Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Trees.

    NOTE: This entry is going to run a bit longer, truth be told. You've been warned, but I assure you, well, hope (really) that you will feel something after scanning my words. The words I've written--OK, typed--are extracted directly out of my heart. Enjoy, and happy holidays. 

 

    Tonight, back in my neighborhood in Williamsburg, around 1 a.m., one of my very favorite parts of Christmas or the entire holiday season will be packing up and heading north to Canada, back home.

   My two dear friends (Yes, they are referred to as dear friends)- Max and Alain- will be selling off their last stragglers-of-Christmas trees for five dollars or something obscene, or else they will be discarded on to Metropolitan Street.

I hate that. 
I hate the empty corner where their tree stand should, and normally sits from November 15 to December 24. 
I hate returning back to Brooklyn to that vacancy after I drop my suitcase off at my apartment.
I hate that there is no longer a range of Christmas trees from small to large, a segregation of Douglas trees and Frasier firs, Christmas lights strung high above, Max and Alain's van parked right behind their makeshift hut. 
But, most of all, I hate that it has all vanished--not just the cliche symbols of the holiday season, but the warmth, the people, the conversations surrounded by the sight of hot breath hitting the brisk air, and the trees.
I will deeply, deeply, deeply miss my two dear friends and what they've come to represent. 

   These two young guys hail from Quebec, Canada. Not "Quiiii-Beck." Like, "Key-Beck." Moving on, they both work in music event production year-round. They take about six weeks off a year to drive down to New York in some beat-up van to sell Christmas trees. There's a lot of money in Christmas trees, mind you. No scoffing. But, they also continue to undergo almost pure torture to the human body and mind-numbing cabin fever in order to return to the neighborhood family they've established. We love them in Williamsburg. Food, booze, a hot shower, whatever. What is ours, is theirs.



    I've known them for three years, and for these six weeks From November to December, twenty-four hours a day, one or both of them is awake. I'm baffled at how they do it. They battle the cold weather, and the night shift, believe me, can be a hauntingly lonely one. One or both stands on the corner, chatting with neighborhood friends who stop to talk or aiding customers, wrapping up trees, etcetera...At times, a moment arises to take a seat in their hut to sit by the electric heater and stay for a bit longer, during the slower hours. 

   Max and Alain each work individual 8-hour shifts, and then they work one 8-hour shift together during peak hours. It's truly incredible. They live on a corner, doing not much else, for these six weeks. But, they are my constant. Comforting. Something very reassuring about their presence.

   I need them. I need to see them. Like, I want and need to be near that corner. It's actually difficult for me to find the appropriate words. They, their presence, their spirits, have become part of the entire season for me

    I have spent hundreds of hours on that corner with them over the years. Hundreds. Max's English has improved immensely in the past three years, but my French still needs a great deal of work. We drink wine and discuss politics late at night. Alain plays the guitar and sings Tom Petty and "Bub Dylan" as we all sing along. A few of our other neighborhood friends stop by, as we all huddle in front of the heater on those nights that the freezing December wind whips around. But, we are warm. It's warm on that corner, and it isn't due to the damn heater.

    Those are my pure and happy moments. I have to say that, in utter honesty, those are some of my most beautiful and content hours I've ever spent. 

    Us "regulars" have created this inner circle. Kathy, a 77-year-old who has lived in Williamsburg across the street from their stand for the past fifty years, arrives at eleven a.m.  and remains until 10 or 11 p.m. every single day that the boys live and work in Brooklyn. She refers to them as her grandsons. Victor, her husband, makes us all hot chocolate. Correction, Peruvian hot chocolate, which Kathy ensures that we all remember. During the days when she and I both stop by together, we help Max speak to customers, negotiate prices, and sell, if need be. Days and nights, I have helped Max and Alain sell those trees, swaying prospective buyers toward the more expensive Frasier firs over the Douglases, because "the needles don't fall off, and they look more regal--a better quality tree, my friend." 

    Kathy and I simply sit and watch the neighborhood folks walk by on other days. Kathy tells me stories of when she first came to New York with twenty dollars (which was a lot of money then, she says), sleeping on the roof of an apartment building, because it was free and the summer evenings were warm. She speaks of dating wealthy doctors and dancing at the Copacabana. "The original one, not those other copies that followed," she continues.   

   Anyway, Max aids me with my French and lectures me about the dangers of the Americans' "current situation." I explain the great mystery of the southern United States to him as he listens intently, squinting, pondering everything I'm telling him. The South fascinates him. It's quite entertaining. 

    I have so much I wish I could divulge, but, you're reading the gist. Bottom line: this is Christmas for me. They are Christmas to me. And, I don't mean Christmas in simple terms--as in the religious aspect or the surface, elementary-level viewpoint of the whole ordeal. What I'm referring to is the feeling. A feeling.

   And, back to the basics, I love the trees, don't get me wrong. I've adored the royal quality they possess since I was a child, gazing at our family's in its glory, glowing gold and burgundy almost from somewhere within. Now, though, they represent even more. So much more. When I think of these pine needles, I think of my happy place--on that corner, in that hut. I feel warmth. And, I miss. I miss, just miss... 

   I wait, each year, until they return again. They always do. I enjoy knowing that--that they return. They always do, I think to myself. They will be back, and I will be doing it all over again too.


Bedford and Metropolitan, my very own magical hideout for when the world grows a little too daunting, a little too dark, a little too something I don't feel like facing. 

I will never grow tired of walking to that corner. I have friends there among the trees.




  
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