It was the same visit in which you first heard of the unexplained envelope, and together, you and Tanya had been drinking tequila for the better part of Tuesday. And so it was that you found yourselves inebriated by late twilight, the summer break ensuring there would be no parties on the horizon, and therefore no promise of free alcohol within walking distance. Likewise, there were no clear prospects of going anywhere off campus, since driving was out of the question, and besides, you only had the kind of ID that worked at places with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge carding policy. The few bars that peppered the downtown streets of Shallow Alto had yuppie-kitsch names like Blue Chalk and Left at Albequerque and, though many of them were owned by former frat boys, they were hardly interested in risking their liquor licenses for you. Even if you were bringing Tanya with you.
Perhaps under different, more lush-friendly circumstances, you wouldn’t have come to an agreement that it was time to steal the coveted Lover’s Lane sign from the Delta Kappa house. But who is to say how many schemes might have gone unhatched in the grand history of college pranks, without the muse of drunken boredom fueling the fires? And was it stealing, technically speaking? How could one steal something that was stolen in the first place? Certainly it was a grey area, not that this mattered. How wrong could it be to steal from thieves?
The sign had once been government property, after all–a relic from some out-of-the-way street somewhere, probably in the Midwest, that had been stolen years ago by fraternity members you had never met–whom the current Delta Kaps had probably never met, in all probability. That this was a real street sign was clear: it was the standard-issue kelly green color of California freeway signs, and the letters–a bold verdana–were finished in the dotted reflective tape that covered signs up and down the 101 Freeway, all the way from school to home, home to school.
At one point, perhaps the Lovers Lane sign had been visible at night to young lovers looking for a place to park, and to motorists in search of the fabled scenic route of historic Americana. Or maybe it had marked the path to ready victims for a zealous copycat hoping to recreate the Zodiac murders. Nobody really knew. But now that it was hanging in the bar of the Delta Kap house, its government-standard reflective tape was only useful for making the room look extra cool on the night of the Delta Kap’s annual Black Light party.
Why had you and Tanya wanted that sign so much? Maybe its place in the tiny apartment you were to share for a brief period the next fall was the next step on the sign’s journey as a coveted piece of historical contraband? You only knew that it needed to be yours, and yours it would be.
The summer was the perfect time to do it, when there were very few students around, and most of the fraternities rented out vacant rooms to non-member boarders or the occasional conference attendee. The fraternity houses–dank, poorly lit architectural question marks from the late sixties or seventies–were situated atop the small hills on the north end of campus, largely obscured by trees. The location was no doubt useful for boys-to-men hazing new recruits in the spring and fall, but their relative isolation worked against them when it was the middle of summer and there were drunk girls on the prowl, hoping to pillage their pillaged wares. And so, under the cover of darkness, and with the kind of chutzpah that only a thick layer of alcoholic haze can provide, you made your way through the trees and up the path you had traversed countless times, and stepped headlong into your short but impressive criminal career as a thief of useless items.
It was Tanya’s motto to “be bold, and no one will question you,” and in the few times you had found it handy to adopt the policy, it had proven useful. But then, it wasn’t the kind of thing you would use in an every day situation, and who is to say that the cover of your complete, almost shockingly innocent exterior is not what had protected you in those instances? When had you ever been bold, anyway? Cutting in front of someone at a beer line? Turning in a paper when you had never attended the class?
This was different. You would be waltzing into a fraternity house as if you owned it, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of the night, and removing a large street sign that was attached to the very top of the wall over the bar of the “coolest” fraternity on campus. And how was it attached, anyway? Where was your recon on this mission? You had no tools, and no exit strategy, but those were things you would think of later–like in your thirties, maybe–but not now, when you are all of 19 and 3/4s and feeling the fresh breeze of devil-may-care self-destruction on your face for the very first time.
The house was, as you predicted, quiet, softly lit, unlocked. The hallways, newly equipped with handicap accessible ramps for the one pledge in a wheelchair the Delta Kaps had magnanimously pledged the year before, were oddly clean and free from rancid beer smell. What was the half-life on beer stank, you wondered? You marveled at this evidence that, apparently, in the absence of carpet, it was possible to free a fraternity house from beer stank in just a few months. But musing on the hygeine of frat houses was not your purpose tonight, so you turned left, and followed Tanya down the few steps into the Delta Kap bar.
And there it was, alone, unprotected. Could it be this easy? Tanya scaled the bar, climbing on the tip toes of her black ankleboots to reach the bottom of the sign. She could just barely reach it to pry it from the wall.
“It’s just attached on nails, can you believe it? Not even a screw!” she said, banging it down against the wall. “I’m not tall enough, though, it will be hard to balance.”
“I’m taller than you, here,” you said, jumping up beside her. And as you lifted one side off of its nail, Tanya was able to catch the other side as it fell. Together, you lowered the sign to the floor. It was a bigger sign than you had thought. Still, was it going to be this easy?
And the two of you took it, together, out of the door and into the warm night, marvelling that nobody had seen or questioned you, the thrill of the uncontested theft either unbelievable or anticlimactic, or both, the taste of the conquest whetting your appetite for more even as you stumbled, laughing, back down the hill.