Crispy

Every year I find a way of getting my neighbors’ abandoned christmas trees into a vehicle and out to the Doggy Diner Head. Some years I have the right vehicle, sliding down Sloat Avenue like so many unobtrusive commercial carriers. Some years I have a somewhat righter vehicle, feeling the wind on the bay bridge but knowing I am not so bad at knots… or am I? One year I had the righteous vehicle, and attached so many trees inside and out that I kind of looked like a… motorized pine bush.

But this year, I notice with some sadness, no trees were available by our dumpsters. Was it the pernicious sign left by our passive agressive resident manager warning us not to dispose of things larger than the dumpsters themselves? It’s not sporting of the manager, but at least it cues a couple other warnings I grew up with: (1) don’t eat food larger than your head and (2) nothing smaller than an elbow in your ear
.

I look up at the second floors of our former box factory, which appear empty of any holiday decoration. It could be our chi-chi work live residents don’t celebrate Christmas. There’s been perpetual turnover, due to the impermanence of our New Economy. I haven’t kept track of who’s up there anyway. The sky is big and to the right of the building. The freeway is on the other side of the fence I’m next to. I feel I am being watched, but resist the urge to move along. It’s such a nice composition, I have to dwell.

So this year, no tree in the car. No refreshing pine scent. No bizarre appearance of needles six months after the car has been vacuumed. No mischeviousness of destroying a rental. On the way to the Doggy Diner Head I spot one, a three-footer, pathetic, but we’re moving too fast to circle back and abscond. The peculiar absence, in fact, of trees from the sidewalks makes me think that maybe, since I wasn’t really paying attention, christmas trees are out of fashion or maybe, for the same reason, they are now collapsible and can be flushed down the drain. I imagine the sound of hands clip-clapping, that’s-thating over the gurgling bowl. All gone. Bye-bye Xmas.

It were not so. In front of the Doggie Diner Head, scores of trees are poking out of truck beds, back seats and trunk wells. Babies are being bounced. Dogs are whirling in the air. People are ordering corn dogs. Michael Michael steps out of a Jellystone episode with his ranger uniform and passes strike-anywheres to each arriving guest. We all instinctively store them in our mouths. Our numbers grow for the next hour, until he brings us to attention by asking

  • Does anyone have a light?

And with such sweetness, but true corniness, but with such feeling, and with such depth of spirit, Michael Michael informs us that this is his last time assembling us for this purpose. The matches have been distributed so that we are now equipped to carry the torch. We itch and murmur and stir in a pre conflagrated agitation. Some of us have had too much to drink already. Some of us haven’t had enough. I wanted to believe he was telling the truth, felt suspicious that this was just one more prank from a life-long prankster, and then was prematurely kicking myself for letting the moment pass without drinking more of it in. I moved the match slowly in my mouth.

Undisturbed by agents of conformity, we trundled down to the cliff edge and threw christmas trees, dozens and dozens of christmas trees, for the next several hours more and more relentlessly over the edge. Scrabbling down, grabbing the collars of anyone who might be going down too fast, we circled and ignited. By the light of a fire about twenty feet across and twenty feet high, well, by the light of a very dangerous and intense fire, I could see the tide was going out.

Good.

Got home so much later, socks crunchy with sand. As the gate was rolling back to admit us, I noticed a tree by the dumpster.

I think we missed it by an hour or so. Since I was still chewing my match, albeit more gently because it might become a collector’s item, I asked if I should light it up.

They’ll know right who to come to if a christmas tree ignites in the parking lot, said the wise man behind the wheel.

I suppose.

But I’d be carrying on a tradition.

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