If you wanted work you called any one of a dozen or so casting agencies and thered be a recording telling you what they needed. Age 21 to look 15, 28 to look 21 -- first your age group and then your look: street, beach, clubber... If you fit what they needed, then you called another number to talk to an agent to get the details. All the agencies would have Polaroid photos and stats of you. I worked a lot for an agency that specialized in off-center types. I was a punk rocker, and at that time almost every show wanted a punk rocker somewhere in the scene. It was a novelty, and there were 10 or 12 of us who always got the punk work.
One Christmas vacation though, I needed something full time cause I was pretty short on money. I couldnt even afford a suitcase of beer, much less a night on the town, and my diet was strictly Ramen.
Driving to the beach one afternoon I passed an empty car dealership with a huge help wanted sign hanging out in front. I turned around and pulled in. It was a big parking lot with nothing parked in it but an old Cadillac and a trailer. An old guy came out and introduced himself as Red. We would be selling Xmas trees he told me. He said theyd be really busy and needed sales people, but if I wanted to start early I could come in the next day and help with the set-up. So I did.
My fellow employee was this surfer kid a couple years younger than me. Red gave us a sledgehammer and a lead pipe and instructed us to start poking holes in the asphalt parking lot. The holes had to be in a grid. Sticks or whatever were going to be put in the holes, and then rope strung between them. This was going to be where some of the trees would be displayed. Others would be put up inside the old showroom.
I told my father (who was an actor) about Red and he said he had been a famous stuntman in his day. Red had to be in his 70s, but looked really fit. He was tall and wore a cowboy hat; so did his girlfriend. The girlfriend was almost as tall as him and both were leathery tan.
After the parking lot was prepared I
was assigned to work inside where we prepped trees. Im from Northern Michigan, where you buy a tree, stick it in a tree stand and put it up. Not at Reds lot though. We had all these wood Xs with red plastic bowls stapled to them that wed hammer into the base of the tree.
Every tree was supposed to be near perfect in shape, so next up was drilling holes in the trunk where there was any gap. Wed put glue in the hole and then stick in branches from a pile that had been cut off other trees -- basically for the same reason as transplants -- to improve the trees shape. Next step was the dye job; every tree was either sprayed green or white with gold glitter. No tree left the lot in its natural state.
THE MONSTER TREE
I quit the job after my arm swelled up while hammering dishes into the tree bases. I went over to Red to show him my arm, which upon later consideration was ridiculous, considering he was
this grizzled old stunt man. I was trying to finagle myself into a sales job but of course he wasnt sympathetic, so
I just left.
I did go on one tree delivery before quitting. We had a 25-foot monster of white and gold glitter that was headed to a house in Beverly Hills. We rode with the tree in the back of a migrant-style truck. The house was a huge colonial with a curved staircase in the front hall. We put the tree up next to the stairs and the lady was thrilled with it. Id like to make fun of her crassness but I cant. Back in my apartment I had my own three-foot tall white and gold tree and mine wasnt even real.
Mike Morey is a writer from