🌳 A Tree Grows in Times Square


Times Square in 1978 was the dictionary definition of urban decay. Neon lights that once belonged to posh theaters now advertised peep shows and adult entertainment. Street corners were populated by sleazy motels, adult stores, and dodgy nightclubs and bars. The area was populated only with the lowest of American strata, those who had no other place to go. Below the cacophony of cars on the streets seeking to get the hell out as quickly as possible, the subway whirred, with its signs of neglect perhaps worse than what was present above ground. Outside of Times Square, the city burned. Riots, burglaries, and arson had consumed large blocks of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Nobody wanted to be next.

And yet, a tree had taken root on a vacant lot. This tree was Ailanthus, known as “tree of heaven” or more colloquially, “ghetto palm.” It was a typical weed of urban environments. Few bothered to pay it much mind; the city was burning in those times, and who cared about some weed in the seediest part of Midtown Manhattan, anyway?

The tree grew. Nobody paid much heed.

Unknowingly, it would become the most infamous tree in the world.

At first, it was all normal. Drug dealers would use it as a convenient background for their illicit transactions. The same happened with sleazy, unlicensed taxi drivers, and the men and women of loose morals offering their “services”.

The tree kept growing.

A strange sort of magnetism started to form around the tree. Strange things would happen within the vicinity of the tree.

A man named Eddie, who had frequented the area for years, claimed the tree was speaking to him, filling his nights with nightmares and his days with an inescapable dread. "It's like a shadow's whisper, man," he'd say. His erratic behavior drew the attention of authorities, and he was committed to a mental institution. Everyone dismissed Eddie as another lost soul swallowed by the city. But something in his eyes said otherwise.

Jolie, a stripper who would often perform at Texas Sized, an early “breastaurant”, would often comment about how the tree would impact the patrons who came in. Everything from dark thoughts, people staring at the tree intently as if it had something to say, people sleeping underneath the tree for more than 18 hours on end, people dying immediately after injecting drugs next to the tree, she had seen everything. But nobody wanted to pay heed to this New Jerseyan who was just trying to scrape enough money together to go to college. She was just looking for attention, right?

The tree kept growing, developing a robust canopy, shading the vacant lot where it was growing.

A major conglomerate, famous for a certain mouse mascot, sought to move in. Redevelop Times Square in its own image. A sanitized playground ideal for the average American family. A homage to commercialism. A celebration of American capitalism, rising out of chaos.


In a corporate office in suburban Los Angeles, the tree was ever present in the thoughts of the executives and managers looking to execute upon their grand vision. Huddled around a drafting table, the tree was circled right there, on that lot, on a map where a grand celebration of capitalism was to be built. The company had already purchased the lot as part of the redevelopment project, ample loans and tax credits made sure of that. It was time to decide whether or not to tear down the tree.

The tree kept growing.

Tension continued to boil, back in the office. The tree had rapidly become a serious sticking point in the plan to transform Times Square. The lead architect spoke up. “This tree does not fit. It is nothing more than an out of control weed, a plant of inconsequential value. We are not building Central Park. It’s time to kill it off, and keep it dead.”

A junior member of the project, associated with public relations, argued in favor of preserving the tree. "It's become a part of the local landscape, a monument in its own right. Can't we build around it? Incorporate it into the design?" she suggested, sketching a quick rendering that framed the tree as the centerpiece of a small park within the commercial empire.

As the debate raged on, each side armed with its own set of reasons, the decision loomed large, growing in significance much like the tree itself had done amidst the decay of Times Square.

The tree kept growing.

Miguel was walking on the street where the vacant lot stood. He was part of a veritable army, or perhaps more like a Russian nesting doll, of contractors hired by the major conglomerate, in preparation for the megaproject that was unfolding. The blistering heat of July in New York City was coming down on him. He opened a cold beer he had bought from a nearby bodega. As he took a sip, he could not taste the beer he had purchased, but rather a most unfamiliar taste, a sweet but unexpected taste. He spat out his beer.

