The Ups and Downs

The first house I ever owned was a little tract home with a yard the size of a piece of lunchmeat.

The long hallway was lit by two absolutely uninteresting overhead lights.

There was a light switch.

In the living room was pair of track-lights.

There was a light switch.

In between them was a light switch with two switches, one that controlled the hall lights and one that controlled the track lights.

Here is a schemata. (This is the technical term for silly drawings that want to seem more important than they are.)

Isn’t that impressive.

So there are two switches that control each sets of lights. Convenient, yes?

Switches A and B controlled the hall lights, from either switch. If light A was up, you could turn the hall lights off from switch B.

Switches C and D controlled the track lights, from either switch. If switch C was down, you could turn the lights on from switch D.

So convenient. Yes! Yay for modern wiring!

Until one of the light switches broke and needed to be replaced.

This should not be a big deal. It’s not like we were rewiring the switchboard for AT&T’s customer service line.

A light switch. One. Simple. Light switch.

We replaced the light switch. We turned off the breaker and followed the instructions.

Something went wrong. Horribly wrong.

Turning one switch up and the next switch down stopped turning off and on the light. A up B down no longer meant a light going on or off. C down D up no longer had anything to do with illumination in the living room.

Instead we ended up with this:

A up B down C up D down meant one light on and the other blinking morse code.

A down B up C down D up  caused the garage door to open.

A up B up C down D up launched the space shuttle.

A down B down C up D down caused Donald Trump’s hair to eat the nearest journalist from Mother Jones.

A up B down C down D up made blue chips stocks on the Dow Jones dance the polka.

A down B up C up D down meant six more weeks of winter.

A down B down C down D up caused guacamole to turn black.

A up B up C up D down made 80’s pop groups to go on reunion tours.

A down B down C up D down caused a flock of migrating Canadian geese to become disoriented and poop all over our yard.

People would walk down the hallways and we would fling ourselves at them to keep them from flipping a light switch and potentially reversing the earth’s polarity, or, equally bad, causing reruns of “Who’s the Boss” to air on all available cable stations.

Having influence over the earth this way was just not as much fun as you’d think.

Nor, I must say, was walking down the hallway in the dark for fear of turning on a light switch.

I had lots of stubbed toes during that period of my life. But, it was for the best. I really hate black guacamole.

20 comments

    1. enter migraine from all the light chaos. and also the thinking. Because I am really a simple being. much too simple to figure out which way is blue. I mean up. or down. shit. I don’t know.

  1. I think those builders were related to the stoners who built our place. I have a triple switch in one room and double switches in two different rooms, all of which are some how tied together & have something to do with the outside lights. But even after 14 years we are still not sure how to turn the soffit lights on. 2 of the 7 switches are involved at least but we’re still sorting the endless combination of up & down needed to keep the soffits on.

  2. I love all the different things these light switches did. Did you watch Lost? For some reason this post totally made me thing of that – pushing the button in the hatch and controlling the world. If you didn’t watch it, you have no idea what I’m talking about. Alright, I’ll stop talking now. ;)

  3. I hate the black guac effect but I kinda like the Donald Trump effect. Also, you are brilliant. I almost didn’t read the end because the ABC stuff seemed a lot like algebra. Glad I perservered. Martha points for me? Ok, 10 martha points for you, Smarty pants.

  4. This scares me so much that I’m almost thinking about leaving the world of electricity entirely just to be careful…but then the thought of living through summer in Florida without an air conditioner calls me back to reality!

    I used to have a hallway with the switches like that. It drove me crazy that you could have the switch on one side in the up position for on….but then have turned it off at the other side, so the light was, in fact, off. My OCD-like-tendencies could not handle it.

  5. OMG, the joys of back-assward construction and wiring. We’ve gone thru a few of these crazies with our cable wiring.

    They’re “what were you thinking?” moments.

    But we never launched the space shuttle. Jealous of that fo sho.

  6. Lol!! That’s great. After 12 years in my house I just recently discovered I had a second light switch like that despite painting around it twice. That’s how observant I am. I have 2 in the tiny laundry room. Thank goodness cause I can’t imagine having to walk an extra three steps.

  7. I’m pretty sure this must be the reason you moved. It had to be, this is the stuff that drives me insane in our lovely 1970’s tract home.

    That and I also hate black guacamole, but have been known to scrape off the black layer to get to the green underneath.

    Love the schematica or whatever it’s called!

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