And then there’s Greg Walsh, my boss, in Brooklyn. […] Greg himself is large, with a big belly and a long white beard, so inevitably people compare him to Saint Nick. Greg delights in this. He keeps a Santa hat on him at all times, and his license plate reads SANTA09. In the summers, he wears red-and-green Hawaiian shirts, and at all times of the year, whenever he enters a business, he shouts, “Ho, ho, ho!” at the teenager standing behind the counter.
This is the third December I’ve sold trees for Greg. Chances are I’m selling one of his trees as you read this. It’s a brutal job, standing out in the cold 16 hours a day, but the pay can set you up for months. The rest of the year, I’ve gotten to see the other side of the industry up close by acting as Greg’s personal assistant — the elf to his Santa. Underneath the ribbons and the tinsel, the New York Christmas-tree business is a complicated and sometimes dangerous game with a sordid history. In a little over a century and a half, getting a Christmas tree has gone from an oddity to a timeless tradition in Manhattan thanks primarily to the efforts of those who sought to profit from them. Theft, sabotage, and at least one murder have been committed in the Christmas-tree game. I almost died myself, selling them.
After what seems like a long time, a nurse approaches my bed and examines the wound above my right eye. She picks a pine needle out of my hair and asks, “What on earth were you doing?”
I tell her I was selling Christmas trees and things got out of hand.
“…and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…”