The artificial alternative

Kevin Cowherd

December 14, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

Once again it's time for this column to weigh in on the issue of real-vs-artificial Christmas trees, which, let's face it, is essentially a no-brainer.

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 switch on the fake log in the fireplace, break out a beaker of high-octane eggnog from Bob's Discount Liquors and slap Springsteen's raspy, just-got-over-the-flu version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on the turntable.

And if all that doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, well, all I can say is, somebody call the coroner so we can get your autopsy under way.

Of course, all this talk of plastic and other petrochemical derivatives does not sit well with the traditionalists, who are basically the holiday equivalent of the Flat Earth Society.

These people would sooner smear themselves with chicken blood and stand at a busy intersection chanting "Satan lives!" than usher in Christmas without a freshly cut pine or spruce affixed to a wobbly stand in the corner.

Even moreirritating -- if that's possible -- are those people who don'tbuy their tree from senile old Bud down at the Safeway parking lot, electing instead to chop down their own tree.

I don't know if you've ever listened to one of these annoying do-it-yourselfers describe the experience. (All I can say is: Bring a pillow.)

With eyes glowing like twin coals, they drone on and on about the joy of venturing out into the woods, drinking in the crisp, clean air, hearing the sound of their boots crackling against the new-fallen snow as they search for a shapely Douglas fir to blah, blah, blah.

Of course, there's never any mention of aching muscles, soaking wet feet and the subsequent raging 105-degree fever that causes them to be packed in ice while a priest is summoned.

No, they never tell you about that. And they never mention the blood that spurted everywhere when the chain saw they were using bucked high in the air like a spooked stallion and came down on their neighbor's three fingers -- leaving them nestled in the snow like three plump Vienna sausages.

No, I'm sorry. I didthat whole traipsing-through-the-woods routine. It's not all it's cracked up to be, believe me.

Then a few years ago I walked into Sears, stabbed my finger at a nifty polyvinyl Bavarian Pine in the catalog, and barked to the startled Middle Eastern gentleman behind the counter: "Gimme that baby right there!"

One obvious benefit of an artificial tree vs. a real tree is the absence of that sickening fresh smell of pine.

Hey, if I want that pine smell around the house, I'll hang a few car air fresheners. Give me that vague, musty smell of flame-retardant plastic and synthetic foliage any day.

Which is not to say there is no tradition involved in putting up our tree each year.

For us, the Christmas ritual begins when I climb up to the attic and get hit with that familiar blast of frigid air when the door is opened.

Then I bang my head against the single exposed light bulb, causing it to careen wildly while I search for the moldy, cardboard box marked: "Xmas stuff."

After dragging the box downstairs -- this is assuming I haven't pulled my back out moving the barbells and am now gobbling fistfuls of Nuprin -- the whole family begins pulling out the dull-green polyethylene base and branches.

Then we all take turns reading aloud from the directions: "Insert pole with slotted end marked A into base marked B. Insert color-coded branches (pink, white, red, etc.) into corresponding holes in trunk . . ."

Meanwhile, the atmosphere, as you can imagine, is festive indeed. The fake log glowing in the fireplace, the cheap eggnog from Bob's Discount Liquors, The Boss on the turntable . . . it's all there.

Once the tree's up, it's decorated with an impressive array of artificially colored bulbs, garlands and tinsel, until it achieves the tasteful, understated look of a Vegas hotel marquee.

Then we all settle back to watch "Hard Copy" and see which sweaty, Fortune 500 CEO tried to fleece $15 million from his company and flee to Switzerland with his cocaine-addicted mistress.

Tired? Oh, yeah. But it's a goodkind of tired. The kind of soreness in your muscles that reminds you that you've . . . recently dragged a large unwieldy object down from the attic.

Memories like these, they last a lifetime.

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