This column originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune Dec. 5, 2017
Christmas decorations, I’ve concluded, are like politicians: At first full of promise, but, if left too long unsupervised, prone to false hopes, hidden flaws and numerous instances of substandard performance.
Over the years, I’ve continually wondered how a string of outdoor lights, working perfectly when removed from bushes in early January and lying undisturbed on a basement shelf for the following 11 months can suddenly fail to light when tested in December.
How can a Nativity scene, meticulously packed away in Styrofoam and bubble wrap, become home to a colony of mice, a fact I discovered when unwrapping the baby Jesus’ manger last week?
Why, in 2017, does my singing Santa decide he no longer wants to croon songs of the season, despite the fresh batteries I dutifully fed into his belly? Did some sort of Christmas coup take place last August? Were the mice involved? Or Mitch McConnell?
Yes, decorating my house each Christmas always comes with multiple trips to the holiday decor aisles at my hardware store, to replace what inexplicably no longer works. Personally, I don’t think shelf life should be an issue for something that’s only required to perform for 30 days. The light in my refrigerator illuminates multiple times daily and it lasted 15 years.
But, just as I liken Christmas decorations to flip flopping, backstabbing congressional representatives, I have recently dubbed one of my mandatory holiday accessories “Robert Mueller.”
My Christmas tree stand.
It deserves the name, for, like the special counsel currently investigating alleged Russian election interference, it possesses an unwavering ability to do its job, despite the chaos unfurling around it.
My wife and I have purchased 24 live Christmas trees during our marriage, never once being lured by the ease of setting up the artificial variety. Our first stand, constructed primarily of plastic and obtained at some store that caters to newlyweds with little money, did a fine job of holding the tree erect.
Or so we thought.
We giddily decorated it while listening to our now-merged collection of holiday CDs and retired to bed. Three hours later we awoke to a loud crash and a subsequent scene resembling the aftermath of a successful carpet bombing operation. The tree now rested horizontally across our coffee table, fragments of lights and ornaments littering the floor. We salvaged what we could, righted the tree and vowed to get a new stand, one that would do its job without the aid of an unsightly rope, now tied to the trunk’s midsection, and anchored to a hastily installed bolt in our new townhouse’s exterior wall.
The “falling tree” incident played out numerous times in our first years of marriage; it became a topic worthy of a wager, as in, “Twenty bucks says the tree falls before December 15.” Numerous tree stands were purchased and quickly discarded, for none were up to the challenge of holding a Fraser fir in place.
And then, while perusing after Christmas sales, my wife came home with Mueller, a stand that appeared to have been crafted by a team of frustrated welders whose own trees had toppled. The stand required my help to lift it from my wife’s trunk; it was made entirely of steel, with bolts thick enough to pierce a sequoia. The stand’s base could hold half a gallon of water. I don’t know who manufactured this monstrosity, for it contained no label or writing of any kind. My wife only knew that it was 80 percent off its original $100 price tag
The following Christmas we put the stand to the test. As my wife held the trunk straight, I tightened the eyebolts, finally uttering the dreaded words, “OK, let go.”
The trunk moved not a fraction. It was as if we placed an unruly toddler into a “time out” chair and said, “Now stay there for the next 30 days … or else!”
Every Christmas since, as I deal with frayed extension cords, malfunctioning reindeer and cracked ornaments, one thing remains certain: Mueller is the least of my worries.
I bet President Trump wishes he could utter that same sentence.