Putting up the tree

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By Sean Dietrich

My wife is putting up our Christmas tree. It’s a pencil-thin artificial tree we bought when we first got married 16 years ago. It is filled with memories of yuletide warmth, love, joy and possibly the devil.
I say this because I am trying to fix the thing so it will at least stand upright. But it won’t. This tree is an outdated antique that can’t stand upright without its medication. Every time I get it in place, the red-and-green Christmas-tree stand—the worst invention of the 20th century—malfunctions and the tree falls over.
Also, since we’re talking about trees, my wife needs more lights. If there are any young married men reading this, wondering what marriage is like, I can help.
Do you remember that famous scene from “Jaws?” Right after the shark has shown its awesome and frightening head, Roy Scheider takes a step backward and tells the captain, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
It’s sort of like that. Only in this particular case, you are Roy Scheider, and your wife is the man-eating shark. Or at least, she will be if her Christmas tree sucks this year.
“We’re gonna need more lights,” you say, taking a step backward toward the door.
This is basically what it means to be in a committed relationship with a woman.
The main issue with these strands of lights is that they are junk and have a lifespan of forty minutes before burning out.
Even worse, news reports are constantly telling us how these lights are unsafe, and how every year they cause electrical house fires. Many families have experienced great losses because of these crummy lights and are left devastated, out in the cold, with no possessions, having no choice but to send Dad back to the store to buy more white lights.
Which is what my wife is asking me to do right now. And believe me, I fully intend to buy more lights. Just as soon as I can get this stupid, godforsaken, Satanic tree to stand upright.
12:11 P.M.—The store is packed because it is a few days before Thanksgiving, and this is Florida. Everyone in the U.S. comes to Florida for Thanksgiving. It’s the natural order of the world. When Florida was admitted as a state in 1845, President John Tyler deemed the state as:
“A place where everyone’s grandkids shall visit for Thanksgiving without being required to use turn signals.”
The store is a complete nuthouse. There are out-of-towners everywhere clogging the aisles, pushing buggies that contain enough food to feed unincorporated townships. In one shopping cart I count nine turkeys.
Nine.
When I get to the Christmas decor aisle things are out of control. I discover that the store has run out of lights. Which, truthfully, makes me relieved.
I’m thinking, “Phew! At least this means I don’t have to stand in those long lines.”
So I am on my way out the door, whistling, twirling my keys on my finger, when I get a text message from my wife. Her verbatim message reads: “Please get celery, garlic, dog food, and one extension cord. LOL.”
LOL
1:32 P.M.—I am standing in a long single-file line stretching clear back to Alaska and I can see the Chukchi Sea over the horizon. I am cold. The line is not moving. Because in this entire store there are only two cashiers on duty, both compete to see who can move slowest.
Whenever one cashier begins moving slower than the other, the other reacts by using her blinking checkout-lane light. This is international code for “price check.”
Price checks can only be done by qualified store employees who shuffle instead of walk, and suffer from moderate to severe depression. But hey, price checking is evidently a very hard job because these checks can sometimes take about as long as the Protestant Reformation.
Maybe this is why the other 11,927 Walmart shoppers are using the self-checkout lanes. I hate self-checkouts. Mankind was doing great until we invented self-service banking and self-checkout lanes in the supermarket. As a result, society is a mess.
Which only leads me to ask what’s next. Am I to be expected to cook my own T-bone steak at Waffle House? Should I do my own root canals, cut my own hair, and physically walk to the refrigerator to get my own beer?
2:29 P.M.—I decided to abandon the cashier line and use the self-checkout lane.
I scan one item and there is a problem with the computer. I hear a loud government-style beeping and a computerized female voice says in a German accent, “Stop! Assistance needed, assistance needed…”
I’m looking around for assistance, but there is none. Most of the store employees are out back having knife fights over who has to do the next price check.
So I end up standing around like a stump for (this is an actual number) 182 minutes.
4:53 P.M.—A teenage employee arrives to offer assistance. The kid discovers that there is no barcode on my celery.
“Price check on celery,” he says.
5:10 P.M.—Finally the employee returns, wiping lobster bisque from his chin with a napkin, holding the correct celery. I pay my bill. I take my receipt. I let out a sigh of relief because it is over. I am home free.
My phone vibrates. Another text message from my wife. It reads: “B4 U leave the store, plz buy a new Christmas tree. Ours just fell down. Thx. LOL.”
We’re gonna need more lights.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South.

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