At Random: Tree lots have brave moonlighters

I’m sure that there are still shepherds tending their flocks in some parts of the world, but those of us who want to know what it’s like to work outdoors this holiday season might do better to visit the neighborhood Christmas tree lot.

It’s seasonal work that, being temporary, usually means moonlighting from some steadier job. The man who sold us our tree last year ran a restaurant as his real gig. Last weekend, we bought a fir from a guy who owns an insurance company. He divides his time between his office and tree lot each December, a schedule that leaves room for little else.

Standing a Fraser on its trunk and stamping loose needles to the pavement, he confessed to a backlog of recorded TV programming on his DVR back home. He’s begun to fantasize, as he does every yuletide, about the fallow days of January, when Christmas recedes and he can spend an evening in front of a roaring fireplace and the not-so-latest from HBO.

The extra money, the salesman told us, makes the hard work of the tree lot worth it. “Your Christmas makes mine,” he explained as he made a fresh cut across the bottom of the Fraser’s trunk.

Frasers smell good, but their strong scent comes from a thick sap that, when applied to palms and fingers, feels like pancake syrup mixed with bubble gum. The sap can be a minor annoyance for customers, but an enduring penance for the salesmen who handle trees all day.

I still remember the red welts on my arms when, as an adolescent, I unloaded a truckload of Christmas trees while wearing short sleeves one winter. Teenagers do dumb things. A couple of winters working at a tree lot in high school gave me an enduring sympathy for the folks who stomp their feet to stay warm each December as customers take their sweet time surveying the merchandise.

Luckily, I handle only one Christmas tree a year these days, and that’s more than enough for a coordination-challenged man in middle age. With help from the sales team, I manhandled the Fraser into our SUV, the tree fighting its abduction by shedding more needles onto the clean carpet of the trunk.

Back at home, I set the tree on its side, as if hogtying a steer, then shoehorned the tree stand around the trunk, tightening the screws and slowly torturing the tree into submission.

Once set upright, the tree listed to one side or the other as I held it in a comic embrace, anxious that my children might film the whole thing and post it to youtube under the heading, “My Dad, The Tree Hugger.”

I felt better once the fir found its place in the living room corner and accepted its necklace of lights in the spirit of the season. But trees don’t take kindly to folks who go after them with a handsaw. Or so I was reminded when, in the middle of dinner, the Fraser crashed to the floor.