High school is a place for finding your sensibilities, often through a lot of unadvised, improvised trial and error. Peer influence is considerable, particularly if you’ve a low sense of self worth and a vastly misconceived sense of self identity. Partner all that together and you can end up shivering in the pre-dawn chill of pre-Halloween suburbia somewhere off Man-O-War drive in Lexington Kentucky while someone sits on your shoulders trying to wrestle a rusty bolt off the back of a street sign with one of the wrenches out of their father’s toolbox.
Or deploy from the back of slow rolling four door Escorts and Civics like amateur hit squads ready to violently shake the real estate flag poles, causing the snap together joints bulging at the middle to whiplash poles to compromise and pop the top half of the pole out of the base, such that teens might liberate apartment complex flags like scalps from settlers naive enough to try to build in our neck of the woods, gentrify our neighborhood.
Or, after one evening out with the boys looking for clever street names, bonus points for ones that match the names of girls someone or other hoped to impress, one of the kids steals a Stop sign. Next morning, as you sit looming over a bowl of Rice Chex lightly sprinkled with some Fruity Pebbles, the news talks about some little girl being run down by a motorist that ran a stop sign, but didn’t see the stop sign because apparently the stop sign had been missing. Discovering a newly developed intolerance to lactose that has persisted through life like bad credit. Find a newspaper, locate the intersection where the horrible, unfortunate accident happened, breath a sign of relief that the stolen sign is not the one you helped “liberate.” Call the kid that just had to have the sign, ask / beg / tell the kid the sign must go back.
Find yourself again shivering in the pre-dawn chill of pre-Halloween suburbia somewhere off Man-O-War drive in Lexington Kentucky while someone sits on your shoulders trying to wrestle a rusty bolt back onto the backside of a street sign with another one of the wrenches out of their father’s toolbox, since somehow they lost the other wrench on the last grand outing, Then notice the police car pass by a block away, freeze, notice the police car taillights as it backs into view at the far end of the block. Clench to not unload and run, kid still on your shoulders like a bad habit, slip on the dewy grass and land half on, half off the curb, discover contrary to popular opinion suburban curbs are not actually made of cheese. Not Nerf either, unfortunately.
Hiding inside a bush about as accommodating as a strip club to cub scouts, briar pricks in all the wrong places, trying not to breath too loud because that’s how they get you, cops or Chinese hopping vampires. The cop pulled up, got out of his car, heel grinding on the street’s skin like it wanted to coerce a witness statement. Mag light swung out of his holster, light popped on like the eye of the Illuminati, a beam as straight and true as the Sword of Damocles pierced the pre-dawn gloom, cut a sharp silhouette from out vantage of the sign and pole we’d just barely finished reattaching it too. The beam dropped to the ground, to the glint of the kid’s father’s wrench, another tool that wouldn’t be returning to the roost, and then began to follow the depressed, clearly defined footprints in the dew, the ones that lead to the curb, the one you’d bailed on and fallen over. Not enough dew to make wet footprints where you’d crossed the street; still, you can only hug one another beneath the barely yielding canopy of the bush and wait to see if the you would need to bolt, become a fugitive from the law, with no way to explain that really, you were trying to repair an error in ill advised judgment. The evidence apparently would certainly have the cop feeling like some self congratulatory back patting for foiling a crime in progress, believe he’d thwarted an attempt at theft rather than discovered a pair of teens reattaching a previously stolen Stop sign for fear some other little girl get grilled by some selfishly speeding suburbanite.
You wish you could have brought that little girl back somehow, because despite the fact that the person that hit her had been exceeding the speed limit for that residential avenue a couple times over, the missing stop sign had gotten the driver a lesser sentence for their carelessness, while had the sign been there, the driver would have gone away for life, as no way their significant speed would have slowed or stopped upon seeing a sign in a sleepy hammock of a hood, considering a child wearing bright pink clothing on a sunny day against a backdrop of summer green lawns, bushes, and tree canopies didn’t catch their eye. You know that’s all rationalization, though. You know the empty feeling you get when you think about that little girl is based in the second you felt accountable for the suffering of someone else, someone unfairly affected by something you selfishly elected to do, or assist with doing. You wish the little girl ended up happy ending ok because you can learn all the lessons in the world, she’ll never learn another one.
