I have this thing I do at work I want to tell you about. I’ve somehow become the Fluorescent Light Expert. I inspect and maintain the fluorescent light fixtures in this large showroom where I work. Despite my ignorance of fluorescent lights or the physics of electricity in general, I’m considered the expert on all things light fixture related now, simply because I started doing it.
(I do have experience assembling Maitri meditation rooms which in my experience involved aiming fluorescent light fixtures colored with gels into the small windows of meditation chambers, but that’s a story for another time.)
I’d estimate we have around 80 fluorescent light fixtures at work, each with a ballast and 3 bulbs. I don’t know what a ballast is or precisely what it accomplishes, but I’ve swapped out quite a few while operating as the Fluorescent Light Expert here. And at least once every other week I swap out a bulb or two from somewhere in the showroom. But it’s what I do every morning that I want to tell you about. After making coffee, I turn on all the showroom lights. There’s one odd fixture, way back in the far corner that will always dimly blink as if in protest of having to start work for the day. I understand. There’s a ladder in the warehouse I go get, and then I carry it back in, past a couple of the other early coworkers who laugh at me every morning. Why don’t you just swap out that ballast? one will call some days. Because it still works, I’ll say, as I set up the ladder below the dim fixture in question.
And it does still work. Every morning from atop this eight-foot step ladder I open the cover to the light, swing it down, ducking to get out of its way, wondering as I stand back up if today’s the day I get a headrush from quickly rising and pass out from up here.
Inside the fixture are three bulbs neatly lined up next to each other; one fully lit, one totally dark, one frenetically blinking. I go for the blinking one. I gently pull and rotate, just barely loosening the press-fit hold from its mounts at either end of the awkwardly sharp, metal fixture. I can feel the gentle metal-to-metal rub at those two contact points, and the light begins to flicker in rhythm with my motion, off and on, then off, then on again. I settle it snugly back into position, all three bulbs brightly diffusing showroom quality fluorescent glow.
I know my grandfather would appreciate this. He was raised on a small farm in the great depression with a houseful of brothers. He values frugality. I remember he had a drawer full of zippers, it was all the zippers from any clothing that had worn out in his adult life. I also remember as a child once entering his house to find fishing line strung on racks throughout the first level as he was untangling an otherwise perfectly good looking line he found in a mess by Sandy Creek as he watched the salmon run. He wasn’t a fisherman. He didn’t need line. My coworkers who see me take on this task each morning, they agree with each other as I pass by, again this morning, that I’m the most frugal one in the place. But that’s not it. Not at all.
I’m just an analog guy living in a digital world. I didn’t expect to opine bygone technology when I was younger, but I suppose it’s not surprising. Possibly related: apparently I also like “dad music.” But in the relationship I have with that one odd light fixture, I get something I seem to value greatly. An actual physical connection in a piece of technology. Using my hands to make two things connect, to physically manipulate them in a way that allows energy to flow. Despite being so far inside a digital world I could never hope to find my way out, nor would I really wish to, it seems I still have my eyes open for moments of true communion like this. Yes, communion. The real coming together, that rub. That friction and rub. I can’t explain why it’s meaningful to me, but I know that it is.