Monday, January 7, 2008

Christmas Trees

Nothing depresses me more than the Curbside Christmas Trees. Every year, the week after New Years is like walking thru a Civil War battlefield. Dead trees litter the curbs as far as the eye can see. As if the holidays weren’t depressing enough…

I have a hard time with the Christmas tree thing to begin with. Don’t get me wrong---I love Christmas trees. Fresh, beautiful Christmas trees, bursting with pine scent, sparkling with lights and tinsel, and sprinkled with colorful ornaments full of memories and joy. They’re so wonderful---in other people’s homes.

In mine, not so much so.

The problem is me. I’m one of those Charlie Brown Christmas Tree People. I will invariably find the worst looking tree on the lot and drag it home. If there’s a tree that’s thin, scrawny and half dried out---that’s the tree that seems to speak to me.

Now, I’m perfectly aware that trees don’t have feelings and emo- tions. But, in my over-sensitive holiday frame of mind, I will give these trees more emotions than a character in a Made-For-Oxygen-TV-Movie.

To be honest, it’s embarrassing. I am a reasonable, commonsense person in every other aspect of my life. But put me on a Christmas tree lot, and I become a blithering idiot.

First of all, I have to go alone. Not only do few people understand my Christmas tree issues, but other people tend to discuss and evaluate the trees.

“This one looks scrawny. This one is ugly. This one doesn’t smell as nice as the other one.”

This will not be tolerated. Because in my deluded mind, the trees can hear this and will feel bad about themselves. After all, their only goal in life is to get picked and have the opportunity to spend Christmas in someone’s lovely home.

Second, as I will undoubtedly pick the worst tree on the lot, I don’t want anyone around who will laugh or make fun of the tree. There is no talking about the tree in front of the tree. All Christmas trees are beautiful. Even the tree I picked up a few years back. I spotted the poor little guy in the corner, half-hidden under some old pine roping and castaway bottom branches.

“How much for that tree over there?”

“Where? Over there? Oh, that’s not a tree. That’s just a bunch of old branches.”

“No. There’s a tree under there.”

Sure enough, there was. He dug it out and I took it home, decorated it and gave it The Best Christmas Ever.

And then, after New Years, the time came to take it out to the curb.

Now, I will admit something rather embarrassing---I have never been able to take a tree out to the trash without shedding a little tear.

Taking the ornaments off makes me sad. When the lights come off, I feel like I’m pulling the shoes off a corpse. And when the tinsel comes off---well, I might as well be pulling the gold fillings out of a dead man’s teeth.

And then come the goodbyes.

It’s humiliating. I once took a tree down with a friend and stood there talking to the tree like an idiot. Talking to plants is one thing---talking to a dried-up old pine tree… Well, it was possibly the least intelligent conversation of my life. Telling it what nice Christmas we had together. And thank you so much, little tree, for coming into my home. Now is the end of our journey together. You’re going off to a better place…. Sniff. Sniff.

Could anything be more pathetic?

Or borderline insane?

I don’t know what comes over me. I think it’s all the books I read as a kid---The Velveteen Rabbit and that sort of thing. And those goddamned Disney films that tugged at your heartstrings. And that tiny part of me that once believed that stuffed animals had human emotions boils up to the surface every Christmas.

It’s a real problem; because I really like Christmas trees.

I don’t care for artificial trees. And, living in a Manhattan apartment, there’s no place to store one anyway. I would definitely consider getting a living tree---but anything big enough to really hang some ornaments on would be too big to keep in the apartment year-round. The ideal situation would be to have a balcony and just drag the tree inside once a year. But so far the closest thing I’ve come to a balcony is my metal fire escape. And the FDNY tends to frown upon blocking the fire escape with a pine tree.

One year I had a great solution. I decided to build a wooden tree frame. Stay with me here…I built the frame out of plywood in the shape of a tree trunk with branches. Then, I painted it red and green. And then, I purchased pine roping and branches and tied them with string to the tree. It had all the wonderful pine scent of a real tree, without the emotional baggage. Brilliant!

The problem was, my woodworking skills were pretty non-existent. And the tree was prone to falling apart and collapsing. It was a real mess with all the lights and tinsel---not to mention a fire hazard. And with no water to sustain the life of the branches, they quickly dried up and left pine needles all over my rug.

Not only that, but in order to purchase the branches and pine roping, one has to visit a Christmas tree lot. Kind of defeats the purpose. And, of course, while there, I spotted a sad-looking tree that no one would ever take home---this time, not even me, as I had already built the frame. Poor little tree.

Since I’ve come out about my Christmas tree problem, I find that there are more and more people like myself. I’ve discovered that I’m not the only Charlie Brown Christmas Tree-Buyer in the world. And, like any other support group, once we start opening up, we all feel better about it.

Today I Googled “anthropomorphism”---the delegation of human feelings to animals, plants and non-living objects. Apparently, there have been studies done on just this subject. Some genius scientist was able to get a grant to study idiots like me who give human emotions to Christmas trees.

The result? Well, basically they discovered that people like me have empathy for other beings. We recog- nize that other living creatures might feel pain. And, according to this study, that’s a good thing. We're compassionate people.

Of course, the study was pretty broad. It covered animals, plants, rocks---pretty much anything. Just sort of lumped it all together.

But do I feel the same way about cut flowers? Or broccoli? No. But, for some reason, the Christmas tree gets me every time.

Although, I will admit that at the wrong time of the month, I could probably ascribe human emotions to a pot holder.

However, this week is definitely the worst of all. I’m forced to see the piles of the dead lying at the side of the curb. Unloved. Used-up. And dropped on the side of the road. At least an abandoned animal has a chance. It can fend for itself for a bit and hopefully find someone nice who will take it in. Who’s going to take in a dried up old tree?

No one but the mulch guys.

They come by once every few days to pick up the dead and toss them into the back of a truck---like those medieval guys with the wooden carts picking up bodies after The Plague.

So today, I went out with my camera and walked around Manhattan taking pictures of old trees. This has become my project for the next few days. I’m like Matthew Brady---only my battlefields are the curbs of Manhattan and my daguerreotypes are digital.

In this way, I’m able to distance myself from the dead. Like a reporter in a war zone. Today one of my fellow Charlie Brown Christmas Tree friends marveled at my ability to get out there and document the situation on the ground.

“Do you ever get used to it?” he asked.

I took a reporter’s thoughtful pause, felt a lump in the back of my throat and softly replied, “No. You never do.”