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Wednesday May 4, 2005 // By Sandy

The blackening of my fingers

There were actually two professions that earned my newfound respect this weekend. Saturday it was gardeners. Sunday, electricians. That was the day I tried my hand at installing our new ceiling lights.

Electricity, I figured, was something more up my alley than gardening. I was always pretty good at science. I was especially good at circuitry, as evidenced by my experiences in high school physics when we’d complete a low-voltage circuit by holding one end of the generator in each hand. It was like a My First Electric Chair kit. At least then it was all intentional.

This light I was installing late Sunday morning was bought at IKEA. IKEA’s instructions are designed to be ridiculously straightforward. They write them for an international audience, eschewing any written language for the universal langugage of love music bacon pictograms. This is all fine and good when the installation process is self-contained, like with a bookshelf. But when you’re trying to connect a bunch of metal and plastic in a box to a bunch of metal and plastic sticking out from a hole in your own ceiling, things are often not as simple as they seem.

Electricity is not a toy

The problem came down to the issue of wire count. In the diagram, three wires connected the light to house. And indeed, upon disassembling the old light fixture, we found three very pretty, very inviting plastic-sheathed wires. But only two of them were connected to the old light; the third one was, improbably, connected to itself. We pulled out our trusty how-to guide, Where’s Your Landlord Now, Eh? The Numskulled Newbie Homeowner’s Guide to Fixing Shit (or something), hoping for an explanation. The best one seemed to be that the third wire was a grounding wire. IKEA didn’t say anything about which wire was to be connected to the grounding line, so I made some educated guesses (black to black, white to white, green to … striped?) and hoped for the best.

I was about to screw the whole thing back into the ceiling when I remembered that this was my first attempt at electrical work, and we best check to see if it worked. So we popped in a few bulbs, stepped away, and flipped the circuit breaker back on to “ON.” (Oh, you thought I’d forgotten to turn off the main line beforehand, didn’t you? I’m stupid, but not that stupid.) Voila! And Sandor created light!

It was at this point that everything almost went to shit. Since the light was working properly, I figured all the electricity was flowing in the proper places, and it would be safe to screw the whole contraption back into the ceiling. Bad move. Metal is still metal, and one can not say for certain where contact is being made. As I touched the metal base, a strong jolt went through my hand, and a sudden flash of nostalgia for physics class went through my head. “Turn it off!” I screamed, which Sarah did with admirable promptness. No permanent harm was done, but we learned later that my scream was audible by our neighbor sitting out on the porch. I don’t think he’ll be lending me any power tools soon.

And there was light

Eventually we got the whole thing screwed in and working—though not before having to unscrew everything and reattach the wires after something got loose the first time. Now, magically, our sunroom is flooded with light whenever we choose, regardless of time of day. I feel like I imagine Edison felt like when he first installed a light in his sunroom. This electricity stuff is a pretty neat idea.

I’m still rather in awe of my own accomplishment, singed fingertips notwithstanding. Who needs a landlord when you’ve got a home chock full of Schneid?

Posted by James // Aug 7, 10:23
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