"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Great Christmas Tree Caper

I've been thinking about Christmas trees since Supacoo wrote a funny post about her experiences with Christmas trees as a youth, and shared a photo of the damn fine-looking specimen which stands proudly in her home this year. Way to go 'Coo!

My own youthful recollections of Christmas are tainted by the amazing cheapness of my father, who when I was five or six years old made what was probably to him a quite logical and financially sound decision: "why should we waste twenty bucks on a live tree every year when we can buy a fake one and use it year after year?" This might have been forgivable had the fake tree been a huge and gloriously green, perfectly-shaped model of artificial arborage, but no: my dad insisted on buying the most cheap-ass, skinny, ugly silver tree one could find on sale at K-Mart, and I had to look at that sucker every single year for the remainder of my childhood. No present placed under it was able to redeem the pure ugliness of that aluminum metal monster.

Therefore, it's probably not surprising that I vowed when I was old enough to have my own place, by George, there would be no more fake trees for me, and I've had a real one ever since. Some years they came from the grocery store or a corner lot; for many years we went to the local Christmas tree farm and cut our own, which was always fun. And during a couple of really fine years when we celebrated Christmas with the in-laws at their home in Colorado, we'd actually go out into the National Forest (with the proper permit, of course) to find the ideal tree. Those were the best years of all.

But this particular year was 1988; the place, Houston, Texas. In the city there aren't too many options for cutting down a live tree, so one is relegated to buying one from a Big Discount Store or a commercial tree lot. We had scoped out the choices and decided that a lot not far from where we lived had the freshest and best-looking trees in the neighborhood. Not only that, they were open 24-hours a day for the convenience of the late-night tree-seeker.

On this evening about two weeks before Christmas, a good friend of ours had come over to our house for dinner. During this meal, much wine was consumed. Further consumption of wine (and other items) continued after dinner. By about 1 AM, we were feeling no pain whatsoever, which apparently is why the decision to jump into my little red Toyota pickup truck in this toasted condition, drive to the tree lot and get our tree in the middle of the freaking night must have seemed like a good idea.

We arrived at the Christmas tree lot which was well lit, but (understandably for that hour of the day) completely deserted. At the entrance to the property stood a small travel trailer where the attendant stayed; we didn't see anyone around, so we decided the most logical plan would be to pick out a tree, then bring it back to the trailer and check out. The trees were all tagged with prices, and after much searching and general hilarity due to our less-than-sober condition we found what we thought was the ultimate holiday tree, a glorious seven-foot Noble Fir marked with a tag of $39.95. This was a bit more than I had intended to pay, but it really was a beautiful tree. All the others we had looked at were nice, but each had at least one minor blemish which kept it from being The Perfect Christmas Tree. This one, however, was absolutely flawless.

We carried the tree to the trailer, leaned it against the truck, and went in to pay. Inside the tiny trailer, the attendant was stretched out in a lounge chair with a ball cap pulled down over his eyes, his hands folded in his lap. A rather unkempt looking gentleman with a scraggly beard, he appeared to be asleep. A small black and white TV set was playing above the whirr of an electric space heater which was keeping the trailer toasty warm. I figured that with tax, the price of the tree would be about $45, and I had three twenty-dollar bills in my hand. In a tone of voice only slightly louder than normal so as not to startle him, I said "Sir?"

He didn't move.

I tried a little louder. "Sir? Excuse me, I'd like to buy this tree."


By now I was yelling at the top of my voice. "Hello, sir? Hello? Can I pay you for this tree? Sir?" When he still didn't wake up, at that point we began to wonder if he was, in fact, alive. Strange crimes happen in the city, and it seemed entirely possible that some homicidal maniac could have robbed the man of the lot's mostly cash proceeds and killed him to leave no witness. However, we could see no blood or other physical signs of trauma, and closer inspection revealed he was indeed breathing. As if to reassure us, at about that moment he began to snore.

My friend and I looked at each other, both thinking the exact same thing at the exact same moment. Without a word, we dashed out of the trailer, threw the tree in the back of the pickup, and raced out of the lot and back home, laughing like idiots all the way.

In retrospect, he had probably gotten drunk and passed out. Being an attendant at an all-night Christmas tree lot is not a highly skilled occupation, and who knows what kind of low-life the owners of the lot had hired for the temporary job. I suppose we could have shaken the man to wake him up, or left two of the $20-bills (or even one of them!) on the small desk next to the guy. But for whatever reason, we didn't; instead, we gave in to the lure of larceny that fate presented to us.

It was, however, a very special Christmas. Once the tree was decorated, it was the most magnificent holiday evergreen I have ever had in any year before or since, and it will be remembered not only for its classic beauty but for the manner in which it was obtained. In fact, while visiting Houston this week we had dinner with my former partner in coniferous crime, and once again shared a hearty laugh as we recalled The Great Christmas Tree Caper of 1988. The tag on the tree may have said $39.95, but the memory of it will always be priceless.


  • At 12/22/2006 07:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yes, indeed, (imagine me now talking out of the side of my mouth; I'm much gratified that Mr. Toast is now coming clean about his assiciation with Haliburton) to my recollection that tree was indeed HOT!

    Still, an excellent memory of an excellent Xmas with you and Mrs. Toast!



Post a Comment

<< Home