to be reset. But getting the Christmas tree illuminated was worth it. As it happened, the tree lights did not go on, and the clocks still had to be reset.

That night I went to bed in a gloomy mood. Tossing and turning, I considered other ways to light the tree. I could run a long extension cord from a working outlet elsewhere in the house. I could rent a generator. I could move the tree. None of these options was realistic. It looked like it was going to be a dim Christmas.

I rose early the next morning and again checked the tree lights. Sometimes household problems heal themselves overnight. This was not one of those times.

I called our electrician, Steve "Never on Sunday" Scalf. You never call Steve on Sunday because that is the day he and a group of fellow football fanatics known as "Greenhorn and the boys" are watching the Baltimore Ravens play.

I was in luck. Not only was this a Monday, it was also a day that followed a big Ravens win, a 20-10 thrashing of the Kansas City Chiefs, my old team. When I got him on his cell phone, Steve was in a good mood. He happened to be nearby, so he offered to swing by my house in Bolton Hill and check out the trouble.

Shortly after he hit the door, he and I started talking about the Ravens. He discussed the solid defense, the improved offense and the all-important line play as he pulled out a meter and tested each of the breakers in the panel box for current. They were fine.

While studying the basement ceiling -- mentally tracing the wires from the troubled upstairs circuit to the panel box -- he mulled over the chances that the Ravens could make it to the Super Bowl. He was optimistic about the team, but puzzled by my electrical troubles.

He opened several junction boxes, testing and tightening the wire connections. He noted that one junction box on the basement ceiling was missing its metal cover. When he tightened the wires in it, power was restored.

A loose connection had threatened our Christmas joy. Now that wires were firmly intertwined, our tree was aglow.

I made a note to ask Santa for a metal plate to cover that old, 17-A junction box. In the meantime, I placed a temporary cover over it.

In the ensuing days, I was uncharacteristically magnanimous. The other night at the Reisterstown Road entry ramp to the Beltway, where two lanes squeeze into one, I let not one but two cars cut in front of me.

Hurrying to the grocery store to get supplies for an office holiday party, I smiled when a woman took "my" parking space close to the store, leaving me to find a more distant spot.

And, after trailing an a-rab's wagon as it meandered down the brightly lit stretch of 34th Street in Hampden, I laughed when I realized the a-rab had conned me into buying $20 worth of nearly frozen tangerines and a bunch of rotten bananas.

At other times of the year, these tribulations would have made me steaming mad.

But ever since our Christmas tree has been restored to its glory, I have been a jolly old soul.


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