[Note: This is a minor re-write of a column first published in January, 2002. The events described haven't changed much.]
The holiday season is now officially complete at Mullings Central. I consider it another triumph over elementary physics and psychology that, once again, our house did not burn down, and divorce proceedings were not begun.
I spent the past month looking warily at cheap, electrical rigging (which had been stored in a damp, garage for the previous 11 months) wrapped around a dead, tinder-dry pine tree.
There is an even greater menace outside, where live electrical devices have been wrapped around dead, tinder-dry greenery, draping the front door against which rain occasionally beats. With the ferocity of Tropical Storm Zeta.
The Christmas tree is brought INTO the house each year by two fat guys, wheezing and puffing their way up the stairs. The tree is delivered in a condition which is known as "fresh," which is like saying the Enron and WorldCom annual financial statements were "complete."
In usage, a "fresh tree" is one on which the needles more-or-less stay attached to the branches unless something actually brushes up against them. This condition lasts for about 20 minutes after the tree comes to your house.
My first job of the holiday season is to put hot water into the container under the tree to "improve the uptake," as the two graduate agronomists with the sagging jeans who delivered the tree put it.
This requires me to:
- Fill a pot ("Why don't you use a pitcher?") with the hot water;
All while happily humming Christmas carols.
In our house this procedure is affectionately known as the "Renewal of our Marriage Vows" sacrament.
Now comes the "Taking Down the Tree" ceremony. Removing the angels, the candles, and the other tchachkas is simple. But the tree itself is a potential deal breaker. And the lights.
Christmas lights costs about ten cents per million running feet. Given the loving care with which the Christmas lights in our house are treated, you might think they were the ones which lit the actual manger in Bethlehem.
- Carry it from the kitchen to the living room under the watchful, if not worshipful, eye of the Mullings Director of Standards & Practices;
- Spill, maybe, molecular amounts (a mist; wisps, really), not, as SOME people have claimed, enough to cause the hardwood floors to warp;
- Crawl under the tree getting stabbed in the arms, the neck, and the forehead by the barely-attached (and aptly-named) needles, and;
- Fill the container.
"What are you doing?"
This is known, as the "Rite of the MD of S&P Standing With Arms Akimbo" and always ends with the same six words: "Never mind. I'll do it myself."
About Christmas day, when the tree was well beyond "fresh," the needles had the tendency fall off any time you got within three feet, creating any zephyr of air flow around it.
During the final week of the regular NFL season a sideways glace caused a blizzard of tiny green spikes to fly through the air and land exactly where someone might have placed their forearm on the arm of the sofa.
By this weekend, a dog barking anywhere in the neighborhood causes the needles to leap off the tree burying themselves in the carpet, in the furniture and, as it was being carried it through the entire length of the house to the back deck for its heroic swan dive to the driveway below, into every cell of unprotected skin.
The branches always stick out a little farther than you think and so they tend to scratch the paint in the doorways which leads to the annual "Why Didn't You Let Me Help You?" ritual, as if two of us struggling with the unwieldy thing would have made the branches fold back nicely against the trunk, thus avoiding the annual "Knocking Over the Topiary on the Kitchen Counter" procedure.
Today, the decorations are back in their boxes, the boxes are back in the closet, the tree will removed by the people who remove trees, and I'll have those lights untangled by … Memorial Day. Easy.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Another license plate Mullfoto and a "Separated at Birth" Catchy Caption of the Day.
"I'm rolling up the lights."
"You are not rolling them up. You're bunching them up. They'll get tangled."
"What difference does it make? We'll buy new ones next year."
"That's a waste of money."
"We'll buy them now when they're half off."
"They'll get lost by next year."
"Why won't THESE get lost by next year?"