I need to begin this story ten minutes before my shift ended at work yesterday. I’m a barista-waitress at this funky little bistro, and I spend my days pouring coffee and frothing milk for cappuccinos and brewing double espressos for Americanos (*espresso and hot water). I love my job. I also love coffee. A lot. I used to drink gallons of it a day, but in the last few years, I’ve cut down to two cups in the morning and, occasionally, a decaf in the afternoon. I finally came to terms with the fact that any more caffeine in my system makes me hyperactive and then borderline-manic, and I set out to conquer the world, and then I’m hit with an anxiety attack that results in a caffeine-crash-induced coma and complete pituitary shutdown, and in the middle of Accomplishing So Many Things!!!, I fall down wherever I happen to be at that moment, and I sleep for 5 hours. So I’ve been very strict about monitoring my caffeine intake.
Ten minutes before my shift ended, I was whining to a coworker that I needed to go to the gym, I haven’t been in so long, I’m developing a beer gut, it’s so good for my depression when I go, but I was just so tired. So I caved in and made myself a dirty soy chai (chai with a double shot of espresso. Dee-licious. And yep, I like both my chais and my martinis dirty.). Chai itself has caffeine, and the Starbucks espresso we brew is basically liquid cocaine. I pounded the drink and then proceeded to tell my wonderful (oh, how I love her!) manager, in under three minutes, ALL of my grand ideas for decorating the restaurant for the holidays. Trees! Lights! Real holly! Fake snow! Mistetoe! Carolers!!!! Elves!!!!!! I was going a mile a minute. Those dirty chais hit you like a freight train. Always carry at least 2mg of Klonopin in your purse if you’re going to have one. Oh, and overdosing on caffeine also makes me so hyper that it’s impossible for me to corral my racing thoughts in a logical manner, so that I end up doing incredibly irrational things. Long story short, I am blaming the following incident on an overdose of caffeine.
I speed-walked out of work with the fullest intention of going straight to the gym to run that treadmill with the feverish fervor of me hedgehog running his wheel.
I guess all that Christmas-decorating-talk laid eggs in my brain, because as I waited at the stoplight by the Wal-mart, I noticed this huge new banner announcing REAL, LIVE CHRISTMAS TREES STARTING AT JUST $19.98! I have never in my adult life had a Christmas tree, save for that one year I caved in and purchased a tiny potted fir tree from Trader Joe’s and forgot to water it and it fainted and died within a week, shedding tiny needles all over my house that I never, ever got rid of. Living alone for ten years, the idea of purchasing a tree, lights, and decorations seemed like a waste of time and money. Plus, everyone else I know gets trees, so then I can just go hang out with them and enjoy my spiked eggnog while admiring their time and effort.
But something had changed in me. This was my first Christmas season in twelve years (I’m sorry, allow me to repeat that: twelve years. 1/3 of my life) not being a retail manager. Retail management means working ten thousand hours a week during the last three months of the year, dealing with horrendously stressed out and nasty people, gift wrapping til your fingers bleed, quiet fantasies about stabbing people in the eye sockets with a pair of scissors, and then, as your reward, driving two hours to spend exactly 36 hours with your family before driving two hours back to open the store again and deal with returns. I despised Christmas. But not anymore! I was free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I was free at last. This year I had ten days with my family and I never had to deal with a return without a receipt again. This called for some serious celebration.
The stoplight changed and I took a left into the Wal-Mart parking lot and careened up to the Garden Center for my first ever Christmas tree.
Upon entering the Garden Center, I located a girl watering poinsettias and asked her, hands clutched to my chest in pure, unadulterated, child-like excitement, where the trees where! She sized me up as someone who clearly had something wrong with her, and said “They’re….outside? You just walked past them. They’re, like, impossible to miss.”
