Christmas Lights, Overdone Just Right
Friday, December 23, 2005
The white icicle lights came first, delicate and twinkly on her garden apartment balcony. They were so pretty, she bought more. The icicles turned into manic sheets of brilliance, like after an avalanche. Then came the colors: blues, pinks, purples, greens. Then the computerized LED lights. Then the fiber-optic Christmas tree with the stuffed tarantula on top. Then the glowing pink palm tree.
Llori Stein couldn't stop.
Stein's Christmas balcony disaster -- her words -- is now so ugly, in fact, that the Falls Church deck appears on the Web site uglychristmaslights.com, which documents people who "have no sense of decency in how they choose to celebrate." And it's featured in the latest planetchristmas.com book, which bills itself as "a delight for all connoisseurs of bad taste."
"It's not hard to create an ugly display. All you have to do is get carried away," Stein, 36, says proudly. "I look like Christmas regurgitated all over my balcony."
What else would you expect from a legally blind underground artist with tattoos of her husband on her arm, a dragon on her bosom and a peacock on her bum who once ran a, uh, "literary" magazine called Wormfeast?
"There are very few displays that look that good. And if they look that good, it's kinda boring," she says. "When I see Christmas lights, I want to laugh."
She's thought of creating a crown of lighted thorns over a silver disco ball and a whacked-out Mr. Bean nativity scene; not wanting to offend, she settled for a wig and sunglasses on the glittery ball. And now if only she could cram an outdoor grill on the 12-square-foot balcony along with the rest of the mess and cook up hot dogs and hamburgers. "I'd love to be out there and say to everybody who comes by: 'Have a free hot dog. Here, catch.' "
It's the kind of out-there Snoopy's doghouse Christmas concoction that could send Martha Stewart and her understated garlands right over the edge.
It's not that Stein considers her balcony a work of art. "Nah -- if it were art, I'd probably do something with noise, something that would attract even more attention. Like an exploding star."
Nor is it that she's particularly religious.
And it's not that she really meant to create something ugly. But when you're 5-foot-2 and nearly blind and all you've got is a coat hanger and a pair of rusty old surgical hemostats to hang up your lights with, things can end up looking a bit haphazard.
Once she got started last year, the urge to decorate overtook her. "I wouldn't call it an obsession. Maybe an affliction." She finds herself reading the personal blogs of the similarly possessed -- even people who confess of marriages falling apart because they couldn't help themselves with the Christmas lights. In that department, so far, she's safe. Her husband, Gregory Bryant, another artist who works at the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall to pay the bills, loves it -- especially her idea of mixing lights and sound.