It's the holiday season, and we sent writer John Kuhner out to investigate who's hawking Christmas trees to the city's residents. In this series of posts you'll meet some of the more intriguing vendors—everyone from that guy in the red Porsche... to that guy who hasn't showered in weeks. Previously: Part 1, Part 2.
"I'm the only person who has sold Christmas trees every year of his life since he was born,” boasts Henry Romp. He may well be correct. Treeselling is physically demanding work, usually the business of young, single people, not families, but Romp’s family is hardly usual: Vermont hippies who have been coming to New York to sell trees since 1988, they were perfectly willing to spend a month every year living in an RV in the Village, even with small children. Even, in fact, with an infant. “Oh, we got a visit from Child Services,” says his author-musician-roofer-Vermont-Renaissance-Man father, Billy. “They got a report that there was a baby living out on the streets and so forth. So we brought them into our camper, showed them our shower, our bathroom, and she said, ‘You know, these are better conditions than a lot of kids have.’” “Hell, I loved being here as a kid,” Henry adds. “It was like the coolest thing ever.” What about when he had to go to school? “I was homeschooled until seventh grade, and then after that my parents let me deal with my teachers. They would give me like a packet or something.” Independence is one of his hallmarks: preferring to do things his own way, he dropped out of high school in ninth grade and got his GED within six months, "with no direction from anybody, just looking up what I needed to pass the test and reading about it myself." The end result is that he has spent every December of his life on Jane Street, selling trees. It’s been Ferris Bueller’s Life Off.
He has developed some Ferris Bueller style and swagger. He makes tree deliveries—in his red 1987 Porsche 944S (not quite a 1961 Ferrari, but close). “We’re widely regarded as the best treesellers in Manhattan,” he says as we zip along Jane Street with a ten-foot tree stuffed into his tiny sportscar. We’re going so fast the wreath he has wired to his hood is spinning. “I’m only driving slow because I can’t see any of my mirrors,” he apologizes. He’s right he can’t see any of his mirrors: he can’t see me in the passenger seat either. In fact, he can’t see anything on the right side of the car, because of the huge tree. He hits 45 mph as we’re only fifty feet away from a stop sign. “When we drive back I’ll show you what this thing can do.” Of course on the right side of the car everyone is blithely crossing the streets while texting. “Is anyone coming?” Henry asks.
We spoke of the ingenuity of the tree sellers in a previous post; Henry also shows some unusual problem-solving skills. “I got a nasty cut yesterday,” he says, showing me his thumb. “I glued it up with Krazy Glue. Works great. You can barely even tell it’s there anymore. Band-Aids have that edge which always catches on gloves, and if you don’t wear gloves you wear through them. So I use Krazy Glue. And I know for a fact that stuff was developed in Vietnam for closing wounds.” What about eating properly to stay fit for the job? “Pretty much the whole month I eat hot chocolate, coffee, pizza, and hamburgers—cheeseburgers.”
This year he moved to New York—to Jane Street, in fact—and has been putting together his album, while restoring a 1969 Jaguar E-type series 2 FHC and working odd jobs. One of them was night deliveryman for Insomnia Cookies. Who the hell orders cookies at three a.m.? Why not just walk over to the bodega? “Our clientele? Let’s just say that more than once I saw people under the influence of 'medicinal herbs.'"