Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Real Tree of Death

Son Number Two got himself some birthday money last month. So, what did our newly-minted nine-year-old want to do with the loot? Buy plywood, obviously.

While many other American nine-year-olds would beg to be driven to the toy store, the sporting goods store, or the ice cream store, my son wanted nothing more than to go to Home Depot. I love him so much.

Off we went to the lumber aisle. His eyes lit up when I showed him four by eight-foot sheets of plywood for only eight dollars each. His eyes got even wider when we found eight-foot-long two by fours for three bucks. He was positively vibrating with excitement when I told him they would cut the plywood for him for free.

I know, buddy. I know. Home Depot is awesome.

Then we both went nuts when we found the cull cart. Seventy percent off. SEVENTY! Sure, they were random, twisted, splintered boards from the island of misfit lumber, but they were seventy percent off! The sixteen-foot-long pressure-treated two by four that has an eighty-degree twist in it would suck for building a house, but it’s worth every penny of four dollars to a nine-year-old building a backyard fort.

Backyard forts built by nine-year-olds do not need to be straight. I don’t think they physically can be. They always look like they were built by Dr. Seuss, not Bob Vila.

So we loaded up the truck with cheap twisted lumber and plywood and headed home. Son Number Two got to work immediately, with his main task, seemingly, consisting of spreading all my nails into the back lawn. Mowing next time is going to be an adventure.

Things were going well until halfway through his construction project I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

It seemed so innocent at the time, like uttering the words, “We should totally go to Mexico for spring break,” then the next thing you know you’re sharing an Ensenada jail cell with a three-hundred-pound ex-wrestler named Julio “El Papi Gordo” Valdez.

We’ve all been there, I’m sure.

Anyway, I looked at his fort - which was starting to look like a cross between an Alaskan outhouse and the rec center at a refugee camp – and foolishly said, “We should put a thatched roof on it.”

If only I had known what hell those words would lead to.

I figured if we put some palm fronds on the roof it might look a little classier when company comes over, in an island slum classy kind of way.

I have never put palm fronds on a roof. How hard could it be? I have never owned a palm tree, so I had no idea.

Our good friends own a palm tree, and when I texted them, they said I could have all the palm fronds I wanted, as long as I came over and got them.

This is the problem with texting – you can’t hear the maniacal laughing on the other end.

In order to cut the old palm frond off a palm tree, you have to put a ladder against the tree and climb up inside all the hanging fronds. If you have never been inside a palm tree, let me try to describe it for you:

Imagine you are sitting under a willow tree in the cool green grass near a babbling brook. You are barefoot, peaceful, and happy. Then imagine you decided to climb up into that willow tree.

It’s absolutely nothing like that.

Now imagine that the tree trimming people show up and cut some of the branches off the willow tree. Then they take them and feed them into the chipper behind their truck that chews the willow branches into tiny woodchips and spits them out at five hundred miles an hour into the back of the truck.

The inside of a palm tree is exactly like the inside of the chipper. Only scarier.

Palm trees look pretty straightforward and non-threatening from the outside. It turns out, however, that each palm frond is really hanging from the tree trunk on a four-foot-long machete blade, lined down both edges with giant curved thorns. Palm fronds make a sawfish’s snout look like a cuddly baby toy.

If you remember the scene in Return of the Jedi, when Jabba the Hut is trying to have Luke thrown into the scary-ass spine-covered hole in the desert, the inside of a palm tree looks a lot like the inverted version of that thing.

Since I am an idiot, I decided to give it a try and get some palm fronds for my boy.

“I have gloves on. I’ll be careful,” I told myself.

That was really stupid.

I was being attacked from every angle. In order to get any fronds I had to saw them off at the trunk. That required actually moving around inside the palm tree chamber of doom instead of staying perfectly still like all my survival instincts were telling me to do. Five minutes into the project I looked like I’d been in a knife fight.

I got hopelessly stuck a few times. I had to climb back down the ladder twice without my hat and once without my shirt. Do you have any idea how hard it is to climb down a ladder inside a cylinder of shark teeth with your shirt getting pulled up and over your head? I didn’t either until I stupidly suggested that my son thatch the roof on his new fort.

A palm tree is built to keep its fronds at all costs. I don’t know why they are called “palm trees” anyway. They should be called sawfish trees. Or band saw trees. Or dragon trees.

I actually managed to get a few fronds off before I had to stop when I finally nicked an artery. I was afraid I was going to bleed out on top of the ladder, and the firemen would not be able to extricate my body from the dragon tree. That’s no way to go out. Not for a backyard fort.

I had to give up. There was no way I was going back in. Son Number Two would just have to use what we had. It turned out that I had managed to retrieve just enough palm fronds to cover the roof on half the fort. So at the end of the day, I made it look like an unfinished island slum. Not what one might call an improvement.

Live and learn.

I have always thought that the Tree of Death was in my front yard, but now I know that’s not the case. My tree may smell like rotting flesh each spring, which is bad, but so far it has never actively tried to kill me when I wanted to pick a few leaves off of it.

Palm trees are mean. Palm trees are evil. Palm trees should be known as the Tree of Death. Or Dragon Tree at the very least.

Excuse me now; I need to continue to apply steady pressure to the arterial bleeding.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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