I love buying a Christmas tree. I like how they smell, the way they feel in my fingers. I like to stand in the middle of the lot when no one else is around and look at the rows and rows of trees as far as the eye can see. You can be in the middle of suburban New Jersey, but it feels like you’re in the middle of a forest.
When I arrived at the nursery this year, I headed straight for the Frasier Firs. They have a beautiful shape and color, their branches are curved and springy, like starfish legs. I walked up and down the aisles eyeing the merchandise like a man sizing up prostitutes in a brothel, and as I passed a tree I liked, I’d touch a couple of branches like I was embracing its hands.
“Can I help you?” asked a salesgirl with grey braids.
“I’m good. Just trying to find the perfect tree,” I said. “I love buying Christmas trees.”
I needed one that would fit my small living room but didn’t want one that was so skinny, it looked anemic. A Christmas tree should have big hips, like in a Ruben painting, but not too big. Bringing home a tree is like inviting a person into your home. You don’t want someone who will be piggish once they get inside.
I soon found just the right tree. It was the perfect height, not too wide, and had a pretty blue shimmer. Some Frasier Firs have a yellow hue, from growing on the sunny side of the mountain. I didn’t like that. It reminded me of pee.
As I contemplated the tree, I noticed another one diagonally across from it that was a little short but far more luscious. It was like Aunt Jemima. You wanted to get lost in its arms. I made a mental note of the two trees and then ventured further into the lot. In the far corner, I spotted a tree I liked very much — until I got closer and noticed an errant branch protruding out from the back of it. When I touched the branch, it came off in my hand, leaving a gaping hole. It was like tugging on a tooth that suddenly falls out. I was horrified, but only for a second because right next to it was the most perfect tree I’d ever seen.
I was marveling at the tree’s bountiful bushiness when I spotted a couple walking into the lot, and they were heading right for the two trees I’d already scoped out at the front of the lot. I quickly walked over there and began hovering, as if I was about to buy one.
As I loitered by the two trees, I noticed a third one nearby that seemed to have everything I sought. But when I turned around to compare it to my two other favorites, I couldn’t find them. I had so many favorites at that point, I couldn’t keep track of them. It reminded me of chess, when I plot out so many moves ahead that I forget my initial move, and I wind up losing my queen to a pawn.
It took awhile but I finally narrowed it down to three trees. But I’d pawed each one so much I’d stripped off some needles like an anxious child wearing the fur off a teddy bear. I was at an impasse. I tried using price as a guide, but my favorite of the bunch cost just $40 while the other two were $45, making me think I had no idea what a good tree looks like.
I looked from one tree to the other and then back again, and I simply could not whittle the pool down any further. I was vexed, mired in indecision. It was painful. I hate buying a Christmas tree. It reminds me of my utter inability to make a decision.
I’ve always been indecisive. The problem is, it’s a paradox. I don’t trust my own judgment, so by definition, any decision I make is the wrong one, simply because I’m the one who made it. It’s a little like having disdain for a club that would have you as a member.
Just then the salesgirl with the braids walked by.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“I’m dying here. Help me decide,” I said, and pointed to the three trees in the running.
“Rate them on a scale of one to ten,” she said. She pointed to the first one.
“8,” I said.
“Now this one,” she said.
“Um, 7,” I said.
“Now this one,” she said.
“6.75,” I said. “I guess I have my answer.”
She and another woman carried the tree over to a table and dropped it on its side and began sliding it into a net. I hadn’t really seen the tree from that angle. It suddenly looked a bit sparse, like its needles weren’t full enough.
“Do you think…?”
The woman with the braids paused and turned to look at me.
“You picked a really nice tree,” she said.
“You did,” she said.
“I did,” I said.
I love buying a Christmas tree.