Katherine, an auditor on the project’s accounting and finance team, was staying in a close family friend’s home in the Upper East Side. She had hailed a taxi to the site to examine the property for herself. She had vaguely heard of the tree, but her overriding interest was whether or not the company paid a fair price for the lot. As the cab approached the lot, the driver started to mumble. She grew worried as the cab came to a sudden halt, feet from the lot, with the engine still running, the doors locked, and the driver effectively frozen in place.

Meanwhile, the city continued to hum along. People would walk next to the vacant lot. Many times, nothing notable would happen. Other times, something spectacular and unusual would happen. The decay was slowing, but it was still present everywhere.

The tree kept growing.

Robert was a manager at a major banking firm that had extended loans to the conglomerate for the project. He was also a closeted gay man in a marriage to a woman that was falling apart. He found solace in visiting gay spaces in Greenwich Village and Times Square and visiting with someone who had very quickly became a spouse in all but formality. He was captivated by the tree. It was almost like it called out for him.

After a bitter and messy divorce, he would buy a dilapidated apartment building across from the tree and convert it into his new home, and he and his new spouse, Jamie, would move in. Jamie didn’t understand why Robert wanted to move here, but his love for Robert was overriding, and so he went along with it.

On many occasions, Robert would call out sick from work and spend hours looking at the tree. He admired it, respected it, worshiped it like a god. It annoyed the ever-living hell out of Jamie.

A drug dealer who frequented Times Square who once made his sales in the shadow of the tree would report strange things about the tree. That it was making the drugs more potent. That the tree was speaking to people. That the tree was providing good fortune. He was arrested by police, and they moved onto the next common criminal.

The tree kept growing.

The decision had been made to tear down the tree. It was a nuisance.

The tree kept growing.

Reactions to the impending demise of the tree were as mixed as the clientele that roamed Times Square. It was as though the tree had woven itself into the fabric of people’s lives, more tightly for some than for others. Rumors and whispers spread like wildfire—everyone from Miguel the contractor to Robert, who lived across from the tree, felt a sense of impending doom or at least change.

Miguel, still puzzled by the bizarre taste of his beer, looked at the tree one last time before leaving the site. He wondered what else the tree might have influenced that he wasn't aware of. Katherine, shaken by her cab incident, started to research not just the lot’s financial aspects but also the strange occurrences tied to it. She couldn’t shake the feeling that this was about more than just real estate, that this was not something that an audit focused on the numbers would ever be able to solve.

Robert felt a knot tighten in his stomach. For him, the tree had become a sanctuary, a constant amid the chaos of his personal life. Jamie could see that something was bothering Robert profoundly, but he could not understand what the tree had to do with it. All the better to kill off a weed, he thought.

The clientele of Times Square continued to exchange their stories about the tree. The supernatural. The average. The merely bizarre.

Word had spread about the tree and it had become something of a minor tourist attraction in its own right.

Days before the planned removal, Robert found himself standing in front of the tree, as if to say a final goodbye. He felt a wave of sadness wash over him, only broken by Jamie's voice letting him know dinner was ready.

Protests and petitions to save the tree sprang up, but the wheels of progress, lubricated by money and corporate power, seemed impossible to halt. Even the drug dealer, from his prison cell, muttered something about the foolishness of removing a source of good fortune.

The night before the tree was scheduled for removal, strange occurrences peaked. Reports of eeriness, of whispering winds, and unexplained phenomena flooded the local police lines. Those who had never believed in the tree's 'powers' were starting to doubt themselves.

And despite all the efforts to cut it down, despite being labeled a nuisance, despite the chainsaws that were readied and aimed at its base—

The tree kept growing.

And it devoured and disabled the equipment that was meant to bring its demise about.

The tree kept growing.

And it infiltrated the minds of those who sought to tear down the tree, clouding them in dark thoughts.

The tree kept growing.

Back in California, an emergency meeting was convened. What had once been dismissed as a nuisance was now an object of both fascination and fear, leading to an atmosphere of uncertainty and chaos. The project was at risk of becoming not just a financial burden but a public relations nightmare.

The tree kept growing.

