Lanier’s note: Luke Boggs is not only a talented corporate speech writer, he’s married to our own dear Laura. Here’s a piece he wrote (and the Georgia Public Radio broadcast of it!) on the joys of the manly side of putting up the Christmas tree. Enjoy!
A Regular Guy’s Guide to Handling the Big One
This holiday season, millions of American men will face the ultimate Yuletide challenge, a task far more difficult than buying for the wife at the last minute or putting together maddeningly complicated toys in the wee hours of Christmas morning.
I’m referring, of course, to the very tricky business of handling the oversized Christmas tree. Picking it out. Bringing it home. Moving it in. Putting it up. Taking it down. Getting it out. Oh Tannenbaum, indeed!
I’m here to help. But, don’t worry, I’m not a super handy fix-it guru, a do-it-yourself Saturday morning masochist or some sort of pathetic Tim Allen-wannabe. I don’t bleed Home Depot orange. No, I’m just a regular guy, with less than average skills, looking to help you handle a perennial holiday headache with as little hassle, exertion, pain and suffering as possible.
And, trust me, this isn’t the first time I’ve done more by doing less. In the fall, for example, I like to use the gale-force side blast from my lawn tractor to blow leaves off the grass while I’m riding around the yard, sitting proudly on my can as my rake gathers dust. So I know what I’m doing.
Obviously, the best way to handle the plus-sized Christmas tree is to avoid tangling with one in the first place. This outcome is best accomplished by offering to pick up (and pick out) the tree all by yourself, as a seemingly thoughtful gesture to the woman in your life. This approach allows you to score a smallish tree without looking like a weenie, arguing for the little one while your honey insists on something better suited to Rockefeller Center.
If you can’t get away with grabbing the tree by yourself – perhaps you have a scrupulously observed tradition of picking out the tree as a family – do what you can to avoid the big one at the tree lot. Be smart, be crafty, and don’t worry too much about looking like a weenie. You’ll thank yourself later, believe me.
One high hurdle facing you at the lot is the tendency of tree salespeople to gently direct buyers toward larger (and more expensive) trees. Here, a 20 spot, surreptitiously slipped to the would-be upseller, can be money very well spent.
Please note that sarcasm rarely works when negotiating over a tree with your sweetheart. A few years back, my wife and I were selecting a tree – OK, she was picking it out and I was working damage control – when this super-fat monster caught her fancy. “Let’s get this one,” she enthused. “Are you kidding me?” I said, incredulous. She wasn’t kidding, and she didn’t realize I wasn’t either. We got the tree.
In this, as in many other endeavors, it is advisable to let others to do your work for you when possible. So, once the Rubicon is crossed, and you’ve agreed to buy the big one, be sure to let the folks at the lot help prepare the tree for shipping and setup. The extensive assistance now provided by most lots is one of the breakthrough conveniences of our time, up there with pay-at-the-pump gas and Internet book stores.
At the nursery we go to – chosen by my wife for its rustic natural beauty, fresh trees and remote location – the people are very helpful, even after they have your money. They trim the trunk, drill holes in the bottom, wrap the tree in this nifty plastic netting and help lash the tree to the car.
It should be noted here that guys driving late-model luxury SUVs – never-off-road suburban assault vehicles by the likes of Lexus and Lincoln – should come prepared with an old blanket to protect the top of your showroom-fresh rig from sap and sharp edges. Guys like me, who drive beat-up old minivans, can leave the blanket at home.
If you ask, the folks at the lot may even go the extra mile of attaching the tree stand for you, no small matter considering how easily this basic task can spiral out of control when you’re at home, struggling to shoehorn a too-large trunk into a too-small stand, working in a cold drizzle with nothing but a Boy Scout hatchet and a screwdriver. (Don’t ask.)
You should, by the way, plan on using a quality tree stand. There are many times in life when cheaper is better, when products of marginal quality will work just fine. This, however, is not one of those times, so treat yourself to a decent stand.
I traded up to a newfangled, 21st-century model last year. Some mechanical wizard, no doubt on leave from drawing up earthquake-proof casinos or the next-generation Mars explorer – came up with a brilliant design that – I kid you not – allows even the lamest handy-slacker to stand a tree up straight in five minutes flat.
Here’s how it works. You insert the tree trunk into this special bulb, attaching it with the familiar four-hand-turned-bolts setup. Then, you stick the bulb-tipped trunk into a massive plastic base, stand the tree up more-or-less straight – no need to be too precise – and lock it in place with a foot pedal. Slick, huh?
When you realize – inevitably – that your trunk isn’t exactly 90 degrees to the horizontal, just flip the pedal back up, fix the tree and close it again, no sweat. Suffice it to say, human ingenuity hasn’t been put to such exquisite good use since the guys at the brewery started turning out those guzzle-friendly beer cans with the extra-wide mouth.
