Pine

For the past six years I've been unable to instantly recall my age. It often takes a few seconds. Sometimes I even have to look at my driver's license and do the math. Last year, as the calendar was almost used up, I discovered that my birthday was upon me yet again, and after doing the math, I realized that it was the thirtieth time.

The day was December 24th, 2004. Christmas Eve. In Boston, it was freezing-ass cold, there was snow on the ground, and I was sick. Very sick. My Christmas tree had tried to kill me.

I'd decided to go bold that year and buy a really nice tree and decorate the sh*t out of it. I had even cleared all the furniture away from the front windows so that the entire neighborhood could see my glorious display of arboreal glee. My only concern was needles.

In previous years I'd bought my Christmas tree early. Too early perhaps. One year, I'd visited the local nursery in mid-November so that my tree would be ready and waiting to accept the gift of glitter on the precise moment that Thanksgiving ended and the Season of Giving began. Then, on Thanksgiving Plus One, I broke out the Christmas music and spent the better part of the afternoon adorning my little, green friend with colored balls, blinking lights and Grandma's fabled fuzzy sheep. It was quite the day.

By mid-December the f*cking tree had all but died. What had once stood as a seven-foot-tall monument to the everlasting spirit of the season of sharing had become a flaccid, brown stick covered with sheep. The needles, having severed their tenuous ties to the oppressive regime of the tree proper, had struck out to colonize the entire apartment. They were everywhere. Literally. Like sand in a bathing suit, they had somehow managed to lodge themselves into every conceivable nook and cranny, where they lurked, like coniferous kamikazes, waiting for their chance to strike at the webbing betwixt my toes.

It was therefore with painful memories of Carolina Pine Forest-scented assassins that I concocted my scheme for a defiant display of December delight in the year 2004. It was my intention to buy an even larger, fluffier tree this year, which unfortunately required that I wittingly provide refuge to even more of the partisan pine needles. But this year, I was not about to be bested by tree-leavings. I calculated that if I waited until the last possible moment to introduce the fir into my domicile, the traitorous tree would be back out the door before it would have a chance to shed so much as a single needle on my floor. It was the perfect plan. I'd have my tree and "… do something else to it too. There wasn"˜t a single way (I believed) that my plan could possibly go awry.

There's a word which should be in your mind right now. It rhymes with "gubris."

On December 23rd, I visited the nursery. I'd passed the lot on my way to and from various places over the past month, and each time had gazed longingly at the teeming forest of freshly-felled firs. It was with this image in mind that I made the slushy trek into Cambridge on the night before the night before Christmas, when less adventurous souls were at home sipping nog, but the spectacle I beheld when I arrived was vastly different. The block-long, snow covered lot behind the nursery parking lot had become just that; a block-long, snow covered lot. It was all but devoid of trees. There were brigades of nefarious needles, and the aforementioned snow, but no trees.

I found a boy in a green apron that looked like he might be an employee. I held up my wallet and said "Trees?" He pointed. I followed. Behind a small shack at the far end of the lot, I found three anemic-looking trees. Three. The boy smiled. I gave him a look that caused him to flee, slipping only once on the ice between myself and safety. My hopes for a dramatic display of December defiance began to fade. Still, I was resolute. I had ventured out on a snowy winter evening to buy a Christmas tree, and by the deity, I was determined to buy one. So I did. I chose the largest and healthiest-looking tree and a handful of wreaths. For padding.

An hour later, I was home, the tree was set up, the wreaths were strategically attached and I was hanging fuzzy sheep while Phil Spector's Christmas album forced a wall of sound out of my stereo speakers. I was also drinking. It was a slightly sad spectacle, but it was my life and I was living it. By 3am, my dazzling display of December derangedness was assembled in the living room and I was incredibly drunk. I sat down on the couch to admire the fruits of my labors and promptly passed out.

At around 11am I awoke to the startling sensation of being unable to breath. My throat had closed up, my eyes were on fire, my chest was full of sputum and my nose had turned into a faucet of phlegm. Something was clearly amiss. My experience with allergies told me that I was having a reaction to something. Common sense told me that it was the tree.

An hour later I was on my second-story balcony, in my underwear, dragging the arboreal allergy aggravator over the railing. By the time it hit the ground, scattering sheep as far as the neighbor's lawn, I was exhausted, freezing and wheezing like a tuberculosis patient. I crawled back inside and went to bed. I had just turned thirty and I felt like I was dying.

An old friend of mine has a theory. Like many of his theories, this one was born in a bar, sired by whiskey. Naturally, it involves alcohol. The theory, which he claims is supported by actual medical doctors, is that the surest method of curing an illness is to drink heavily. This apparently convinces the invading illness that one's body is not a safe haven, and that they should take their business elsewhere. The genius of this plan is that even if it doesn't work, one is typically far too drunk to care.

When I first heard this theory, I thought that it was crazy. On my thirtieth birthday, I decided that it might just be crazy enough to work. Over the next few days, I nursed myself slowly back to something nearing health with a steady regimen of Maker's Mark, chocolate chip cookies and KOTOR. I have no idea if this regimen had any effect on the progress of the illness or not, but like my friend had predicted, I was far too drunk to care.

