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[whitespace] Lakewood spirit lights up the night

Sunnyvale--Gary Duff's house on Lake Fair Street glows like Las Vegas at night.

Luminescent reindeer, held by invisible wire, fly across his roof. Swirls of light circle up a series of trees by his driveway. A brilliant manger scene sits by his door. Scarcely an inch of his two-story house escapes attention. There is no need for a flash when taking a picture of his 19,000 lights.

"PG&E gets their money in the month of December," Duff says dryly.

Duff's Christmas fever doesn't go away in the new year--that's when he buys more lights at post-Christmas prices. It's become part of his thinking. When he remodeled his home, he scattered electrical outlets on the roof and under the eaves--intending to electrify many nights.

"I'm already thinking about how I'm going to do it next year," he says

Duff remembers going to watch the lights with his parents when he was a kid. "Now I'm in the position to do it," he says. "It's just unfortunate that my parents couldn't see it."

Comparisons to Clark Grizwald, the decoration-obsessed hero of the film National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, are inevitable.

Lakewood Village, a neighborhood in north Sunnyvale, may have the densest population of Clark Grizwalds in the city, if not the county. Block after block features a house illuminated so well, it almost hurts to look at it. Some are artistic; some just very bright.

Each year, the Lakewood Village Neighborhood Association sponsors a contest, awarding prizes to the most-elaborately decorated houses. City Manager Robert LaSala and Public Safety Chief Ernie Bakin will judge this year's contest.

As with Duff, winning the contest does not seem to be the main motivation for the owners of many of the brightest homes. Sarah Daugherty, whose corner house on Lake Muir slows passing cars to a crawl, has won the contest twice before. She says she has opted out of the contest this year to give others the opportunity. For her, it's a family tradition.

"Every Thanksgiving, my son comes down and sets the lights up," she says. Bud, who now lives in Seattle, created most of the designs when he lived at home, including a Christmas Wreath densely packed with 960 lights that sits on a second-story exterior wall.

Down the street, Ernie Tanjoco says he puts up lights to please his 4-year-old son, who has cystic fibrosis.

"Even though he doesn't know how to talk, to walk, he's smiling," Tanjoco says. "This satisfies me. I don't care, as long as my baby is happy."

Tanjoco, like many of the amateur designers, shows real creativity. On his front wall, he has mounted a millennium dome--a collection of clear plastic cups stapled together and placed over an orange light. It looks like glowing honeycomb.

Like Duff, Tanjoco says he buys lights immediately after Christmas, dreaming of next year. "Every day, I have to visualize it," he says. "It's like getting addicted."
Sam Scott

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Web extra to the December 23-29, 1999 issue of Metro.

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