Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | January 4, 2010

So this was Christmas, or Hows’a ‘Bout dat Tree? and Other Stories

So Christmas has come and the tree is wilting now. We went to the other end of the spectrum this year and bought it early like my folks used to do… in fact waaaay early. And to my wife’s joy… I overcame my Christmas Tree resistance and put the lights on it according to Dad’s formula: No dark spots. Yeah.. there’s something admirable in a wide carbon footprint.

Total footprint addition: Three more strands. Looked great until it started blowing fuses. They’re blown now by the way, but no one cares. Darkness seems to suit a wilting tree. Seems less a sad reminder… ’cause we can’t see it… that the joy of having everyone home has passed. Now it’s just much more of a sign the clean up we’re content not doing, like we’re keeping “hope alive”. Santa came, Santa will come again. And like the business cards I keep on my dresser for long gone friends… the tree is now a marker.

But when the twinklin’ mattered, darlin’ (’cause twinkle always ends in “darlin’) I gotta say these dadgum twinkle lights are soooo much better than the big burly ugly burn-your-skin bulbs we used to have back in the day. Used to be these little guys were only fittin’ for those aluminum rotating sorts of trees like you put on a desk-sized tree rather than a real it-was-alive-’til it got cut… like in a knife fight or somepin’. And I’m always thrilled to play with my friend, Mr. Electricity. Kind of nice to feel like you can fix things… or not… for a while.

Of course, back on my folks’ tree when we used those big burly ugly burn-your-skin bulbs, if you blew a fuse the whole room went out… sometimes you even got to see sparks flying out of  the plug. Once we even started a fire right there on the living room rug.  Got to see a whole ‘nother side of how Mom reacts. Somehow… it’s not the same as it would have been if you know who had done this on his own. Huh? Like when Mr. Electricity and I played with pipe cleaners. Nope. But back then, men were men, the boy scouts  were feared and we sucked it up and moved on like it was nothing.

Real threats to life and limb came later. Like when it was time to undecorate. Yep. By then that tree that you thought was all pretty and nice… had gone rogue. I mean the whole time you’re singing round the thing, putting presents under it, cooing over it and making nice… the thing’s brooding on what comes next. And every night when you go up to bed, that crack team of Ninjas creeps down the chimney, runs over to the Christmas tree that hired them, and they sharpen their needles to points sharper than any Samurai sword – ever! I’ve known two-inch plywood boards… in basements to break just thinking of those sharpened needles upstairs… so frightened you don’t hear them “snap” but hear something more like a  “Hiyaaah!!” using Japanese characters I don’t have on my keyboard.

An old grizzled ex-Christmas Tree is indeed something to be feared. Kind of like Jimmy Cagney in one of those gangster movies:

“See, I’m done playing nice. Didja give me any eggnog when ya’ coulda? Nah. None for the Tree… never the tree. “He wants water!” Hell.. .. where do you people come up with this stuff? If I wanted water, would I have cut myself down and gotten planted here next to the bar? Ya’ kiddin’ me? Make mine Irish Whiskey! or see if I don’t drop some needles on ya’… (tink tink tink)… There, how’d ya’ like dem apples? Come closer…an’ lemme stab you with my pointy ends! Oh… an’ I’ll betcha’d like to talk Branch Theory, huh? Well.. I’ll teach ya’ a thing or two ‘bout Branch Theory…take that! and that!”

And that’s just the start… then as the holiday wears on into January:

“See.. I’m done looking good. Done with the parties, the drinks ya’ never gave me anyway… even when I begged ya’… So ya’ know what? Ya can take you’re stinkin’ “pretty please” and all that an… I mean what was that whole bit ’bout ‘ dressin’ me up an’ stuff…  jus’ pretendin?… Like youz jus’ toyin’ wich me so ya’ can trow me out? What am I? Some sort of dress-up fancy roots unfit to stay? What’s dis about? Really… let’s see how you like it… See… I’m thinkin’ I oughts to dress ya’ wich my Thommy gun … yea…See.. I’m addin’ some ventilation…hahaha! “

“And your good times? See what I’m thinkin… Bah humbug! Hah! An’ now youz jus’ wanna strip me naked, drag me by my stinking roots, and leave me on the streets to die! Won’t take me out there all dolled up… nah.. got keep the good stuff… yeah dat’s right! Like I’m just so much garbage… Can’t youz guys even pretend? Can’t ya’ even take a guy… put ‘im in cold storage, like a nursin’ home… like I’m gonna get better, I don’ haffs ta’ put you could pretend…see…  like I’ve got anudda day? Jus’ one more…cancha do that for me? Huh? For an ol’ pal an’ for ol’ times? ‘Course not…it’s jus’ da street wich ’em! Always da street!  Like ya don’ even wanna hold my limb, waitin’ for da’ truck… an’ I’m jus’ some bum dose poor bums take away.”

