I was David the talking tree: a Christmas story

· Thursday December 1, 2016

Christmas routines commonly involve braving the ennui of the last stretch of work, followed by frantically shopping for significant others, followed by proclaiming your view of the holiday as socially unbearable on the internet, followed by lunch, and so on. I do this too, but often I think back to my first Sydney-dwelling Christmas routine, the one that really shaped my view of the season. When I was 19, I spent one glittering summer as 'David the Talking Tree'.

Christmas, 2005

David was an animatronic, ambiguous conifer that lived in the corner of the 'Magic Cave' in David Jones. A competitive arena in department stores at this time of year, the Magic Cave during this time really had an edge over the other department stores. You didn't just line-up for a Santa photo, you waltzed through an unseasonably frosted, packed, fun zone. There were singing elves, a lucky dip station and a dark room with huge pillows that screened all the latest Pixar films. And, then there was David. His glossy eyes following your Magic Cave perusal, his woody mouth flapping open to greet you. Jovially perched in a corner, he laughed and laughed and behind him was a concealed box, and in that box… was me.

Everyday in the summer of '05, I would get off the train in my flared black 'work pants' and embroidered polo with Bloc Party spluttering from a chipped discman and make my way to the Cave. Once there, I'd grab one of the pillows from the Pixar room, a bag of juicy pear jelly bellies and take them into the bowels of David. I'd then proceed to set up the Jaycar-wizadry, a remote control for David's eyes and mouth, a tiny CCTV monitor (to see who you were talking to) and a screechy microphone. I had a pretty great angle worked out in the box, I could lie on the pillow up against the hatch with my feet either side of the monitor, the microphone resting on my chin (with a bit of teeth-work for maneuverings) and with both hands free to control the eyes, mouth, eating of jelly beans and for flipping through the printed joke sheet I never used.

This was a great Christmas routine. I was basically lying down talking shit to kids all day as a male Christmas tree, playing snake on my Nokia and occasionally making David sing Tom Jones' 'It's Not Unusual' if it was quiet. There was only ever one discovery of my hiding spot by a gang of six-year old boys on an excursion. For some reason they saw past my meticulously-masc baritone and started shrieking; “YOU'RE A GIRL! YOU'RE A GIRL”. “Nooooo” I crooned, “Iiii'mmm Daaay-viid”. Unconvinced, one of the kids found my hatch and starting shoulder-barging it down. His beady eyes shot through a crack in the door and he screamed; “GIRL! I SEE YOU. GIRL!”. That was a rough time, I got a real talking to after that and then formal disciplinary warnings about my alleged usage of David as my own personal karaoke machine.

The pressure was building the closer it got to Christmas. The girl I job-shared with got (rightly) fired for imitating a little boy's accent through David's mouth, which was so, so awful. On top of this, I couldn't take the snow-puns anymore and I was starting to feel really shackled by working from that tiny box everyday. I quit just before the crescendo of crowds, having been enveloped by a hallucinatory fever. Nights spent with David's voice permeating my sweaty dreams.

I retreated to bed for the rest of the summer and my fellow 'Cave Captains' took over the mic. Turns out, I had glandular fever and passed it on to every person who dared take up David's voice in my wake. The saliva-doused microphone had became an infectious baton. Staff started dropping like flies.

I wish we hadn't left it like this, David and I. I'll never have a Christmas like it again. Sometimes I do the David voice for my friends and I get a tinge of regret (mainly for infecting all those people, sorry again). Miss you mate.