Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Fine Corinthian Christmas Tree

My wife waited patiently as I chewed and swallowed the last bite of Thanksgiving turkey from my otherwise empty plate. When I wiped my mouth with my napkin and leaned back in my chair, groaning the happy, overstuffed, fat-man-with-a-belly-full-of-food groan, she asked, “Are you finished?”
“Yes, thanks. It was delicious.”
“Yeah, yeah, great to hear. Let’s talk about Christmas decorations. I want to get the tree up.”

It’s a new record. She didn’t mention Christmas decorations during the Thanksgiving meal this year. She waited until afterward. Three seconds afterward… but still.

“What about the pie?” I inquired.
“There will be plenty of time for pie after the tree is up, fat boy.”

It has always been my intention to continue the Christmas tree tradition of my childhood with my own boys. The Saturday family outing on the crisp December day to the forest (and by forest, I of course mean the Christmas tree farm), to cut down and haul home our own tree. Those pine needle and sap-covered trips are a series of treasured memories from my youth, and someday soon I will decide that we can no longer deprive our children of those magically pine-scented, and incredibly sticky, experiences.

At this point however, the thought of my three boys anywhere close to a chain saw, or any type of saw for that matter, quickly erases those thoughts. So, until I can muster enough courage to start that tradition, I am left with this tradition.

The epic battle between man and the 8-foot, pre-lit, faux pine Christmas tree.

And so it begins. I venture to the side yard, open the doors of the shed, and peer inside. Since we have already gone through the inane process of removing ourselves from Daylight Savings Time, the sun goes down around four o’clock in the afternoon these days, so it is almost completely dark outside. It is pitch black inside the shed. My flashlight pierces the night. There it stands. The box is over five feet tall, and two feet on a side. It weighs well over 80 pounds. It is obscured by rakes, shovels, leaf blowers, extension cords, and countless other implements of suburban torture, hopelessly tangled together in a lawn-and-garden Gordian knot.

I don’t even attempt to untangle them. I just drag them out onto the ground in front of the shed. As I climb back over the pile, I trip on a leftover roll of roofing felt that has rolled out of the shed. Fortunately, my fall is broken by the extra five-gallon barbeque propane tank on the shed floor near the tree. Meanwhile, our neighbors have seen the dancing beam of my flashlight, and heard me thrashing about, and called the police, thinking our shed is being robbed by a group of foul-mouthed hooligans.

After convincing the police officer that I am not stealing anything, I ask his opinion on a legal matter. He does not think that I can press charges on the roofing felt company or the propane tank company for my new head injury. He leaves.

Back to the shed I go. There, sitting on the top of the tree box, is the grim reminder of my future fate. The real tree stand, that I will someday use to mount an actual tree in our living room, just as soon as I can get past the image of our three young boys fighting over who gets to help run the saw. I move the tree stand off to the side, trying to put that disturbing thought out of my head, and drag the huge box out onto the ground in front of the shed.

The box has two handles on it, and a sticker warning the workers at the big-box store, where it came from, that this is a “team lift” item. I scoff, and mumble under my breath that the big-box store’s warehouse must be staffed with 12-year-old girls. I grab both handles and lift the large, ungainly box off the ground with the classic straight-leg, bend at the waist, whip-and-snatch technique.

I cry out in pain as the box finds its former home on the ground, with me now sprawled across the top of it, my hands still gripping the handles, and my sciatic nerve sending shots of pain down my legs and up my torso.

I roll off the box and collect myself by crying for a while in the fetal position next to the shed. When I can walk again, I go inside and politely ask my wife for help. She asks if we need to “team lift” again this year. I wonder how she knows that term.

We move the heavier-than-expected box to our patio near the sliding glass door. I take a moment to examine the box, reading the advertising stickers that are near the much too small, and not nearly clear enough, team lift sticker. The tree is billed as a 7.5-foot-tall Prescott Pine, with 800 clear pre-strung lights, 5.1 feet of girth, and 1,904 tips. It comes in three easy to install sections, and there is a series of photos showing a petite middle-aged lady in a snappy pantsuit putting the tree together all by herself, with only the assistance of a small stepstool.

This is why people despise the marketing department. For starters, there is no such thing as a “Prescott pine.” That is a made up name, like Ricardo Montalban’s famous “fine Corinthian leather” from the old Buick commercials. In fact, they should have just ripped that name off, because “Corinthian spruce” sounds better. Next, the lights boast the imaginary feature of, “when one bulb burns out, the others stay lit.” The first time I see that actually work, I will believe in Christmas miracles. I have no idea what the “tips” are, or what they think they have 1,904 of on this tree, but if they mean branches, they over counted.

And, finally, the “easy three-step process” with the nice lady and her stepstool is a total sham. She may have put the stand on the bottom section, inserted the middle section into the bottom section, and then inserted the top section into the middle section, but those are steps, 5, 12, and 15 of a 29-step process. They neglected to mention the step where you stand the bottom section upright, and get knocked backward with a mouth full of nylon “pine needles,” as the hinged branches fall down into place. They also missed the fun part about manually folding down the 75 branches on the top section, because for whatever reason, hinged branches are only available on the bottom two-thirds of the tree.

And, they also forgot to mention the intermediate nine-step process where you have to insert yourself inside the tree with a flashlight, and hunt down the six color-coded plug ends that make up the light string, making sure to match the plugs with the red stickers and the ones with the yellow stickers to their respective cord ends. That always goes perfectly. I guess the lady in the pictures didn’t want her tree to be lit.

And don’t even get me started on step number one. There is no way Ms. Pantsuit got that damned box out of the shed by herself!

Maybe next year I’ll just get the chainsaw out of the shed, instead. Getting a real tree has got to be easier than this, right?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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