Now that you have your tree standing up straight, you’re ready for the extended moment on everyone’s holiday highlight reel, the excruciating 18 minutes during which the woman you love searches desperately for the best side of the tree. “This is it,” she says, “No, wait a minute. What about that side? Can you turn it a quarter-turn clockwise? Hold it. I meant counter-clockwise. Wait. Slow down. Back a little bit the other way.” And so on. And so on. And so on.
Do yourself a favor here. When you erect the tree, don’t put it against the wall or in the corner right away. Instead, stand it up close to the spot you have picked out for it, but leave enough room for your sweetheart to walk around the monster and inspect it more or less unencumbered. She can pick out the best side without you having to pick it up and turn it 37 times.
Once she’s chosen a side to her liking, you’ll want to move quickly to seal the deal before she changes here mind. Get the green behemoth in its final position and start anchoring it to the wall. Sink a couple of screws in some hearty wood trim nearby and tie the trunk to the screws with sturdy green florist wire. (Hardy and unobtrusive: can’t beat that combo.) Not only does the tie-down keep kids and other valuables from being crushed under a twice-toppled tree, it also signals the definitive end of this year’s tree-turning season. Hooray.
Let’s face it, guys, moving a Christmas tree is about as much fun as stopping at an outlet mall in the middle of a 14-hour car trip. It’s pure torture. And there’s a lot of sticky goo involved that even the sadists behind roadside outlets can’t match. So be sure to wear the right clothes when you put up – and take down – your tree.
Wear gloves, serious-yard-work leather ones, not those good-for-nothing canvas jobs. If you don’t do much in the way of serious yard work-– and I admire you for that – rubber dishwashing gloves will do in a pinch. Also wear a heavy, long-sleeved shirt that you wouldn’t mind ruining because, chances are, you will. Goggles – dust-covered leftovers from college chem lab – are optional.
Now, about the takedown. You know what a pain this is. Your massive tree, while limber and neatly wrapped in webbing on the way in, has petrified into a stone-cold statue by Christmas, let alone New Years. And snow? Your tree is snowing needles every time the furnace creates even a whisper of a breeze.
The technique called for here – and it is a technique – is not unlike the one Raymond Burr used to get his wife’s body out of the apartment in “Rear Window.” Now as then, the trick is to dismember the prickly and cantankerous old hag before she drives you nuts.
Put away the chainsaw. What you need is decent set of hedge clippers, the ones that look like overgrown wire snips. Grab them out of the garage and start whacking off limbs like Ben Kenobi in the “Star Wars” cantina. Toss the limbs onto a waiting yard blanket and don’t let up. Keep going until your “tree” resembles Charlie Brown’s pathetic little spruce in everything but size. Use the blanket to collect and carry away the limbs.
At this point, you should let the forces of nature work for you. Some years back, my wife and I lived in a third-floor apartment in one of those hopelessly homogenized suburban apartment complexes, the ones with a dozen buildings and 24 open stairwells. This was a place you really didn’t want to haul a tree in and out of.
So I employed the irresistible power of gravity, dragging the tree carcass onto our humble balcony under cover of darkness and deftly dumping it over the side. (All right, there was nothing “deft” about the entire operation, but it did work pretty well.) Before dumping, be sure to check the ground below for any wayward pets or unsuspecting wild animals.
Once you have the beast outside, continue to work smart. If you’re not going far – the curb or trunk of your car – just grab a large bottom limb with your still-gloved hands. If you plan to drag the thing deep into the woods – your woods, of course – try looping a rope or heavy cord around the fat end of the trunk and drag away. Not only does the thing drag really well like this, the cord will keep you from getting within 15 feet of all that nasty sap. No need to ruin another shirt on the way out.
Recycling is a nice thought if you’re into it. Last year, a nearby school had a sign announcing “CHIPPER HERE JANUARY 8.” Living in Atlanta, I was excited to hear that Chipper Jones was dropping by to give the kids a pep talk about working hard and staying in school. I got misty-eyed recalling the time Chief Knockahoma visited my grammar school.
Later, when I saw something about recycled trees, I realized that the only CHIPPER coming to my neighborhood was an odd-looking metal appliance capable of turning a serious Christmas tree into tiny little chips faster than you can say “going, going, gone.” So, take your tree to the chipper – just don’t count on seeing any big league ballplayers.
Now you’re done. After all that not-quite-as-hard work, you deserve a break. Sit down. Breathe easy. Have a cup of coffee. Read a magazine. Better still, take a nap. And get a head start resting up for next year.