Tag Archives: Mandy

Story of the Day: 2-24-11


When I claimed a few weeks ago in the Tower Records story that I’ve never stolen anything, I was totally lying. I’ve stolen tons of things. I guess I really should have said I’ve never shoplifted anything. Because, oh boy, have I stolen things. My criminal activities were limited to one night, but I’m pretty sure that excuse would not get me far in a court of law. “Sorry I killed my wife, officer. It was only one night.” Nope.

It was early in the fall of my freshman year of college. My high school friends and I had arranged an impromptu reunion at Michigan State. I was staying at my sister’s place, in the heart of the student ghetto. My friends and I set out from her house around 10 o’ clock and began making the house party rounds.

Every school has its own code of party ethics, and Michigan State was no exception. Open house parties were the rule of thumb at the time. You did not need to know anyone in the house to attend; so long as you paid $2 to get a cup, you could drink as much as you wanted. By contrast, at University of Michigan parties, you could drink for free, but it was considered poor form to crash a house party where you didn’t know anyone. If you wanted to drink with a bunch of people you didn’t know at U of M, you went to a frat. The beer was free there, too, but it was generally impossible to get to the keg. I wrote a song about it. Here it is.

Working the Keg

The trick was to buy a cup at one party and then wander from party to party with that same cup so you only had to pay once. Fiendishly clever, I know. We were in college, after all.

We were in the kitchen at our second or third party when I noticed my friend Jonah (not his real name) rooting around in the refrigerator.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“Food,” he said. “I’m hungry.”

He pulled a block of cheese out of the refrigerator, then began rifling around the drawers for a knife. He found a pair of scissors in one of the drawers and handed them to me.

“Here, take these,” he said. “I’ve been needing scissors.”

I didn’t think anything of it. It was just a pair of scissors, after all. Who buys scissors? You just have scissors. The owners of the house just had these scissors, and now we had them. They would manage to find another pair somewhere. One always does.

The scissor and cheese heist was such a success, we decided to see if there was anything else in the kitchen we could use. Jonah moved on to the freezer.

“Well, lookee here,” he said, pulling out a fifth of vodka. And then, mysteriously, a package of bacon. “We’ll need this too,” he reasoned. “For later.”

I think it was the bacon that really set the whole thing off. The bacon turned it from a mere scavenging session into a competition over who could get the best swag. When we found our friends and told them what we’d been up to, they all wanted a piece of the action for themselves. We began working our way through the house in teams, sticking to the shadows. When no one was looking, we’d pop open a drawer and grab whatever lay inside. Before the heat could catch on, we regrouped and move onto the next house party.

As the night wore on and our intoxication levels increased, we became more brazen. We moved on from drawers and started grabbing things in plain sight. At first, the objects were small … an electric shaver from the bathroom, a pencil jar from the desk … but the small items quickly proved unchallenging, forcing us to take it to the next level. I began to wonder if things had maybe gotten out of control when I saw Jonah walking out of a house with a microwave.

After an hour or so of unchecked plunder, we bundled our ill-gotten gains up in our arms and headed back to my sister’s house. She and her roommates weren’t home yet, so we let ourselves in and spread our winnings out on the carpet to take a good luck at what we’d accomplished. Included in the final tally were not one but two microwaves, the bacon, the vodka, the shaver, the scissors, a couple of phones … not cell phones, mind you, but home phones. (Cell phones didn’t really exist in 1993, and even if they had, I’d like to think we would have considered them off-limits. We weren’t real thieves, after all. We were property liberators.) I used to have the entire list hanging on my wall, but I just looked through my old notes and it doesn’t seem to exist any more. But trust me, it is far more extensive than you could imagine. I know it included a toaster and a fair amount of kitchen supplies. Oh, and my favorite thing of all: the owl wall hanging that you see at the top of this page. I still have that one. It’s been in every apartment and house I’ve lived in since then.

