O (blankety-blank) Christmas Tree

I’ve always said I’d never allow an artificial Christmas tree defile our home. “It makes about as much sense as a fake fireplace and a fake chimney,” I’d fume, every time the subject came up, which has been increasingly frequent these past few years. “They have no Christmas-y fragrance,” I’d protest, each time my wife said maybe it’s about time we quit fussing over getting, putting up and decorating a tree each year. “How can you have a Christmas tree that smells like an Ikea store? Absolutely not! I forbid it!”

Flash forward to Christmas season 2022. A beautiful artificial tree graces our living room. It’s beautifully decorated. It holds all the ornaments without small branches giving up the ghost after a few days and sending our precious, heirloom ornaments crashing to the floor and becoming the dog’s latest toys. No, it doesn’t smell like a tree but the balsam candles in the living room mitigate that. But perhaps best of all, it was easy to put up, came with twinkly white lights and doesn’t lean. Which has caused many a squabble between my wife and I for years. The leaners came close to causing marital civil war in our home a few times. One of those is a horror story worthy of a Stephen King novel.

Fed up with a succession of tree stands that were about as useful as a screen door on a submarine, I decided to go shopping for one that would actually make a tree stand up as straight as a Marine at attention. Let me preface this by saying that I think I’ve bought every kind of tree stand there is. None of them did their job, although I confess that perhaps there was some operator error involved.

The most promising were those with pre-drilled holes in the base that came with a tree stand, which cost nearly as much as the tree, that have a spike in the center. You impale the bottom of your pre-drilled tree onto the spike and presto, there’s your Marine at attention. Until it isn’t. And then you have to remove the base of the tree from the spike and reset it, a nearly impossible task that always involved a storm of F-bombs and other colorful language not in keeping with the spirit of Christmas. I’m here to tell you that once you jam that tree down onto that long, steel spike, removing it is about as easy as operating a chainsaw single-handed, not that I’ve ever attempted to do that.

The two times I did do it, I ended up enlarging the hole so much that as soon as I reset the tree, it leaned like the Tower of Pisa. And it was unstable. Real unstable. One of them so unstable that it swayed off balance one night and fell right over, breaking quite a few decorations, which resulted in a grumpy toddler’s display of crankiness in me. That was the last straw.

“Damn it,” I bellowed loud enough to wake the neighbors. “Something has to be done about the blankety-blank, F-bombing tree stands that don’t work. I lose my religion every time I try to put up a tree!”

My wife scowled at me and said: “And you make me lose my religion hearing your effing and blinding every year. It’s time we get an artificial tree.”

“Never!” I yelled. “Over my dead body!”

So, off I went in search of the nirvana of Christmas tree stands. I ended up at a store here that had a big sign showing a photo of a stand that would make your tree stand as pretty as if it were still in the forest. A salesman appeared in front of me like the ghost of Christmas past and grinning like a demented elf.

“Yep,” he said. “From the look on your face, I’m guessing that you’ve had it up to your eyeballs with Christmas tree stands that don’t work. Well, sir, this here new model is guaranteed to hold that tree up without any fussing, mussing or cussing. Well, take a look at this jewel. Put your tree in this here basin and fasten these basin clamps with protective ends guaranteed not to cave into the tree trunk. Set the tree and the basin into this here receiver, adjust the tree till it lines up straight and step on that black lever there which locks the whole shebang into place. Trust me, that tree ain’t going nowhere.”

Whenever I hear “Trust me,” I get a mite suspicious, since it’s been my experience that one who can be trusted need not advertise it so flagrantly. But I was desperate.

“Well, it’d be helpful to actually see one of these in action,” I said. “I mean, looking at the picture of it isn’t very helpful.”

A good salesman is always prepared for an objection. This one was no different.

“Why, I can’t blame you a’tall,” he exclaimed. “I feel the same way. That’s why I’m gonna demonstrate it for you. C’mon.”

He pulled the contraption out of its box and led me outside to a row of firs for sale.

“Watch this!” he crowed.

Within moments, my eyes beheld the mostly perfectly perpendicular tree I’ve ever set eyes on. I’m gonna digress here a moment. Every been to a county fair? If you have, then you know that lined up alongside the midway on one or both sides are various games of chance – basketball hoops, little bottles stacked in a pyramid, bean bags, etc. The carny will demonstrate how easy it is to win. He’ll toss the ball so effortlessly and score so easily that you think a child could do it. Three tosses or shots for two bucks. Fifteen bucks later, if you’re lucky, you’ve won your girl a teddy bear the size of a coffee cup, and not a big one. And no matter how many hundreds of dollars you hand that shifty-eyed, obsequious carny, you will never win that five foot tall teddy bear. Back to the salesman.

I should’ve known I was dealing with a carny wearing a Santa Claus hat but threw caution to the wind after having watched him scored so easily. Instead, I took the bait.

“How much for one of these?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “It normally costs $75.00. But since you’re my last customer for the day, I’m gonna knock it down to $59.95. Whaddya say, buddy? This here is some high tech stuff. And the little lady will be pleased as punch when she sees how easily this works.”

I didn’t just take the bait. I swallowed the hook, sinker and twenty feet of line and took the Rube Goldberg of Christmas tree stands home with me. Included in the parts were a twizzlemahatchet and a thingamabob. The twizzlemahatchet has a sharp, pointy end and when I tried to employ it as the Christmas carny had demonstrated, my hand slipped and the damn thing thing ran it through like a sword.

“Aieeeee!” I screamed. “Eff it! Damn this effin effin effer to hell and back. I’m bleeding!” I screamed again, spewing blood everywhere and wishing death upon my cardiologist for insisting I take blood thinners so I wouldn’t die from a blood clot in order that I might later exsanguinate assembling a Christmas tree stand.

“Aww, honey,” my sweet wife said. “Let me go get you a Band Aid.”

“Band Aid, my hind leg,” I yelled, smearing blood all over and ruining my favorite Grateful Dead T-shirt. “I need an effin tourniquet. I might even need stitches.”

After we left the emergency room, I vowed to track down and murder the Christmas carny who sabotaged me and sent me to the ER, where I had to listen to nurses and doctors outside my curtained cubicle whispering and giggling about “the klutz in 3″ who harpooned himself with a Christmas tree stand tool.”

I took the Rube Goldberg tree stand back the next day, showed my bandaged hand to the nice lady in customer service, demanded a refund and asked the whereabouts of the Christmas carny, as I’d decided to wring his effin neck. She sighed and rolled her eyes.

“You’re too late,” she said, leaning across the desk and whispering like a conspirator to a crime. “We found him deceased on Aisle 4 by those tree stands early this morning with a twizzlemahatchet buried in his skull. Sorry about your inconvenience. I can give you a complimentary coupon for ten dollars off the price of another kind of tree stand.

I shouted, “Bah-humbug!” and stormed out.

So, when this year, my wife suggested it was time to get an artificial tree, I demurred. All we had to do was remove it from the box, put the three sections together, pull the branches down into position, plug it in and put the ornaments on it. No twizzlemahatchet required, no bleeding out in the living room, no emergency room visit, no effin and blindin. Just eggnog, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby singing Christmas carols.

Three days later, that bad boy is still standing at attention like a Marine. They never did find out who whacked the Christmas tree carny. Heh-heh-heh!