OUT

 

ON

 A LIMB

 

How not to tree-sit

 

BY COREY LEVITAN

       "Save the tree, man!" I shout to passersby bythe front entrance of Redondo Beach's South Bay Galleria shopping mall.

        I never sat in a tree, although I have extensive experience being inserted into that "sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G" rhyme in elementary school.

        Yet I was inspired to do so by John Quigley. He's the 42-year-old Pacific Palisades resident perched halfway up a 70-foot Santa Clarita oak since November 1. Nicknamed "Old Glory," the 400-year-old tree stands in the path of a planned four-lane highway in one of L.A.'s growing northern suburbs.

        I'm a friend of the environment, too. I buy tofu hot dogs, squeeze my toothpaste to the very, very end and always turn off the bubbles when I'm done with my apartment's Jacuzzi.

       So I set out in search of an equivalent tree in the South Bay to sit in. But, I discovered, you can't just look up "endangered trees" in the Yellow Pages. (There's nothing listed.)

       What I did find plenty of were Christmas trees. While not as popular to save as big oaks, Christmas trees are definitely in danger this time of year.

        About 35 million evergreens will be chopped down for Americans to decorate and then discard between Noel and New Year's. These include a 100-foot white fir at the Grove shopping center in L.A. (A sign claims it was harvested in an "ecologically sound" manner. But wouldn't an even more ecologically sound manner have been to leave it in the forest?)

       Of course, the Christmas trees I found were either dead and too late to save, or alive with no danger of becoming eventual mulch. But logic has never hampered these adventures before.

       My point was simply to raise awareness for an issue. It worked for Quigley. Most of the nation now knows about Old Glory, which has yet to be chopped down or relocated (a compromise rejected by Quigley and his organization, the Santa Clarita Organization to Protect the Environment, since they believe the tree is too massive to survive).

       Even Mayor Jim Hahn has expressed support for the cause.

      "I'm sorry, we can't help you," said the woman who answered the phone at Rancho Palos Verdes City Hall, then hung up the phone when I requested to sit in the Christmas tree at the Avenue of the Peninsula shopping center.

       Similar warmth greeted my request to "save" the big Christmas trees at Malaga Cove and inside the Del Amo Fashion Center, where I figured playing Santa Claus for a column last Christmas gave me an in. (Nope. The image of a tree-sitter was "too radical" for them, according to a spokesperson.)

       Of course, a true tree-sitter wouldn't seek permission to practice his craft. However, I wanted to keep this adventure separate from the night-in-jail column I'm also trying to make happen.

       The tannenbaum at the Galleria stands only 10 feet, but I was desperate. Funnily enough, marketing manager Mickey Marraffino was already hip to my quest.

       "The word is on the street that you're looking for a tree to sit in," she said. "You know, mall people, we talk."

       Marraffino was game, despite the best advice of the other mall people, because she wanted to promote the Galleria's tree. Sponsored by the Salvation Army, the Angel Tree is festooned with 500 angel tags, each inscribed with a child's name. Shoppers remove the tags and purchase a gift for the designated child, which they then drop off with a Salvation Army volunteer.

       The Angel Tree is not endangered, of course. It's not even real. But my campaign has become ridiculous for so many reasons there's a ring of consistency to them. For example, an eighth of a tree probably died to make the heavy "Save This Tree" sign I brought with me. And you're reading this in a newspaper which, although it uses recycled paper, still consists of tree corpses.

       "Save the tree, man!" I shout as shoppers scratch their heads and shield their children.

       "What are you doing?" asks Ramiro Ramirez, 23, of Carson. "You don't make any sense at all!"

       "I'm trying to save this tree, man!" I respond.

       In my psychedelic specs and a wig procured from Leland's Just For Fun in Hermosa Beach, I look more like Tommy Chong on "That '70s Show" than John Quigley. This seems to inspire my speech patterns.

       "You're saying, 'Save the tree,'" Ramirez continues, "but it's a plastic tree. I don't understand."

       The man has a point. I carefully consider my response.

       "Save the tree, man!" I say. It's all I've got.

       If you want to get technical, I'm not even a tree-sitter. I'm a tree-sitter-IN-FRONTER. The Angel Tree is too tiny to climb without snapping it in two. So I planned an alternate protest tactic -- chaining myself to it.

        As my luck usually goes, the bike lock I brought wasn't long enough to stretch from my leg to the base. But that's OK because, even if it was long enough, my leg would easily have slipped out of it. (Note to self: put more time into planning my next adventure.)

       Galleria shoppers continue to react unsympathetically.

       "It's a fake tree!" shouts one female passerby. "Who cares?"

       "You don't have anything better to do?" says a large man resembling gangsta rap mogul Suge Knight both in stature and temperament. (With a menacing glare, he refuses to offer his name after I chase him past several stores for it.)

       What would Quigley do if his message wasn't getting across? Actually, my hero phoned me the day before, after I left several voicemails posing as a serious reporter.

       Yep, there's a cell phone up in Quigley's tree -- along with an American flag, takeout food and hefty bags for his nasty business. I told Quigley I'd be staging my own tree sit and wanted some tips.

       "The first thing you've got to consider is why you're doing this," he said. "The only reason I did this was because it was a tactical way to keep the tree alive."

       Hmm, why I'm doing this...

       OK, is there maybe a second thing that's important to consider which I could substitute for the first thing?

       Quigley didn't seem amused.

       Back at the Galleria, the mall's head security officer, Eric, has swung by to respond to complaints about "some protest" happening in the front of the mall. Marraffino deals with him as she begins to wonder, I can tell, could the mall people have been right about this stunt?

       "All we are saying is give trees a chance."

       I am singing now. In true Pete Seeger form, I also brought along an acoustic guitar.

       "All we are saying is give trees a chance."

       Diners at the adjacent Red Robin restaurant do not seem entertained, and Marraffino's wedding-photo-fake smile is beginning to droop at the edges.

       I call Quigley's cell phone for a spiritual recharge. It's answered by a man named Tom, who tells me that Quigley is unavailable but he can take a message.

       Yep, even tree-sitters have people these days.

       After telling Tom what I'm up to, he offers some of his own advice.

       "Tell people we should be planting trees instead of killing them," he says.

        The new slogan works, kind of -- at least it works better than repeating "save the tree, man" over and over. Less disapproval seems to register in the eyes of shoppers who ignore me. Some mirror my peace sign.

       After a half hour, one concerned woman even stops to lend her support.

       My message has finally registered with Marjan Husain of Torrance and a gaggle of her children and their friends.

       Of course, it's the wrong message. Husain incorrectly informs the kids that there's a man sitting in a tree up north, "and this man right here is collecting signatures to help him."

       Husain hands them a pen and instructs them to sign my sign, to protest the felling of Old Glory. I neglect to correct her.

       Ah, who am I kidding? I'm not really an environmentalist. I was going to throw my sign out when I was finished here. But I had no idea of the depth of my lack of environmentalism until I considered throwing it out even after it featured seven protest signatures. (Hey, postage on this thing would approximate my weekly income.)

       Mercifully, Marraffino offers to keep the sign in her office as a memento.

       "Hey," one of the children says as he signs, "why didn't anyone else sign this before us?"

 

Click here to return to home page