Christmas Tree Decorated With Shame

Christmas Tree Decorated With Shame
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When I was in the eighth grade, my father had a friend named Andy Spriggs who lived down the street. After the New Year, Andy stripped his Christmas tree of ornaments, sawed the branches down to nubs and laid the trunk by the side of the curb. Most rational people would have let the sanitation workers take it away and for nature to take its course in the trash heap, where it would gradually decompose. Not my father.

He plucked the trunk from Andy's curb and brought it home. For him, placing the eight-foot stick upright in the middle of our living room was funny, a natural partner for our ping pong dining room table and the dangling light bulb chandelier. For me, during the most awkward of my many awkward phases, when I was transitioning to high school, the stump became a source of constant embarrassment.

Friends who visited our house looked questioningly at the trunk, which was rapidly gaining a reputation at my small public school as an oddity. The last thing any 13 year old needs is something that draws negative attention. The stick quickly became a ridicule lightning rod.

In March, it didn't help matters when my father drove down the hill into New Providence to get his Sunday bagels. He returned home with the usual onion, egg and plain, but he also brought home a green bagel, dyed for St. Patrick's Day. He took one look at the bagel, took another look at the Christmas "tree" and decided to hang the former from the latter. The trimmed branches were four inches long at most, but that was long enough to add to the humiliation. As the holidays ticked by, he added an orange pumpkin bagel for Halloween.

That fall, on a business trip to Atlanta, my father met with Coca-Cola execs and received a six-pack of Coke cans commemorating the Atlanta Braves' National League pennant. With careful balancing, he was able to cradle a single can on the tree.

About a year after the stick rose to prominence, my father started seeing a woman named Jane. Dating quickly led to her living at our rented house. This was the first time I'd lived with anybody other than my father or brother, who was away at college. I had enough trouble surviving junior high and overcoming the lingering effects of a divorce. I sure as hell didn't need Jane around, and vocally made sure she and my father knew that.

When Christmas finally returned, the stick became our Christmas tree. We hung ornaments and lights from the inches-long branches. For maximum humiliation, my dad included his two favorite ornaments, Adam and Eve, naked except for their strategically placed fig leaves.

This put my embarrassment over the edge. My friends gave me hell. Ryan, a friend of mine at the time, was over at the house to play ping pong. He tossed Adam in my direction. I didn't see it coming and it shattered on the slate floor. For years I denied knowing what happened to my father's favorite ornament. When dressing the tree, my father would give me the evil eye and press me for answers (a move later adopted by Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), but I never told him until years later.

After two surreal Christmases being taunted by our holiday totem, my father was away on another business trip. For the first time, Jane and I found ourselves facing a mutual enemy. We joined forces and dragged the tree to the curb, where it was carried away by no doubt puzzled sanitation workers before my father returned. This was the inciting incident that allowed my (now) stepmother and I to grow close. Maybe my father was on to something after all with the tree.

Joshua Lurie is the L.A. based founder of Food GPS and produces culinary events.

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