“But’ ya’ know what burns me most? Ya’ call yourselves “Green” ! Ha! Like you’re some sort of Al Gores runnin’ round, huh?  Sure… you’re green all right…I tell ya’ whose green… tell ya’ sompin’ buster… Green’s where I came from an’ doncha fuggedit! … Since I was a seed!!!.. an’ nobody every gave me nuthin’…. didn’t ask for nuthin’ neither… ‘cept maybe some whiskey… but all I got? Stinkin’ rainwater and sunshine… like it’s take dat an’ some squirrels… go off and make like youz happy. What am I? Some dope sloggin’ lotion in Florida? See… I don’ need no sweetheart deals… don’ git none neither…. jus’ a bunch o’ stinkin’ double negatives… Geez! who writes this stuff anyway?”

Whew! Can we say tough? Maybe even…bitter? Goes downhill from there, too. But trust me… it’s no better if you’d tried something different when you brought the tree in, ‘stead of callin’ it  “Jimmy” you went and named it your “Spruce Bruce”. Like you’re looking for the best. I mean, you think you could just pick a nice, sweet tree that liked “decorations”, worried about the “clashing colors”, cooed things like “Oh… can we put the star over there just a touch. Thank you! Oh and you made it purple this year! How nice. Hugs!” and all… but no. It still comes to the same thing. At the end… it’s always gonna want to be Bruce Willis doin’ it’s own version of “Die Harder” and looking forward to plastering  Post Office walls with: “Wanted: Mangy Looking Pine. Needles sharpened and dangerous. Last seen posing as a Christmas Tree….”

So as uncorrect as it may perhaps seem with dangerous plants, profiling might be a good thing. Dropped anyone off at the airport last week, maybe you know what I mean. Probably saw TSA pulling out a bunch of Christmas Trees on their way back home… like they were the Abonimables from AbuDhabbinobinabul, TSA folks had their electronic wands running all over ‘em.. like it was gonna do some good. Can’t do this with people, but gimme a traveling tree… and look out dudes, ’cause we’re gettin’ serious. “Stinking Pagan-Druid Winter Solstice religious holiday… see if we’re gonna respect religious minorities, ha!”

So of course, before they get to the airport… y’know it’s already been “the struggle” back at the house. Packing up to go away’s never easy. Goin’ away “forever”… only harder. And then there’s the joy in knowing all those one-of-a-kind decorations and stupid lights will be back again next year. Only the burned out bulbs will be playing decoy… hiding in the strand you thought still worked. But nevertheless, it’s a ritual, and we gotta go there. We can put’em all on… just to take them all back off two or three weeks later… or sometimes in the case of Aunt Sarah… maybe it’s an Easter Tree and giving extra mileage… but most of us… it’s a lot of short-term work, huh? All in fun.

Yet for all this, one thing I guess I got to admit changed for the better: My “I don’t do lights” motto is gone for good.  Fact is that with all that empty nesting we managed for something like two minutes before grad school and the “moving back home” announcements… the kid rebound I think they call it… this hanging of the lights and decorating the tree together was kind of a nice activity for just the two of us. A new happy memory sure to fade like all those others from the years before kids that I can’t even imagine existed. But I’ll tell you what… if I had a therapist… I’m sure he/she/it would be pleased with the “breakthrough”.  As I don’t have a therapist… I know you’re probably amazed I haven’t backslid further by now.

Okay. Before we get too misty eyed over that, let’s move on to what I miss most about Christmas Trees Past: It’s the tinsel. They don’t even make it anymore. “It’s like it was never invented.” Someone said brain damage. Okay with me…. what of it? I say rumors… schmoomers. Well… if you’re reading this, maybe you know othewise, but while I may have had a few tinsel sandwiches in my day… I’m still functioning… sort of. Some folks just don’t want you to have any fun. Real spoil sports. Heavy metals and heavy thinking… of course they go together!

