3. Artificial Unintelligence

3. Artificial Unintelligence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Artificial Unintelligence

Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide-bound hearts.

~Lenora Mattingly Weber

A few years ago we bought a co-op Christmas tree. The idea was that one year it would be at our house and the next year it would be at Carl, Christy, Leila and Charlie’s house. It was pretty expensive and I probably would have objected had I known this was happening. But I didn’t learn about it until I came home from work one day and, there it was, all set up in our dining area.

“Merry Christmas!” they all yelled.

I looked up at the ten-foot tall behemoth tree with its pre-attached lights and perfect branches. A giant ominous-looking white box sat on the floor next to it. It had Chinese writing on the side.

“Carl put it up. It was easy.”

I glanced at my son-in-law, but I didn’t exactly see “easy” in his eyes.

“After Christmas, we simply take apart the easy-to-assemble sections and pack it away for next year.”

There was that word “easy” again.

Christy and the kids started singing Christmas songs. I felt a bit nauseated, I mean nostalgic.

“We’ll never have to buy another real tree and watch it die.”

I do have to admit, I have had some less-than-joyous experiences with real trees. One year in New Hampshire my buddy Del and I offered to cut down trees for everyone who gave us money. Del brought a chainsaw. Being a logical thinker, Del figured it wasn’t worth firing the thing up unless we were going to cut trunks the width of a telephone pole so that’s what we did. Very quickly we had cut four huge trees that were exactly twice as long as my K5 Chevy Blazer. I drove home with one hand on the wheel and one arm around the ends of two trees that were resting on my dashboard. I couldn’t even see Del. Surprisingly, people were not all that pleased with their eighteen-foot-tall trees that required special tree stands. Plus my Blazer smelled like pine sap for months.

Another time I cut a perfect tree, but the bottom was uneven so it wouldn’t fit in the stand. I trimmed a bit, then a bit more, then a bit more, until I ended up with a tree that was six-feet wide and three-feet tall.

So maybe this tree was a good thing. Especially seeing as how just after Christmas — again while I was at work — Carl took the tree down, packed it up and put it in the garage.

Two years later, Carl put it up and took it down again. Great guy that Carl.

Then a few weeks ago it was our turn for the tree again. I called Carl.

“Sorry,” said Christy, “Carl’s away on business. Should be pretty easy though.”

There it was again… easy. Oh well, my wife and I could do this.

“Sorry,” said Christy, “Carl’s away on business. Should be pretty easy though.”

“This one must go next,” I said as I hefted the metal section up the stepladder. I felt a twinge in my lower back.

“No, that one is larger than this one so it’s nearer the bottom.”

“Is this the top?”

“That’s the part that goes in the stand.”

“I already put a piece in the stand.”

“That one may be upside down. See how the branches are pointing toward the floor.”

“#$@%$#@!”

“Did you just curse at me?”

“No, that was aimed at the Republic of China’s tree manufacturing division.”

Somehow we finally got it assembled; then we connected the cords that ran from section to section and plugged in the lights. Just the bottom lit up.

“Seems darker than usual,” my wife said.

I climbed the ladder and switched plugs. This time the middle lit up.

I switched them again. This time the top lit briefly, then went out. I kept switching them. Top Middle or Bottom. Top Middle or Bottom.

Finally, some four hours, three extension cords, and a roll of duct tape later, most of the lights were lit. We put on the decorations and that was that.

Until today

“I think it’s time to pack away the easy-to assemble pieces,” my wife said.

I called Carl. He was away on another business trip.

“How about we just throw a giant sheet over it until next year? We can tell people it’s a piece of modern art.”

“I’ll get the box,” my wife said.

Carl, if you’re reading this, you have less than two years to find a new job that doesn’t involve traveling.

~Ernie Witham

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