Tanenbaum goes the Dynamite

The Hyperion Chronicles
"I swear one year we had our tree up ‘till March”

#85 Christmas Tree Memories

My college roommate “Ricky” was a peculiar fellow, a True Believer some might call him. For example, Ricky loved this band called Blues Traveler—before any of you had ever heard of them—but when Blues Traveler appeared on Letterman and started to make it big, Ricky smashed all his Blues CDs. Like I said, a True Believer.

Now, Ricky and I lived on the same wing as our dorm’s Resident Director and his wife, and come December they put up a Christmas tree. Only, it wasn’t a genuine cut-down-in-the-forest real live Christmas tree, but one of those designer imposters, and Ricky was having none of it.

Ricky just stopped associating with the Director and his wife, and wouldn’t even return a hello when passing them in the hall. As Ricky is revered on campus and loved by all, the Director and his wife do everything they can to make peace, including baking Christmas cookies that I didn’t get to eat out of solidarity (to this day, the single greatest political sacrifice I’ve ever made).

Finally, while studying for finals at an all night restaurant, I see a chance to mediate. Out in the foyer of the restaurant is a Christmas tree with empty boxes around it gift wrapped for decoration. I talk Ricky into “procuring” a few of these presents, and we solemnly give them to the Director and his wife with the instruction not to open them until Christmas day. This redresses the scales in Ricky’s eyes, and the Christmas Crisis is averted.

When I was younger, decorating the tree was a family affair, and one we all got involved in. Dad would stand on his head to get all the lights put up while mom told him what he was doing wrong. Early on I noticed that other people’s trees had stars or angels on top, while we just had a white light; one of the regular string. When queried, my mother explained to me the tradition.

I guess back in the day, before my mother and her sisters were born (the 1600s), my grandparents didn’t have much money. Accordingly, it was all they could do each year to put up a tree (usually donated); a fancy ornament on top was out of the question. My grandfather, clever man that he was, didn’t want his young wife to feel bad, so he put one of the white lights on top, and told my grandmother that this was the way to do it, for it represented Jesus, the light of the world. (Which just goes to show women will believe anything if they love the guy)

Anyway, several years later times had gotten a wee bit better, and my grandfather told my grandmother they could get a star or angel or whatever she would like. By now, though, it was Tradition, and she insisted they keep the white light, as all of her progeny do to this day.

Another fun thing we would do to our tree was hanging our own ornaments. My mother had a ball for each of the years her four children were born, and my brother Achmed and I also had personal ornaments, these really cool rocking horses we had been given (and let me just say my rocking horse was way cooler than Achmed’s). We would have sort of a contest every year as to who could “hide” their ornament in the most unusual place, which often entailed disappearing into the tree to hang the ornament inside. Good times.

Speaking of Achmed, one year, the first Christmas I could drive, my parents got very busy and didn’t have time to get the tree. Being the helpful loving sons that we were, Achmed and I volunteered to secure the family’s tree, at a U-Cut-Em place just outside of town. Now, this was out in the wild, and each tree had painful thorn bushes surrounding it. I, being older and stronger, had the tougher job of sawing the tree down with our flimsy little saw. (The kind that made a crappy little oval-like rectangle. You remember them, right?)

All Achmed had to do was hold the branches out of my way so that I could see what I was doing. Easy, huh? Well, you’ve never heard such complaining. Good lord did that boy bellyache. Worse, he continually let the branches go, causing them to fly at a high rate of speed into my hands and arms, which not only impeded my sawing progress to the point of distraction, but also cut and scratched me like a gal at a shoe sale at Macy’s. I offered several times to switch roles, but Achmed couldn’t get the speed up to saw the tree down.

Finally, battered and bleeding, we got a beautiful 8-½ foot tree cut and ready to roll. Being older and stronger, I told Achmed I’d carry the tree to the car, and he could go pay the owner lady for our haul. Unfortunately, Achmed was a bit of a late bloomer, socially speaking, and the thought of conducting a financial transaction—with a woman nonetheless—terrified him. Taking pity on the poor boy, I graciously offered to pay for the purchase, if he would take the tree to the car, and I’d secure it in the trunk when I finished. Upon returning to the car, I found poor little Achmed struggling mightily to lift the tree, and of course I helped him the rest of the way. I was proud that despite the adversity, we had made it.

