It’s seven a.m. and my neighbor is shirtless. From his porch, he greets the children walking to school. Most of the men in my new neighborhood don’t wear shirts in the morning or the evening. But my next door neighbor is the only one who is committed to going topless all day. I imagine his closet is forty pairs of tan shorts on the bottom, forty pairs of Adidas sandals on the floor and where shirts would be it’s completely bare.
I leave home, wearing a shirt and hoping the other men on my block won’t judge me for it, to meet a novelist. He’s an ex-Angeleno who is also an ex-New Yorker and is now a Texan. From what I can tell he’s living in Texas as a sort of social experiment. He’s interested in America. He enjoys the novelty of eating brisket. The weather is torture but that too seems to be part of the experiment. Sure, he could move back to LA, live in perfect weather and eat Persian food whenever he wants but instead he tells me he might buy a ranch, acres and acres of open land. There he’ll build a recording studio. And as for the rest of the land? Frankly, he doesn’t give a shit. This is the thing we need to understand – he might do it. There’s not a callus on his hands and he might buy a fucking ranch. In Texas no less. You could probably buy a ranch in the valley, but that won’t do. He’s going all the way. He’s committed.
He’s heard rumors of my new way of life, my forays into the world of doing shit I’m completely unqualified for and doing it poorly. He wants to join. I tell him there’s one rule: we don’t wear shirts down here, and I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing. He’s in. Of course he’s in.
We go to Home Depot because that’s how I begin every day now. We’re there for a chainsaw. I ask a twenty-year-old woman in orange if she’s knows anything about stump removal. She laughs it off, which is weird because I’m being sincere. Try aisle 2, she says.
Along the way we flag down two gentlemen in orange.
The easy way to do it is to get some root killer, drill some holes, dump it in and then take it out in 6 weeks. The other way is gonna be a shit ton of work.
Say we want to do it the hard way.
It’s gonna be a pain in the ass. I wouldn’t do it. It’s no joke, back-breaking work.
Tell us more about this hard way.
We never find the chainsaws. We find some other saws. I won’t even venture a guess at what they’re called. They look terrifying. I’m scared of losing a leg. I don’t want to 127 hours myself. I buy a pick axe and some gloves.
It’s about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when we start the work. The sun is blazing but apparently it’s nothing compared to Texas. Luckily we don’t wear shirts. I can’t because I live here and this is the way of life and I want to fit in. My neighbor is likely snoozing through the afternoon but I know he has eyes everywhere. He once saw me putting my surfboard in my car and he said, “you like to surf, eh?” I mean, nothing gets past this guy.
We have two pick axes, a shovel, a crow bar, a hatchet and a drill. Most of this stuff was in the shed when I moved in. Now the backyard looked like shit before we started but two hours and six beers later, the once impenetrable ground is splattered fence to fence. The dirt is made of concrete. Concrete and clay. We dig about six inches deep on all sides and that feels like a miracle. And the roots? They’re as wide as La Cienega.
Let me start at the beginning. This tree, what’s left of it, people are saying it’s the biggest tree that ever grew in Los Angeles. Luckily, a man named Bob cut it down before I moved in. But Bob died of heart attack while playing tennis so he never removed the stump. He tried. God, he tried. There are slashes and chains to prove that he attempted to drag it out but it’s simply too big. From what I’ve been told by acquaintances who haven’t seen the tree but who have heard me describe it, the roots could go down as far as a hundred yards. Maybe even hundred meters depending on which is farther. (Personally, I’m too much of a patriot to fuck with the metric system.)
We’re about a quarter of the way through a root, one that has been bludgeoned with a pick axe, hacked with a hatchet, speared with a shovel and kicked for good measure, when the man from Texas via NYC via LA concedes that it can’t be done. He’s sustained an injury. My injuries are more of the emasculating variety. Tomorrow he’ll get on a plane with a catastrophic hangover to go see a girl in Arizona who he’s never met but who I gather has fallen in love with him. But tomorrow for me means I wake up and have to watch a guy on the Celtics scream “Anything is possible” just to get out of bed, then go about digging a hole, wrestling a root, jumping on a crow bar only to discover that these roots go well beyond the earth’s crust and maybe even its mantle.
Update: It’s been a week. The stump is still in my backyard. I’ve hacked through three-quarters of a root the width of a Mini Cooper. This is maybe my greatest accomplishment. All around me my dog is eating dirt and for some reason onions. Or maybe they’re shallots. While I haven’t successfully removed one of the fifty-seven roots, I’ve apparently discovered a graveyard of shallots. Or maybe a bed of shallots. Maybe that’s how they’re grown. How should I know? I’m not a gardener. I’m an arborist.
Two Week Update: The stump is still there. So is the dirt around it. A friend recommended a bulldozer. Tragically all I have is a Mazda 3 hatchback.
Three Week Update: I’ve decided that the tree is part of the land. Would we take the redwoods out of Northern California? Would we take the Joshua Trees out of Joshua Tree? Then why would I even consider taking a tree of unknown origin out of the clay parading as dirt in my backyard?
Four Week Update: I think I’m going to hire a pro but I’ll have to do it while I’m out of town. I can’t face the guys who are going to take this out. Or maybe I’ll lie and say that the last owner left it like this. What an asshole. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.