Up A Tree
I sat staring at a baseball game on the tube, but I couldn't get my mind off the tree. It was part of the family. My kids spent much of their childhood on swings hung from its branches. I'd wager the hours we have spent lounging in its shade probably equal a couple of years.
Not one drain in the house worked because the tree's roots clogged the main line to the sewer. My wife and I have a strong cultural compulsion for washing dishes, doing laundry and taking regular baths. This situation caused great change in our lifestyle. The walk to the Texaco station at the corner every time we felt the call of nature strained our quality time. How could such a long–time friend suddenly turn on us? The neighbors laughed, but my wife grew downright surly.
Shattered by the sound of the doorbell, my thoughts vanished. Opening the door, I came face to face with a roly–poly fellow dressed in a three–piece suit. He carried a briefcase and sported a Homburg.
"Yes," I said.
"I am Luther Greenfield, special agent, Department of HUG. I am here on a matter of the greatest urgency. May I come in?" With no offer of his hand, he pushed his way past me into the room and flashed his wallet, revealing a shiny badge.
"What's the problem?" I asked, taken aback by this sudden intrusion. "Have I violated some zoning code or something?"
"I said, 'HUG,' Mr. Abernathy. That's H–U–_G_, sir, not H–U– _D_. Department of Habitat for Urban Greenery." He took a step back, fiddled with his tie, and glanced around the room.
I responded quickly in an effort to bury the affront. "Oh, yeah! I've heard of you guys. You're the ones they call Green Men–G–Men for short."
"No sir," he said with a drone. "Wrong name again. G–Man is a nickname for any government agent. We are the T–Men–Tree Men. That, in itself, is a misnomer. Since the department has no gender bias, we are actually TP's–Tree _Persons._" He boldly crossed the room, turned off the television, sat in my favorite recliner.
"Sorry, Mr. Greenfield." I involuntarily sat on the end of the couch wondering why I was apologizing to this man. "What do you want with me?"
"I'll be brief, Mr. Abernathy. Did I or did I not see a Drains–R–Us truck leave these premises three days ago?"
"Have you or have you not engaged their services to remove one Silver Maple located just west of your patio?"
"No! They don't do trees; they fix pipes. My life's a wreck! I've gotta get my drains working."
"I knew you were naive, Mr. Abernathy, but I had no idea the depth of your ignorance." The pudgy man rattled on like a bored professor in a required course. "Drains–R–Us is a front for several organizations who engage in the wholesale slaughter of trees. They are heartless mercenaries. They even compound their profits by dismembering the bodies of their victims and selling them for fuel! HUG requests your cooperation in thwarting this abominable practice."
"Look," I replied, "just go away and leave me alone. I don't want any part of your political agendas. I just want a working bathroom. I'm only gonna open the drain by carving out a few roots. I've gotta do what I've gotta do."
"Do you realize the trauma such an operation will induce in your tree?"
"Let me put it another way–how would you feel if your feet were amputated just because they stuck out beyond your mattress? Today the roots, tomorrow the tree. Can't you see the progression?"
"Come to think of it, they mentioned it would be a recurring problem...possibly eventual removal... This is ridiculous. Get out of here, don't waste my time!"
Greenfield rose and came over to me. "Please remain calm, Abernathy," Greenfield said as he placed a firm hand on my shoulder. "You know, modern society has had enough of wanton murder. Not only are we here to protect the life of your tree, but we intend to ensure the quality of its life, too!
"Just leave, you bleeding–heart weirdo. How did you know Drains–R–Us was here anyway? I've half a mind to call the police."
"You still don't get it, do you, Abernathy? We _are_ the police." Greenfield placed his right hand in the center of his chest and whispered, "We've been watching you."
His voice crescendoed as he continued. "We have moles throughout the country and, I assure you, each is registered with, and trained by, the CIA. One of our more attuned devotees heard your maple crying out in anguish over the horrors you planned, right in its presence. We've been monitoring you ever since."
I heard commotion in the front yard. I looked out and saw about thirty people gathered at the end of my driveway.
"What's going on?" I stammered.
"These are THUGs–Tireless Helpers of Urban Greenery–volunteer laypersons who donate their time to make a better world for trees and other flora. They are here to help you understand that the safety and comfort of your tree are of paramount importance. We are prepared to remain with you until you see the light."
As I watched, several of the protesters brought out signs bearing slogans such as "REMEMBER THE MAIMED" and "TREES ARE OUR BROTHERS." Mothers carried small children and encouraged the tots to help with the chanting — "NO MORE SLAUGHTER! NO MORE SLAUGHTER!"
I sprang to the offensive. "Those flyers and posters they are putting on the fence and throwing all over the lawns...aren't they made of paper? Doesn't paper come from trees? You're all hypocrites!"
"I assure you, Mr. Abernathy, we only use paper products from three sources: paper that has been recycled from waste; paper that was humanely manufactured from forest denizens that passed on from natural causes; and, in rare emergencies, paper from extremely dedicated arboreal patriots who volunteered as martyrs for the good of the cause. Sometimes, the end does justify the means."
While he spoke, a late–sixties Volkswagon van with flowers painted all over it pulled into the driveway and positioned itself so the side–door was visible from the window. One of the THUGs stepped up and pulled the door open.
"Martha!" I cried. "You've got Martha!" My wife lay, bound and gagged, on the floor of the vehicle.
"Yes," the TP replied. His face grew darker. "We don't have time to waste. We gave her a ride home from the gas station. We'll see to her welfare while you determine your course in this matter."
He signaled for the THUG to close the door. "When you've made the proper decisions, she'll be released."
"Look, Greenfield. I'm just a quiet neighborly man who has worked hard all his life, raised his children, and wants to live out his days in a little comfort with running water and working drains. Is that too much to ask?"
"At the expense of your tree's happiness? That tree didn't choose to live here. You planted that tree on Arbor Day of 1961, I believe. The simple act of forcing its residence does incur certain responsibilities, don't you know."
"Okay." I glanced again at the growing assemblage on my lawn. "I'm not an Einstein, but I do know a loser when I see it. What do I have to do to get my plumbing fixed, protect my tree, and get your THUGs off my property?"
"Congratulations!" The fanatic grinned. "I knew you would prove to be a reasonable man. There are two acceptable solutions. The first is rooticure."
"Rooticure–a pedicure for trees. It's a little pricey, but oh, so worth the trouble!"
"What do you mean pricey?"
"Oh, for a tree that size, say ten to twelve thousand."
"You've got to be kidding–just so my tree's toesies won't hurt? That's outrageous!"
Greenfield made a show of gazing out the window at his compatriots. He glanced back and forth between the street and me.
"Not really. Rooticure is a complete package. Proper anesthetic will be administered so Brother Maple will feel no pain. A boom crane will raise it gently from its bed while a team of experienced Japanese bonsai artists gently reshapes the roots. Six months of counseling by certified tree psychologists will follow to minimize the aftereffects and significantly shorten the regeneration time."
"You jerk! Before I'd do that, I'd just abandon the place and let the tree have it."
"That, Mr. Abernathy, is the second alternative. It, most certainly, would be a kind and magnanimous solution."