I spent last night performing surgery on our Christmas tree. It's one of those artificial ones, the kind that comes in three pieces and has the Christmas lights already strung around the limbs. It weighs a lot, and is a little unwieldy to handle while you are putting it together, but once you get the three parts assembled all you have to do is plug all the cords for the lights into their assigned receptacles and the whole thing lights right up, ready to be decorated with ornaments. That's how it has worked for the last eight years. This year it's a little more complicated.
I normally don't pay much attention to any of this after I get the thing assembled. S. is the tree decorator. She starts with a basic arrangement of ornaments and adds a few everyday as she remembers where she stashed them away. Some are mementos, given to her by friends. Others are sentimental keepsakes that have been deemed much to valuable to store with the run of the mill ornaments, so their whereabouts are often a mystery that she has to solve, poking in the bottom of closets and the backs of drawers to eventually ferret them out.
But it seems this ritual can't begin until the tree itself is squared away. Which is why last night I found myself tracing individual strands of lights down intricately twisted paths over, under and around the stiff wire branches that were covered with fake pine needles, looking for burned out light bulbs, because two of the eight strands surrounding the Christmas tree won't light this year.
As I took the blackened glass bulbs from out of their plastic chassis and reattached clear bulbs I'd cannibalized from a new strand of icicle lights, I thought longingly of the football game I'd turned on down in the basement.
By the third quarter, the tree was in post op. My fingertips, tender from bending and rebending delicate wires around the tiny plastic pieces, were wrapped around a cold beer as I finally settled in to watch the Chicago Bears host the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night football.
"I'll bet Barack Obama has NFL Network," I said to myself, because the only way you could see this game was if you were a subscriber, something I was still mad about ever since I'd signed up. "I'll bet Barack doesn't have to mess around with any old Christmas tree. Come to think of it, he's a big Bears fan - he's probably watching the game right now." The whole idea of imagining Obama sitting at home in Chicago, watching the game just like me, brought on a feeling of spiritual kinship so strong that I completely missed the action of the next play.
Then a Coors Light commercial came on.
I was still lost in my "Brown Man is watching the game, just like Obama is watching the game" reverie when I noticed, about a third of the way through the commercial, that there was something about the black woman sitting on the couch that was vaguely reminiscent of Michelle Obama. She didn't look exactly like her, but there was something about her professional demeanor, something about the look in her eyes as she said something to the black guy in the shirt and tie sitting next to her who was holding two Coors Light beers in his hand-
"Wait a minute," I said to myself as I sat up, grabbing the remote to rewind the action. "Since when does Coors have only black people in a commercial?" When I watched it again, from the beginning, I saw that the woman had come home from a hard day at the office, and told her husband, who was sitting on the couch in a still crisp blue dress shirt with his tie loosened, that she "just wanted to vent." He said "so do I. Let's vent together." and disappeared into the kitchen. The wife began to complain about her day, until her husband reappeared with a smile on his face and two cold beers. "We can vent together," he said with smile. The camera cut to his wife. An exasperated look appeared on her face and she left the room.
The camera cut back to the husband, cheerily watching a football game, holding an open beer. he looked up and yelled over his shoulder, "honey, am I going to have to start venting without you?"
A smile came over my face for a second as I thought about just how powerful that simple commercial was, mostly because what it wasn't doing was showing two African Americans slapping each other five, or hand jiving, or yelling "whasssup!" into a phone while they slouched on a couch in sweats.
Then my lips flattened as the real game came back on. They were flattened because I was back to imagining "Brown Man is watching the game, just like Obama is watching the game", only this time, what I imagined was probably more realistic.
"What do you mean you want to watch the game, Barack? We need to start looking at the list of movers, we need to-"
"Baby,baby, I'm just trying to catch the Bears game."
"Mr. Obama - you mean to tell me, as smart as you are, that you can't do this and watch the game at the same time?"
"Baby, I'm not just watching the game. I'm trying to enjoy the game."
"I thought football only came on during the weekend?"
"Barack Obama and I probably have more in common," I said to myself, "than I originally thought." Which can be a good thing, because some times there are things I need to be doing besides watching a football game.
My imagination kicked in again later, after the Bears terrible offense had turned the ball over, and their legendary defense was on the field, swarming all over the Saints offensive line in search of the ballcarrier. Barack Obama was probably wishing he could get the Bears defense to blitz Rod Blagojevich the same way they went after the Saints, dropping him in the political backfield before he could get started trying to cut a deal with the prosecutor.
The game went to overtime. I did not. I woke up a couple of hours later, twisting and turning on the couch to find the remote because I must be lying on it, the way it was changing the channels-
"You fell asleep." I jerked my head and there was S., sitting in the chair next to the couch,remote in her hand, flipping through the channels. She paused on SportsCenter long enough for me to see that the Bears had won, then kept clicking until she saw Anderson Cooper's pained face next to a picture of Chris Dodd speaking before the Senate.
The network switched to another camera that showed most of the Senate chamber, where it looked like the middle of a regular work day, except it was almost 2 AM.
The graphics superimposed over the scene read "Bailout Expected To Fail The Senate".
As the commentator started with the now familiar litany of ills that awaited the economy without the passage of this bailout, S. and I soberly listened to the news.
I thought about the real people whose lives were being messed with because a group of grown men who were still embarrassed about how easily they gave away 700 bllion dollars, 335 billion of which has already disappeared, were too proud to admit that they had been wrong before, and were willing instead to make the auto industry the whipping boy for their own shortcomings over a lousy 15 billion more dollars. They probably weren't worried right now about the lights on their Christmas tree, or the vagaries of the NFL Network.
Christmas tree surgery is harder than it looks. But I took a five dollar strand of lights and got a tree we paid two hundred dollars for to shine like it was new again.
The auto bailout is easier than it looks. 15 billion dollars is just TWO lousy percent of the 700 billion dollars that just got authorized for who really knows what, since all of our banks seem to have forgotten how to actually loan money to new customers.
To all the Congress people who voted against this bill, who are smugly going home to enjoy the holidays in their warm, cozy abodes - I sincerely hope Santa drops 15 tons of coal on top of each one of your houses this Christmas.