It all began innocently enough--two Ventura neighbors festively engaging in the suburban equivalent of a Christmas laser-light show.
A few lights here, a few lights there. . . . Then it got ugly.
Kat Bowman and Buzz Anderson started egging each other on from across Van Buren Street, turning the quiet residential road into a demilitarized zone.
"All right, Buzz, you better be on guard," Kat yelled from her rooftop one recent evening as she strung lights along the gutter.
"I got big plans, Kat," Anderson responded with a smirk. "Big plans."
"It's a war zone," Steve Bowman said. "My wife Kat is running around with a glazed look in her eyes. And my electric meter is spinning faster than a CD."
Kat lighted up candy cane cutouts and wrapped empty presents for the lawn. Buzz ringed his rosebushes and basketball hoop. Kat retaliated with two giant angels 15 feet off the ground.
Buzz got to work.
"We were gone for just a couple of hours, but when we got back Buzz had his motorboat all lit up on his lawn," Kat said. "That's a foul."
Buzz and his buddy, Bill Duston, didn't just park Buzz's 21-foot speedboat on the lawn.
First they removed the front fence and painstakingly angled and pivoted the boat around a row of rosebushes. Then they placed Santa in the driver's seat and hooked the boat up to Frosty the Snowman water-skiing off the roof.
But that's not all: Santa rocks to the Beach Boys singing their seasonal favorites, the grass is lined with blue lights to simulate rippling water, and Buzz periodically shows off with a dry-ice show beneath the boat.
Buzz and Bill even had matching Chicago Bears caps made so they could look just like their suburban Christmas-light movie hero, Chevy Chase, in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."
But it wasn't all fun and games.
The mile of lights and one dozen extension cords took its toll: The house fuse blew when Buzz's wife Debbie put a potato in the microwave.
The Bowmans regrouped and sent their two children on several reconnaissance missions. A few late-night sorties later, and the Bowman's lawn was transformed into a runway of lights resembling LAX.
Then Steve--a Ventura police lieutenant--flexed his law enforcement muscle. He put a life-size cutout of himself on his lawn issuing Buzz a giant citation for illegally parking his boat.
Buzz yawned and bought luminescent reindeer antlers for his golden retriever, Beauregard.
At a recent summit meeting, the two families met in the DMZ to discuss logistics.
"All the big stores in Ventura are out of lights," Debbie Anderson said. "I just bought the last two strands at Thrifty's."
To which Kat retorted, "Yeah, but there are other cities."