But here’s the problem: Did they feel compelled to come up with something to replace tinsel? Course not. So what else can you throw on “the tree” and have it looking so… ummmm… good? ‘Member training for the Tinsel Olympics back in the day. “You step back, run close, turn your back to the tree – like this, jump high, close your eyes so they don’t get poked out by the Ninja needles, and toss the stuff over your shoulder to reach those high places.” So what if it landed in clumps ? Who sets the specs for what-is and what-is-not an acceptable tinsel toss anyway? Whaddya mean “sisters”? “Big sisters?”  Oh… those scarey people. Sheesh! As if we’re really gonna be intimidated by calls for being “banned for life”, huh? Well… I guess Linus knew what he was talking about when he said, “Christmas is getting too dangerous.”

So while we’re talking about Christmas dangers and the need medical care… let me say I went and got some on the afternoon in question. Why you asked. Hmmmm. Must I? I guess I must. There was this idea that someone needed to wrap a few things the afternoon before, and I’d managed to get home early, there was still snow everywhere… and someone thought it would be a good idea if everyone else left for a while. I agreed. Sledding was proposed… and the return of “Daddy Pool Toy” or some sort of snow-geezing equivalent. Sledding in the prior weekend’s blizzard had already been skunked once… so the urge to slide down a hill into some sort of immovable object remained unsatisfied: too deep and too fluffy, ruts in all the wrong places… and no I’m not a worthy monkabee and yes I’m mired in this world.

Still plenty of the white stuff around…. and now it was packed (good), the kids were home (good), and I was sure the time to get that toboggan to actually move more than an inch or two downhill for the first time. I must have bought it ten years ago, but never found it could actually do more than get stuck in the snow and specialize in sinking and staying stuck. So I was clearly game….

So I said, “Where?”

“Battery Kemble Park,” they said.

Battery Kemble’s the dog park, and if not one of the highest points in Washington, D.C. then certainly one of its  best open and unpaved hills. It’s next to the Cafritz mansion that burned down last Fall with all its art work… said to be a real loss even if most of it was modern if you know what I mean… like that’s possible. But shame that it is held by some to have been, the cause wasn’t frustrated lovers of REAL art but the distinct lack of water in the fydrant hydrants… more commonly known in the over-five set as fire hydrants. Not so amazingly in this day and age, the City had that very day tested and certified as “Approved or Whatever” and famously hung signs to that effect on each and every fire plug. Yep.

And that’s the Battery Kemble park I’m talking about. So high up…the water gets worn out running up hill. So high up…. the dogs are always panting and lying down at the top of the hill if they’ve bothered to more than run up half of it at all. So high up… parents can beat their kids because their longer legs mean the five steps to a heart attack gets them there quicker. So high up  in fact that you can talk to the pilots in passing airplanes in sign language…. like the other day  when my kids signed the Northwest pilots “Welcome to Minneapolis!”  There’s always a comedian, huh? Truth is most fly around rather than over the hill. It’s has always been a sore spot in town: Georgetowners  famously compalin about the re-routings, and  the Capital Dome and Washington Monument suffer depression over that whole “I guess I’m not tall enough” thing. By the way, they L-O-V-E TSA’s attentions and all the excuses that gives them for messing with “the final approach plan”. But if you remember all that scaffolding on the Monuments a few years back? It was really just so they could put a bunch of couches and shrinks up close to try to talk them through their inferiority complexes and help them “to get a life…. but not too much life… I mean you’re still gonna be inanimate… but how’s that make you feel? Hmmmm. Yeah.. that’s good for the height thing… but we’ll work on the toupe later.”

So this was the hill we were headed to. Legendary. I still remember the  day we went over as kids with our sleds, got out of the car , and some guy whizzed by on skis. He knew what whizzing was about, too… which with a creek and a bunch of boulders at the bottom…that was a good idea. And this is still the biggest and best sledding hill I’ve ever seen. Of course, I forgot to remember that we never actually made it to the bottom in our sleds but just wiped out…. and that might have been a handy memory if it had come back to me at the right time. But it didn’t.

