Twas an exciting Friday on Holland Street, which is one street over from Highland Street. While Highland is only one block long, Holland stretches two entire blocks. It does a little zig-zag when in hits Woodrow and is thus divided into N. Holland and S. Holland. My buddy Paul lives on Woodrow between the zig and the zag, the very heart of the Holland St. universe.
Paul, aka Big Poppy 76, and I (Speedsquare 26) were at his house on lazyman chairs in two different rooms on 2 different xboxes playing in the same Halo game like our lives depended on it. The big screens and surround sound help, and after 4 beers and 4 hours we were in the belly of a Covenant star cruiser trying to jury rig a stolen slipspace drive into a multi-dimensional I.E.D. and thus orchestrate a very bad day for the alien invaders.
A note about Halo. I realize it appears deeply pathetic for grown men to play video games. It’s not heroic like wakeboarding, or manly and bloody like duck hunting, or almost impressively mathematical like fantasy football. But it does have plasma grenades, which when flung make a brilliant glowing blue arc like a melting snowball designed by Steve Jobs (who started his career at Atari). There’s just nothing like sticking one on a Covenant Elite warrior from across the grassy fields of planet Reach. The pitiful bastard has only enough time to raise his hands in a frustrated howl to his alien gods before returning his molecules to the universe. BTW- Elites are terrible creatures with energy swords and overshields and merit endless sticking.
Poppy and I have been in a long term relationship with Halo for ten years now. Every other year a new version comes out, and with the amount of money and talent in the industry each new iteration is exponentially more advanced. The A.I. gets smarter, the detail gets richer, the sound quality more immersive. For P and me Haloday is like the first Christmases used to be when we were kids. Every even year in mid-september we play hookey, drink beers, and put a dent in the Covenant population.
After the 4 beers and 4 hours it was getting on 5 PM and our shift at the Halo mill was interrupted by a giant creak followed by an explosive crack from outside the Halo universe. I was in the living room, which faces north, providing me a first row seat in front of a wall of windows through which the most amazing event unfolded. Time slowed and the entirety of the outside world seemed to rotate as the Ancient Oak, which took up most of the northward view and is one of the oldest trees in the neighborhood, crashed down out of Ben and Heather’s yard, across N. Holland, and into the neighbors yard.
To my beer and explosion saturated brain, all this seemed simultaneously consistent with events in the virtual world and disastrously out of touch with the actual world. The sky was clear jewel blue and there was only the slightest of breezes. I hadn’t heard any chainsaws at work. I found myself upright with my nose to the window glass, dumb, but instantly Paul was next to me with a reassuring hand on my back. In fact I hadn’t passed out dreaming in the comfy chair. This was happening.
“Lets go!” Poppy broke the silence that loomed since the oak brought down power lines and jerked us violently out of our fantasy of pretty pixels and subwoofer shockwaves. We charged (stumbled) into the street where a crowd had already assembled in a state of organized confusion and near-panic. No one appeared to be to be crushed but there were downed lines and suddenly way more children inhabiting the hood than I’d remembered. Back away small children! Didn’t you see what happened to Elijah Wood in The Ice Storm?
We clearly live in a slacker neighborhood because at 5:00 on a Friday afternoon EVERYBODY was there. I wanted to break into “These are the People from your Neighborhood” from Sesame Street. Unfortunately, real life only gets like Sesame Street when buildings burn or ancient oaks topple.
Willy: I was just watching the game and heard that crack. I looked up and saw it go down. We should clearcut the neighborhood!
Jean, the Belgian, visibly upset: I was just about to post something on Craigslist when I lost the power. Now I have to use the computer of a neighbor!
Amy, spouse of Big Poppy: We loved that tree. We’d sit on the porch and watch it blow in the wind. In the fall it was so beautiful when the leaves changed.
Hot Sauce, on the phone from Tennessee: Me paro la policia! I was going 79 in a 60! (ouch!)
Ben, aka Prof. Fuzz: Should I call my insurance agent?
Heather, aka H-bomb or Hassy, upon being confronted by an angry neighbor about her negligence that somehow led to a healthy looking tree snapping at the base: It was an ACT OF GOD!
The ancient beast certainly went out in style and although we mourn the vacuum of sky that separates Hollands north and south, I’m glad so many of us were present to witness the passing.
Trouble is, I think it may have been not an act of God, but an act of Michael. All of this glorious September (I’m slow) I’ve been upgrading B & H’s wraparound front porch with fresh screen and paint, under the shade of the very same noble behemoth that now lays stretched in ruin. I was contemplated climbing it to prune deadwood from the otherwise healthy looking tree. I’d leaned Ben’s old deathtrap aluminum ladder on the uphill side of the oak just the day before. After the fall, it lay on the ground parallel to the trunk, miraculously unharmed. Perhaps its weight combined with the fully amplified sound waves of exploding rounds from enemy Wraith tanks were just too much for the old girl to take. My bad!
Our deepest sympathies go out to B & H. We love your wild and passionately tended yard and we love you much more. Silver lining:
The birdhouse I built you remains unscathed. Unfortunately, the house is still too uppity for birds to inhabit.
For a great picture of the tree standing and more of its history go to Chasing the Breadtruck.