Chicago dad takes on a tree and loses

When we first arrived in Chicago, fresh from sunny Florida where we’d met, my wife and my family and I moved into my wife’s childhood home, a luxurious Tudor mansion in that part of Chicago where people don’t lock their doors much and everyone lives within spitting distance of a senator, an alderman, or Mike Royko.

The streets are wide, the homes are tall, and the shade is deep under the trees, knobbly, curmudgeonly oaks as big around as a Buick. We played in their shade. We climbed their trunks. We raked their leaves into mountainous piles. We defended them against beetles and rot-we proudly defied all invaders.

Until Nielsen showed up.

Nielsen, the TV ratings monster, had gone high tech. Nielsen was rolling out its newest system: a flagrantly advanced media system, with a computer, printer, Internet, and fully decked out, gold-plated platinum black diamond level satellite service-all of it connected to a TV the size of a wall. None of which we possessed. We watched TV every night like all good families: through the neighbor’s window.

They called, I swooned, they showed up a week later with a truck, nine guys in overalls and a metric ton of electronics. They set up in the living room; we gathered around and drooled. We hushed ourselves as they linked us up to the dish they’d installed on our chimney.

We leaned forward for the onslaught of media saturation. The guy hit the button, the satellite dish swerved to peek over the horizon, and far above our heads, a multi-million-dollar hunk of gizmos gazed down on our expectant family and said, “Can you move that tree?”

Thousands of dollars of circuitry sat inert before us, and the man from Nielsen whispered urgently into his radio, then turned a hangdog face to tell us the system wouldn’t work because a 300-year-old maple was blocking satellite reception, which prompted my nature-centric Captain Planet-loving kids to scream “CUT IT DOWN!” I’m sure it would have horrified me if I hadn’t been halfway to my garage to get a chainsaw.

We argued. We haggled. We begged.

Nielsen and his henchmen packed up our glistening dreams and drove away.

We eventually got over it, moved into a new house, and got an awesome cable package.

The tree? It’s still there, blocking satellite reception for a new generation. And every once in awhile, I drive past that house and look at its shaggy spire and think, “Well played, tree, well played.”

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