When I was a kid, my mother used to wait till Christmas Eve to buy a tree. She said the tree men didn’t want to be stuck with trees after the holiday and it would cost less. Then, she would bargain:
Tree man: “$4, lady.”
Mom: “ $2, mister.”
“ Sorry, lady; has to be $4.”
Mom, making a sad pitiful face, holding out two crumpled dollar bills, then pulling out some change, saying to me in Spanish: “Tell him it’s all I have,” displaying another 85 cents in coins in her hand.
“ My mom says that’s all she has.”
“Yeah, alright kid, take the tree.”
This Years model
Many years later, in December of 1979, just before I boarded a jet for my first commercial flight to Fort Jackson SC for the start of my stint in the army I became a tree man of sorts. Or at least I dragged the trees out of the forest with my brother; somebody else was set to sell the trees, since my brother and I would be in Fort Benning Ga for most of December.
We’d spent the fall at the Albany Skydiving center with our crazy friend Brad jumping out of planes and doing odd jobs around the place. Brad hit on the brilliant idea of chopping down some trees and driving them to NYC and selling them on 158th Street and Riverside Drive, in front of the garage we’d summered at that year. So Bob Rawlins, the proprietor of the skydiving center got out the chainsaw and we trudged into the snowy woods outside of Duanesburg, NY to cut down some Christmas trees. Bob cut, we dragged. Then he welded a neat steel frame onto a two wheeled flatbed trailer and we tied a bunch of trees on it.
We drove to NYC the next day to set up our tree selling business. This involved talking to the garage guys, offering them a piece of the action to let us put the trees in front of the garage, and enlisting the aid of Arlo, the Mormon painter who lived above the garage and painted large canvases of small birds. He called the paintings “The Titmouse Series.” I found out a Titmouse is a small bird.
Arlo, blond, curly haired and Utah accented, agreed to sell trees and hang on to the money for us, since Brad had to go to Zephyr Hills in Florida to keep jumping out of planes since it was too cold to do it upstate anymore and we were joining the army.
That weekend Bob took us out to dinner at Old Homestead on 14th Street and Brad treated us to Evita on Broadway.
I loved this play
My brother Luis and I were back three short weeks later to find out that Arlo the Mormon painter had sold all the trees but had absconded with the money. He was hiding somewhere in Brooklyn. We had to go back to Fort Benning the day after Christmas, but Brad called to say he’d tracked down Arlo to his girlfriend’s apartment in Fort Greene.
“He told me he had to spend the money because he was broke.”
“What did you do?”
“I did a little dance on his head until he came up with the money. I’ll give you your end the next time you come to New York.”
My gift to myself this Christmas, it’s the first thing under the tree. I couldn’t resist throwing this in…