Almost a half-century ago, my father, two brothers, and I walked over to next block, Irwin Avenue, to pick out the family Christmas tree. The seller was a neighbor named Cathy. On the cobblestone grounds in front of a series of ramshackle garages beside her house were dozens of Balsam firs and Scotch pines. We selected the latter, as I recall, and Cathy said in parting, “I hope Sanny Claus is good to you!” She was a Bronx gal to the core.
I don’t remember how much we paid for that tree, but it wasn’t anything near what one Manhattan tree seller is charging this year—twenty-five dollars per foot. And speaking of the here and now, Whole Foods Market is selling six- to eight-foot Christmas trees in the very same Manhattan for $59.99. Twenty-five dollars for delivery and, if the buyer’s address is within walking distance, fifteen dollars! Supporting the contemporary Cathy tree peddlers—the little guys and girls—isn’t always cut-and-dried. Suffice it to say that our Christmas stroll in 1970 was in a vastly different world from what we know today.
My Christmas stroll of yesterday is Exhibit A. And, a footnote here, Cathy, her house, and garages are just memories now. Today an apartment building with not-so-ramshackle garages on the ground floor stands there.
Once upon a time Cathy advertised her Christmas trees for sale with a handwritten cardboard sign that cut to the chase: "Christmas Trees for Sale."
Cathy sold her trees without the help of giant Sanny Claus blow-ups and electronic signs.
Recently, a pizza delivery guy told me that I had restored his faith in humanity. Why? Because I regularly give him a considerable tip. He further complained that all-too-many customers stiff him with measly or non-existent tips. Upon delivering to tightwads, I suspect even the SoHo Trees delivery guys might not be sporting toothy smiles.
Not all street peddlers of Christmas trees are created equal. Some live for a mostly cold month of wheeling and dealing in crudely constructed plastic lean-tos. On the other hand, this seller has an RV and portable bathroom, too, nearby—Call Ahead, who is "Number 1 at Picking up Number 2."
"Until the other kiddies knock him down." I remember local bullies and punks doing just that kind of thing when Cathy was a Christmas tree entrepreneur. I always wondered why exactly they felt compelled to knock over harmless inanimate snowmen built by animate others in equally harmless locations. Seeing some of the punks and bullies on Facebook all these years later—in their adult incarnations—I better understand. They were jerks as kids and are jerks as adults.
The "Baby, It's Cold Outside" song mini-controversy is just further evidence that we live in stupid—and getting stupider—times with each passing minute.
Reading between the lines...
Christmas at the Holland Tunnel. Not much Christmas Spirit therein.
All is calm at an increasingly rare sidewalk phone booth.
Getting steamed on the city sidewalks, busy sidewalks is par for the course...
Mom-and-pop shops are fast going by the wayside. It's not Cathy the Christmas tree seller's city anymore.
Those aren't Christmas decorations in the window.
Restaurant Row in lower Manhattan, including Asian Confusion cuisine.
Personally, I'd have named this place: This Is Pizza.
This deli and the pizza shop were quite near each other. I wonder if they are both owned by the Fresh family.
Just a wild guess, but I bet it's not.
Someone among the Hell's Angels had the Christmas spirit. If this picture had audio, you would hear "My Favorite Things" playing. For some reason that's become a Christmas song. However, it could be that the motorcyclist is a fan of The Sound of Music.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)