Q: You worked for a season selling Christmas trees on a lot. Tell me about it.
A: I was doing construction work for this guy and he said, “I need another guy on trees, it pays $1500.” And I wasn’t too busy so I was like, “Oh cool.”
I drove my truck down to this big lot in California. It was a barren lot, so no asphalt, no drainage. When you get there, there are no trees so you set up stands and then you get semi-truck loads of trees after that.
There was this shitty-ass trailer there. The trailer was from like 1975 with holes all over it. Everything in it was either broken or almost broken.
You had to do everything—get the power on, get the trailer hooked up. For six weeks you live in a trailer and you work 12-14 hours a day.
The lot turns into mud in no time. It’s just dreary and nasty. You start drinking. I was on the lot with this guy named Brendan who was straight from Ireland. He was a big drinker but also a real charmer. He would go straight to drinking whiskey—he wouldn’t even start with beer.
Q: So you lived in the sad little trailer?
A: Yeah, they told me, the mice will find your trailer. But they don’t just find it, they live in it.
The first time you get a mouse you’re like bummer, I got a mouse. But you don’t just get a mouse, you get a family. If you leave your food out you get back and there’s nothing left except a pile of mouse shit all over.
They wanted our food, all night long, every fucking night. At first it was like they were our funny little friends, but it changed for me when I woke up at 2am as these tiny, soft little feet ran over my face and I caught a glimpse of the little rodent going out a hole in the trailer.
Q: And I assume the weather was cold?
A: It was like 35-40 degrees and wind was blowing all the time. It was either windy or rainy. There was never any sun. And there was no bathroom inside the trailer and you had to walk out into four-inch-deep mud to get to the outhouse. There was no heat in the trailer so…
Q: No HEAT??
A: You just had to bundle up. We would leave one burner going all night and hope that it would help.
Q: You mean a burner on the stove?
A: Yeah, it was on this little propane stove.
And there was a two gallon water heater. Which meant you had exactly three minutes to take a shower and then it went immediately cold. Not just room temperature, but cold. It was hooked up to a fire hydrant so…
Q: To a fire hydrant??
A: Yeah, the city gives you a clicky thing and the fire department hooks you up to a fire hydrant. It’s like the first time it happens you’re just washing your hair and all of a sudden it’s freezing.
And you can stand your clothes up at the end of it all, they are so filthy. Although someone did come once a week to pick up our laundry…
Q: Really? That seems like a real perk compared to everything you’ve talked about so far.
A: Yeah, well there’s a story for how that happened.
One night the wind was blowing and I got up in the middle of the night to go check the tents. We have these circus tents set up all over the lot. Just a bunch of miniature circus tents. I had just taken my contacts out after three nights of leaving them in, so I decided not to put them back in.
Brendan was at a party at another lot. So I put on my boots and went out to check the tents. It’s raining and I have my flashlight and I see his truck, so I’m thinking, “Oh good, Brendan is back.” And I start walking over toward the truck and I had to get pretty close, and I see this white ass moving up and down… I guess Brendan had found a female companion from another lot. It was raining hard and I was basically right on top of the truck with my flashlight…
The tents were fine. But anyway she came once a week to do our laundry and so they could bang I guess. He was not the nicest of guys and he promptly dumped her at the end of the season.
Q: Do you know whatever happened to Brendan?
A: There was a while when he went on a real drinking binge and eventually he got an $800 advance for a job and then just went AWOL.
Q: So you’re selling trees and then they deliver more?
A: You’re open 10 am to 8 pm at first, then until 9 pm and 10 pm as the season goes on. The loads of trees come every two days after you shut down, because there’s only two of you, and you can’t do it all. So you shut down at 10, then at midnight or 2 am a whole truckload of trees shows up and we’d unload for two or three hours.
Q: And then you sold them to people.
A: We’d stack them, cut the base off, tie them to the top of a car.
One guy came back to get another tree—I guess it came off the top of his car. He was going 60 miles an hour down the freeway and it blew off and almost hit the car behind him, and then a car ran over it. So he picked it up and brought it back and we gave him a new one.
Q: How did the drinking start?
A: Brendan drank from the first day. For me it was usually around 3 or 4 o’clock. I started just doing shots of his whiskey with a little peppermint. But right down the street was the best liquor store you can imagine…
I remember one day I started drinking at 10 o’clock in the morning and by the time evening hit I’d had a fifth and I wasn’t even slurring my words. People are delighted and you’re much more pleasant. I mean you don’t shave and we weren’t showering every day…
Q: So why did you drink? Because of the people or the cold or?
A: I think it was more the mental state. It was just such a shitty place to be. We probably drank 300 bucks of liquor and they didn’t pay for food so we probably didn’t net much money from the whole experience.
I do remember one time there was a really nice guy in a Mercedes who got a 10- or 12-foot tree and asked us to deliver it to his house. He had like this three million dollar house, decorated to the max with Christmas lights and decorations. We set up his tree and he gave us each a double shot of Crown Royal whiskey as a tip.
Q: So people were generally nice?
A: Not necessarily. Some people decide that no matter what price you put on the tree they are only going to pay 50 percent of that. Like they’d haggle and then they’d drive away and come back.
Q: Like a used car lot? What percentage of people would you say did that?
A: I’d say 10 percent. At least one to two people a day. One time when Brendan was drunk, some guy was haggling and Brendan yelled, “Get the fuck out of here!” and I said, “Brendan, you can’t do that.” And he said, “Yes I can, it’s my lot!”
Q: It sounds like you’re lucky you lived to tell this story.
A: We were lucky no one got injured. Chainsaws are bad when you’re drunk. I’m surprised they let us do that. Anyway, it’s a crazy industry.