Seeing all of our work in the light of day, I got a sort of sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. What had we done? Others were nonplussed; a few of my friends headed back out to see what else they could score. We didn’t want or need any of this stuff, mind you. We were a gang of Winona Ryders, sticking sweaters under our shirts for the thrill of the grift.

Eventually, my sister came home, and that was when the full weight of our adventure really hit me. “Where did all this stuff come from?” she asked.

“We stole it,” I said. “We’ve been stealing.”

She was completely baffled. And pissed.

“Why would you do that? And why would you bring it back to my house?”

“I don’t know,” I said meekly. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The next morning she drove us to one of the houses we’d been to and made us return everything we’d taken. She didn’t make us go up to the door and apologize, thank god, although we would have done it if she’d insisted. My sister can be plenty intimidating when she needs to be. We just unloaded everything on the lawn with a note reading “Sorry.” I don’t even know how much of the stuff actually came from that house; we were just happy to be rid of it. It felt like we were doing as close to the right thing as we could do without exerting the slightest bit of energy.

And that was really, truly, the last time I’ve ever stolen anything.

Well, not quite. There was that one frat party at U of M where I took every toothbrush in the bathroom. But those guys were dicks and I maintain to this day that it was a pretty good prank. Can you imagine waking up the morning with a raging hangover and stank breath and not being able to brush your teeth? Oh, the humanity!



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Story of the Day: 2-13-11

The New Dog

Not Pepper, but a reasonable facsimile.

I have had one dog in my life. His name was Pepper and he was a cute, scruffy, black and white cockapoo. As you might guess, that’s a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle. When I was a kid and I’d get scared at night, I’d call out “Peppppppper … Peppppppper …” and he’d come bounding into my bed and snuggle with me. I try to do the same thing now with my daughter Hazel, but her bounding skills are not quite up-to-speed. I keep expecting to see her come scooching into our bedroom like an inchworm, wrapped as she is in her burrito-tight swaddle. One can dream.

Pepper was a good dog. He was a real humper, and we got him neutered way too late for it to make a lick of difference. But he was good-natured and didn’t bark or bite. His only crime was getting excited and running around when people visited. Especially my Grandpa Bob. He loooooved my Grandpa Bob. If we said, “do you want to go to Grandpa Bob’s?” he’d totally flip out. Grandpa Bob’s nickname for him was “runty dog.” “Ooooh, that’s a runty dog,” he’d say, rubbing Pepper up and down as Pepper wagged his tail furiously.

Pepper died when I was a freshman in high school. It’s amazing he lived as long as he did. He never spent a minute of his life on a leash; we just let him out the door a few times a day and he’d roam around the neighborhood at his leisure. In retrospect, it was maybe not the most neighborly thing to do. We lived in a fairly rural area but he still must have been shitting all over the neighbors’ lawns. It’s somewhat surprising no one ever shot him.

What they did do, finally, was plow him over with their car. Their collective car; everyone in my neighborhood shared a single car. No, not really, that was just an incredibly awkward transition.

My sister was driving us to school one day when she saw a sad, lumpen mess on the road. I did not see it. I was too busy concentrating on not being a dork so she wouldn’t make me get out of the car and walk the rest of the way to school. She immediately felt a wave of panic that the black and white shape was Pepper, but she didn’t say anything, hoping it wouldn’t be true if she kept it to herself.

Her fears were confirmed when we were both pulled out of 1st period. As she tells it, a messenger from the office came down and handed a note to her teacher, Mr. Willey, saying she’d been excused for the rest of the day. “What happened, Dinsmore?” he asked. “Did your dog die?” She swears this is what he said, and he meant it as a joke. This is the level of teacher we were dealing with at Clio High School, teachers who made jokes about kids’ dogs dying. I’m sure he wasn’t pouring salt in the wound; it was just an insanely lucky guess. But what if our mom was dying of cancer? No matter which way you slice it, it was a terrible joke. But Mr. Willey was a hard-as-nails Korean war veteran who would sometimes burst into tears in the middle of history lessons thinking about how tragic the world was. Jeff Rosenberg’s favorite Mr. Willey quote was, “It makes me want to cry when I see the streets running with blood.” So clearly this guy had bigger things on his mind than our cockapoo.

