The Bush Tree in Philly



Neighborhood: Across the River, Letter From Abroad

We crossed the Delaware River, made a tremendous 270 degree turn under the bridge and dropped down in to the city streets.

The plan: stay at Alison’s parents house in Philly that night, wake up early, pick up the two vans from Hertz, proceed to a designated church in the suburban township of Devon for an organizational meeting with members of ACT and then, finally, beginning at around noon, unleash ourselves in to the neighborhoods to get out the vote.

It had recently rained and the streets looked clean. There was very little activity outside – a weeknight. We saw Kerry and Bush signs on front lawns. One house had a Bush/Cheney sign adhered to the clapboards and, to our envy, it looked like the Spruce Goose of political signs.

“Must have been special ordered at Kinkos” said Alison wistfully.

We were encouraged to see Kerry signs had a distinct volume advantage.

We spied two Bush/ Cheney signs half way up a tree on the side of the road. Below these, the torn remnants of two earlier signs flapped in the night air. Assailing hands had found these easily so the sign maker, determined, had used a ladder and stapled these in a full 15 feet off the ground.

Peter and Terry, Alison’s parents, were besides themselves with nervous energy. Peter was hopping around, incanting venom from the couch.

“If that yellow rose of Texas, underachieving little sh-t eater isn’t voted out of office tomorrow, we are going down, all of us, down in to the sewer.”

We told Peter about the tree with Bush/Cheney signs on it, two blocks away, and Peter –unable to contain himself- focused his rage.

“Get the ladder.” He said.

“Don’t get arrested”, shouted Terry from the couch as the four of us –Peter, Alison, Jordan and myself- made for the door.

We strode out of the apartment building with purpose and a ladder; Peter took the lead. A right turn, a left turn, we rounded a corner. Approaching the tree in question, we saw two black police officers standing by a police van, talking with a feral looking white man in a grey wool cap. The man being questioned held a large piece of poster board in his hands, another Bush/Cheney sign. There were tools at his feet.

Peter advanced like an assassin, only stopping to hold his face a shocking half inch away from the other man’s. The Bush supporter shrank back at first, terrified. He thought he was getting whacked. Both men’s eyes bulged. A shouting match erupted.

“What are you doing to my tree?” asked Peter in a frightening voice.

“Your tree? This is my fuckin’ tree asshhole,” frothed feral man.

(Prior to leaving the apartment, I’d given Peter my blue wool hat in an effort to protect his identity. It was purely coincidental that the hat was blue. )

I discovered neck hair I didn’t know about. “Woe there. Woe there?” said one of the cops, rocking back off his heels to get between the two. They were surprised by the ferocity of Peter’s approach. We all were. The other cop looked us over to see if we were just as crazy.

The chill November air felt primed for a dogfight.

“There’s a city ordinance against stapling posters to trees!” shouted Peter

“This is my house,” said the Bush supporter, pointing to a house that literally abutted the sidewalk, “and this is my tree. I can do whatever the fuck I want to these trees.”

“Why don’t you just clear cut ‘em and sink an oilwell,” quipped Peter, not missing a beat.

“Sir. Sir.” The cops did not appreciate being ignored.

Alison stood by her father and argued intensely about the ordinance. A lashing litany of legal terms issued from her mouth, as did modest flecks of spittle. I thought we might be going to jail after all.

Through genius and foresight, I had a video camera, but a maddening technical difficulty kept it from operating. Jordan, meanwhile, was trying, unsuccessfully, to conceal the ladder he held at his side.

The female cop took control of the situation by shouting louder than the two deranged white men in hats. Absurdly, she sided with the other guy by saying that this really was his property. We were looking at a tree growing between the road and the sidewalk. “If you were to break your leg right here on this sidewalk,” she said, “who would you sue?”

It made no sense, but this female cop thought she was being judicious. The Bush supporter visibly puffed.

“Now look, I’m voting the way you are tomorrow,” conceeded the female cop. Some dreadful inner need for checks and balances made her say it. “But would you be this angry if it was a Kerry/Edwards sign up there in that tree?”

“Absolutely!” Peter lied. “Look there’s a city ordinance…”

Gray cap was on his cell phone and it looked like he might be calling in back up of a NASCAR variety.

Jordan and I didn’t like the looks of it and the video camera still wouldn’t turn on so we moved in and grabbed Peter by his shoulders. This caused Peter to strain against us.

Someone had to leave and it had to be us. We turned Peter around and walked back.

“I behaved very badly,” Peter said with a boyish look of glee as he told the whole story to Terry, his wife, back home.

Still amped, we turned on the television at 11:30 pm and watched the news coverage. Flipping back and forth on all the channels, there was a stretch of 35 minutes where we could not find anything other than gratuitously pro-Bush coverage: Anchormen interviewing Republican flak, anchormen outright endorsing Bush, a horsey looking woman at a Bush rally going on and on about why she feels safer in the mall with Bush in office, coverage of ugly push polling tricks, all of them supposedly Democratic. What next? I half expected to see the local bishop and a phalanx of eagle scouts proclaim in harmony that they all wanted to be buried next to Bush when they died.

Alison was tremendously distraught by this out and out one-sidedness; we all were. There was no mention of any of the examples of push polling we’d heard. Alison’s mother had received a message that afternoon from an unknown woman who reported that she’d seen a lot of coverage of Kerry shooting guns in the news lately and she wondered if he was some kind of a “gun nut”, long pause, then “This message was paid for by the Republican National Committee.”

No one slept well that night. I slept in the “high school bedroom” so dubbed by Jordan because it reminded him of the kind of bedroom you’d get action in, while visiting a high school girlfriend. At 4:30 in the morning I got out of bed and opened the shades. Far below, the black ink of the Delaware River sloughed from left to right.

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