Friday, January 27, 2006[Originally posted in farkleberries January 2003. Just for the record, real trees are no longer used. -- Ed.]
You may not think so, but disposing of a Christmas tree almost a full two months behind schedule is no mean feat; in fact, the logistics are similar to the clandestine disposal of a corpse. For a host of reasons we just could not bring ourselves to discard this symbol of holiday bliss, letting it mummify in our living room to a crispy-dried, half-bald skeleton of its former self. It was a present, shipped from a certain upscale homewares and clothing company that specializes in delivering the illusion of genteel countrification to urbanites...oh, hell, it was from L.L. Bean's. But first, let me tell you the story of the tree's arrival.
Packed tightly wrapped in a cardboard carton, the tree came bound with that super-strength yellow plastic strapping of the sort used to restrain war protesters being arrested en masse. It was about five feet high, and in its compacted state roughly one foot across - but after the restraining tape was cut off (and the new owner's fingers almost were, as well), it was still, discouragingly, only one foot across. This might be an interesting-looking tree. Fortunately, inside the box the bound-up balsam came in, there were instructions on a white sheet of paper:
"after removal of packing tape, cut off about one inch from the base of tree to allow water to be absorbed properly. When mounted upright, tree will relax into its natural shape."Now, cutting off an inch of solid wood from a six-inch diameter tree trunk is easier said then done, especially when you live in a city apartment and the sharpest sawing tool you have is a steak knife. That simply would not do, so a quick search of my big yellow toolbox uncovered a more appropriate set of cutting implements - an old one-inch chisel, a rubber mallet, and safety glasses. One can't be an impromptu Dahmer of the Trees without proper precautions.
Laying the tree on its side in the hallway, I began to hack away at the trunk ineffectively, chipping off tiny pieces of the pitchy green stem, covering my chisel and gloved hands with sticky fragrant goop that would require half a can of WD-40 to remove. After the better part of an hour, I had managed to chop away enough old stem that the tree might possibly suck up enough fresh water to live a week or two...or so we thought.
Needless to say, the tree did "relax into its natural shape" after a day of soaking. It was now as wide as it was tall, a squat five-foot-by-five monster more resembing an Alaskan tumbleweed than anything seen on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. It was so relaxed, it looked like it wanted a cigarette. We managed to decorate it nicely with ornaments both new (lights and a few glass globes from Target) and old (some vintage bells and balls from the local antique markets), with no coherent theme. An Adirondack wooden moose shared the branches with a Polish green glass pickle and a 3-inch mirrorball from India. Yes, it was a fine, fine international Christmas tree. So fine, we couldn't bring ourselves to take it down for almost three months.
Cut to present day: This past Saturday, after much thinking of the Rhode Island nightclub tragedy and visions of this fatwood disaster waiting to explode into flames dancing in our heads, the decision was made. After all, weren't martyrs burnt upon stakes and smeared with pitch to better feed the holy flames? That tree would have to go.
But where? The last of the trees disposed of in our courtyard apartment had been dragged to the alley dumpsters back in the first few weeks of January - surely, the telltale trail of needles coming from our back stairs through the alley would give our crime away, especially after reading the stern notice all the tenants received with their December invoices:
"ALL CHRISTMAS TREES MUST BE DISPOSED OF IN A TIMELY AND PROPER MANNER! TREES MUST BE FREE OF ALL TINSEL, LIGHTS AND ORNAMENTS, AND WRAPPED SECURELY TO ENSURE NO BRANCH AND NEEDLE LITTER ON THE PROPERTY."Solution? We had to Jimmy Hoff-ize the body. We laid the tree on an old blue checkered blanket, and repeatedly stepped on its spine. The dried branches snapped with a sickening crunch that sounded awfully close to breaking bones...."Yo, Jimmy, where's da money? We told'ja we'd be around Tuesday for da balance! (snap) Ya gonna tell us where da money is?" A few tortured bootcrunches later most of the remaining needles fallen away, and our tree lay in a ruined pile on the floor. I actually felt bad for it, the poor thing.
We'd planned on disposing of the remains after nightfall, since the forecast called for clouds and possible snowfall, and the roar of the passing "L" train would mask the noise. Naw, the hell with it. We dragged it out back and brazenly left a trail of tree-gore five feet wide to the dumpster. By morning, it was gone, and a fresh duvet of virgin snow concealed our tracks. We got away with it - this time.
Now we'll have to watch our backs and screen our calls for the Chicago Christmas Tree Mafia.