TO ME, NOTHING says Christmas like a 5-foot-tall chunk of green polyvinyl chloride decorated with taillight-red lights, a $1.98 garland from Rite Aid, and a couple of spray-cans of fake snow, the vague smell of heat-resistant thermoplastics wafting throughout the house.
But my wife is one of these people who insists on having a real Christmas tree, whatever that means.
"What's more real than a cellulose acetate base and polycarbonate hooks for the branches?" I tell her.
But she doesn't want to hear about it. You can talk to her 'til you're blue in the face, but she's firmly in the pocket of the anti-artificial tree lobby.
In the past, to get our Christmas tree, we'd pile all the kids in the car and drive over to the parking lot of a nearby supermarket, where a big sign advertised: "ANY TREE $19" and then in tiny letters, letters you couldn't make out with anything short of the telescope at the Mount Palomar Observatory, it said: "Except firs."
The firs, it turned out, went for 35 bucks and up. So naturally, the kids would make a beeline for the firs, which were the nicest trees on the lot.
Then my wife and I would gently steer them to the less expensive trees, which the kids would look at the way you'd look at a hair in your yogurt.
Anyway, after arguing for two hours in 30-degree temperatures, we'd finally all agree on a tree. Then this short, unshaven guy with bloodshot eyes would shuffle out of this little hut, where he had a space heater and a bottle of blackberry brandy going, and take our money.
Then we'd tie the tree to the top of the car with some of the cheap twine the guy was always pushing ("You need twine? Hey, take as much as you want!")
(For some reason, this business with the twine reminds me of these waiters at fancy restaurants who are always coming up to you with a pepper grinder and flashing a big smile and chirping "Fresh pepper?" Like they're doing you a big favor.)
I feel like saying: "Look, pal, instead of giving me all this free twine, why don't you knock 10 bucks off the price of that tree?"
Apparently, though, getting a tree at the supermarket parking lot was too convenient. Because this year my wife announced that we'd be traveling to a tree farm somewhere in the boondocks and -- this was the scary part -- cutting down our own Christmas tree.
"Listen," I said, "we could be at Sears in 10 minutes picking out a lovely polystyrene blue spruce made from 14 different synthetic resins."
"Cutting our own will be fun," she said, eyes narrowing.
Like I said, you can't talk to her about this stuff. So last weekend we drove out to this tree farm, which turned out to be somewhere in Nevada, it seemed. I think we crossed three different time zones to get there.
When we finally found it, the place was enormous, with acres and acres of trees. You had your white pine section, your Norway pine section, your Douglas fir section, Balsam Fir Lane, Spruce City, etc.
Anyway, we tramped around the place for an hour and a half trying to pick out a tree. The temperature was 45 degrees, which doesn't sound so bad unless you're being trailed by three kids shivering dramatically, like we were on an ice floe near the Arctic Circle.
At last we found a tree we all agreed on. I pulled out our bow saw, the sun glinting off its rusty, gnarled teeth.
This was it -- the primeval battle. Man against nature. You could almost smell the testosterone in the air -- unless that was just the exhaust fumes from all the cars.
There was just one problem: The bow saw we'd brought wouldn't cut through a dinner roll.
Therefore, the primeval battle was put on hold while the 14-year-old walked up to the sales shed and borrowed a bow saw from the nice man who owned the farm.
This time the cutting went easily and we dragged the tree to the baler, a machine that bound the branches so the tree was ready to be lashed down to the roof of our car.
"You need twine? Hey, take as much as you want!" said the kid who took our money. Boy, this thing they have with the twine is eerie.
The ride home wasn't bad. We only got lost once, somewhere in Indiana, and this old-timer at Homer's Texaco got us back on the right road in no time.
I see in today's paper they have a nifty polypropylene tree on sale at Kmart, I think it is.
With a nice acrylic finish, too.
Pub Date: 12/12/96