Monday, December 18, 2006

Ho, Ho, F-ing Ho

Last year when we trekked out to get our Christmas tree, our ancestors would have been swelling with pride because we went to one of those cut-down-your-own tree farms, and with saw in hand, the then-three of us (Kara was about to burst with little Matty) pioneered the forests in search of a suitable Christmas tree. It was fun. Natalie loved it. The process took about an hour to find just the right one, hack it down, yell “Timber” and then carry it from the Back 40 to the truck. It was beautiful, and like shooting dinner, it couldn’t have been more fresh. On top of which, three weeks later, we could have tossed lit matches at it without worry that it was going to burst into flames. In fact, we’ve had From-The-Lot-Trees that, after three or four days, you could fondly gaze at it, fill your head with warm thoughts, and the tree would start to smolder. For years before that, I just thought Christmas trees were supposed to be brown. A little spray paint will touch that right up.

This year, it turned out a little different. We decided to wait until after Matthew’s First Birthday on Saturday to get our tree, and Plan A was to drive out into the country like last year and Paul Bunyan one of them to the ground. However, it was supposed to pour down rain today and instead of tromping around in the rain and mud searching for a tree, we suggested the consolation prize would be a local lot where we’d pay too much for a scrawny tree that has been dead for weeks. Fine, tradition be damned, I guess for once I can give in to convenience, at least for the sake of the weather.

Funny enough, this morning dawned crisp and bright, sun shining down and all clouds properly whisked eastward over the suckers in Arizona. Before I awoke, I even made a checklist of things I would need: boots that can get dirty, jeans with which I don’t mind kneeling in the mud and my gloves to stave off that most menacing Christmastime annoyance, tree sap.

I got up, and even sang the “I’m a Lumberjack” song in the shower. But alas, it wasn’t to be. With Kara’s mother visiting for the holidays, I’m out-voted or vetoed more easily when there’s one more vote against me, and it was decided that a local lot would be easier, quicker and not so dirty or tiring. That, and by the time everything was said and done about the day and what everyone had planned, it was getting dark.

As we piled in the car, I heard Kara say, “Let’s get one at Target.”

What? Target? For a Christmas Tree? What? It isn’t bad enough that they’ve stolen the entire holiday from the “It’s a Wonderful Lifers” and the “A Christmas Storiers” but to actually walk into the store, under the red target and into the bright fluorescent lights in search of a Christmas tree seems, dare I say it, sacrilegious, almost like blasphemy in church. I pictured perfectly shaped trees fresh from a factory in southeast Asia, each with the bottom of the cast-wood stump stamped a Target logo to forever remind us that we sold our faith, our Christmas spirit and our even our very souls to the Almighty Target this year was too much for me to bear.

No, if we are to throw away a nice tradition this year, such as cutting down our own tree, we are at least going to try to veil the act by getting our tree at a local lot; at least those trees had seen the light of day before being trucked south to the land of palm trees and eternal sunshine.

The first lot we came to was probably called Frosty’s Flockin’ Ripoff, as I stood amazed at the exorbitant cost associated with something that grows naturally. They don’t take credit cards or checks, but there is one of those portable ATMs strapped to a tent pole, and I always feel that if I use one of those, I might as well just tattoo my ATM PIN to my forehead and start making copies of my card for the local riffraff. Plus, I was certain we weren’t going to buy anything at this place. It’s akin to paying for rocks and dirt, and I was slack-jawed at the numbers tacked to these trees. Then I saw Kara. She was standing next to a stunning Noble Fir that had to scrape the sky at 10 feet, perfect triangle of a tree, and she had that look on her face like, “This is it. Wrap it up. We can go home now.” Out of the night, a shaft of light from Heaven splashed down around her and the tree and the angels began to sing in a beautiful chorus. Okay, even I was impressed at this specimen of evergreen, and if the price is right, I’m sold. It was $175. For a tree. For a tree that will only be in our house for two weeks, tops. $175, that’s dollars. There’s 10 times the amount of wood in my office desk here than in that tree and this desk cost about a third the price.

