I don't know when America broke, but everyone knows that it's broken. Our bridges are crumbling, our water is poisoned, our young people are in debt, our cities have been decimated by the cold math of economics, and one of our leading presidential candidates foments hate and fear wherever he goes. We have Netflix and the internet and smartphones, but this just makes our broader misery worse, somehow—if we can make it possible to watch Better Call Saul on a tiny glowing rectangle anytime we want, can't we do anything about the waves of poverty and despair crashing into us? You feel it in your bones that someone ought to do something, but who or what is just a mist in your mind; thinking about it for too long makes you clench with an anger that you can't do anything with. It's enough to make you want to climb a tree, just climb and climb and climb until you can't anymore and then sit there, yelling things that no one can understand.
In downtown Seattle yesterday, that's exactly what one guy did. And he's still up there.
According to local news channel KIRO 7, this guy began clambering up an 80-foot sequoia in the heart of Seattle around 11 AM local time Tuesday, and has refused to come down. No one seems to know who he is, why he's up there, or (most importantly) how to get him down. The police have approached him, but he responded by throwing apples at them. Then, when he ran out of apples, he threw sticks and pinecones. , the Seattle Times says, he shouted, "How much taxpayer money are you wasting? It's not an emergency!"
Sometimes he yells obscenities, whittles, or drops his pants. He's built a sort of nest from branches and weathered the cold and rain and wind all night. He's reportedly pooped up there. On Wednesday morning, a Kiro reporter said that a woman tried to lure him down with the promise of making out with him, and he started to climb down, but then he got "spooked" and retreated skyward.
In the past 24 hours, gawkers have gathered around the tree to stare, take photos, and show their support for the guy, whoever he is, whatever he's doing. (There's even a livestream of the tree.) Even if his reasons for being up there are obscure, you can understand what he's feeling on a gut level. It's like he's gathered up all the rage and futility hovering in the air around us, cloaked himself in it, then climbed a tree. #ManInTree has become a Twitter phenomenon; there is at least one #ManInTree T-shirt you can buy. People don't understand his message, but they're on board with it because he's angry and committed and refuses to back down. You feel like he's saying the things you can't say, though at the same time you have no idea what he's saying—in that way, he's a lot like Seattle's other favorite loner, Kurt Cobain.
Though no one knows who he is—and though social media has a tendency to flatten people into memes—his behavior suggests that he's probably one of Seattle's many mentally ill homeless people. Seattle Real Life Superhero Phoenix Jones (Seattle has superheroes, by the way) said in a video posted to Twitter Tuesday night that he knew the guy and had tried to give him some Newports (he had reportedly asked for a pack of Camel Crushes) and beer because "this is what he needs," but the cops refused to let Phoenix close to the scene.
"Literally a sandwich a cigarette or a beer can stop this man's violence towards others," Phoenix wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "He's not a criminal he's mentally ill and until we treat him like a friend who is sick and needs help… I fear this problem will never be solved."