to some people, but others take painstaking care to preserve them.
Meet Jimmy, one of my favorite individuals at work.
His job is exclusively to build and repair tree guards on the Grand Concourse construction site. He is, he told me, officially a carpenter by trade, as far as the union is concerned. That’s an honorable and well-paid profession. But we’re lucky to have him doing what he does. He squares up the enclosures and hammers the boards together, often standing back to scrutinize them before he starts to correctly gauge the tenor of the job.
You must get tired of this, I say, referring to the orange snow fencing, a bale of which he carries around with him much of the day. It’s constantly getting ripped from the frames and he is constantly fixing it.
No, he says. I used to be. But now I covered my house with it inside and out, that’s how much I like it.
He sees himself as a bit of a comic.
What I see is a skinny, herky jerky guy who dances down the Concourse like a leprechaun, cigarette in mouth, hammer in hand, tool belt clanking, working his magic to protect the trees from harm.
It’s good you do it, I say. Otherwise the crew would knock down the trees.
No, they wouldn’t, he contradicts. They know they’re living things. I tell them that that tree there was Jesus’ original crown of thorns.
He means the honey locust – the site has a forest of them. Tree workers hate them because they get pricked so bad.
No, says Jimmy. The guys appreciate the trees. They are sweethearts. Really.
Well, shut my mouth. Sometimes I think a particular machine operator takes some sadistic joy in breaking branches with his bucket.
Still, I know that one day these tree guards will come off and the honey locusts and American elms and London planes and amur maples will once again introduce themselves to the world, and the neighborhood will be the better for it. It takes work to preserve them, but it’s well worth it.
Jimmy is a lot of things, a philosopher, a comedian, even an arborist. I told him I appreciated what he does and he told me he appreciated me appreciating what he does.
And he may possibly an actor. A producer discovered him on the job and told him he wanted him for a bit part on screen. Then he came back. He told Jimmy they decided they wanted him for a bigger role. He was just too good to be a cameo.
That would be great, he’d get his SAG card and hobnob with hot shots. But it would be a loss for the Grand Concourse to have him no longer nurturing the tree guards, butt in mouth, a hammer in his hand.