James Lileks
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Me, January 2023: "Ha-ha, future self, I'm just jamming these Christmas lights in the bin in a big wad, knowing it will take an hour to untangle them, but I don't feel like doing it now. Sorry, not sorry!"

Me, November 2023: "Gosh, past self, I'm sure you had a good reason for making my life difficult right now. Maybe a lion got in the backyard, and I had to forgo the careful storage to protect wife and dog. I have no memory of that, but that would be a good reason."

Actually, I stored some of the lights on spindles, and they were still all knotted and stuck together. I accept this and proceed with loosening the spiky skein, but now and then the thought strikes: Can this year be made more complicated and pointlessly difficult than last year?

Well, I'm here to tell you that it can.

All the cords go into a stake timer, which has a dial on the top for setting the duration of joy and merriment. You can set it for six hours, but if that seems like an excessive amount of cheer, five or four is available, as well. If you are stingy and want to provide a narrow window of twinkling enjoyment, you can put it at one and wait for passersby to come around after it clicked off, so you can shout, "You missed it! Best be quick next time!" Then you close the window and mutter about these parasites who expect a man to pay for the cost of the lights from sundown to 1 a.m.

The timer, I discovered this year, no longer worked. I needed a new one, so off to the store. Found one. But hello, what's this in the clearance aisle? An app-enabled timer that uses Wi-Fi to turn on the lights.

It was marked 75% off, and there were three of them, all open-box items taped shut. You know what that means, right? They don't work.

Naturally, I bought one.

Once home, I downloaded the app and began to hook up the device with the home network. "Searching for appliance ... No appliance found."

"It's right there!" I screamed. Augh. I tried it again, and had a vision of a blindfolded man searching for a thimble in US Bank stadium. Same result. Try again. "It's on the 50-yard line," I hissed. Bingo!

Now to enter the password for the special network set up to keep the device from contaminating everything else in the house. "Password incorrect."

But it wasn't. I was looking at the password I'd written on a piece of paper — kneeleaf — when I had registered it in the app. I tried it four more times to no avail. If my wife had been present, and had asked the origin of the muttered oaths and dark looks, I would have said, "I cannot turn on the Christmas lights because I don't know if there's a capital letter in the password," which is a normal thing to say in 2023.

I tried once more. Success! I think the problem was that I originally intended "knee" in the sense of a body part and "leaf" as a tree component, but I must have been thinking "knee" as a verb and "leaf" in the meaning of paging through a book. Once I thought the right meanings, it worked.

That's why people had returned it: They'd quit after five attempts. Sixth time's the charm.

So far they work. I regret hooking them up to the home network, because it keeps ordering things on Amazon and sending them to an address in Russia, but paying that bill is a problem for future me. For now, all's fine.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks