Flashing Lights

flashlightWe had a sky full of lighting the other night. Right above us it threw a pinkish glow, flashing sideways across the clouds like giant illuminated eyeball veins. Each time it lit us all up on my neighbor’s back deck, garish electrical  fragments in the corners of our retinas that were subliminal memories almost before it happened.

On the horizon it was pure white, coming in frantic bursts, like mute bombs going off behind the distant mountains. All to a soundtrack of incidental thunder mumbling indolently now and then from its celestial orchestra pit. I left Josie and Bennett’s and walked two doors down to my house to grab the laundry off the line. As soon as I got inside, the wind swooshed through the darkened trees and the rain began its patter and the lights started to flicker. Everything died down within a few minutes and the power stayed on, but I cast an eye at the flashlight on my desk waiting to be featured as a thing of the day this week.

The label reads Ray-O-Vac Stainless Steel and is attached with sturdy rivets. Inadvertently keeping with the French theme running through the last few posts, Ray-O-Vac used to be called the French Battery Co. Located, of course, in Wisconsin. Check out Mister Ray-O-Lite from 1920, a combination of a genie, a sperm and a lighting bolt. (Reaching for new heights in corporate blandness, the company has been known as Spectrum Brands, Inc. since 2005.)

This particular flashlight is long and it looks like a device conceived to burn through batteries. And in fact the invention of the flashlight goes hand in hand with the invention of batteries, right at the turn of the century before the latest turn of the century.

It’s called a flashlight because the earliest ones only flashed on for a few seconds at a time. You can read more about flashlights at the Flashlight Museum. It’s run by a guy who “acted as an expert witness in 6 flashlight litigation matters.”  I don’t know about flashlight law, but in movies, the authorities use dogs and flashlights to chase escaped convicts through the woods and/or swamps.

I always seem to have one or two flashlights around, but they never
contain any batteries, or the batteries are dead. I picked up the latest
one at an estate cleanout I did recently because it had a spare industrial
look. It’s nice and light with no batteries. It takes four “D”s, which are pricey and would probably be dead anyway by the next time I might need a
flashlight.

I imagine mostly only super organized people and survivalists have flashlights handy and ready to go these days. My guess is they favor the ones with the big square battery. The last time I really used a flashlight with gusto was camping out as a kid in the backyard—piercing the vaguely mysterious summer night, projecting a yellow-green halo on the tent wall, flittering its beam up beyond the trees into the darkness of the sky.

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3 Responses to “Flashing Lights”

  1. James Westwater Says:

    Hey Mark, welcome to the Beacon blogosphere. I like your posts. Ribbed, shiny metal Ray-O-Vacs are indeed cool. Looks like you have the veeery long one that can illicit embarrassing comments from hopeful starlets and teamsters, alike, when you’re just starting out in the art department in Hollywood. …Autobiographical, moi? (Actual French.) And, yes, those lantern batteries sure do last. I’ve had some in a survivalist-issue, purple fur-covered, portable PA fifteen years and counting. Hugs.

  2. mark Says:

    Hello James. First Beacon, then the world.

    Yeah, it’s long. I would have mentioned something about the phallic nature of this thing, except of course I never really saw it in that light until just now…

  3. Josie Says:

    your posts are always most interesting when they make direct reference to your neighbors.

    I love losing power during storms. Reaching for the flashlights and candles, but also making the most of the darkness and surprise of it all.

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