In Louisiana, Christmas trees more or less sell themselves. This is a truth that stems, largely, from the fact that they don’t exactly grow here. The trees (Fraser Fir, mostly), are nourished for between five and fifteen years on a few acres in rural Wisconsin before they are cut down, bailed in twine, and shipped on flatbed trucks to the land of crocodiles and gumbo. Here they are priced at something like $25 per foot of height and stand for moments before they are snatched away and tied to the roof of a German SUV. This is the brief and coveted life of a Christmas Tree, out of place.
No manner of lackadaisical salesmanship can deter a sale. The Christmas Crew, as we’re known, openly drink beer as we guide patrons through the conifer forest, and I hope that the following excerpts will illuminate that even actively dissuading a patron cannot discourage a sale:
“That tree there? That’s more crooked that a politician!”
“How was the gig last night?”
“It was great, although I’m still rolling pretty good.”
“Like, rolling rolling?”
“Yeah, we ate some MDMA and it’s still on. I had to smoke a bunch of week this morning just to straighten out. If you need me for the next two hours I’ll be in the back watering trees.”
“This one doesn’t look very healthy.”
“Well it has been cut down, it’s certainly dead at this point.”
“Is watching other people pick out Christmas Trees the weirdest thing you do all year?”
“Sir, it’s not even the weirdest thing I’ve done today.”
In fact, it has been my experience that once a man sets foot on the lot with the intention of buying a tree, you must cause physical harm to his infant son in order to change his mind. This is not so much a position of sales as it is socializing with a goal, but of course not everything can be roses all the time.
There are three positions available, each more desirable than the next, and of course the best gig is to ride along on deliveries. We sit in the pickup truck and between coffees tour the lifestyles of New Orleans old money. Tips flow easily, and the other day we were fed pasta carbonara and a beer for lunch. The music is loud, the pace relaxed.
The lion’s share of work is done out on the lot. Patrons shoehorn imported sports cars into the small gravel parking lot and peruse the selection for a moment before selecting one. Our job, then is to lay the tree over, cut a fresh drinking surface from the base, bail it in fishnet, replace the stand if they would like one, and lash it to the roof of their car. We then replace the sold tree with a similar size from the pile, and repeat the process as necessary.
Between trees we are left to either sweep up or to feed, pet, or otherwise amuse the large collection of dogs, cats, goats, sheep, ducks, chickens, rabbits, imported (legally?) tortoise and unfriendly prairie dog that call the garden center home. It is not difficult work, but it needs to be done*.
Only one task on the lot is universally reviled – hanging lights. There is something to dressing a $500 Christmas Tree for a person known only as “Miss Diana” that cannot help but stir a populist rancor in even the most rabid industrialist.
When quitting time rolls around we pool tips and share a beer and draw our pay in neatly folded twenty dollar bills. We fan out to scour the Crescent City for gumbo and oysters, or maybe head to see a little music, and prepare for another day of moving trees.
*Or does it?