Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Resolutions, Why Do I Delude Myself So?

Still reeling in Christmas haze, I am spending the week puttering around the house trying to avoid my
self-imposed re-write deadline of New Year's Eve.  Three weeks ago, I went so far as to email my agent that I would have my manuscript completed by then...that move was dumb and dumber.

There's a ceiling to paint and a room to paint, too.  I really should get around to finally refinishing those stairs.  The slate in the kitchen needs to be replaced, and I've talked about building a pantry for years.  Good thing I can't find my tools.  For details on my tool dilemma, please read blog post May, 2010:

As far as the novel goes, I have left my antagonist standing in the middle of a cornfield as I type, resembling one of those stranded video game characters my son leaves on the screen when he ditches to grab a snack or go to the bathroom.  The video game persona folds his arms, taps his feet, waiting impatiently for the game controller to kick back in.  Maybe ignoring my antagonist for a little longer will add to his less-than-charming disposition?

I'm in avoidance mode.  No doubt about it.  The week before New Year's Day tends to amplify my inadequacies and weigh me down like Marley's chains (had to sneak a Scrooge reference in somehow). Maybe it's all those "Year in Review" shows that pelt us this week. Half of the events they show have me scratching my head asking, "Did that guy flying the plane into the IRS building really happen this year?  Seems like it was a few years ago."  This only adds to my sly suspicion that my memory is fading faster than anticipated, thus adding several more links to Marley's chain.  You get the picture.

So our reflection on our weaknesses and broken resolutions from the previous year build as the week progresses, thus pressuring us to make new resolutions to change our lives.

Last year I refused.  Maybe this year I'll give in a little.

Let's about...finish this blog post?

No, that's a lot to ask.  I might be reaching a bit, maybe I should start small.

Coffee, I need some coffee.

Resolution #1:  Brew a pot of coffee.  Regular or Hazelnut?  Oh, wait a minute, I wonder if we still have filters?  We were running rather low last time I checked.  Apparently I need to rethink things.

Revised Resolution #1:  Purchase filters for the coffee maker.  Brown or white?  I've never understood the difference between the brown and white filters sold in stores.  Maybe the brown filters are made from recycled materials and more environmentally friendly?  Or maybe the white filters are recycled.  Hmmmm.

New Resolution #1:  Research the difference between brown and white coffee filters.  Okay, not cool. After extensive research (Google), I am now freaked out about about both the brown and white coffee filters.  The brown filters are more environmentally friendly, but as one blogger writes, the brown filters are unbleached and might retain the remnants of warehouse vermin (rat blog), and another blogger writes the white filters are bleached (oxygenated) and might be exposing us to dioxins (poison blog).  This leaves me with the only logical solution, 23 kt gold filters, the Rolls Royce in safety and design (Ritzy blog).

Brand New, Better-than-Ever Resolution #1: Purchase a 23 kt gold coffee filter.  I surfed to the Bunn website.  It doesn't sell a 23 kt gold filter.

I hate New Year's Resolutions.

I'm going to Dunkin' Donuts for a rat pellet, dioxin-filled cup of coffee.  Hazelnut.

See ya next year.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, Where's My Albuterol Inhaler?

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and I as I pulled into the driveway after a hectic day at the 'ol Academy, I saw that a package had been dropped at our doorstep.  73 pounds of something, in a large, elongated cardboard box, and blocking the front doorway.

But what to my wondrous eyes could it be? I wondered, redundantly, stooping to take a closer look.

Why, it was an artificial Christmas tree.

And as I dragged the hefty box inside and down the stairs, settling in to unpack the festive limbs, I realized that this was no ordinary artificial tree.  Uh-uh.  This was a replica 6.5' Norway Spruce with 5,280 tip points and 600 color and clear lights, complete with a remote control with the option of snapping on color, clear, or both color and clear lights at the same time!

I re-heated some coffee and set to work bending and shaping the branches, donning the white gloves generously included in the box. When it was finished, we gathered around the tree, alternately taking turns clicking the remote.  Color, clear, both...color, clear both.  Ah, Christmas in the 21st Century.

It wasn't until later that night when it finally hit me.  The purchase of this artificial Christmas tree signaled the death knell of a time honored family tradition, sawing down a live tree.

Though, as I recall, our first such family endeavor wasn't exactly a Norman Rockwell moment.

(Insert Rod Serling Twilight Zone music here)

Picture, if you will, a pristine winter day, fifteen years ago.  Location:  Allen Hill Tree Farm, Brooklyn, CT.  On a whim, the family and I wheeled into the parking lot of the local tree farm, bent on selecting the perfect yuletide tree.

The temperature hovered near freezing, a bright December sky with traces of snow lingering in the air from the fresh coating that fell the night before.  The fields were dotted with people ducking in and out of lines of trees crisscrossing the landscape.  My stepsons, Michael, age 9, and Matthew, age 4, set off with their mother down the dirt path while I secured a tree cart and wood saw.

