Tripping the lights (not so) fantastic

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The light above our kitchen table blinks off. A simulated voice intones, "Breakfast hour is now over. Please proceed to your next activity."

Or so I imagine each morning at 7:30, when an electronic timer abruptly absconds with my reading light, even though I'm not quite finished with the newspaper.

As dimness descends on our kitchen, I beam my sternest laser gaze across the table at the culprit, my handyman husband, Ken, who beams back an impish grin.

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Later in the day, the living-room lamp snaps on as if by magic. Although I'm busy fixing dinner, I feel compelled to slip into the living room for a minute with a magazine, to demonstrate my gratitude for the lamp's self-starting attitude.

After dinner, I step from the kitchen into the garage to take out the trash. In bygone days, I'd just switch on the garage light. But now, I must descend into darkness (a small leap of faith) until a motion- detector senses my presence and the garage light suddenly blazes, as if declaring, "Entry granted! Mission deemed legitimate - but do not exceed the two-minute illumination limit."

My better half has always been a do-it-yourselfer extraordinaire. But lately, I'm seeing his home-improvement zeal in a whole new light. And with every passing week, it seems, our household moves one gadget closer to what I call "Y2Ken compliance."

That's because, ever since his retirement, Ken's devoted himself to automating our home. His new code of electronics ethics reads, "If it isn't broken, let's retro-fix it anyway."

Until recently, we were blissfully low-tech in most respects.

We still own no cell phone. Our prehistoric bathroom scale knows better than to talk back to us. And our 10-year-old refrigerator-freezer hasn't a clue how to make its own ice cubes. (Even Ken concedes that it's impractical to retrofit this feature.)

But now that techno-tinkering has become my Mr. Fix-It's latest leisure-time pursuit, our lifestyle has begun to feel like one part stone-age Flintstones, one part space-age Jetsons.

I remind myself that I'm fortunate to be married to a talented guy who makes home-improvement projects look like child's play. Yet I balked recently when I discovered, with a shiver, that he'd programmed our new thermostat to drop the temperature to 55 degrees every evening at 9 p.m.

He'd never had time to install this money-saving gizmo during his work years. Now that it's in place, of course, he can't resist programming it to perform the work it was invented to do - even though we're both at home now more than ever, in greater need of heat, and in possession of more time than before to adjust the thermostat manually. (I've become secretive about overriding the morning and evening settings, lest he override my overrides.)

Sometimes I wonder how long Ken's electricity eccentricity will last, how many high-tech bells and whistles my beloved will superimpose on our sturdy but staid domestic infrastructure before absolutely everything runs like clockwork (the digital kind, of course).

Yet given the fun he's having, I'm loath to short-circuit my hubby's latest hobby. So I'll keep tripping the light fantastic, flapping my wings like a moth to trigger the garage light. I don a sweater on nippy evenings as I remind myself of the fossil fuel we're saving, biding my time until the millennium's turn, fantasizing that one or two of our dandy new domestic devices will find itself in need of human intervention.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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