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Charlie Hatton
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I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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The Rule of Tree

On the whole, I’m not a huge fan of the Christmas tree experience.

Sure, I dug the tree when I was a kid. My parents had a fake tree — made of plastic or cardboard or asbestos fibers or something — and my father would trundle it out every December for the holidays. We’d throw tinsel on it, and hang some ornaments, and futz with the stupid string of lights with the one goddamned bulb that kills the whole thing, for some reason.

(Can someone explain this bit of engineering madness to me, by the way? One hundred lights on the string, yet if this certain one — or ones? — goes out, then you’ve got bupkis.

One little component, with the function of the entire unit riding on it. It’s like having a car burst into flames if you run out of wiper fluid. I’ve never understood it.)

So for the sake of nostalgia, I’m not completely anti-tree. I have good tree memories — though let’s be honest. Until at least age sixteen or so, I was primarily worried about whatever goodies were wrapped up underneath it. You could’ve dropped the gifts under a hat rack or a statue of freaking Hitler with an angel on top, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

Still, the thing I liked best about the tree, even then, is that I didn’t have to manage the process. Not really. I helped to hang shiny baubles on the tree, and maybe threw a blanket around the bottom, and said “uh… it might be leaning a little” if it was about to topple into the fireplace, but that was about it. The really hard stuff — lugging the tree and the huge box labeled “TREE STUFF” out of the attic, and lugging it back up a few weeks later — that was all Dad.

He was pretty good at it, as far as I can tell. We never lost so much as a single festive ornamental ball. But it was hard. I know, because I learned some of my best words from Dad as he struggled getting all the Christmas crap up and down the stairs. Many of them synonyms for “festive ornamental balls”. In a manner of speaking.

“And I’m not so much a Christmas guy, when it comes to celebrations or decorating or sitting on fat bearded guys’ laps.”

So I knew, early on, that caretaking a tree is no picnic. And I’m not so much a Christmas guy, when it comes to celebrations or decorating or sitting on fat bearded guys’ laps.

(I’m sometimes asked by new acquaintances whether I observe Christmas.

Yes,” I tell them. “Like a wildlife photographer. Preferably from afar.“)

I do, however, have a wife. She enjoys the Christmas season, apparently, and gently insists every year that we should display a murdered and vajazzled evergreen in our living room for a few weeks. “Why?” I ask. To hasten the genocide of the evergreen… uh, rainforests, which are probably near Seattle somewhere? As a warning to any vagrant Douglas firs who might pass by? Purely to torture me into marital submission?

Apparently, no. Because “it’s what people do at Christmas“.

(Fine, I guess. “People” get drunk and naked at Mardi Gras time, too, but you don’t see me shaking my boozed-up bare ass in the street on Fat Tuesday.

Most years.

Okay, bad example.)

So, spurred on by the intractable holiday traditions of “people”, every year we tree ourselves up. Only we don’t go in for the fake-‘n’-fir kind. Oh, no. We’re not satisfied until an innocent pine has been hacked down at the ankles and strapped to the roof of our Nissan for a public parade back to our place. And there begins the annual ordeal of the tree.

First, there’s getting the thing into our condo. Luckily, we’re on the first floor — but unluckily, our parking space is down the block and across the street. I send the missus to open the various doors — outer, security and front — that stand between the outside and our living room. Then I cut the tree loose, grab it firmly by the trunk, and lurch unsteadily towards home.

(That’s not completely accurate. After cutting the ties, I also always give it a chance to run. I turn my back and yell, “Be free!“, hoping the tree will take the opportunity to dash away and maybe find a nice home in an arboretum or park nearby.

But it never does. More’s the pity for us both.)

Next comes the decorating, though that’s not frankly such a burden — mostly because I largely boycott the process entirely.

To be fair, I don’t officially boycott. I usually help untangle the lights, and maybe hang an ornament or two. But my heart’s not really in it, and I’m afraid my disinterest may bring my wife’s excitement down a notch. It’s either that, or all the muttering under my breath I do about “festive ornamental balls”. In a manner of speaking.

Anyway, the tree stands for a few days, lit up and pretty. Then, sometime before Christmas, the missus and I jaunt off on our family holiday gauntlet. The tree, presumably, stays put, reflecting on whatever poor decisions it made to get it into this predicament. We return a week later, to find the poor sappy chap a little browner, a little droopier, and noticeably aged by the process. Some years, I know how he feels.

Soon after comes the messy end. My wife will water and nurse the tree for a while, even into the new year — but inevitably, it has to go. And so, just a couple of days ago, it was time for our latest evergreen guest to hit the curb. Just in time for trash day.

The final hours of tree ownership are the worst, by far. It starts with another grab-and-lurch, but more complicated than before. The trip is shorter, true, but on the way in, the tree is ensconced in a web of mesh, holding the branches up tight to the trunk. By the time it goes out, it’s had three weeks to stretch out and get comfy. It’s gone all sloppy — as many of us do over the holidays — and spread to fill the space around it.

It’s wider than every doorway we pass through, and dry and brittle, to boot. Twigs and needles and other bits fly off it with every step, tug and heave. The unceremonious exhausted dump onto the curb is just the beginning; the cleanup remains.

The initial cleanup isn’t so bad. My wife sweeps the needles into various piles around the living room, and the foyer, and the building entryway, and I gather them with a dustpan and ditch them. The floors look clean. The place seems clear of further tree detritus..

But no. Thus begins the final stage of Christmas treedom: finding all of the rogue pine needles that you didn’t see that night, and that still lurk around your place. And how do you find them?

Mostly by stepping on them. Which is super.

Alternatively, you can find a few impaled into the fabric of the shirt you were wearing when you trashed the tree. These might poke you while you sort laundry, or break up in the washer, perhaps. You’ll also find the odd needle coiled on a nightstand or bookshelf, waiting to strike an unsuspecting reachy finger. Or, as I did today, you might find one — somehow, days later — perched on the toilet seat.

(How did I find it? Uncomfortable, is how I found it. Thanks for asking.)

Mostly, though, it’s the stepping. I’ve had at least a dozen needles so far jump through my sock or between my toes to jab me angrily, the last revenge of a pine tree scorned. And murdered. And paraded around town. And then dumped on the curb.

Seriously, who can blame it?

Anyway, I expect this toe poking to last for another ten months or so. In other words, until it’s time again for my wife to get the urge to “do what people do” and wrangle another tree into our living room. The calendar turns, and the cycle begins anew. What do I have to say about that?

Festive. Ornamental. BALLS.

In, you know — a manner of speaking.

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