Help, Mr. Right! Here we are mere days before Christmas, and my family still doesn't have a Christmas tree. In the past, we've always bought a real tree, for all the familiar reasons, but as the person who's had to bear the brunt of acquiring the tree, lugging it home, setting it up, taking it down and disposing of it, I've begun to fantasize about an artificial tree. My wife said she could go either way, God bless her, but my kids get all emotional when I even bring up the idea of a fake tree, which is weird, since all their friends have fake trees in their homes and none of them seem to mind. So, I'm wondering what you think about the whole real/fake thing and how you would tell two kids, ages 12 and 10, that Christmas doesn't necessarily mean sticking a real-live tree in your living room.
O. Tannenbaum: Well, first of all, that wouldn't be a real-live Christmas tree in your living room. That would be a real-dead Christmas tree or, if you prefer, a real-live Christmas tree in the process of becoming a real-dead Christmas tree, severed from its roots and hooked up to an IV drip that most people neglect to refill as often as they should. Evergreens are chosen for a reason, of course, because they're, you know, ever green. But then we do the one thing to insure they'll never be green again, we cut them off at the knees. I don't know about you, but I don't want to sit around and watch a poor little tree, tricked up like a prostitute, thirsty as hell, dropping needles like a heroin addict, wither away and die.
Compare that to an artificial tree, which has never been alive, unless you count the fossil fuels it's made out of. And since it's never been alive, it can never die. Most artificial trees are quite capable of surviving a nuclear winter, and isn't a lush, green petroleum product the first thing you want to see once you've gotten through one of those? Not that you can tell the difference between a real tree and an artificial tree these days. Thanks to polyethylene, which can be poured into molds made from actual tree branches, today's artificial tree has to be more than seen to be believed. You have to touch it, which I wouldn't recommend allowing your kids to do, because of the possible lead content. But if they could touch it, they'd be amazed to find out it wasn't grown right here in Wisconsin.
No, it was "Made in China," a country that has long played a cherished role in our holiday traditions. Just ask the average resident of Beijing to join you in a rousing round of "O, Tiananmen," and watch his face light up like...well, like a Christmas tree, a pre-lit, fiber-optic, flame-resistant, nonallergenic piece of polyvinyl chloride in the shape of a Christmas tree, anyway. Oh, and that pine smell everybody's so crazy about? I'm sure there's somebody in a laboratory right now mixing Lysol with Lemon Pledge and, I don't know, paint thinner. And when he gets the proportions right you'll swoon with longing for the days when most household cleaning products were pine-scented, which just happen to be the days when artificial trees started appearing in American homes.
And I just happen to be a member of the first generation of Americans who can actually work up some nostalgia for an artificial tree - in my case, a ratty little aluminum number, complete with malfunctioning color wheel. No matter what you choose, O. Tannenbaum, your kids will look back on their Christmases with a combination of delight and horror. And when they're old enough, show them this column. They'll never bring up Christmas trees again. Merry X-mas!
For a copy of my new book "The Fight Before Christmas," write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, and 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR EMAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.