Real tree is a real nightmare

Kevin Cowherd

December 18, 1991|By Kevin Cowherd

THIS COLUMN has not yet weighed in on the issue of real-vs-artificial Christmas trees, although it's probably not hard to guess where my loyalties lie.

To me, nothing says Christmas like a 5-foot chunk of green plastic garishly over-decorated with garlands of white polyurethane and cheap tinsel, then smothered with that imitation powder that's supposed to look like snow.

Now break out a beaker of high-octane cocktails (3-to-1 ratio rum-to-eggnog) and slap Elvis' seminal "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on the turntable and, well sir, if that doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, you may well be clinically dead.

Of course, this sort of talk is considered an affront to the Christmas "traditionalists," who are so set in their ways that they make the Amish look like wild and crazy progressives.

What set me off this time was another typically overwrought magazine piece about the joy of chopping down one's own Christmas tree.

In glowing, travel-brochure prose, the author describes how he ventures out one cold, crisp morning and traipses through the silent woods, the crackle of his boots on the pristine snow echoing softly through the blah, blah, blah and so on and so forth.

Predictably, there was no mention of the soaking-wet feet he no doubt endured, or the subsequent raging 103-degree fever that forced paramedics to rush him to the hospital and pack him in ice.

Nor was there talk of the two or three fingers probably left in the snow after the man's chain saw bucked high in the air like a spooked stallion and came roaring down on his hand.

Listen, pal, I've been there, OK? I've done that whole traipsing-through-the-woods thing in search of the perfect tree.

You know what I got for my troubles? Frostbite and a scrawny Douglas fir that came only after I practically engaged in hand-to-hand combat with some stupid bird that apparently thought I was threatening its nest.

Anyway, I wised up the following Christmas and went searching for a tree in Sears, stabbing my finger at a nifty polyvinyl Bavarian Pine in the catalog and telling the sales clerk: "Gimme that baby right there."

("Beautiful Trees So Life-Like You'll Have To Touch Them To Be Sure!" gushed the catalog. I was sold from the get-go.)

The rigors of acquiring one aside, another problem with a fresh-cut tree is the scent that comes with it, that sickening fresh smell of pine.

Hey, if I want that kind of smell around the house, I'll hang a few car air fresheners.

You go with a freshly cut tree if you want, but give me that vague smell of flame-retardant plastic and synthetic foliage any day.

And if it's robust, descriptive prose you're looking for to describe the singular joy of setting up an artificial Christmas tree, try this: "A blast of frigid air smacks me in the face as I open the attic door. The glow from the single exposed light bulb careens wildly when I bang it with my head. Nevertheless, in the dim shadows, I see what I'm after. There it is, over in the corner near the old barbells. The box marked 'Xmas stuff!'

"Huffing and puffing, I drag the box down the steps, the moldy cardboard making an annoying swish-swish-swish as it brushes the floor. Suddenly my eyes fill with tears. I . . . I might have pulled something in my back. Remind me to take a couple of those tiny yellow pills -- 'Nupe it with Nuprin.'

"Let's see, it says: 'Insert pole with slotted end marked A into base marked B. Insert color-coded branches (pink, white, red, etc.) into corresponding holes in trunk. Total assembly time: about 10 minutes.'

"The TV is on, bathing the glistening plastic tree in an eerie rainbow of colors. As Oprah --es madly from one side of the studio to another, waving her microphone at the lesbian mother of two and her lover, I realize I'm tired.

"But it's a good kind of tired, a soreness in your muscles that reminds you that you've just . . . dragged a large, unwieldy object down from the attic."

It's not Hemingway, but it's damn close.

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