Out There: The changing of the bulbs

These days, its not that easy changing a bulb.

Painting by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Painting by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
I’m not – and this is an understatement – the handiest fellow around the house.
Many are the reasons for this, foremost among them that my father didn’t involve me much in the domestic fix-it chores when I was a lad.
He would do the fixing, and I would do the holding. I’d hold the ladder, I’d hold the tools, I’d hold the trash bag. But I wouldn’t actually do the nail-pounding or the wood-cutting. He would do that.
And, secondly, I don’t have the right tools. I don’t have an adjustable crescent wrench or lever-wrench plier, neither a hammer drill nor a circular saw.
And in this country, you need a healthy toolbox to do even the simplest of household chores.
For instance, if you want to hang up a picture, you can’t just bang a nail in the wall and be done with it like we used to do in the States – because the walls here are made of concrete, cement or cinder block, not wood.
No, you need a hammer drill to drill a hole in the wall, then you need the right-sized drill-bit for the plastic masonry anchor (dibel), and the right dibel for the hole, and the right-sized screw for the dibel.
Chances of all that coming together at one go are slim, so a 45-second operation in America turns into a 45-minute production here, not counting the run to the hardware store to get all the rightsized stuff.
I don’t own a hammer drill, so every time I need one, I have to borrow from my neighbor. And – fashioning myself the self-reliant, independent type – borrowing from my neighbor is not something I like to do.
Which means I haven’t changed the picture placement in my apartment in the 19 years since we moved in.
BUT ONE thing I always used to be good at was changing light bulbs.
Granted, that sounds like a bad joke (“How many Keinons does it take to screw in a light bulb?”), and it may not sound like much of an achievement, but when the kids were small, I made changing a light bulb seem like a very, very big deal.
The light would burn out in one of the bedrooms, and I would gather the children around to watch as I, a visor on my head and various screwdrivers in my pockets, climbed up a rickety ladder – kvetching all the way up – to undo the light fixture, unscrew the light bulb, put in the new one and watch in joy as the once dark room would suddenly become awash in light.
When the kids were five years old and under, that sudden transformation from darkness to light – brought about by the steady hands of their father, whom they looked up to at the time – was a significant accomplishment.
I’m glad my kids were under five some 20 years ago, in the era of the incandescent light bulb, because I’m not sure I could repeat that achievement today. These days, its not that easy changing a bulb.
In 2014, Japanese physicists Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura shared the Nobel Prize in physics for research making the light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs possible. Me, I feel deserving of a prize every time I successfully buy the right ones and can change them.
Today there are dozens of different types of light bulbs to choose from, in a gazillion different sizes, each with their own base. Sure, you still have the incandescent bulbs needed for the lamps and light fixtures of your youth, but you also have fluorescents and compact fluorescents, and LED bulbs and halogens.
Back in the day, light bulbs were standard.
The incandescent bulb may not have been energy-efficient, but it was simple to replace. Granted, there were different watt bulbs, but no matter the wattage, they all seemed to fit any light fixture. I grew up in a magical era where one bulb fit all.
My dad would go to the hardware store every once in a while, and buy a dozen bulbs of different wattage to have around the house. If one burned out, no worries, we’d go to the storage shelf in the basement and pull out another one to change it. No need for planning, running to the store or tremendous forethought.
Not so today. Today, in order to have spares in the house for all the different light bulbs needed for all the different fixtures, you don’t need a storage shelf, you need a storage room. I live in an average-sized Israeli apartment, and I just can’t devote the necessary space in the house needed to keep all those spare bulbs.
Some of the bulbs you screw in the base, others you clip in, and others – like the small halogens – you just kind of punch into a couple of holes. I might have an extra LED bulb somewhere in the house, but then I will inevitably find it’s the long kind, when the fixture needed calls for the stout type.
Another problem is never quite knowing, when facing a particular fixture, whether the bulb to be replaced needs to be unscrewed, unclipped or unpinned, and whether that particular bulb can even be touched by human hands – because some of them are not supposed to be touched by human hands.
I live in fear of unclipping a bulb that needs to be unscrewed, leaving shards of glass in my palm.
NOT ONLY are there different kinds of bulbs, with different bases, but there are also different colors of lights: yellow or white.
I went in to the store the other day looking for a bulb, spending about an hour beforehand going from room to room and writing down exactly which type of bulb I needed for each burnedout fixture, and then took the list to the hardware store.
The first question the clerk asked me was what color I desired, yellow or white.
I dunno, I said, “just regular.”
“I don’t know what regular is,” the clerk snapped. “White or yellow?” All I wanted to do was buy a lousy light bulb, something I should have been able to do without calling The Wife for help. It’s a given that I’ll need to call her from the grocery store, asking whether to buy the fat or thin spaghetti; but from the hardware store in search of light bulbs? That’s something I should have been able to do on my own.
But there I was, on the phone surrounded by all kinds of different bulbs emitting either yellow or white light, asking her what color bulb we needed for the living room, nostalgic for those simpler days when this was one chore I could do – from start to finish – all by myself.
A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, is now available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com.