The Christmas tree broke last year. It was one of those pre-wired fakes, an arboreal simulacrum you snap together and plug in. Voilà! Instant Holiday Emotions, like nostalgia, anticipation, familial love and, of course, sputtering rage because the lights don't work anymore.
Oh, I could have tried to fix it, twisting the bulbs in their sockets individually — all 450 of them — but because they were buried in the spiky plastic limbs, it would be like trying to unhook a bra in a dark room filled with acorns.
We should get a new one now, my wife said at the end of last year's holidays. They'll be on sale.
Yes, I said. Yet a lifetime of rueful self-knowledge suggested that I would let the opportunity pass, because I would rather waste my time on something nonproductive.
Typical, she sighed. Just kicking the can down the road.
Do I have to do that now? Can I kick it tomorrow?
So this year we have no tree and have to face the choices: Zombie, which is the dead tree that stands there looking like it's sort of alive, or the pre-lit Android, which is an arboreal simulacrum that pretends it's real.
I prefer the latter, for practical reasons. It doesn't shed. By the time Christmas gets here, a real tree is so dry you can make it drop a half-pound of desiccated needles just by clapping your hands.
You don't have to go through the sad, futile ritual of watering it. When you buy a real tree at the lot, they always ask: "Want a fresh cut?" Sure, I'll pretend this helps. And a guy with all the bedside manner of a Civil War hospital surgeon gets out the chain saw and freshens up the stump, presumably to make the tree wake up, screaming silently, and try to draw water from its self-cauterized trunk. We've never had a tree that drank anything after a day. They know the score. They see the logs burning in the fireplace. They know this doesn't end well.
After the holidays, you drag its corpse out to the boulevard, feeling like you live during the Middle Ages and the house just lost someone to plague. Someone will be along with a cart calling, "Bring out your dead!"
Flocked green was in vogue when I was a kid: You got a real tree, then hosed it down with some aerosol sparkle made of bleached asbestos. Smelled like an auto-body detailing shop.
Which reminds me: By now they should have invented fake trees that incorporate aromatic oil diffusers, so your house's scent profile is appropriately Piney. Because it's never piney enough. You light the piney incense, which is so pungent you get a call from a guy in Duluth who says, "I have asthma, OK? Stop it."
You spray the piney room scent, which falls to the floor and probably gives the dog nightmares of being beat up by trees when he tries to make his mark. If they came out with a bucket of Peace Joy Tree Fluid, you would paint it on the walls with a roller, just to be piney.
Real or fake, it doesn't matter. It's not the tree. It's what you put on it. It's what you put beneath it. Maybe this year my wife will get me something I really need: a new can.
The old one, for some reason, is all dented.