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Hating the Whos

THIS IS THE TALE of the holiday letter and the handgun, with the legend of the discarded tree and the decapitated other tree tossed in.

For unimportant reasons, it wasn’t until the morning of Jan. 6 that I sat down by the roaring fireplace to write my annual holiday letter. Let’s call it an early valentine greeting; mine had been a hectic season. Cup of tea steaming on the sofa table and down pillows plumped around me, I was ready to compose a heartwarming note of at least limping genius, when the police arrived.

Out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter that I sprang from the sofa to, well, you know. Two officers stood on the corner over a fallen Christmas tree that appeared to have been chucked out of some passing car during the night. One uniformed fellow reached into the tree’s sad little rejected branches and pulled out, not a plum, but a big, black handgun. He shook the snow out of it and peered at it intently. He pointed it down at the sidewalk edging my house, and the swinging muzzle of the thing prompted me to remove my head from the window and take shelter inside.

Along about this time, in an unrelated maneuver, two tree trimmers hired by the city arrived to carve the branches off another boulevard tree, this one rooted and growing and mere yards from the police. One snowsuit-swaddled worker climbed the ladder carrying a chain saw and the other one stayed on the ground yelling encouragement. It was Trimmer No. 1’s first surgery, and when she started up the saw, the saw’s kick knocked the ladder loose from the tree and she swayed in the breeze. The ground-bound trimmer never wavered in his optimism. He straightened the ladder and yelled, “Beautiful! You’re doing great!” as half-hacked limbs rained down around him. Worker No. 1 yelped, I hoped not in pain.

Back at the corner, one officer still held the gun gingerly while the other opened a manila envelope. Since I am a regular “Monk” viewer, I cleverly discerned they were attempting to keep fingerprints off the piece and bag it. Meanwhile, the tree trimmer dropped a branch into the ladder. Her co-worker on the ground continuously offered words of good cheer —”Beautiful! Beautiful!”— as he gathered up the fallen branches. The inevitable happened. He happily gathered up the branch caught in the rungs of the ladder, took off toward the wood chipper, and the ladder wobbled out from the tree again. Worker No. 1 made one of those noises that toddler’s toys make when you squeeze them, but Cheerful Guy righted the ladder and the sawing zinged on. Evidence collected, the police offered the tiny, discarded tree to the trimmers, who agreed to turn it into woodchips.

Which left me to consider the meaning of life, sitting there on the sofa in my living room, by the lights of my own, beloved and not discarded or dismembered, Christmas tree, where I had meant to wax philosophical about the importance of holidays in our lives and the value of remembering those we love with a touted-up list of children’s accomplishments and a postage stamp. Someone else had remembered the season by taking out the tree (on his neighbor’s corner, mind) and, while he was at it, dumping the evidence. The only witness was the silent linden tree, which later paid the price by having its limbs lopped off amid startled yelps and bellowed bravos. I puzzled and puzzled ’til my puzzler was sore trying to come up with a scenario for that tossed handgun that did not involve something sinister. Who would have done this? Some Who hunting a deer for New Year’s dinner, with no bow, no arrow, and no shotgun but just this handy little Glock. Maybe some Who saving a baby brother from a life of crime by the selfless act of cleaning out the gun cabinet at home and distributing the hardware all over town. Or even a Who shopping for so many holiday gifts for the sportsmen in his life that his shopping bag broke and one gun buried itself nose down in the snow of my garden.

But I didn’t believe any of the stories I made up for myself. So I just sat there, all Christmasy, hating the Whos. And I wasn’t particularly impressed with those tree trimmers, either.

This was published in the Southwest Journal January 28, 2008.

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