What a Deal

December 11, 2008

Portland’s robust recycle and reuse ethos is stronger than I thought. But the competition for customers may be getting out of hand, judging from this scene:

A sign in a vacant lot on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard advertises potted Christmas trees. I see some as I drive past. Next to the trees are stacks of mattresses. Christmas trees and mattresses are visually incongruous items, so I head back for a closer look.

The trees I understand. Live firs, spruce, and other varieties are rented to consumers for the holidays. According to a brochure, the company, Living Christmas Trees, then plants them “in a watershed to grow old and help our environment!”

I’ve seen mattresses sold outdoors before, but never used ones. A guy with brass ear studs asks me what size I want. He sees me staring at a double mattress with stains reminiscent of Rorschach inkblot tests. “Only fifty dollars,” he says. That’s less than the $70 for a tree ($80 with delivery).

The two enterprises aren’t collaborating. No buy-a-tree-and-get-a-stained-mattress-free special. But something entices a potential customer to stop. The young man leaves his idling SUV to peruse not the trees but the mattresses. He asks about prices. Watching him from inside the SUV is a young woman. She’s frowning.

Leaving, I wonder whether she wants a live Christmas tree but will end up with a used mattress.