Robert Frank: Economic naturalists often find that many interesting new questions are stimulated by the experience of living in an unfamiliar environment. That’s always been my experience during sabbaticals spent away from Ithaca.
One Saturday last December during my sabbatical at NYU, my wife and I headed out for lunch in Greenwich Village. As we were walking up University Place, we passed numerous displays of Christmas trees for sale along the sidewalk. Almost every tree had a flimsy wooden stand affixed to its trunk. I’d never seen Christmas trees with stands like that anywhere I’ve lived or traveled—not in Miami, not in Atlanta, not in Ithaca, not in Washington, not in the Bay Area, not in Paris. “Why,” I asked my wife when we sat down to lunch, “do they sell trees that way in New York?”
She thought about it a moment. Then her eyes lit up and she said, “If you had a stand like the one we have in Ithaca, where would you keep it all year?” Some years ago we bought an elaborate stand with powerful spiked arms that grip the trunk, a reservoir that holds several quarts of water, and a foot pedal that lets you adjust the vertical angle of the tree’s trunk. It’s a winner. And although it’s pretty big, we have plenty of room to stash it in our basement. But we’d be hard pressed to find a spot for it in our NYC apartment. Most New Yorkers live in considerably smaller apartments than ours, and hence the attraction of disposable Christmas tree stands in the Big Apple.
Robert Frank’s latest book, The Economic Naturalist’s Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times, was published last month.