You were still high from your recent criminal success and, having escaped without suspicion, you both hungered for another quest. Your next target, the TAE house, was also out for the summer, and located just next door to the Delta Kappas. Had you been real cat burglars, perhaps this would have deterred you, to hit two houses right next to each other in quick succession. But this was not Mayberry, it was still summer vacation, and the campus was still had a one-week turnover rate for conference-goers and corporate seminar attendees. The only other campus inhabitants were graduate students who, made easily identifiable by the ever-presence of their bicycle helmets, would rather die than be caught at the top of fraternity hill.
Besides, it would be vaguely poetic to hit the TAEs next, second-in-line as they were in the grand pecking order of mid-nineties Stanford fraternities. The Delta Kappa house might be the only place on campus you could catch a glimpse of the surfer dude/water-polo player straight out of Central Casting–that species of Southern Californian boy with whom you had grown up and for whom you had, in spite of yourself, developed an begrudgingly loyal affection. But for their own part, the TAEs attracted the New Englander version of him, a J. Crew-wearing, witty retort offering, summer home- and trust fund-boasting incarnation of the same snotty jerk, both familiar and strange wrapped into one. It was the house that would take Fred Savage, eventually, and though they were the same, though they were all the same, you were not yet acclimated to it. Your understanding of men in those days–nay, your understanding of people–and their relative value could be read with astounding accuracy from across a room, while intoxicated, at a crowded party. There, in the dark, you studied those differences with a highlighter and tape flags, tucking away your notes for later, never suspecting that the answer was to be discovered in the similarities . . . a milestone of another day.
It was fascinating, this brave new world with such people in it. You sometimes saw a magic to it, a hoodoo voodoo, and that night was no different, when you stumbled into the main room at TAE, after plenty of prepatory drinking precautions. There, you discovered what must have been a beacon divined just for the two of you, Tanya and Anna, and placed high above the dance floor that had been host to countless How Soon Is Now? moments in this and years past. Because there, framed by vaulted ceilings and in the middle large white wall, should have been the fraternity’s letters, TAE, in carved wood and spray-painted gold.
Except that night, because the Epsilon that usually rounded out the trio of letters, was already gone. Had it been stolen by some other pair of rogue pilferers-of-all-things-fraternities? A rival gang, perhaps? You didn’t know. What you did know was that the TAE wall called out to you, Tanya and Anna, sisters in useless criminality that evening. That evening, it was meant to be, the letters–
were already incomplete in their intended signification; with their third letter gone, could not the ultimate semiotic integrity of the letters be said to be dependent upon your stealing of them? Was not Tanya the Tau, and you the Alpha, even if only in the limited context of this odd, drunken sign system? And as such, couldn’t it be said to be your duty to remove them from this musty den of inequity? To place them in more linguistically satisfying homes, where they could find meaning again?
Regardless, they were easier to take, much easier to take, than even the Lovers Lane sign–the letters almost jumped off the wall into your hands, and so it was startling when you heard people coming. Tanya, her wits never more about her than whilst in the middle of a criminal escapade, quickly grabbed both letters and led you behind the bar on the back patio. Two middle aged conference attendees were walking past. What kind of conference would they have here? That involved an overnight stay? And what kind of a grown man would prefer a temporarily vacant fraternity house as an accommodation to any of the variety of hotels in the general are? These were questions you were too young to ask, too drunk, senses too dulled by the excitement of the steal to bother with, so the two of you hid, silently, among the empty keg shells and stacks of red plastic cups the TAEs saved for fancy date parties, and looked at each other, thinking, “Oh shit,” but not really worried, until they had passed. What would these men have done, anyway, had they seen you? They were not fraternity members, they had no vested interest in the goings on of the TAEs, and besides, you had yet to meet the man that Tanya couldn’t sweet talk out of anger. How would she explain the presence of the two three-foot greek letters? You didn’t know. But you knew she would, and could, if she had to. And in a weird way, there was safety in this, the thrill of the chase and the security in a leader all wrapped up in Tanya, a partner-in-crime you never would have conceived of on your own, but here she was, guiding you, showing you the way, even if the way involved ducking behind a bar in the backyard of a frat house in the wee hours of the morning.
And so that night ended much like the first one, with the two of you laughing your way back down the hill, though there was an added confidence this time, a growing smugness, that the thefts were so easy, and that they seemed almost meant to be. And when you took your letter home, your souvenir of the night, you took it out into the backyard to disguise it, lovingly covering it with a grey and black faux stone finish, your materials spread out on the grass of the old house. And if your mother asked for an explanation, you would say it was a discard of some kind, because it was, wasn’t it? Until you made it yours, the Alpha for Anna, and hung it on the wall for your soul to come and see.