My family puts up a traditional Christmas tree. Well, not that traditional. A truly traditional Christmas tree would be paraded through town and then set on fire.
But Christmas is a festive time of year, a time when our shared pagan heritage is proudly on display, albeit via the yoke of Christianity. And, godless as I am, I always put up a Christmas tree, a real tree. I can’t abide plastic shrubbery when the sweet green smell of the forest is so desperately needed by city dwellers.
I have friends who put up their trees before the month of December, and for me this is much too early. And we prefer to wait until at least the 15th in our family, as our girls’ maternal grandfather’s birthday is the 14th, and we do not want to cloud that celebration any more than it already is by holiday circumstance.
Right after Thanksgiving, temporary outdoor Christmas tree shops set up on sidewalks in parking lots, and shopping areas throughout the city. In Inwood, Broadway near 207th Street was my place of choice and the people who often manned that shop had come down from Canada. Some come from Pennsylvania or Vermont or New Hampshire. Last year we bought our tree in the shopping center on Linden Place and the Whitestone Expressway Service Road—not the most picturesque place to buy a tree but it got the job done and we went home with a nice tree.
Years ago when I was living alone in Ozone Park, I didn’t get around to getting a tree until Christmas Eve or the day before, and managed to get a $5 tree for $3. I tipped generously but never had that kind of luck again.
My three daughters and I set out on a mission to buy a tree this past Saturday, 10 days before Christmas. We drove to Douglaston, Queens, where a length of sidewalk beside a high church yard wall along Northern Boulevard was an impromptu Christmas tree store. We found parking down a side street and arrived at the tree stand to the sounds of Charlie Brown’s theme song being played over a PA system. The man who helped us with our tree gave candy canes to the girls. Within a few minutes I paid cash for the tree ($58, which is pricy for a tree but by New York City standards that’s a good deal), tipped the guy who helped us, and we were on our way back home.
Our Christmas tree has punk rock ornaments from awesome bands like The Spunk Lads, The Bullys, World War IX, Skum City, and (self-promotional plug here) Blackout Shoppers. And almost all of these come from Superfan Heather, New York’s best and possibly most prolific punk rock band photographer (her boyfriend, Admiral Yammomoto, would be a close second). These ornaments go on the tree every year, as do ornaments made my wife and her brother as children that date back to the 1970s.
Since three young children worked on decorating the tree, my wife had the foresight to separate the non-breakable ornaments and focus on using them to decorate the tree. We’ll have plenty of time to use the fragile ornaments when our girls are older.
With lights and a bit of silver garland, and a healthy heap of ornaments, our tree was ready pretty quickly. We’ll remember to water it and work to be worthy of its pagan heritage.
It is time to escape New York for a week as our beloved city continues to bake in the summer heat. We are headed to Cape Ann, Massachusetts to attend a friend’s wedding and then enjoy the New England coast.
Summers in New York City are marked in part by our efforts to go elsewhere as weekend getaways snarl traffic on Friday and Sunday nights and holiday weekends can send people away from the five boroughs in droves.
I find it more enjoyable to stay in the city during some of the more popular times to leave. Going around the city on Labor Day can make New York feel like a ghost town in parts.
But New Yorkers need to leave the city for long periods of time over the summer in order to maintain our sanity. New York is an intense and crowded place. It can get even more crowded and oppressive in the summertime as our transit system and the areas near where we work are flooded with slow-moving tourists who are often clueless about the way to behave in a big city and slow things down. We don’t hate tourists; we like and need tourists, but their increased presence intensifies an already strained existence.
And the often unrelenting humid heat of New York helps bring our regular misery stew to a high boil. The city traps the heat with its high buildings, blacktop and concrete, jacks it up a notch with the captured exhaust of car and bus traffic and tops it off with some extra hot blasts from air conditioning units. Too many weeks and months of New York City heat can drive you insane and long for someplace, anyplace, where you can enjoy looking at trees or relax with cool grass under your feet.
When I was growing up my family made Lake George in upstate New York our regular vacation spot. Lake George is far enough north that it is cool at night and not obscenely hot during the day. You can see lots of stars in the sky and the place is enough of a popular tourist destination that they have large amusement parks. There are also historic forts you can visit that are rich in history of the Revolutionary and French and Indian Wars.
This is the first year my wife and I are taking our daughters on a vacation. We had a brief visit in Maine with family but we are about to embark on our first vacation of the four of us as a unit and we are heading to Cape Ann, Massachusetts.
My father’s family vacationed in Cape Ann when my Dad was growing up and he and my aunts and uncles were photographed in front of the Fisherman’s Memorial in Gloucester. We plan to recreate these photos as best we can with our girls. Rockport is also going to be having its annual Lobster Fest while we are there and I have promised to attend.
I plan on eating seafood, visiting with friends and otherwise doing as little as possible. It’s not too late to plan your own summer escape from New York. Be sure it’s temporary.