The other thing about Mr. Willey (we’ll get back to Pepper in a moment) is that he thought it was his patriotic duty to give an A to any piece of work that insulted the Nazis. I took Mr. Willey’s Wars class my senior year. At the end of every semester, we were expected to put together a creative project based on something we’d been studying. I always played by the rules, so I would spend weeks designing intricate dioramas and poetic tributes to our lost war heroes. Don would just scrawl out some half-assed piece of anti-Nazi propaganda the morning the project was due and we’d get the same grade. I watched him create his most memorable work one morning right before class started. Over the course of five minutes, he drew a flaming Nazi symbol on a piece of poster board. Underneath it he wrote: “The Third Reich: May It Burn in Hell Forever.” I believe he even spelled “Reich” incorrectly, although, to be fair, it’s not English. He got an A. My patiently crafted labor of love, a zoetrope featuring an exhaustingly researched recreation of a Civil War battle, got an A -.

And the third thing about Mr. Willey, which really has nothing to do with Mr. Willey, is that it was in Wars class that my friend Rion came out of the closet to me. It was not necessarily a shock … everyone assumed he was gay. But it was highly unusual. In 1993, high school kids did not come out of the closet. Especially in Clio. And there was a big difference between everyone assuming you’re gay and actually taking that on as your identity.

His method of coming out was pretty cool. Halfway through another powerful Mr. Willey lecture on the scourge of bayonets, he handed me a folded-up piece of paper that read, “I’m so gay I could scream.” I looked over at him and he nodded and made some kind of diva move with his head, signifying gayness. The only thing I could think to do was give him the thumbs up. We returned our attention to the lecture.

So Pepper was dead. I never saw his body; apparently it was a pretty gruesome scene. I didn’t know what to do with my emotions. He was there one day, and the next day he was gone. What I did, which is something a therapist would probably have a field day with, was distrust my memory. “Maybe he was never really here,” I thought. Is that narcissism, that if something is not in front of me, it probably never existed? Maybe I just never developed an understanding of object permanence.

My family remained dogless until I was a senior in college. I’m not sure what prompted my dad to go to the shelter and bring a dog home, but one day, he just up and did it. I guess he’d been wanting a dog all those years and my mom had been denying him. Probably because she would have ended up doing all the work. Which is the excuse I always heard earlier in life when I wanted a pet. And now that I am an adult, I can recognize that it was an absolutely valid concern; it always did fall to my mom to do all the work. She partly brought the problem on herself, though, by refusing to go all the way. If she’d let our pets starve to death before our eyes, we would have surely learned the consequences of our actions. That’s the key: let your children starve a pet. It’s for their own good.

The dog my dad brought home was a scruffy, excitable four-year-old that was found hanging out on the grassy shoulder of I-75. Amazingly, it was not squashed to death by Interstate traffic. “Good instincts,” my dad insisted.

He found out how good they were two days later, when he took the dog out back to do some yard work with him. Continuing in the pattern we’d established with Pepper, the dog was brought into the backyard sans leash. The fact that it had come to us as a runaway was promptly forgotten. And promptly remembered when the dog promptly dashed through the front yard and into the street and was promptly smashed by a car.

I was home when it happened, and it was a nightmare. The dog was still essentially intact, but its back legs were paralyzed. I spent an agonizing night sleeping on the couch next to the poor thing. I’ll never forget the horrid smell of slow decay that emanated from its fur. The dog was able to survive just fine on the shoulder of a busy expressway, but it became suicidal after just a few days with the Dinsmores.

The next day, my dad took him to the vet and had him put to sleep. I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure that’s the last dog they’ll ever get.


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