Then I even gave in, apparently admitting even to myself that tradition does have a certain price tagged on it: “Let’s go to Target.”

It was at this point that the night turned against us. We piled back into the truck (which is no easy feat with three adults and two kids), and headed to the Mother Ship that is Target. Now, folks, I have been to Target probably three times in the last week or so—that’s just how my life is—and every time I go, I have to navigate the garden section like I’m Lewis and Clark trying to find the Pacific through the forest of trees. Chock full of the heady fresh-cut pine flavored smell… every time. Tonight, we roll up to the garden section and it was as if this was Christmas Eve and I’m Charlie Brown searching for the right tree for the school play. The place was empty aside from a half-dozen left-over Christmas trees, the doors were closed and I thought I saw someone sweeping up pine needles and trying to shape them into a tree so he could take it back to his soon-to-be disappointed family. We didn’t even have to get out of the truck; Kara and I know that we have to look at, at least, 450 trees before finding the right one (usually the first one we looked at three lots earlier or in the case of cutting it down… the first one now 15 acres away) and the odds were marvelously wonderful that those six trees left over didn’t represent the stock that we were searching for.

Okay, let’s go to Home Depot. Kara says her friend always gets them there, so let’s give it a shot. I remembered Home Depot from a couple of years ago. It was like looking for someone in the morgue, but all the bodies are standing up, as they have open-faced bins for each height-range and most all of the trees were still tied up, straight from the “factory” so to speak, and the only way to get a good look at a tree (in the failing light of Home Depot geniuses who wired the converted storage cage cum tree lot) is if you pull it out, cut off all of the mesh and shake it out. They're cheap, but they’re cheap for a reason.

It wasn’t late, maybe just a few minutes after seven, but they were closed, chain link pulled across the entrance and a few orange aprons were cleaning up. Was there a bomb scare or something? Did someone call in a bark-beetle attack? It was a ghost town, but there were some trees poking up in the shadows, so what gives? I was getting the impression that we were on some futile voyage into what appeared to be the Twilight Zone; you know the one, where a family drives around for all eternity searching for a Christmas Tree, and you see them for a fleeting second or so in the corner parking lot of the county fairgrounds at a lot, but when you take a second look, they’re gone, on to the next one somewhere in time and space.

That’s us.

Now where? There was another lot down the street from the first one. Kara suggested we hit the one on Magnolia, and I flat-out refused, for two reasons I didn’t bother explaining again, and since she didn’t ask, I knew she knew why I’ll never go there: 1) It’s like a circus there; I demand that my tree lots be quaint, damnit, and if the proprietor has an Oregon or backwoods Washington accent, all the better; and 2) They always have jumpers for the kids and one in particular is a giant inflatable Titanic with its stern in the air as if it is sinking that kids can slide down the decks to their gleeful peril. It is in such horrible taste, so much so, that, next to it, I almost half expect to see little inflatable ovens with kids writhing in ecstatic jubilance at being exterminated. “Look Mommy, I’m a Jew!” “Nice honey… remember, if you want to play in the Hurricane Katrina kiddie pool, you’ve got to hurry up.” Gasp. Gush. My God.

So, off to the other neighbor lot, and I had a sneaking suspicion that they were related somehow. For one, it was housed in the same kind of tent and for two, they had a very similar sign hanging out front, not-so-subtly reminding you that the guys that lug your tree to your car don’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts. It said, “Tip Boys are Here to Help You” on both signs at both places. But at least they took MasterCard.

The downside is that they had perhaps 20 trees left, and their lot looked more like they were the custodians of the 20 trees that won’t get sold because they will soon be touring the world in an exhibition of 20 trees that shouldn’t have ever been cut down and purported as Christmas trees. They’re supposed to be green, for one, and if I can stick my head into the side of a tree without a single needle touching any part of my face, it ceases to be a tree in the sense of the holidays and instead becomes firewood.

