It is early Thanksgiving morning. The Holiday Season has officially begun for Americans everywhere. As is my tradition, this is the morning I put up and decorate my Christmas Tree-Hanukah Bush-Tannenbaum. It is, as anyone who has ever talked to me—even briefly on a bus, in a supermarket check-out line, a doctor’s waiting room, or a hallucination—something of which I am quite proud. It is an artificial white tree with only pink and purple ornaments. Every shade of those colors is represented, even some not yet created. The tradition was born as a joke in the late 1980s, a whimsy, but became an annual part of my holidays.
It is 7:43 a.m. While my coffee is brewing—I use the words “coffee” and “brewing” liberally because I am microwaving instant coffee, the cheapest brand—I pull out from under the guest bedroom bed the boxed artificial tree, followed by approximately 417 boxes, bags, plastic bins, and carry-on suitcases filled with pink and purple decorations. Each is individually wrapped in newspaper, colorful tissue paper, Kleenex, or bubble-wrap. And love. Once stacked on the floor and on tables in the living room, the containers seem to teem with excitement as the fragile ornaments sense liberation is near.
But before I free my holiday decorations, I fill my casita with appropriate holiday music. I play “The Little Drummer Boy,” the 1976 disco version by the Salsoul Orchestra. I dance for a moment, but realize with frustration that my pointy Santa’s elf slippers make that difficult and stop. Angry and disappointed that I can’t disco to that seasonal drummer dude, I plead for help from my goddess. “I need Barbra,” I whine. This is the 617, 398th time I have whined that three-word phrase in my life. I know because I keep lists of everything. Everything. I replace “The Little Drummer Boy” and its rapid pa-rum-pum-pum-pum with one of Ms. Streisand’s three Christmas albums. It seems proper; a Jew singing Christmas carols and classics while another Jew decorates an artificial Christmas tree in pink and purple.
I assemble the tree. It’s a snap. Literally. One snaps the three sections into each other. Then I insert the branches and when the final one is in place, I separate and splay them. I only poke myself in the eye with a branch end twice. This is a record low. I am proud of myself. I place the white and gray tree skirt around the base. It is an actual tree skirt, not one of my skirts. I don’t have skirts. I’m a grandfatherly man, for God sakes. I only have loose-fitting, figure-hiding dresses.
I look at the clock. It is 8:39. Oh no, I think. I’ve forgotten my coffee. It’ll be cold. I zap it again. I begin opening the multitude of boxes and bags of ornaments. I hear the microwave ding. But I see my seventh favorite ornament—I said I keep lists—and it begins to hug and kiss me with joy. OK. Maybe it didn’t actually hug and kiss me. Maybe I instigated the expressions of love. After several seconds of tenderness, though, I hang the delicate pink pig on the tree. Then the cluster of purple grapes. Then the hot pink Santa. Then the pink flamingo and the purple Elvis. The dusty rose pink Victorian woman’s shoe is next, then the pink poodle, purple violin, and the pink ballet slippers. By the time I hang the purple University of Washington glass globe, my back begins to hurt from the repeated bending and awkward stretching. I stand, trying to exorcise the ache, and remember the coffee. I turn to salvage the aging crystals, but spot Barbie. She, in her fancy pink gown, is flirting with me. I caress her and place her on the tree. Then I spy the purple Prince figurine from his Purple Rain Era and hang the mini-musician several branches away from Barbie. I separate them with a silvery purple spider web complete with a spider named Spike. I do this in case there is sexual attraction. There will be no procreating among my ornaments. My tree is not a day-care facility or preschool.
My back no longer aches. It is beyond that. The stress on it from the repeated lifting of the glass figures has taken its toll; they’ve put on weight lying inactive under the bed. The crippling stiffness is more painful than swallowing an ornament hook. How would I know that? one might ask. Well don’t ask. Let me just say I should have learned my lesson after the first, second, or even the third ingested ornament hook mishap. That pain, by the way, is fourth on my Top Ten Most Painful Experiences list. Like I said, I keep a lot of lists.
As I watch Purple Elvis dangle from the perfect branch, I think Where’s Jimi’s guitar? I thought it was in this box. But I see the purple plum and pale pink fish with magenta stripes and hang them. When I return to the box in which they had been, Jimi’s guitar is staring at me, stretching its neck, trying to get my attention. I know the deep purple guitar is Jimi’s because when I place it near my ear, I can hear “Purple Haze.”
I hang the purple Mexican death mask ornament, then the pink tropical flower, hot pink race car, purple bird, the lavender fan, shrimp-colored but not flavored cupcake, and pale pink butterfly. Barbra is singing fellow Jew Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” in the background. I lip sync even though I don’t understand why Chester’s nuts are roasting on an open fire.
Before Barbra has finished the next track, I have hung the lilac tutu-adorned ballerina, the deep purple Star of David, the pink poodle, the neon pink high-top tennis shoes, and the purple snowflake. I’m on a roll. The ornaments are practically throwing themselves on the tree. I see a vibrant pink rose resting on an upper branch. I don’t recall taking it out of a box and putting it there. But I hear my mirrored Saturn with its pale purple rings call me from a bag on an end table. I lift it out of its card-box bed as it pleads, “I wanna be by Barbie again this year.” I suspend the planetary decoration near the miniature doll. Barbie smiles and greets her friend. “I’ve missed you, Sattie,” she says. “How’s it hangin’?”
The next time I look at the clock, it is 11:56. I have hung the last two ornaments, a pink elephant and a scroll containing a printed paragraph of purple prose. Despite my back demanding I sit, lie, or kill myself, I stare at the tree, thinking I have completed the project. But I have not. I begin the first edit, rearranging ornaments, filling in holes. I do not separate Barbie and Sattie. At 12:17 p.m. I find satisfaction, albeit temporary I know, and begin to return the now empty boxes, bags, and other containers to their home under the bed. As I lift the last ones off the coffee table, I notice a bulging black Hefty Trash Bag on the floor.
What’s that? I think and look inside. “Oh shiiiiiiiit!” I roar loud enough for the neighbors to hear, the deceased neighbors from my childhood. “The lights! All 24 strings. I forgot to string them. They have to go on first. I have to start all over.”
Instead, however, after eight aborted attempts at having my morning coffee, I, with my aching back, hobble back to bed where I, caffeine-deprived, immediately fall asleep with visions of a sugar-plum fairy . . . a pink one dressed in purple, of course . . . dancing in my head.
In the living room, Barbra sings “Silent Night.” It is my 14th favorite Christmas carol.