12 Feet Tall

I remember back in 1989, Irene and I were recently married and we moved into a brand new apartment that was definitely affordable. We both had good paying jobs and the future looked bright in our newlywed starry-eyed bliss. The apartment complex was so new that the entire complex was still under construction, but what they had completed was quite awesome.

Our building was the first to become occupied, and at that, I believe we were one of the first ones to move in. Everything was immaculate, smelled of new construction and was well built. We moved into the third (of three) floor/s and our apartment was a two-bedroom with a loft. Our balcony and sliding glass door overlooked the courtyard, complete with a tri-spout water jet reflection pool that ran during daylight hours. I remember the soft sound of the splashing water from the spouts, and how soothing it was. The bedrooms were huge and ceilings were very high throughout; I do believe the ceilings were anywhere from 16′-20′ high. The loft became my Studio where I set up my drafting table and all my art supplies. Everything was perfect.

We moved in with our (then) cat Tom, and of course he was King.

Everything was perfect. It was our first Christmas together, December 1989, and we had just moved into a beautiful brand new apartment complex. On a Friday evening we ventured out to go pick our first Christmas tree together. I remember it was a chilly evening, at least for us it was and we had landed ourselves in a rather large Christmas tree lot. I don’t even remember where it was located. But we took my somewhat new Mazda B2000 mini truck with an extended cab. The truck actually had quite a bit of space in it, complete with fold down rear cab seats. All the trees were expensive, as they seem to increase in price every year. But our hearts were big and our future seemed as if it were nothing but ideal.

So we went big. We walked over to the taller tree area and found this 12 foot tree that was absolutely beautiful. Costly yes, but it would look awesome in our new apartment Living Room. And it did. It looked quite spectacular, but getting it from point A to point B wasn’t so simple.

The bed in my mini-truck was only 6′ long, so the tree cantilevered out the back end a lot! Fortunately the tree was fresh and was able to keep its structural constitution. Any longer and it would have dragged on the street the entire drive home. All good though. Irene drove home and I (illegally) stayed in the bed of the truck just to make sure it wasn’t going to slip out onto the street during our drive. There was no way we were going to take the freeway going home so fortunately we didn’t live too far from the tree lot and we could drive in the slow lane of any street. We were sure we wouldn’t be stopped by the police since it was already dark and what kind of police would stop someone bring home a Christmas tree anyway? Fortunately that gamble paid off.

Once we got the tree back to the apartment complex, reality started to set in. We attempted to get it into the elevator but there was no way it would fit, even diagonally. Ok, I guess we’ll need to drag it up the stairs to the third floor. Fortunately at this time there was no one around, mostly because hardly anyone had yet moved in and it was later in the evening. The stairwell was one of those that ‘looped’ around and around where there were about 7 steps before needing to take a 180º turn for the next 7 steps in order to climb one floor.

The stairwell wasn’t much better than the elevator but we managed. We didn’t make the flight up three floors without incident though, the tall tree and its fresh needles were leaving green streaks all over the freshly painted white walls. Oh no! Our only saving grace was knowing that the grounds crew was periodically repainting the stairwells since people continued to move in to the complex. General scuffs were kind of expected, but green ones? We never said a word.

Our new tree looked grand in our new apartment living room. Although it was 12′ high, it did not overpower the look of the room at all. The ceiling must have been 17′-20′ high, so there was still plenty of ‘negative space’ to provide visual balance. So we set the tree up and began to decorate it. Of course we quickly realized that we could only reach so high with lights and ornaments, so the next day, we borrowed a 10′ or 12′ ladder from the maintenance crew. Once we did this, someone probably put two and two together and figured out why the stairwell became so ‘weathered’ overnight. Yikes! Our youth still gave us some recklessness and bravado although we were still trying to behave as young adults.

Fast forward to the end of the holiday season and now came the time we needed to remove all tree decorations and properly dispose of the tree. The tree had done the job for us and shown beautifully throughout the entire Christmas holiday. While we were removing ornaments and lights, the tree needles were dropping like crazy. By this time, there was no life in the tree and water in the tree stand could only do so much for its 12 foot height. After removing the tree from the stand, we started to drag it out of the living room to the entrance of our apartment and the array of tree needles it left in its path would be somewhat embarrassing and completely give apt. 301 away as the culprit for the scuffed stairwell just three weeks ago. What to do?

I believe this next idea came from Irene but don’t completely remember.

Our third floor balcony overlooked a the central courtyard so there was a lot of well landscaped open space. But our third floor balcony wasn’t the typical third floor since all apartments had a high ceiling height. So we were quite high for being on the ‘third floor’. The tree was located right next to the sliding glass door that led out to the balcony so if we were to toss the tree over the balcony then eliminate dry pine needles strewn all over the interior hallways and stairwell and greatly minimize any mess overall. Was this safe or legal? Well, we could ensure relative safety as long as we made sure no one was walking on the curved pathway below. Was it legal?, I doubt it but I cannot say with any certainty that is was illegal so we went with a possible ignorance plea.

We had it all planned out. We chose a time of the day when there are generally few people walking around the courtyard and would wait if necessary until no one was around. Irene would wait at the bottom and give me the go-ahead and I would hurl the tree over the balcony rail. I would need to make sure I gave the tree a strong enough push so that it would not hit or collide with the complex landscaping, or balcony railing for the apartments directly below us. This in itself would not be an easy feat since the tall tree was rather heavy, but I knew it had to be done.

Everything was carefully planned. Once on the ground, we would drag the tree to the complex dumpster and leave it there with other trees. No one would need to know that it, and any residual mess, was ours.

The time came and Irene was standing on the courtyard below our deck. We both felt like we were pulling off a heist or something so there was some sneaky excitement about it all. Then she gave me the go-ahead and off the tree went. Once it landed on the ground, I had to run out of the apartment to help drag it away as quickly as possible. Hopefully no one would ‘catch us in the act’.

Off we went to the dumpster with the tree dragging behind us and we made it! As far as we knew, no one saw the incident. Next, I had to run back up to the apartment and get a broom and dustpan so that we could sweep all the dry pine needle evidence. We moved fast to get the job done, Irene swept and I held the dustpan.

Done! Our mission was successful! The entire incident made us feel like a couple of delinquent juveniles but honestly, it was exciting and fun. I remember us both laughing at the whole imagery of what had just occurred. Irene saw it all from below and I saw it all from above. The stories we shared about our unique experience were laughable, we still laugh about it today. All we could imagine was ‘What if someone, on the second or first floor, was looking out from their living room only to suddenly see a random tree whizzing by their view as it suddenly fell from above?’ That alone would be a priceless image in ones memory.

Oh the shenanigans kids get themselves into when left to their own devices! Needless to say, we did not get a 12′ tree the following Christmas.