You'll see this tree while waiting on line to get into Jon Stewart
The tree in Betty Smith's novel is an Ailanthus or Tree-of-heaven. It's a native of China and considered a weed in the US. All an Ailanthus seed needs to grow is a little dirt (cement will do in a pinch) and some spit and it'll grow into a huge tree. Smith used it as a metaphor for a poor Irish family's ability to thrive during tough times in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
This tree outside my building in Hell's Kitchen is a Gingko, also a native of China. They're all over the streets of NYC—easy to spot because of its fan-shaped leaf that turns taxi-cab yellow in the Fall. It's very salt tolerant, so it can stand up to hundreds of dogs pissing on it every day and has a small root system that won't buckle up the sidewalks. Its fleshy berries—that smell like vomit when stepped on—are said to help improve memory.
I loved this tree. There was a little bird house in the branches that somebody had hung back in the 90's. It was a quirky bit of beauty on a cruddy-looking block.
Two years ago, the tree was hit by a truck that was backing up to make a delivery to The Jon Stewart Daily Show next door. The trunk snapped in half and lay on the sidewalk for two weeks, before the city took it away.
But it's not dead. Branches are growing out of the stump. It's quite lush. And perhaps it's a metaphor for what this neighborhood is going through.
I'm just not sure what that metaphor is.