So we managed our way over about 4:00pm Christmas Eve and found it packed …with ice. No problem. Sledding is indeed a manly sport. Yes… especially if you’re in college and “Going for the Darwin”…. which means applying liberal applications of the fermented something to your insides while doing your best to freeze your outsides. Yes, back when I was on that “Varsity”… but we’ll save that story for a different time. For now… let’s just say we’ve established ourselves in the presence of a real hill and the “conditions” might have told a story as to why the crowd was thin? Not a chance. Nope. The real reason was that it was Christmas Eve and most folks had better things to do… or at least better things than getting hurt.

And I guess I didn’t reckon just how hard packed it was until three grad students showed up and proceeded to break their sleds next to us in about two nano seconds. First run and done. So they converted to “sharing”… which is its own kind of crazy… but they may have been going for the Darwin… I didn’t ask. But it’s not then that you focus on all those busted sleds all over the course. Nope that would come later… from a different altitude and at a faster brain wave then I was having at that moment. Nope. About this time, all that registered was some everyday casualties, and “AWESOME!”

You’d think my name was Skeeter instead of Thickheaded, huh? Right. Anyway.. we might have picked up on the ice factor from the fact that it was so icy you had to walk around the side to get back up… but nah. We were focused. Nor did it register that those kids on the side slope coming into a merge about half way down might know what they’re doing. Nope. They were simply young-uns and “babies”. Fact is… we went further UP the hill to lengthen the run. Yep. Right, solid brain waves.

And it should have occurred that the difference in time was probably fractional, and that given the limited control, the actual length of time on the sled might in fact be shortened rather than lengthened… but that would imply thinking. What in fact we were managing to do was actually something else… and all we actually accomplished was an increase in acceleration…. because like… that’s a good idea. I know. Fact it is… of course! Genius! And if you’ve ever once seen ITC’s “This is Genius!” you know exactly what I’m talking about. Nice to have such…. company.

Anyway, to make a long story intermediate, somewhere mid-slope, I went airborne, stuck out a wing, landed on same, and proceeded to skid to a stop with a grimmaced, “Ouch! I might be done for the day.” But asked whether I wanted to go to the hospital…. I quite sanely replied, I’d stick it out… “for the kids”. ‘Course I went down a couple of more times…. like an idiot (see photo).  I mean… I guess what I got for this part of it was the opportunity to damage more body parts. Thank you Mr. Oppportunity. My hip thanks you, my side… and especially my wrist.

You know… of course I felt better or told myself I did. Fact is… it wasn’t really until I got to church later that night that I realized, “Hey Steve! It’s so good to see… ah…..bone crusher… please release hand…”. Yes…. that’s when I began writhing in pain. No Steve didn’t do it. Idiot Self did it. This guy is sort of like my workplace companion: Idiot Savant Self – only the other works weekends and evenings. Anyway… I had to make a last minute bail on serving as Thurifer ’cause there’d be no swinging, lifting, or playing with fire for that wrist. Fortunately, our key go-to-guy was there and it worked out fine.

Friday, after all the usual Christmas hoopla, we went for x-rays, and joined a grandma who’d cut herself fixing dinner , sent to the hospital as “Done for the night”, but like me, wasn’t giving up. Nope. She was still issuing orders by cell phone. “Take it out of the oven. Go ahead. Now look at it and tell me what you see. Uh huh. Hmmmmm. Put it back in the oven and call me again in ten minutes. Fine. Bye…. now doc… go ahead and start stitching.” Yep. Made ’em tough in those days, and Grandma’s still in-charge. As for me, they gave me a brace, a doc’s name, and some Ibuprofen. Then it was GOMER (Get Out of My Emergency Room). And happily we were home in no time.

Then as it sleeted or something and my aging relatives who’d already bailed on dropping by for some “cheer” after the unwrappings and all the usual breakfast stuff called to bail on dinner, too… we all stayed home together with a plan to reschedule for Boxing Day. So this year’s Christmas, instead of sleeping together on the floor and nearly missing a plane, we built a fire and fell asleep on the couch. I’d say that quite literally, that’s moving up in the world. Best blessing of all! I’d call it a great holiday. Hope yours was equally fun, if less ouchy.


  1. ROTFL!! Had it all growing up too: Big lights, silver tree with rotating spotlight, tinsel, blown fuses. I wonder what our kids will remember…the time before digital wall hangings of blinking Christmas trees? Hmmm…and I wonder if I could ride Moo down Battery Kemble? I’m glad the only ice I see in the winter here is in my Scotch. 🙂

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