By Rita Henley Jensen
WeNews editor in chief
Thursday, December 24, 2009
It was suddenly time to get ready for the office holiday party. Nothing was ready and the mood on the streets was bleak. Smack in the middle of all that, Rita Henley Jensen stumbled into the holiday spirit. Here's how it happened.
(WOMENSENEWS)--I'm in a rush.
The holiday party for the staff and freelancers is about to begin in three hours. No food is ready; no decorations hung. After such a difficult year for so many in so many ways, it is a bit harder to build enthusiasm for the holidays and like most women, my to-do list grows exponentially.
The canvas carry-all I hurriedly stuffed with holiday decorations at home the day before and brought to the office sits untouched. I can see that a string of lights is bulging out of its top, so I know we will have at least one set.
I realize we need a tree; most offices in the United Sates have holiday trees. We should have one too. How can we have a party without a tree? Maybe I can get a tree at the local drugstore, a not-too-horrible artificial tree, one that takes only two minutes to set up.
I stand up at my desk and ask in a loud cheery holiday tone: "Should we have a real or a fake tree?"
Every single staff member, even the ones who ignore the fire alarm tests, shouts out: "real!"
"But where will you get one now?" asks the resident tactician.
"I am sure that if I just go out to the street I can find someone selling Christmas trees," I say in the manner one uses when about to begin whistling past a graveyard.
It is cold. No one on the street looks particularly happy about it being cold. No ho ho hos. No Santas by red buckets, ringing bells and asking for donations. No shoppers with big bags and bigger smiles. Just glum folks who look like they are on their way back to their offices.
Down one block. No tree sellers. Over two blocks. No tree sellers. Through the shopping plaza. Not a fir in sight. Quick glance up and down Broadway. Nada.
Panic. Quit? Settle for a fake? Where would I even get a fake? One more block east. Where was that store again? Maybe up one more block.
Victory! Evergreens outside a gourmet grocery! And they don't look half bad. No one waiting on customers, though. No clearly marked prices. Not even a sign indicating what the prices ranges are. Now what? Move on?
A man, dressed in layers of drab work clothes, appears. He looks to be in his 40s, about my height, with soft brown hair and eyes.
"Do you want a tree?" he asks.
"Yes," I say. "How much is that one?"
"Sixty-five," he says.
"And that one?"
"Seventy-five. It's taller."
"Do you take credit cards?"
No time to haggle, no time to ask the prices of the other trees.
"Okay, I'll take the 65. Do you deliver?"
"It's near. I'll show you."
Another customer grabs his attention. She has a cab waiting. She takes the one for $75 and she buys a stand too. She doesn't argue about the price either.
He turns to me: "I am so sorry to keep you waiting," he says. "I will deliver your tree as soon as I finish with her."
I pace. I realize I better buy a stand.
He turns to me. "OK, this is the tree you want?"
"How much is a stand?"
"OK. Yes. I'll show you the way. I'll carry the stand."
I walk away, fast. He carrying the tree in one hand and keeps the pace. Then he laughs.
"Hey, you don't have to walk so fast. It is OK."
"But don't you have to watch your trees?"
"My friend will watch it." He points at a man standing behind a large lunch cart.
I slow down.
"It's kind of nice to take a little break during the day," I say, suddenly delighted to be outside, walking and talking and carrying a holiday tree stand.
"Yes," he says with a big smile.
"So where are you from?" I ask.
"Oh, are things OK now in Turkey?"
"Not so OK for me. I am actually Kurdish."
I stop at this reference to the hostilities between the Turkish government and the Kurdish people who insist on their autonomy.
"Oh, I know a little about that because of my job. I am a journalist."
"Oh, a journalist. I own four stores there, in the tourist area."
"Yes," he says, with a shy laugh. "I bet you are wondering why I am here selling Christmas trees on the street? I close the stores in the winter and I come here to make money."
"Do you have a family in Turkey?"
"No, but I have a daughter in England."
"Do you see her often?"
"About once a year."
"Only once a year. That must make you sad."
"Are you married or divorced," he asks.
My internal green-card warning system goes off and starts flashing: Watch out. He is only being nice because he wants to marry you to get his papers. I try to turn it off.
"Why do you ask?"
"No reason. I just asked."
We walk without talking until we get to the Women's eNews office.
"Where are your stores in Turkey?" I ask, as he puts the tree down. "I'll look up the town on the Internet.
"I don't know the name in English."
He hands me his card and I go to my computer, looking up his stores.
"You must come to Turkey on a holiday and visit my stores," he says.
"Yes, I must go to Turkey one day."
"Do you want help putting up the tree?"
The resident fixer-of-things had already begun the task and assured him she could do just fine without him.
But I looked at him and decided to offer him a bit more money and ask him to do it. After all, he did it for a living. He had it up in what seemed like two minutes. I came to inspect.
As he turned to leave, he said "thank you" and leaned forward and gave me an enthusiastic kiss on my cheek.
I laughed and waved, grateful that the holidays had brought me such warmth on a cold winter afternoon and that just by walking a few blocks in downtown Manhattan I could meet a Turkish Kurd with a family in England who wintered in New York who invited me to visit his shop in a small town on the Mediterranean coast.
Several staff members stopped work and said how much they enjoyed the tree. I rushed off to buy the food and soda for the party. By the time I returned, the fall semester intern had walked in loaded with baked chicken and vegetarian lasagna, enough for all.
I hope during this holiday season you too have a chance to take an unexpected slow walk in the middle of the afternoon and receive an enthusiastic kiss and the approval of those nearest you.
Rita Henley Jensen is editor in chief of Women's eNews.