It’s amazing how much time we spend picking out a Christmas tree.
There’s no doubt you have seen us. We’re the ones standing in the shopping center parking lot, near the highway, a week before Christmas day, staring at a selection of dead pine trees. Try as we might, we can’t decide which of the dead trees will look best in our living room. Our living room was not designed to hold a dead tree. Nobody went to Sherwin Williams and asked for a shade of wall paint to go with a decaying fir. The furniture was not chosen because it went well with dried, browning needles. And yet, there we stand, sucking in car exhaust, cold to the bone, imagining each candidate standing in the corner of our room.
“What do you think of this one?”
We may pretend that we’re looking for the one true symbol of our love for all mankind, a tree that will live on forever in our mind’s eye. Years from now we’ll look back and say, “Now that was a fine Christmas tree. Remember that one? That was a good one. Of all the dead evergreens we looked at, that one was the best. We sure got a deal on that one. Yes, sir.”
A true symbol.
When it gets this late in the game, however, the reason we choose one tree over another changes drastically. By now the good trees are gone. Others, like ourselves, but with less to do and better abilities to plan, have beaten us to the really good dead trees. All that’s left are these Charlie Brown wannabes.
Of all the dead trees, which is the best? That’s the question that must be answered by all those standing in the parking lot, sucking in the car exhaust, trying to decipher the pricing system of colored plastic ribbon.
The best of the dead trees.
A week is all we ask. We’re looking for a tree that will look like a live tree for about a week, although it’s been dead for how long – a month? A week is all we need. After that, we won’t care. After the presents have been opened, the lights have been put away with the ornaments, we’ll take that dead carcass of a shrub and treat it as any other discarded holiday trash – we’ll put it out for the garbage men to deal with.
What we really need is the help of an expert. Thank goodness that there, in the middle of the shopping center parking lot, near the highway, a week before Christmas day, stands a man who will serve as our guide. He is a tree expert. We know this because he is dirty and smells of pine. He lives in a trailer, warming himself by an open fire, drinking soup from a thermos. Unlike other experts in their fields, he does not need to display his degree, certificate or learn-at-home diploma on the wall of his plywood-walled office. There is no need for verification. It is obvious that this man knows all there is to know about dead trees.
“I’ve still got a couple of Frazier firs left,” he says. “It’s lucky you got here. I had six hundred just Friday. The last two are over here. I think they’re still here.” He leads you to the secret stash of dead trees, because you are special, you are in need. He is an expert. He is here to save Christmas.
Frazier fir! The words emit magic. You hope against long odds that someone hasn’t beaten you to it. You wish that you had started shopping for a tree last weekend instead of waiting until the last minute. Next year, things will be different. And then, just as you start to lose hope, he pulls a dead tree from behind his plywood shed. It has been in hiding, waiting for just the right couple.
You are that couple.
“See how it has that citrus smell?” says the tree expert. He blows his nose on his sleeve. You sniff the air and imagine you smell oranges, although in actuality it’s a mixture of car exhaust, body odor and stale soup. “Yes!” you say. “It does smell like citrus! It does!”
A dead pine tree that looks like a live pine tree and smells like an orange! This will be the best Christmas ever!
Sixty-five dollars later, you drive down the street with a dead tree precariously balanced on the roof of your car, held in place with string. Before you arrive at your destination, bringing Christmas spirit, you pass four other parking lots filled with four other tree expert’s hidden stashes. You avoid looking. You want to remain loyal to what’s his name, the guy that just sold you your magnificent dead bush of a car hat.
A week later, the garbage man will knock on your door to let you know he does not want the sixty-five dollar one true symbol of your love for mankind. “Excuse me?” he will ask. “This Scotch pine out here by the curb? We’re not taking those this year. Sorry.”