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Monday, December 08, 2003

We drove to Pacific Beach in Laura's Miata on Saturday search of a Christmas tree. My Jeep is "coughing" and seems pretty unreliable, so we took her tiny car. She was determined that we were going to have a Christmas tree...............

The place where we bought our tree was as amazingly "California" as California is depicted in the movies. Loud, crashing rock "music" was thundering from a large black plastic garbage bag which had been placed atop a 9 or 12 foot step ladder. A weathered looking guy in his late 50's welcomed us with a yellow-toothed smile and the words "Duuuudes! Welcome to...... (we couldn't understand what he said next, and we moved away quickly to avoid the noise of his radio) His gloves had no fingers. It was about 75F....not really cold enough for gloves........fingers or not. His mudboots were untied, and he was in constant danger of losing one every time he took a step. He was also in danger of stepping on a lace and going into the ground on his face.

Laura and I migrated across the lot, inspecting each tree. Halfway across the lot, we began to hear the Mamas and the Papas, singing "California Dreaming". I liked that music better and began to walk in the direction of the anthem from the 1960's. Soon, I could no longer hear the awful noise from the first radio, and was beginning to believe that the trees in this section were much better! Better music made better trees!
We found a tree we liked..........and then we had to discover and understand the process by which to pay for it.

"Spanky and Our Gang" were blaring from the radio nearest us (Also in a huge black plastic garbage bag, and also mounted on a tall step ladder). A blond woman with a little "Judy Jetson nose" and wearing a knit cap and a huge down coat was making conversation with customers who were lined up in front of her cash register. A teenaged version of the woman at the register was standing in front of a second register, her eyes were glazed, and she probably heard music from neither garbage bag.) I stood in front of her and her cash register to ask her how to pay for the tree. She didn't know that I was there, just 2 - 3 feet in front of her. After an impossible, awkward minute or two elapsed, and I asked her twice whether I could pay her for the tree. After I had asked her the second time, She replied "What?.... tree?"

I knew when I approached her that she wasn't there.........she was somewhere on a beach on a sunny day, or reliving some recent teenage girl exploit. The sky was gray with fog and clouds, and the light was diminishing because it was 4:20 p.m.

She looked toward me through her clear blue eyes and I'm convinced that she saw nothing, and saw no one. I repeated my question and she appeared to have been jolted from her trance as violently as if she had just been struck by a bus. She tried to regain some composure as she said something unintelligible and wiped her nose with the sleeve of her dirty pale blue cardigan. I knew it was pointless to try to get through to the part of her mind that she used for communication, and it didn't seem that she was gong to be capable of any thought for another 30 minutes, so I left and went and stood in Judy Jetson's line, which had grown about 5 people longer by this time. Laura, having moved our tree where it couldn't be seen, came to see what was taking so long.

One of the benefits of Judy Jetson's line was that a hot beverage which was being represented as hot apple cider was available for no additional money, and tiny, cellophane-wrapped candy canes were also available. Small styrofoam cups were stored in dirty, dingy looking red and white Christmas stockings. Risking death or illness from the stockings and the cups, we served ourselves hot cider (apple or not), and I explained to Laura, my experience in the line with the girl in the pale blue sweater.

When it was our turn to ask how to pay for the tree, Judy Jetson became highly animated and began to laugh and blabbered several incoherent things. I asked her again how to pay for the tree, and she began bubbling and fidgeting and smiling again...................I had to tell her that I didn't understand her, and asked if she would explain it slowly. Then, Judy Jetson got REALLY sarcastic and nasty, speaking one word at a time, carefully over-enunciating each syllable. When she was done, she flashed me a bright smile and then entered some numbers into the cash register, which went "chunka chunka CHUNK", and spit out a receipt for $147.83. I told her that we were only buying one tree, and she said "Happy Holidays!", and motioned for the people behind us to come forth and be fleeced.

I told her that the sign said that all trees which had a blue tags cost between $70 - $90, depending on height and "grade", and she told me that I had just bought a tree with a green tag. I told her that she was wrong, but she assured me that she wasn't. I asked her how she knew which tag was on our tree, which now lay hidden in a stack of trees, and had never been seen by her. She told me that "(unintelligible name)" had told her. I reminded her that she was alone at her cash register, had seen NO VISITORS since I had been in line, and also pointed out that we had received no help from anyone in the selection or attempted purchase of our tree.

She smiled a HUGE smile, looked right into my eyes and asked me for $147.83. The people behind us were starting to get agitated and vocal. She said she could get someone to review the invoice with me, but for now, she just wanted me to pay the bill so the other people could buy their trees. I refused. I told her to pause the transaction.........and I went and got the tree, which to her feigned surprise, cost $84.00 according to her own signs and pricing system. The people behind us took great interest in this new twist of sales and pricing, and one of them called a friend who had just bought a tree , and was already enroute home with it.

I had uncovered a scam!

A grubby man I hadn't seen slowly emerged from beneath a black bedspread, under which he had been eating Chinese food with chopsticks..............

His hair was tousled and greasy and he hadn't shaved for 3-4 days, and it had probably been longer since he had bathed last! He looked at me with dead, expressionless eyes and said: ".....smatter?"

He took offense when I ignored him and, tried to pay Judy Jetson for the tree.

She knew that the game was over(for now), and happily offered me a 10% discount to make amends for the "misunderstanding". I refused the discount, and paid her what the pricing system said the tree cost. The girl in the pale blue sweater was showing signs of interest, but receded into another odd place when she spied the Chinese food and began to eat it. The disheveled lout who had been under the black bedspread lost interest in me too when he saw that the vacuum-headed girl was now making his food disappear. They snarled over it like a couple of dogs. He ripped it out of her hands, and went back under his shroud. She went back into her trance. Judy Jetson sent for someone to carry our tree to the car. I carried the tree to the car and he stood around while we loaded it and tied it down with our own cords. He tried to make conversation, but never offered to help.

As we got into the car, he wished us a "Damned Happy Holiday!"

I think he wanted money for watching us load the tree and tie it down.

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