By the time I sobered up, another new year had dawned, my tree-borne illness had faded and I was thirty years old, and a twice defeated veteran of the Pine Wars. That was almost one year ago today. This year, to honor the occasion, I bought a fern.

Comments

I remember the culprit was established to be the flame-retardant treatment that is sprayed on all the trees that are sold at larger stores? We always hose down a tree we buy before taking it inside and istalling. I'd just put it against the wall in our driveway, slap a few bucketfuls of hot water on it, and then hose down or slap a few more buckets of cold water depending on weather (more precisely on whether the hose is frozen stiff or not).

Besides getting rid of the chemicals which can be clearly seen in the rainbowy runoff that results, hot-water treatment wakes up the redolent, christmasy pine-forest flava.

P.S. I hope you had no problems with your wood this year, had you?

Fletch, this piece is excellent. Brilliant. Go-down-in-history-awesome. I've run out of hyperbolic adjectives. But I will say that your writing, especially this paragraph:

By mid-December the f*cking tree had all but died. What had once stood as a seven-foot-tall monument to the everlasting spirit of the season of sharing had become a flaccid, brown stick covered with sheep. The needles, having severed their tenuous ties to the oppressive regime of the tree proper, had struck out to colonize the entire apartment. They were everywhere. Literally. Like sand in a bathing suit, they had somehow managed to lodge themselves into every conceivable nook and cranny, where they lurked, like coniferous kamikazes, waiting for their chance to strike at the webbing betwixt my toes.

reminds me of Jean Shepherd's writing (his book, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, was the basis for the movie "A Christmas Story"). You and he share a method of prose in which certain words and phrases, out of place in any other writing, sound effortless. It's like well-machined clockwork.

Also, great last line.

I don't think "Gubris" is a real word.

Great read, yet again...

Btw, shaved those balls yet?

I don't think "Gubris" is a real word.

Shows what you gnow.

(It's the hubris of true genius. Apparently.)

Awesome, awesome, awesome. This is your best work in quite a while, in my opinion. This paragraph in particular:

An hour later I was on my second-story balcony, in my underwear, dragging the arboreal allergy aggravator over the railing. By the time it hit the ground, scattering sheep as far as the neighbor's lawn, I was exhausted, freezing and wheezing like a tuberculosis patient. I crawled back inside and went to bed. I had just turned thirty and I felt like I was dying.

Really impressed me. The imagery is so evocative, the events so hilarious, and the feelings of frustration and illness and betrayal so tangible, that I could only laugh -- not so much because it's funny, although I insist that it is, but rather because it's so rare that mere language can provoke such feelings, except for in the hands of a master.

Wow, Fletch, that was an excellent article. Kat and Lobo expressed what I was thinking as I read this piece far more eloquently than I ever could, so rather than ramble on awkwardly about how awesome I think you are (there's been plenty of that in 2005 already and I think I've reached my quota - I'll try to pace myself better in 2006) I'll just add "Happy Birthday!"

What an awful story. Wait, I mean terrific story. Awful experience.

... a steady regimen of Maker's Mark, chocolate chip cookies and KOTOR.

A half a century from now, this will be a common folk remedy known as "fletchering." As in, "I'm feeling like hell, but it's nothing a few days of fletchering won't cure."

Excellent piece

Very entertaining on an otherwise cold day.

Holy crap, the irony!

I was just browsing google and randomly found this site and I thought the domain was pretty funny.

First post, turns out the guy has the same birthday as me, December 24th. He also celebrated it in the same city that I live in, Boston.

Cheers mate! It was my 22nd. Christmas eve babies for the win.

Holy crap, the irony!

It's not exactly irony, but welcome to the site none the less

Certis wrote:
Holy crap, the irony!

It's not exactly irony, but welcome to the site none the less ;)

Let's call it coincidence, then. Picky bastard

Welcome, fellow Almost-Christ Child!

Plastic trees are the best. They don't leave evil needles around.

There are way more trees out here in Southwest Washington than there are people. There are certain social limitations to that arrangement, but when it comes to buying a Christmas tree it is pretty f*cking hard to beat. On the day after Thanksgiving, I just drive to the tree farm down the road and pay the neighbor $15 for the privelage of slogging out in the rain and cutting down a 10' noble fir.

The obvious drawback, though, is that I don't have any Christmas tree stories as brilliantly amusing as Fletcher's.

Hee!

Excellent read.

When I was a child my family always purchased live trees. One year they put too much chlorine in the little tub of water that housed the tree's trunk, and the tree began to die, quickly. It was a singular horror I felt when my small hands reached out to touch the tree, and its needles fell with a horrible scratchy sound onto the canvas wrap beneath the tree. I can still remember the way they danced and spread beneath the irregular lighting of the Christmas lights. I could not help but feel that I had contributed to the tree's death, even though the damage was done once the tree drank from the poisoned pool at its dying base. Every Christmas I hear the sound those needles made when they struck the canvas; even now, twenty years later, I feel a pang of guilt when I see a brown, dead tree defrocked of its needles.

Christmas trees are a great source of nostlagia and images, both good and bad.

Yeh, Christmas trees can be kind of a crazy nostalgia

toss some tylenol in the water in the tree base. works for clipped flowers.