Five minutes later we were in the truck again, and with a heavy sigh, I pointed the steering wheel toward the first lot we visited earlier. Of course, first, I decided that I’d get some money from a brick and mortar building instead of a portable ATM that was probably hiding some midget inside scribbling down my card numbers for future grifting.

As soon as we started browsing the lot of trees, I wasn’t surprised that the family gravitated toward the $175 Statue of David-esque tree, like a preacher to the lost souls of Christmas Tree Hunters or a well to the insanely thirsty. Christmas Tree heroin. I wandered away in search for a tree that won’t chap my wallet after it gets a good reaming and when I noticed that they were standing in its shadow (it was so grand that it was blocking out tomorrow’s sunlight), I half expected Kara to attempt to talk me into it. Given its grandness, it would have been an easy fight, like I need a reason to buy a Ferrari; you just do it if you can. The commanded the whole lot and the lot of us, for certain, and we almost gathered around it, hand-in-hand, to sing that joyful melody of nonsensical words at the end of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Before we had the chance to roll up Matty’s pants so they wouldn't get dirty, we were greeted by the “tip boy.” It was the same “boy” as before, who looked about 35; I didn’t expect him to remember us, as I can’t blame him when everyone he sees that comes onto his Christmas tree lot resembles a five-dollar bill.

I told him I wanted a tree exactly like the $175 tree—the one my family is hugging and the one my little boy keeps calling “daddy”—but I didn’t want to pay $175 for it, naturally, unless it gives lap dances and maybe takes the wife out for a nice meal from time to time. He escorted us to a slightly shorter Noble, not nearly as nice, for sure, but it was more in our range of believablity, and I suggested another model of tree that wouldn't involve loan documents and my concerning myself with the current interest rates. If you don’t want to afford an Infiniti, get a Nissan I say, so we stood before a giant Douglas Fir (which, by the way, isn’t considered a real fir... I don't know why), and at this point, I wasn’t too picky, and it wouldn't have taken much at the time to convince me not to get a tree at all. I think I'll start a trend of painting a picture of a tree on the wall... or better yet, use your presents and stack them up in the shape of a tree.

The tree before us in the darkness of the lot was about three-quarters as nice as the expensive one for about half the price, and that ratio made some sort of mathematical sense to me at the time and I just figured I was getting a good deal. Fine the Ghosts of Christmas Consumerism got the best of me. “Wrap it up, Jerry, we’ll take it.”

A tree is a tree is a tree is a tree, or so it seems.

Each year of my life, for Christmases as far back as I can remember, the family Christmas tree leans, and no matter what you do to shore up the slant, the world becomes a crooked place at Christmas time and there were years that I didn't think it was going to win out over gravity and we'd wake up Christmas morning with a passed out evergreen in our living room. I stopped by my folks’ house last week to gaze unblinking at their first-time-ever fake Christmas tree (I think you get one with your first Social Security check), and sure enough, it is bowing politely to somebody on its left. When we dragged our goliath home and yanked it upright in the living room it’s massive size couldn’t be supported by our puny tree stand. It took nearly 45 minutes to get it to stand on its own, and each time I had to adjust it, I had to lay it down and reposition the stand because there was no way I could lift it straight up, and just getting my arms around it is like trying to give Dom Deluise a hug and convince him to stand on his toes in a terracotta pot so I can keep him fresh and watered.

Believe it or not, all I wanted to do this evening is work, but it took two hours from the time we left to the time I bought the big bush in through the front doors. Hundred dollars for a tree, what a world. Ho, Ho, Ho indeed; Whoever thought of this whole Christmas-as-a-Commercial thing ought to be taken out and shot.

Does Natalie like it? Of course she does, and she's already put presents under it, and I have no idea where these gifts came from, but they're under there.

Christmas has officially begun.

**In the lead picture above, don't think that I'm smiling because I'm so happy to have a 100-dollar Christmas tree in my house a week before the holiday; I'm smiling to keep myself from cussing.

1 comment:

Kara said...

You don't look like your smiling at all. It looks more like a smirk. Oh, and there is some weird bug flying around. I think it came from the tree.


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