Indeed they were. In my caffeine-induced state of hyperactivity, I’d sprinted past the enormous corral of trees–a virtual forest of trees, actually–that was right next to the main entrance. I was awed: the “starting at $19.98” trees were eight feet tall. Eight feet!!! That’s two and a half feet taller than me! I carefully went through every tree until I found the perfect one: fat, fluffy, full, and in need of a happy home. I wrapped my giddy little arms around its needly, fat, fluffly, full trunk and dragged it, with no small effort, through the main entrance of Wal-Mart.
Fifty feet into the store, I realized that I needed accessories to go with it, like a tree stand, lights, and maybe an ornament for the top. Huh. What did I do with this massive tree while I finished shopping?
While reading this story, you need to be able to properly visualize the scene: little pink-yarn-haired Hilary, in heels, purse falling off her shoulder, with both arms wrapped around the top of this very tall, surprisingly heavy tree–the branches of which had become tangled in her hair–and the whole ensemble was leaving behind it a trail of muddy, melted snow. There was also plenty of snow still on the tree, and on Hilary. So now you have an accurate picture of what people were looking at.
I dragged the tree to the first cashier I saw, a bleary-eyed man in the middle of ringing out a line of customers ten people deep. “Excuse me,” I inquired chipperly, “But is there a good place for me to store this while I continue shopping?” I asked the question like I had a small shopping basket on my arm, and not a Christmas tree which I was bear-hugging to save my life.
Then I noticed the faces of the people in line. And then….wait for it….wait for it…I realized that you’re not supposed to bring the trees into the store. “Oh my god,” I said to the cashier, with what I’m sure was a comic look of genuine shock on my face. “You’re not supposed to bring the trees in the store.”
He took a moment to size up the situation before replying with a flat “No.” I politely inquired whether there might be a place I could stow the tree while I grabbed a few things. He suggested Customer Service.
I dragged my now very melty tree through the store to Customer Service. There was a line of people ahead of me at Customer Service, holding Wal-mart bags and receipts and microwaves and George Foreman grills still in their boxes. Everyone looked irritated. And they only had one customer service person working. I took my place in line, awkwardly, asking people if they wouldn’t mind giving me more room, like ten feet would be awesome. One guy put his head down and laughed silently. I waited my turn while pretending to be very interested in reading the product recall posters on the wall. Luckily, after years of accidentally doing absurd things like this, I just don’t harbor the capacity to be embarrassed about any of my antics anymore.
When I got to the desk, I said “Hello there! Is it possible for me to have you put this behind the desk for a few minutes?”. Again, like I was holding a few small toiletries and not, you know, a tree. The kid at the counter was maybe seventeen. You could tell this was the best thing that had happened to him at the Wal-Mart Customer Service desk in a very long time. He said yes, I could drag the tree around the counter. I heard him laugh and mutter “Oh, my god,” like “This is friggin’ awesome” and “I can’t wait to tell the guys this story after work.”
I grabbed my lights, tree stand, and ornament, and went back to Customer Service to ask the kid if I could pleeeease pay here so that I didn’t have to drag the tree through the store again. I fessed up that this was my first-ever Christmas tree purchase, and further confessed that I now realize it was idiotic to bring the tree into the store, but how else was I supposed to pay for it?? It had the barcode right on the tag!
In a gentle and almost pitying tone, he said “So when you buy your tree next year? Just rip the tag off the tree, ok? Leave tree tree outside where you found it, and just bring us the tag. Ok?”. I said yes, OK, I totally get it, and thanked him profusely and wished him a very happy holiday. Then I dragged my tree through the store and out the front doors, leaving behind me an incriminating trail of snow and mud and Hilary-sized footprints, and headed for my car, where I was about to realize that I had to get the tree into the car, by myself, which is probably why you don’t hear about people buying Christmas tree by themselves.
Addendum: after a long and frustrating struggle, during which I knocked out two ceiling panels and got my head covered in pine needles and my body covered with pine sap, I got the tree up, strung the lights, and topped it all off with an ornament. And it looks pretty great. And my home is now cozy and bright.
Christmas is my new favorite thing. And next year, folks, just bring the tag in, ok?