Eventually the cop left. You think he might know exactly where you are, might even think he believes he’s teaching you a lesson by letting you off.
You think this, and an idea forms, ridiculous and fueled by adrenalin and all the toxic euphoria that elixir brings. You can have all the thrill of theft without hurting anyone, on the side of mischief rather than personal gain. Who needs trophies in your bedroom that you have to keep hiding whenever you’re parents stop by with advice about cleanliness and order out of chaos? You want the thrill of the mischief without a possibility of little girls, or anyone else, getting hurt or otherwise expensed. So you concoct a series of zany heists to enjoy the adventure and adrenaline while feeling that at most those affected will find the antics annoying, at best, they might even have a chuckle over the absurdity.
After some down time to regroup, you convince your friends these plots you’ve schemed and hatched have legs. Takes some convincing, though your evident enthusiasm becomes too magnetic to resist the pull, the tug, coerced to collude.
Since signs were the theme of the day, we began by identifying streets most easily confused in the grid like newer subdivisions of Lexington, the ones built on former horse ranch farm land, the ones with all the streets named after farms, famous horses, horse owners, derby winners, types of horse race related nomenclature.
Once we had a list in hand, we began swapping signs, offsetting blocks by a couple blocks, and ensuring all corresponding signs at either end of the affected block were equitably exchanged with all equivalent signs from the block being swapped with. Two cars, four people, each team hitting the opposite ends of the blocks, whole exchange took about twenty minutes start to finish. Next time took fifteen. We next watched the news for a week to see if what we’d done would ever be noticed. No word ever emerged from pursed anchor lady lips, no man on the scene with throws to footage of the affected intersections. No commentary from unsettled locals or frustrated pizza delivery guys. Nothing. As far as I know, those blocks remain to this day incorrectly named. Have to wonder if that affects putting their houses on the market, do they adjust their address so people can find their place, or just describe easy to spot landmarks?
And so after that we moved on to new pranks. None would ever end up on the news, though seems like a miracle every house in our neighborhood didn’t end up installing motion detector lights after we’d been active.
We liberated all of one block’s green wheeled Rubbermaid trash cans, we called them “Herbie-Curbies”, and lined them up in rows blocking off each end of the block. Another block would wake to discover all their cans arranged in the middle of the street at the center of the block in a checkerboard pattern, white the negative space between the square bodied Herbies. Another block on a different day would emerge from their front doors to find their Herbies waiting for them on their small concrete porches, the sorts of stoops that were all the rage for prefab house development in the era of Brady Bunch reruns. Every stoop squatter can had a flower or two jutting from its lid lipped mouth like a peace offering or Prop date corsage. We even made sure the flowers came from a variety of sourced so no one’s garden ended up with a big bald spot.
We called pizza places pretending to be at one address and asked for delivery to another, then called another pizza place and reversed the addresses such that effectively two addressed would be receiving pizza and appear to have ordered it for one another. Ah, the fun you could have in the era before caller ID! We picked a name from the phone book, then called multiple Dentists and made appointments on their behalf. Dental hygiene is important, you know.
During the winter when Lexington got a heap more snow than usual, a friend and I liberated a couple snow shovels and began shoveling random driveways as the mood struck us. One woman gave us hot chocolate. Another woman asked us who sent us, I said her son. Fortunately she actually had one, or that would’ve been weird. The kid watched us from the window and waved back when we did, so she must have assumed we knew him from school. Back then the idea that a couple high-schoolers might loiter at an elementary didn’t worry anyone. Not that we actually did loiter at elementary schools, mind you. Just saying.
During the late spring, as everyone in suburbia went to get their big grills ready, or purchased, for the summer season, we roamed the backyards taking inventory of the grills of similar or better same make and model. Not an arduous task, there were really only a couple variations for gas grills then, everyone else still stuck with charcoal variations. Once we found a couple that matched, we swapped them. No one chained their grills up. Generally the utensils were with the grill, sometimes we’d swap the utensils too, sometimes not.