a friendly reminder
fake christmas tree?
pick a lane!
fido could teach us
flying over speed humps?
if it involves men...
it's gotta be big
past this gridlock
my scientist
chick flick
the tie is dead
throwing a wrench


Fake Christmas tree? Don't do it!
Sacramento Business Journal
December 9 , 2005

OK, I admit it. I've always pretty much thought that fake things were, uh, not so hot. Fake Rolexes, fake hair -- wigs or toupees -- fake beer (non-alcoholic), fake coffee (decaffeinated). I was baffled in Las Vegas a couple years ago at all the elaborate fake stuff, or "replicas," of the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canal, the statue of David, New York City, and on and on.

But I've given some ground on this weighty issue.

A few years ago the issue of fake fireplaces rose its seemingly distasteful head. I'd always thought natural- gas fireplaces, shooting a row of flame to ceramic, spray-painted fake logs, were silly and obnoxious. They were an affront to real wood-burning fires in real fireplaces everywhere. But we were remodeling our house, putting on a second floor, when our contractor told us our chimney was cracked at the old roofline. So if we wanted to continue having a real fireplace, we'd have to tear this one down, then have a new one bricked in.

Because of codes and all.

But that would have added even more truckloads of dollars to the price of the already-expensive remodel. The project had already given repeated beatings to our checkbook, draining money from it as freely as a bashed-in piñata leaks candy.

So what could we do if we still wanted a fireplace? There was a solution. Put in a gas-powered insert. A fake fireplace, with fake ceramic logs painted brown and black to look like real logs.

At first, this seemed unthinkable. Where would we hear the nice crackle of burning oak to take off the chilly edge in the living room? Where would the familiar smoky wintertime scents come from?

Actually, the smoke had been a bit of a problem. The fireplace, built in 1947, wasn't very good at drawing smoke up its chimney. Most of the smoke went up; some drifted into the house. But other than enduring occasional burning eyes, we were clueless in the low light of the room. We always wondered why it always smelled like a campfire. Eventually we noticed traces of soot on the ceiling. We might as well have been barbecuing in the living room. We'd probably been tap dancing on the fringes of asphyxiation for years.

There were other downsides. Having a real fireplace meant stacking a winter's supply of wood every autumn. A fake one doesn't require that. And a fake fireplace keeps the air in the house smoke-free, and doesn't belch smoke into our smudged skies. It was a lose-lose-win-win situation.

So we did it. And I've come full circle. I'm a fake-fireplace advocate.

Now, in the spirit of further time and labor savings, my wife, Elena, has floated the idea of a getting fake Christmas tree. Huh? A fake Christmas tree is the absolute epitome of the soulless core of all things fake. A real Christmas tree brings the fresh evergreen whiffs of the forest into the house. No fake tree does that.

When I was a kid at Lake Tahoe, everybody had real Christmas trees. Nobody had even heard of fake trees. The weirdest fake thing connected to Christmas trees then was "flocking." To make it look like snow had fallen on the tree while in the house, some people insisted on spraying their perfectly nice trees with white asbestos-like foam. And presto! Snow! And it won't melt!

And here in Sacramento, for years we would get up early to drive into the cold damp foothills to cut a tree. We'd tie it on the car and drive home. Now we go to Home Depot, and have one ready to roll in five minutes. True, we miss the getting up early, the cold and damp, and the long drive, but ...

I grunt the tree into the house and set it in its base. It smells like Christmas as we put lights on it, and decorate it while sipping spiked eggnog and yodeling along with Elvis carols on the stereo. How could a fake tree work into that scene?

The fake trees displayed in catalogs look real. I peruse them half-heartedly, thinking of the wholesale tackiness of a fake tree. Who would ever want a fake Christmas tree? Really. Who? Maybe a shut-in or someone not up to wrestling with a real tree. OK, a worthy option for them.

The other half of me looks closer at the fake trees in the catalog. Some have nifty high-tech lights that twinkle. Their branches no doubt pop on and off for time-saving setup and breakdown. Wouldn't even have to drive anywhere to get a tree anymore.

But wait a minute. It takes only five minutes to go to Home Depot. Those fake trees won't smell like anything but dusty plastic. Even if they come with a choice of cloying air fresheners. Think about it. A fake Christmas tree?