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The Leaning Tower of Christmas

We set out, as all families do, to find a tree with a quiet Bavarian dignity, nothing too grand. Good posture is important. A certain Northwoods musk perhaps. Fullness around the belly. That’s about it.
Now our new tree sits in a corner of the den, listing 12 degrees starboard, as if a little whipped by the crazy events of the day.
Meet our latest tree: The Leaning Tower of Christmas.
Obviously, everyday life is just a little harder for me. Of all my friends, I have the plainest house. Cozy, comfortable, the roof doesn’t leak, yet it’s hardly a showplace. And when we set out to buy a tree from the YMCA charity lot, I know to sneak a peek at the bank balance first.
So, there we are, in the tree lot, on a rainy Sunday. The trees are still dripping a little from an earlier downpour. In about 15 minutes, we zero in on one, and the Tree People lug it off for a fresh cut and a new stand.
“Eyeballs on the tree!” I tell Smartacus and Rapunzel. “I need eyeballs on that tree!”
Because when you look over at the busy work area, there are always three or four trees on sawhorses, getting a little work. The Tree People are flipping the patients this way and that, like Big 10 cheerleaders, high with occasional somersaults. It would be super easy to mix them up, so that the tree we pick isn’t the tree we buy.
It’d be like leaving a holiday party with the wrong woman. Which happens.
I leave Smartacus in charge of the tree, and Rapunzel in charge of Smartacus. I go to pay: 2,000 bucks, or whatever it costs these days for a crooked 7-foot tree, nothing too grand. Plus a sturdy stand.
Now, do you think for a moment that I would inspect the tree after they install the stand, to be sure it’s a 90-degree installation? No. Because this is only my 40th Christmas buying a family tree. And, as I said, life is just a little bit harder for me.
That’s why now, a few hours later, the Leaning Tower of Christmas is listing 12 degrees starboard … no wait, 13 degrees … 14 degrees. Apparently, it’s about to lie down for a nap.
“It’s dancing, Dad,” says Rapunzel.
“They all sway a little,” I tell her.
“Like the great skyscrapers,” adds Smartacus.
“Is it on rollers too?” Rapunzel asks.
When we get the tree home, the most-beautiful tree we could find (for only $2,000), and realize it is a little bit bent – not much, 12-24 degrees — I try to twist it back upright … I try to shoulder it plumb.
“There, that’ll do it.”
“Still leaning, Dad,” says the lovely and patient older daughter, with the gauzy eyes of someone who has seen this too many times before.
And there is, we determine, the slight possibility that the stand may be leaking. Not quickly, not like my car: Rhonda the Honda.
This is more of a slow leak, so that there’s always a shiny layer of slime just beneath the tree, enough to wet the beautifully wrapped presents and slip down between the new laminate and the subfloor, ruining everything.
It is as if our tree, purchased primarily for its Bavarian dignity and incredible stature, has an oozy bladder.
Once again, this is something we realize a little too late — after the lights are on, after hundreds of ornaments and heirlooms have been lovingly placed … after we make Posh’s famous chicken chili, put on some Streisand, throw a log on the fire, chase Cakes ‘round and ‘round the kitchen squealing, scold Penny Laine for stealing her bread, sing Handel’s Messiah as Smartacus places the angel atop the tree…
Point is, we discover the possible leak just a little too late.
“Worst case,” I tell Suzanne later, “is that I have to take off all the ornaments, all the lights, lash the tree to the roof of Rhonda the Honda, and return it to the tree lot, where the generally confused and super-nice teenaged Tree People will look at me slightly askance, with the underlying assumption that this dude can’t even purchase a simple Christmas tree — and what is he? Like, 80?”
Suzanne laughs, but not too hard, which is probably what I like about her more than anything.
No, worst case: We don’t have a cozy little house, with three funny kids to help me decorate for the holidays, and a granddaughter/elf who is buzzed on Christmas, twirling about, as if to Tchaikovsky. And chased by a very hungry pup.
Worst case? I have none of this.

For books, past columns and gifts, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com. Email the author at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com

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