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Nina In New York: A Tree Story, In Which I Very Nearly Lose My Mind (Again)

A young professional's take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

This past weekend, I had the educational experience of creating a Christmas tree from scratch. We had no ornaments. Oh, sorry. We had one ornament. A single black and yellow Steelers ball which my husband received as a gift years ago and which he has been moving from apartment to apartment, waiting for the season when we'd finally have our own tree on which to display it.

See Also: The Tri-State's Best Christmas Tree Farms

But, like I was saying, we really had no ornaments. No topper, no lights, no festive interior decorations. Nothing. And despite the fact that I am the Jewish half of our couple, I am also the shopping half, which meant this job was no exception. It was up to me to purchase and furnish enough holiday cheer to turn our apartment into a veritable Rockefeller Center. Hm, wait . . .

See Also: CBSNewYork's Christmas Decor Guide

First off, given our givens (shrubbery-eating dog, mildly allergic husband, cost efficiency), we made the decision to get an artificial tree. Which meant that instead of going to the corner and just buying a tree off one of four different tree guys, I had to go in search. For the purposes of adhering to my word count, I will condense this saga for you and simply tell you that this required multiple trips to suburban Targets in two states in search of a certain tree at a certain price, which I ultimately decided I didn't like as much as another tree, which was ultimately out of stock, leaving me to buy a completely different version that had none of the attributes I'd wanted except that it was only $50 and actually wound up looking pretty darn good.

If that sentence gave you a headache, you now understand approximately one-tenth of the agita I developed over the weekend in attempting to furnish this tree.

My favorite moment came when I called Mr. Pajak from Target on Saturday, having chosen the aforementioned tree, asking for advice on buying lights. Due to extreme section-overcrowding and spotty service, I found myself standing directly next to a music display which was blasting 30-seconds each of every annoying Christmas song ever recorded, on continuous loop.

Nina: Hey, how many lights do we need?


Husband: How big is it?


Nina: What?

Husband: How big is it?

Nina: It's 7 feet tall, 42 inches ---


Husband: What?!


Husband: Six feet? Okay, you need—


Nina: Wait, what?? No. Seven! I'm going to kill myself.


Husband: What? Oh my god, I'm going to kill you.

You get the idea.

Once I squared away the lights, I had to scrounge around for ornaments in my chosen color scheme. How many ornaments? Oh, 25-30 says the Target employee. Hm, around 100? says my mother-in-law. Husband has ceased speaking to me at this point, and my Jewish shopping buddy was truly out of her element, so I chose to randomly and haphazardly throw anything silver, gold or white in one of my two shopping carts.

Still, after all that, I found myself out aimlessly shopping for yet more ornaments and junk and toppers and skirts and what-have-yous on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the city stores are even more poorly stocked than the suburban ones. I wandered around store after store like a zombie, bumping into people and drooling. I spent eight whole minutes in Bed, Bath & Beyond staring at two remarkably similar stick-on wall hooks, trying to figure out why one was $5 more than the other, and whether that meant I should buy it. It all came to a head when I moved on to West Elm, whose low selection drove me to defensively grab every single item I saw which fit my color scheme, regardless of utility or price.

Mine, mine mineminemine I snarled in my head, as I saw two girls looking covetously at my box of sparkly clip-on birds. I stared vacantly down at their basket filled with stuff I wanted.

"She has birds," one of them murmured meaningfully to the other.

"I think I got the last box," I said with an apologetic shrug which only another girl would realize was in no way apologetic.

Nina Pajak's Christmas Tree
The Pajak Christmas Tree: Several shopping trips and a few nervous breakdowns later, I'd say it turned out pretty well.

After vacantly circling the store for the tenth time, something in me snapped and I came crashing back to reality. I looked down to discover that I was holding boxes and boxes of sparkly ornaments, with more hanging from each of my fingers. Tucked between my thumb and forefinger was a gigantic glitter feather, which I contemplated and attempted to stick in a display tree by way of experiment. An employee passed by.

"Um, excuse me. What is this?" I asked.

He cracked up. "I . . . I don't really know. I think you put it in a vase?" he said, looking around for clues.

"Ah. Not in a tree."

"I guess you could put it in a tree?"

We looked at each other and the feather for a few more seconds. Then suddenly I shook my head and frowned.

"I don't need this!" I proclaimed seriously, and then burst out laughing. I felt an enormous wave of relief. Total mental collapse avoided. I felt my color coming back and my confidence returning. When I hit the next and final store, I was a whirlwind of productivity, grabbing things off of displays when the stock was out and making quick, cost-effective decisions. And then I was done. Actually, that's a lie. I'm not done and feel quite certain I never will be. But for the purposes of this story and probably my sanity, I think it's fair to say I've done enough.

And I have to say, this Jewish girl put together one fine looking tree.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

The Nina Archives:

I Love Con Ed. Really, I Do.

Welcome Back, Cold Weather Accessories

On 'The Holidays'

Good News! It's Still Cyber Monday!

I Love You Anyway, Di Fara Pizza

Occupy Elastic Waistbands

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