In Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42. While Adam’s himself said the number was arbitrarily chosen for its lack of significance, the characters in the book often seek the ultimate question in hopes that once it is discovered, 42 will make sense as an ultimate answer. Perhaps, as the primary protagonist Arthur Dent suggests, the question is: “How many roads must a man walk down?” For me, the ultimate question (which should bring me enlightenment and direction and make sense of this life I now reside in) has turned out to be: “How many Christmas trees are in my lot?” Of course, the answer is 42.
Let me start at the beginning of this tale. After graduating with my MA and returning from a month traveling Europe, I began to apply for jobs across the country. For over two months I applied to positions ranging from National Events Coordinator to Funeral Planner to Writer. Until, on the tenth of December, I sent out my 97th application. Hoping to hit number 100 that evening, I jumped onto kijiji where I found a variety of labour intensive work that would be easy to apply for. Thus, my 100th application was to an online ad to be a Xmas Tree Salesperson. I didn’t even attach a resume. I simply replied to the ad saying my name, the fact I had some sales experience, and that I was strong enough to lift a tree. Satisfied with my 100 applications, I went to bed wondering if I had any will left to continue my job hunt.
I woke up at 9 am the next morning to a ringing telephone. I pulled myself groggily from my bed. The man of the other end of the line and my future employer asked me three questions: 1) Did you apply to sell Christmas Trees (to which I said “Yes”), 2) Do you have sales experience (to which I answered that I had solicited donations for a non-profit), and 3) How old are you. Upon answering successfully, he told me to meet him in a gas station parking lot down the street in an hour. I wasn’t sure if I was hired, if I was going to an interview, or if I was about to be mugged, but I put on my warmest wool sweater and a hoodie and headed to Irving.
I was met by a man in a red truck, who sounded remarkably like a serious version of comedian Adam Carolla. He explained that the trees sold anywhere from $20 to $35 depending on height and quality and that wreaths were $17. A customer pulled into the lot and he gestured to her saying, “There’s your first customer.” I looked over at her, looked back at him, and suddenly realized I had a job.
I approached her, trying to be friendly, and asked if she needed any help. She looked along the rows of Christmas trees, turned to me, and asked, “Do you sell any other kinds of trees?” Only later did I realize she was asking if we had spruce or pine as opposed to the balsam firs that filled the lot. But at the time, I just stared at her blankly, imagining a Christmas tree lot filled with cactuses and palm trees, and then politely responded, “I think this is the only kind of Christmas tree we have.” In the end she bought a tree for $25 and after I’d sold two more at the same price, my employer approached me once again.
“You’re not just selling trees,” he explained. “You’re selling a franchise, and that franchise is a perfect Christmas. Some people want big fat trees and some people want little skinny trees. So the perfect tree is really subjective.”
“So I should be selling them for $30?” I asked.
“Well… yeah, if you can,” he responded. From then on I stopped offering the option to negotiate and when people asked the price of my trees I told them, “On average: $30.” For the most part it worked too. The problem was the hagglers. If someone offered $25 on any tree, it was hard for me to say no. I’m a people pleaser who hates confrontation, and nothing was worse than having to put up a fuss over $5.
Before too long (maybe a couple hours after I had started), my boss gestured for me to come over to his truck. He handed me $50 in change and the keys to his van. Just before he sped off, I asked, “Should I keep track of the number of trees I sell?”
“If you want,” he responded. And that was that. After replying to a kijiji posting the night before, I was the supervisor at my own tree lot. The job itself wasn’t bad. Then again, after spending a summer cutting fish and filling a box with their guts, a “bad job” was somewhat relative. All I really had to do was wait in the lot for customers, the majority of which knew exactly what they wanted. Once they’d made their selection, I’d take a handsaw and slice off the bottom to make a fresh cut allowing the tree to soak up more water. Then I’d load the tree into the back of their car or tie it to their roof. When they were gone, I’d grab another tree from the pile, heave it over my shoulder, and chuck it in the empty pot. After 7 hours, I’d sold nine trees, two wreaths, and two bundles of boughs.
While it felt akin to waiting at Home Depot until a truck pulled up to hire a labourer paid in cash, the job did manage to get me out of the house, talking to people, and exercising. So like anyone else who’s retired and looking for something to keep them busy, a no-brainer part time job may have been just what I needed. Sometimes the answers to life’s tough questions are complicated… and sometimes they’re just 42.