Protect DC’s tree canopy! C’mon, bros – it’s easy!

M St. NWFellas… FELLAS! May I call you fellas? Look, I know what it’s like…

It’s 3 a.m., the lights have come up at the sports bar – even though there’s a West Coast game still in progress! – and management is cranking Sinatra’s “New York, New York” to nudge you out the door. You look for the girl you’ve been macking on ALL NIGHT, but now she’s hanging on a guy wearing a blue cap and Schlitz t-shirt and shouting “Wright’s back, baby! Wright’s back!” in an endless loop. Mets fans are such pricks!

(Oh, have I been there!)

You exit and push into the throng along 18th St., where weekend warriors from Fairfax and PG Counties balance giant slices of pizza on their chins like circus seals. “Sorry, dude!” Ugh, that’s like a quart of golden pizza slick IN YOUR FACE. You pinball among bicycle cops and bros, then mince past the brawlers desperate to catch that last train home to Bethesda. Honking horns, flashing lights and bosoms, and stale beer foulness assault your senses – what’s behind this evil? Where the fuck is that Mets-obsessed dickhead?

(Whoa…! Don’t get shivved!)

And then you see him – don’t you? – looming under lamplight. He’s behind a low fence with his arms outstretched, as if to corral all the passing co-eds in a single sweep. “Wright’s back, baby!” He seems fragmented, hovering like an arthritic, pixelated octopus in a greenish cowl. You squint harder but your vodka-jello belly impairs your focus. Still, you stagger closer – into harm’s way, perhaps, but also toward the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s… You’re abreast the beast when-

Columbia Rd. NW

Take, these broken wiiiiiiiings!

Your hoodie catches on something overhead! “Jesus Christ!” You stab at the menace, grasp his limb, manhandle him with righteous ease. Where was this shit-kicking you back at the bar? You twist and jerk til you hear a crack, then ejaculate (in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, not John Holmes): “Fuck you!” You look down at your hand, seeking blood, but the dampness you feel is clear and watery and runs not from a broken Mets fan, but a Golden Raintree you fucking asshole.

(End of reverie.)

Why the hell did you do that? Can you not tell a man from a tree? And a poor, gangly, blemished teenaged tree at that, just a year or so removed from a bucolic (if, let’s face it, industrial) nursery. Look up and down 18th St., guys – hell, down U St. and 14th St. and H St. too. EVERY LITTLE TREE in every tree box has been mutilated, its low limbs severed with gleeful Jacobin haste. Look down the sidewalk, revitalized for Maximum Patio Seating, and imagine prosthetic branches looming overhead… OH WAIT – they don’t have prosthetic tree branches. So look again at that sidewalk – young limbs are hanging over the street, shading parked cars and not your stupid heads!

Whoa. I’m really sorry about this. I’m not ranting. This is not a rant. I’m sure I’ve invented a false vandal profile. And besides, with so many late-blooming trees, stressed by pollution, bike locks, insufficient (and poor quality) soil, and toxic runoff, a fella’s got to wonder: is that tree dead? Its bark looks desiccated, no, its buds shriveled like an old man’s testes? One could wonder about that, but why speculate in our modern times? Let’s tear that fucker off and see! ‘Cause if it snaps like a brittle pelvis, then bingo, your bro instincts are right and true. And if not, well tree, heal thyself. Natty Bo’s two bucks at the Raven!

Tree CirclesNow I know some of you are mentally ill and spend Saturdays gouging celestial discs into tree bark. So let me be clear – I’m not talking to you. You’ve been failed by the system. (And thank you for not buying a gun and shooting up H.D. Cooke Elementary, though that’s your right.) But you other dudes, the champion flip-cuppers and rye whiskey aficionados out there, need to channel your rage more productively. You can join the military or sign up for a Tough Mudder event, whichever best suits your lifestyle. You can take a boxing class and experience what it’s like to be hit in the face! You can CrossFit til you vomit.

But let me suggest this instead. Get a tattoo of the DC flag (preferably on the forearm), but in place of the stars, get three little trees, in memory of all the Swamp Oaks, Black Gums, Chinese Elms, and London Planes you’ve maimed this spring. Folks will credit you for going through the anguish of getting a tattoo as well as for your devotion to our nation’s capital. Even if it’s limited only to happy hours and Saturday nights. Plus, your body art will help check your behavior: the next time you feel an impulse to lash out against our community arbor, the sight of those inky trees may just give you pause. You’ll think, “I was once a vandal, a hater of canopied streetscapes, and overall jerk. But not today.”

Then you’ll be free to harass every woman trying to find a taxi home. Who knows? She might invite you to come with!

Look, I know I’m asking a lot of you. I know sometimes you’re gonna screw up and snap a twig here and there. Sometimes worse. But understand that I forgive you. Some trees just aren’t that attractive and should be put out of their misery. (To quote Boots Riley: “Ugly is even skin deeper.”) And some really do obstruct pedestrians. Some even resemble evil Mets fans.

But let me tell you a little story about a three-foot sapling near my home. It’s a Swamp Oak on the 1700 block of Lanier Pl. in Adams Morgan. It’s about six-years-old, grown from seed by some hippies in the neighborhood. For awhile, it was encased in a cage of North Korean origin, but I lopped off the top to let its young branches fulfill their destiny. I trust that you know this tree and would never harm it, no matter how disheveled it may appear. But I’m a superstitious man, and if some unlucky accident should befall it, if it should get shot in the head by a police officer, or if it should hang itself in its jail cell, or if it’s struck by a bolt of lightning, then I’m going to blame some of the people in this city. And that, I do not forgive. But that aside, let me say that I swear…on the souls of the New York Jets…that I will not be the one to break the peace that we have made here today.

Do the right thing, gentlemen.

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About Derek Hills

DEREK HILLS is a storyteller and playwright from Washington, DC. He performs regularly on the Story District/SpeakeasyDC and Story League stages, as well as Better Said Than Done, and has appeared in "Ambien Date Night," “e-Geaux (beta)," and his solo show "No Sex, Please" at the Capital Fringe Festival. His new one-act comedy, "Prison Break," is debuting at the 2016 Capital Fringe Festival in July.
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