The story of a tree falling in Houston

Behold: journalism.

Hello and welcome to the free Moon Crew newsletter. If you like the following work of journalism (it’s a work of journalism), you might like the Shutdown Fullcast, our free podcast kind of about things that are kind of about college football. Perhaps you might also like our Discord community, joinable by way of our Patreon.

Now, please, let’s get to the journalism.

I have watched this video — counting conservatively — over 500 times in the last 24 hours. 

Listen to that “ohhhhhhhh.” Even before he hits the “goddammit,” this amateur tree surgeon is yelling to God from his doomed heels. That is a cry from the soul to this cursed earth: Why have you turned against me, giver of life? Why has that which brought shade and life now become a swift hammer of a cruel justice beyond my understanding? What is that man with the rope supposed to be doing here, exactly?   

The “goddammit” — full-throated, delivered from a place of total despair in a raspy yowl best described as something between Yosemite Sam and an irate South Park yokel — only seals a universal moment. It is when fate finds a check written with your stupidity, and also the moment when fate decides to cash that check with such force, it overdrafts you straight into hell.  

First, know this: The screaming man in the video is not dropping a tree onto his own house.

That house belongs to Matt Bieniek’s family. I spoke with him yesterday over the phone, after he saw his own house being assaulted on the internet by poorly executed tree surgery.  

Matt is not the one who filmed the moment the tree came down onto his family’s Houston home on November 4, 2019. At the time of the incident, the 23-year-old was at work. A neighbor — suspecting they might be headed for disaster — filmed the tree falling onto the house.

Bieniek guesses, “She saw what was happening, and wanted to be ready.” 

He doesn’t know how or why the video got online. I know where I found it: on the Tiktok account @mikevasquez82, posted along with other videos of tree-cutting fiascos and one awe-inspiring shot of a massive helicopter-mounted multi-saw shaving back trees from power lines.  

Bieniek, whose phone blew up all day yesterday as the video bounced around the internet, also doesn’t know why it appeared now, almost a year afterward.

But he does know what you’re going to ask: Did this guy know what he was doing?

The answer is no, no he did not. 

“He was our lawn guy. After we got some expensive quotes, he said he could probably do it for cheaper.” 

Their HOA had already told them the very dead old pine had to go, so they settled on a price of $1,200, paid the guy a deposit, and closed the deal. The lawn guy then cut down the enormous dead pine tree.

The enormous dead pine tree then impacted their house at high speed, causing what Bieniek says was around $60,000 of damage to the home. 

“It really wasn’t as bad it could have been. It knocked a bunch of picture frames off the walls of our house, and definitely did some damage to the rafters. One of those put a hole in our ceiling for a bit.” 

He doesn’t know what the guy’s plan for the tree was, either. 

“I showed the clip to a group of guys I go to lunch with, and the bulk of the conversation focused on just where he thought he was going to land with it. We were baffled. No matter where you drop it, it’s going to hit something.”  

The aftermath had some of the tussling one might expect after a tree gets dropped onto someone’s home. The insurance company paid for repairs to the house, then went after the amateur tree surgeon for the rest. 

The tree surgeon, with an insurance company in pursuit, in turn tried to get the Bienieks to pay him the full fee for the job.

“He said, ‘I did like 95 percent of the job.’ He wanted us to pay the full balance of the fee.” 

The Bienieks refused, based mostly on that final and very important 5 percent of the job. (Note: He also left the stump in their yard.)

Their relationship with the lawn guy, already strained by the whole dropping-a-tree-on-your-house thing, fell to pieces. To no one’s surprise, he doesn’t do the Bieniek family’s yard anymore. 

“He still does some of our neighbor’s yards. I don’t know how the insurance company worked out, but he does have what looks to be a nice new truck.”