All the Light we Can’t not See


Frank the Light, Josie the Light, and Bigfoot (Larry)

I’m walking through the supermarket today. I have a list. And I’ve been asked (read: required) by Burke to adhere to it reasonably. Reasonably because she knows there’s no chance I’ll be able to avoid a tiny impulse buy or two. Usually those impulse buys are a bag of grapes or a box of taco shells, a few jars of fruit-on-bottom or oats-on-top yogurt. I have to justify my impulse buy upon return home and I use my walk home to practice that justification. I thought we could use these on…, It’s Friday, isn’t it?, Hey my birthday is in four short months.

But it’s usually ignored.

Today I walk by the endcaps with confidence. I look at my list and know that I am fine. But then I notice a few little capsules, like thick squat plastic pills the size of a coffee mug.

“What are you?” I ask them. As I’m wearing a mask, nobody can tell that I’m speaking. All is well. I pick one of them up.

Home Lantern.

Uh oh.

I begin to sweat almost immediately.

I suppose we all wonder what we manifest of our parents. This has become something of a theme for my middle life crises, which are various, fruitful, and evidently multiplying. I got my mom’s cheeks and my dad’s hair. I got my dad’s temper and my mom’s tendency to discuss topics and argue out loud in public alone. And I got my dad’s impulse buy tendency. Which is our jedi trait.  

As a kid I remember going to a store with my dad for a bag of peanuts and walking out with a TV. Our kitchen cabinets are filled with my father’s impulse buys. We have devices such that we can flash fry a turkey, slow cook an entire cow, and offer the entire United States Marine Corps paninis should they happen to stop by. He has been known to give the oddest Christmas gifts due to his impulse buying, binoculars, a tableside box shaped like a duck, a GPS tracker. Upon my squinty question, his response: “I thought it was neat.” He’s always right.

And man, did I get that characteristic. The Czech Republic’s register lane impulse buys are similar to those I knew in America. Candy, gum, ice cream, and magazines. But the Czechs add their own spin with condoms, razors, and individually wrapped shots of Božkov and Becherovka. So my register impulse buys can get me drunk, shaven, and having safe sex.

The gods of impulse buys must have noticed that I wasn’t going for these items too often, so they organized my local supermarket’s endcaps to be chock full of impulse buys. And not only impulse buys, but the random assortment of impulse buys that I can barely resist.

And so I walk past the endcaps with my hands up against my eyes working as blinders, so as to not bemoan the cutting boards, veggie knives, stickers, ice cube trays, and notebooks that I have been prohibited from buying. And that worked fine, until I saw the lantern. Lanterns.

See, one other manifestation that I inherited from my mother is a love of portable illumination. Every birthday or Christmas, my mother can be counted on to give each of us a flashlight, an emergency light for the car, a special lightbulb, a reading lamp that attaches to a computer, or some other gadget that will provide light and isn’t secured to the floor. The root of this obsession has been a topic of discussion amongst my self and my siblings for years. We don’t know if it was a blackout at an early age, being locked in a dark basement, or an early walk through a dark forest. It’s just always been that way.

The moment I see the lanterns marries my father’s impulse-buy gene to my mother’s obsession with portable illumination. And I don’t stand a chance. Also, they are on sale. I’m toast. I buy two.   

A person has to be true to their nature. Nevertheless, I practice my justification on the walk home. Come on, these are just good thinking….

It doesn’t matter. The moment I show them to Burke, she says “Wow, just like your mom!”

I fill the lanterns with batteries. I am the source of mild mockery until bedtime when, turning on my bedside lamp, we blow a fuse and every light is out. We are in the dark in the middle of the night. But never fear! Though I have a choice between four flashlights, two portable lightbulbs, two reading lamps, and an electric candle all from my mom, I choose the new lantern! I raise its head, thus spreading glorious brilliant light on the bedroom like someone on the cover of a Led Zeppelin album. I walk with it to the fuse box in my nightshirt and feel like Ebenezer Scrooge. I walk out into the hallway to the main breaker. I go from goat to hero in one blown fuse.

The neighbors don’t come out to see what’s going on, but if they did, they would have said “That’s a hell of a light. Where’d you get it? Also, where are your pants?” And I would have told them eagerly, thus manifesting another characteristic of my father’s: the good deal brag.   

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