The lead architect, who had once dismissed the tree as an "out of control weed," dwelled in a mix of anger and angst. The public relations junior member, who had once advocated for the tree's preservation, couldn't help but feel a sense of vindication mixed with newfound respect for the mysterious tree.

Meanwhile, a new wave of stories about the tree swept through the city, intensifying the mythos surrounding it. Its branches now stretched high and wide, a towering spectacle that seemed to defy not just corporate will but nature itself.

The tree kept growing.

But the unstoppable will of corporate America demanded the death of this tree.

The tree kept growing.

No expense was spared, and the conglomerate sought to hire just about every expert out there. Biologists and chemists at the country’s top universities. Religious figures of every stripe. Voodoo practitioners. Even a handful of charlatans managed to get a slice of the pie. They set up shop in an old hotel near the lot, and converted it into a modern lab, all with the singular goal of killing the tree.

The tree kept growing.

Nothing they did was any good.

The tree kept growing.

Experimental herbicides served only to nourish the tree, and give the scientists both figurative and literal headaches. One would later develop cancer.

The tree kept growing.

Physical treatments all suspiciously failed, with equipment malfunctions, bizarre accidents, and even deaths.

The tree kept growing.

Shamans tried to curse the tree, but would be suspiciously and conveniently attacked with dark thoughts every time.

The tree kept growing.

The conglomerate even tried to hire nuclear scientists in an effort to poison or destroy the tree with the use of radioactivity. Operating a nuclear laboratory in the middle of New York City was a hard sell, especially with the memory of Three Mile Island so fresh, and so the plan was nixed.

The tree kept growing.

Dread became the order of the day back in the California boardroom. The project to kill the tree was quickly becoming a financial strain and a public relations disaster for the conglomerate. Shareholders grew restless, activists became more vocal, and even the most hardened executives started to question the wisdom of their endeavor. Slowly, dread turned into resignation. One faction considered the tree an insidious force that was to be ignored entirely, in hopes of having the rest of the project succeed. Others argued for respecting the tree and incorporating it into the plans.

The tree kept growing.

And as the grand theaters of Times Square were restored, the seedy adult businesses shuttered, and family-oriented businesses moved in, the tree sat there, on the same vacant lot, observing the world around it as it changed. Times Square would morph into a wonderland of commercialism, the much lauded celebration of American capitalism that was envisioned, buzzing with more activity than it had gotten in over 50 years with tourists arriving from all around the world, some just to gawk at the tree.

Urban legends would circulate about the tree, with its stories told in constantly evolving permutations. It simply blended into the urban and cultural fabric of New York. Some would continue to ascribe certain experiences with the tree.

Some would remember the tree as an eternal reminder of the “old” New York, before it gentrified and became sanitized, boring, and uninspired. Others considered it a reminder that nature was always the last remaining check on man’s hubris. Others considered the tree to be part of a grand, sprawling conspiracy. Still others ascribed religious meaning to it, whether it was the Anti-Christ or a deity to be respected in its own right.

It witnessed the ebb and flow of humanity around it, the changing seasons of a city that never sleeps, the neon lights and LEDs advertising America, and the cyclical nature of decay and rebirth. It absorbed the vibrations of a thousand stories, from Robert's newfound love and liberation to the unexplained phenomena that defied scientific scrutiny.

The tree kept growing. And it would have the last laugh.


The redevelopment of Times Square wound up being a smashing success for the conglomerate, but it came at a high price. The conglomerate was on the brink of declaring bankruptcy, rescued by its creditors at the last minute. But it would be forever remembered in New York as “that company that tried to cut down the tree.”

The lead architect was disgraced. Combined with his severe gambling problem, he was now a desolate man. The last time anyone heard from him, he was living underneath a freeway overpass in Los Angeles.

Katherine left the conglomerate and started advocating for protecting the tree as a historical landmark.

Robert and Jamie would later move out, being offered a handsome sum to convert their home into a multi-story hotel. They gladly accepted, and they went into retirement in Florida together. It was hard on Robert, but they needed to enjoy the golden years somehow.

Jolie returns to Times Square after college - this time as an office worker working at an advertising company.

Some would say that the tree had a strange magnetism about it. They were believed.

The tree kept growing.