It took a bit of effort to catch up with them, but I managed, shuffling along the slushy road, the cart dragging behind, the cold air pressing in on my tightening lungs.

"This one!" shouted Michael.

"No, bigger!" yelled Matt.

The kids were flying in out of trees at breakneck speed. 

"Mike, Matt, be careful, there are other people out here," said my wife, Beth.

And indeed, we were convening on a popular spot.  To my right, a family of five had circled around a tree.  They looked resplendent in LL Bean wear, the children in matching scarves and fluffy ear muffs.  The father was sizing up an 8 foot spruce, while the mother was dispensing a Thermos of hot chocolate in mugs clutched in tiny mittened hands. 

Beth sidled in close to me, nodding toward the Christmas scene unfolding before our eyes. "Look at that.  Isn't it nice?"

I coughed.

The father asked the family if this was "the one." They answered in perfect unison, "Yes, Daddy, yes."  The family encircled the tree, and then began singing Silent Night, while the father knelt down, gracefully wielding the saw, and within six passes of the blade, the tree silently fell to earth, nestling into the snow.  As if on cue, a tractor appeared, towing a trailer of trees and more singing LL Bean families, rosy-cheeked and swilling cider and cocoa.

 "Got room for you," said the tractor guy, dressed as Father Christmas.  He hopped off the John Deere and helped the father wrestle the tree onto the trailer.  The family climbed aboard and off they went, tractor, trees, cocoa. Up the road and out of sight.

We were left alone.

I coughed again, redundantly.

Mike and Matt reemerged.  "Found one!" Mike announced.

Beth and I followed the boys through a maze of trees and ended up standing  in front of a stout 6 footer, round and full.  Beth circled it.

I coughed. 

"This one's not too bad," she said.

"What do you think boys?" I asked, testing a sharp tooth of the saw.  My numb thumb began to bleed.

The boys started whipping pine cones at each other.

"Wanna get in a circle, around the tree?"  I asked.

A pine cone whizzed at my nose.

"Sing a carol or two?"

The boys began wrestling as another family emerged with a perfect tree.  Tractor number two arrived.  This one driven by a plump elf.  Everyone dressed in flannel, festive hats, smiling.  Everyone was singing.  The tractor drove off.

I turned back to Beth just in time to see Matt, dressed in torn jeans and a ragged sweatshirt, take a header into the only mud puddle visible for 9 acres.  The kid was covered in brown muck.  Suddenly, the sun sank 10,000 miles and a strong chilly breeze kicked up.  I decided to take matters into my own hands and knelt to cut the tree.  The branches were thick and low to the ground.  I crawled beneath, pulling in close to the trunk and raking the saw against the base of the pine, but couldn't maneuver my body at the right angle to extend my arms to effectively cut it.

Beth and Mike were attempting to retrieve a sobbing Matthew from the puddle.  Through the branches I could see him, resembling more of a mud-fudge popsicle than a crying little boy.

I struggled to get the saw going.  I could feel my chest tightening, the coughing jags increasing.  Five minutes of sawing and I was only a quarter of the way through.  Beth and the boys stood nearby now, slowly inching closer.

I started wheezing.

"How's it going, honey?"

"I'm c-c-c-o-l-d," chattered Matt.

"This sucks," said Mike.  "I want some hot chocolate.  What's taking so long?"

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  Ten minutes of sawing and I was only halfway through the tree.

It was at this point that I started to notice the stares.  You know, the ones from onlookers who sort of want to lend a hand, but don't want to infringe.  They stand off to the side, with that "no I'm not really paying attention to your sawing inadequacies, but I am looking at you with that rubber-necking car crash stare."

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  "What the hell," I yelled.  "Is this a pine or oak for Chrissakes!"

"Ah, honey?"  Beth asked.

"@#$^%!!!! tree!"  Cough, wheeze, cough, wheeze.

"Say, Mister, I gotta chainsaw in my truck," a man finally offered.

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  My lungs locked into a spasm.  "%^^%$!!!  You're mine now, tree!!!!  Yeah!!! Going down, sucker!!!!"

"Mommy, why is that man screaming at the Christmas tree?" a little girl asked.

Zhee, Zhee, Zhee, Zhee.... "Yeah! You dirtly little mutha!"

The tree tumbled down, and I pulled myself into a kneeling position, a predatory grin crossing my frozen face.

The two families standing nearby slowly edged away, mothers holding their little ones in close.

I turned to see my family gawking, staring silently at the wheezing lumberjack hacking up snowball-sized phlegm before them.

"Good job, Pop," Mike finally said.

Tired, cold, wheezing, and on the verge of vomiting, I dragged the tree to the edge of the road waiting for the arrival of Father Christmas or that fat little Elf on his John Deere.

They never came.

                                      The fake tree.                    circa 2010