Then came the treachery.

At home that evening putting up our statuesque tree, I was detained by a phone call. In my absence Achmed told the story of the afternoon. However, instead of the heroic journey it was, my brother—my own flesh-and-blood—betrayed me with the most scurrilous lies ever heard this side of a Clinton deposition. In Achmed’s version, I had the sissy job of sawing, while he tamed the savage thorn bush/dinosaur hybrid that fought in his grasp. Then, I forced the lad to tote the massive evergreen half a mile (in reality it was about 100 yards) through mud and rocks and possibly man-eating dingoes to the car, while I lounged about flirting with the proprietress. What’s worse, my family believed these innuendos and half-truths—nay, these Damnable Lies!—out of whole cloth, and completely endorsed my brothers hallucinations. Not only that, but at any public gathering for some time they allowed him to retell his 30 pieces of silver while I withstood abuse and chastisement. Truthfully, I think he did it because I had a cooler rocking horse ornament than he.

Finally, I have another story of heroism, that doesn’t quite fit with my Christmas tree theme, but I can’t for the life of me figure out when I’ll get another chance to share it. In third grade, both our school and our church put on Christmas plays, and my friend Josh Ingalls and I each had the leads in both performances. In church, I was the title character, Hark, the Herald Angel (you can laugh; it’s not blasphemous), while Josh was Gabriel. At school, I was Santa Claus while Josh was Alfie, the Elf with an attitude (I think the play was something stupid called “Christmas Around the World”).

The performances were back to back on a Sunday and Monday, and memorizing the lines and keeping them separate took a good deal of compartmentalizing. I tell you the truth; it was the greatest injustice since the imprisonment of the A-Team that we didn’t sweep the Tony nominations that year.

The first play went pretty well, the lines coming off without a hitch, until we were done and out in the foyer during the offertory. Josh, not realizing his mike was hooked up, told me (and the whole audience) that Cory, the girl he loved, had been watching us. Despite that, though, we managed to survive, and accolades and huzzahs came pouring in from all concerned.

The second night was a bit tougher. After weeks of nightly back-to-back rehearsals, this was the last performance; our energy was shot and our nerves where frayed. What’s more, I had approximately 137 pounds of padding, including a pillow with Taco Bell on its mind, because it kept making a run for a border.

It’s pretty hard to visit every country in the world next to a Coppelia-like doll (our co-star, and my secret crush, the lovely Kendra) and an elf with a chip on his shoulder while continually re-stuffing a pillow up your suit. Why child welfare wasn’t called I’ll never know.

It seemed like we were going to make it, though, as we hit the home stretch with just a few more lines to wrap it up. Kendra was supposed to try to kiss Josh, who was supposed to back off and offer to shake hands (this passing for grade school avant garde humor in those days). Unfortunately, his timing was a bit off, and she kissed him, and not on the cheek, but on the mouth! You have to understand, Kendra was not only the most beautiful girl in the school, but Josh and I were in 3rd grade and she was a 4th grader! I’ll let that sink in.

Well, my buddy Josh starts to lose his composure a bit, and it didn’t help any that he knew I’d been lovesick for the girl since rehearsals began. His flustered state looked real (which it was), and would have gone over well with the audience if he could just play it off. I tied to step in with some ad-lib smooth-overs, some “Ho ho hos” and the like, but that seemed to freak Josh out even more. Suddenly he started talking, but it wasn’t Alfie’s “respect all cultures’ speech, it was Gabriel’s “For to you a son is born, for to you a son is given” monologue from the night before! The whole play teetered on the edge, threatening to turn into disaster. Thinking faster than ever before, I stepped up and said, “A doll who can make an elf find religion. I’ve finally created the perfect toy.”

Of course, this brought the house down, and we sailed through our last little song, heroes once again. It was perhaps the finest moment in Thespian history, and I’m glad I could share it with you.

Yuletide Wishes,

December 24, 2002

Greatest Santa Ever


jadriana said...

This had me laughing out loud. Great stories, Hyperion.

Anonymous said...

still funny after all these years!