This year I have been listening to KOIT-FM (96.5) during the holidays. Maybe it's because the station is playing more old stuff — Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Phil Spector joints — or maybe it's because Bay Area radio sucks so incredibly hard that even Christmas music is a respite. I have a lot of anger issues concerning our local airwaves. And before you college radio geeks get your vinyl all warped, let it be known that some of us are not always in the mood to hear a Swedish noise band when we're driving to Trader Joe's.
It's just that the commercial radio around here has so much potential. I was excited when Max FM (95.7) first rolled out its “whatever we feel like” format, thinking that someone would finally combine my love for lite rock classics and the new wave of British heavy metal. But man, what a scam! Guys, there is absolutely nothing maverick about playing Lionel Richie and Third Eye Blind. I actually heard a DJ on there say the other day, “I'm going to fade Billy Joel into the Spin Doctors, just because I can!” Oh yeah? Well, fuck you! You suck!
There is no place for in-betweeners, those of us who aren't ready to hear the Narnack roster at 7 a.m. yet are not enthused about the Elton John catalog. As a result, for Christmas this year I am asking for satellite radio. In the meantime, I shall remain in between.
It stands to reason that this week I would find myself at an in-between sort of place, the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge on Lombard and Van Ness. From the outside, it looks like one of those mid- to late-'90s Bettie Page/Esquivel sort of spots, but inside it's actually a clean, cozy tavern with minimal salutes to New Orleans and prestidigitation. Everyone, it seems, smokes, and the bar is lined up with neighborhood guys ranging in age from mid-20s to late 60s. It is the perfect midpoint between a young, hip watering hole and old-school working-class Frisco.
I was the only female in the place, and, to quote Homer Simpson, I like those odds. Across from me, down at the end, was a young guy. He was hunched over his beer and smoking a Marlboro. Then he did something amazing. He walked over to the jukebox and played “The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King, “Tangerine” by Led Zeppelin, and “Fillmore Jive” by Pavement. If only Max FM did stuff like that.
The door swung open and another young guy walked in. He was wearing an Izod shirt — unironically — and painter's pants.
“How are the Festivus sales going?” said the bartender to him with a big smile, gliding over to take his drink order.
“Pretty good,” replied the dude, and it soon became clear that he was none other than a Christmas tree salesman.
At this point, it must be known how I feel about Christmas trees. I adore them. I see the scattered armies of them standing there in their lots, and I want to take them all home, or, at the very least, walk up to each of them and stroke their fir.
As a kid I once read a story about a Christmas tree. He was growing out in the tundra, all alone, and he was very sad. Then a family came upon him, and the sight of his branches brought smiles to the children's faces. The father gazed at him with reverence and then chopped him down, which he didn't seem to mind because he was finally wanted. Then things got even better for the tree. He was taken into a warm home and adorned with jeweled finery and twinkling lights. Everyone gathered around him and put gifts at his feet. Each day he would wait for the family to get up and greet him, and each evening he would say good night before they got snug in their beds. He was loved, and for the first time he felt like he belonged. Then Christmas was over, and they ripped off his ornaments, plucked off his tinsel, and threw him by the side of the road to slowly wither in the slush and filth. He died of a broken heart.
This story made me cry really hard when I was a kid.
I asked the Christmas tree vendor if he had grown attached to any trees on the lot. He didn't quite understand what I was getting at. In fact, he was wondering how he was going to dispose of the dozens of trees he was going to have left over. “I have mostly 5- and 6-footers left,” he said, not even considering that maybe those “footers” had names like Tanny (Tanenbaum) or Connie (Conifer).
But the Christmas tree salesman was a nice man. He lit up a cigarette and told me that he could make me a deal on a tree. He didn't know that as much as I love the things, I just can't throw them out in January like so much garbage. That goddamn story is still with me.
Driving home, Max FM was playing “Working for the Weekend,” the only Loverboy song those DJs ever play, even though the band has, like, at least five hits. It was at that point that I realized I could do something in-between: get a fake Christmas tree. I could take it out every year and adorn it, then gently de-decorate it in January, wrap it up snugly in a blankie, and put it in my closet until next year. I think that it would still feel cared for that way, and I wouldn't be participating in the holocaust anymore.
The DJ mixed Loverboy into Alanis Morissette, and I shuddered.