The spirit of Christmas is just a memory when the time comes to get rid of the tree

January 10, 1998|By ROB KASPER

LIKE MANY HOUSEHOLDS, ours has been busy trying to dispose of the remnants of Christmas. Last weekend, we stripped the Christmas tree of its finery, pried it loose from its holder and carried it, in a not-so-solemn procession, to a resting place.

The Christmas tree fought back. It scratched its pallbearers, my 17-year-old son and me. It took a swipe at a living room lamp. It dropped needles faster than some Block dancers drop garments.

Once we got the tree out of the house, we wrestled it to the sidewalk. I pondered the two usual ways of dealing with a Christmas tree corpse. One is to dump it in the alley where the trash guys would eventually pick it up. The pickup can take a while, depending on how busy the trash crews are and how well you thanked them at Christmas time.

Moreover, the sight of a dead tree is depressing. It is a strong reminder that the good times are over, and that our time on Earth is running out. Who needs that?

I prefer the other method of handling a dead tree -- pulverizing it. In polite circles, this is called "recycling the Christmas tree." It requires a big, bad wood chipper, a machine that is usually run by municipal officials known as the solid-waste guys.

After you have been jabbed in the face by pine needles a few times, you tend to learn the location of a spot near your home where you can get revenge. This is the spot where the solid-waste guys show up with their chipper.

You can usually find the location of the chipper nearest your home by calling your local government's solid-waste guys. By now, the office staff of the Baltimore County police chief also probably knows a lot about Christmas-tree recycling spots. That is because a phone-book foul-up listed the police chief's number as the one to call when county residents want to recycle their Christmas trees. Last week, the police chief's office got swamped with calls from folks wanting information on how to get rid of their trees.

In my case, I knew the location of the closest chipper -- across 33rd Street from Memorial Stadium. But I wasn't sure when it was doing business.

I recalled reading a small newspaper story saying that the Baltimore city mulcher would be chewing up trees on a January weekend. But I could not remember which weekend the blades would be whirling.

Before I tossed the tree atop the station wagon and headed for Memorial Stadium, I wanted to be sure the mulcher was working. I telephoned "the morgue." That is what newspaper libraries, the repository of "dead news stories," used to be called.

Nowadays many newspapers, including this one, use computers keep to track of their deceased stories. When I asked Leigh Potinger, a library staffer, where to put my Christmas tree, she was able to find the news story that I had read a few days earlier. She told me to stick my tree in the alley, where it would be picked up by the trash guys. It turned out that this year's Christmas-tree mulching session had been set for the following weekend. I had been saved from a futile tree-hauling trip to Memorial Stadium.

One of the few fringe benefits of being in the newspaper business, I reminded myself, is being connected to the morgue.

With much groaning, my son and I carried the tree into the alley, where we squeezed it between a utility pole and a brick wall. This tree might have looked dead, but it still had fight left in it. One day it rolled over and blocked the entrance to my neighbor's garage. Another time it threw itself in front of our parked cars.

I tended that tree, pushing it back in line, trying to keep it from knocking over trash cans. I kept waiting for the Christmas-tree crew of trash guys to save me, to show up in the alley and haul this menace away.

Every night as I drove home from work, I wished that the tree was gone. But every night it was there, being a nuisance. As I drove down the alley Thursday, I became alarmed. My tree was still there, but all the other Christmas trees that had been hanging out in the alley had disappeared. Either the Christmas-tree roundup crew had missed mine, or my tree had refused to get in their truck.

That tree won't be bothering me for long. Today, a big, bad chipper is scheduled to be in the parking lot across 33rd Street from Memorial Stadium from 9 a.m to 2 p.m. Today, that nettlesome tree will meet its mulcher.

Pub Date: 1/10/98

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