Tag Archives: University of Michigan

Story of the Day: 2-24-11


Looting

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: 1-19-11


The Ultimate Sweet Revenge: Part 2

It quickly became clear to everyone but me that this relationship was not going to last. Any relationship with that much of a power imbalance is not going to be healthy. I worshipped the ground Denise walked on; to her, I was good enough for the time being if a little out of shape and sort of annoyingly clingy. It was only a matter of time before things got weird. About three months, to be precise.

Denise’s best friend from high school went to college in Kalamazoo, and Denise would visit her there every few weeks. A few weeks into our senior year, I started hearing about these two guys in a rockabilly band. “You’d love them,” she’d say. “They’re so funny.” I was pretty sure I would not love them and they were not that funny. Still, I kept my opinions to myself, knowing that Denise was a delicate flower and all I had to do was act a little wacky for her to fly out of my hand and into the pompadoured hair of some rockabilly asshole.

One weekend, the guys were coming to Ann Arbor to visit. I wanted to be cool about the whole thing, so I called Denise early on Friday evening. “Hey,” I said. “I know Bill and Tom [maybe their real names; I don’t really remember] are coming into town tonight. I’d love to meet them! I think we’d really get along well. So, let me know what you’re doing and I can come meet up with you!” 

Denise did not call me all evening. This was before the age of cell phones. It was even before the age of pagers. My only option was to leave messages on her home phone, which I did repeatedly, in a manner that became increasingly more frantic and desperate as the night wore on. 

I barely slept that night, knowing these two other guys had come into town to poach my girlfriend and didn’t even have the decency to meet me and shake my hand before they did so. At about 8:00 in the morning, I couldn’t take it any longer. I drove my beat up Toyota Tercel over to Denise’s house and let myself in.

Everyone was still asleep when I arrived. It was 8:00 in the morning and we were in college. I crept up the stairs to her bedroom, my heart pounding in my chest. I don’t know where else my heart would pound. That is where it’s located. 

I swung open the door to her bedroom and my heart leapt out of my chest and dropped to the ground with a nasty, bloody splat. Denise was lying in her bed, and she was not alone. One of the two hilarious rockabilly bastards — I wasn’t sure which one — was curled up next to my girlfriend, looking awful cozy. 

Denise’s eyes fluttered open and caught mine. I closed the door and walked down to the kitchen. Keeping my nerves in check as best as I could, I stepped over to the refrigerator and calmly poured myself a glass of orange juice. 

A moment later, Denise ran down the stairs after me.

“It’s not what it looks like,” she said. “I wasn’t about to make him sleep on the couch.”

Of course! Why would she?

After a long night of desperation and heart-vomiting, I knew what I had to do. I would be calm, cool, and collected. I would be mature and nonchalant. I only had one chance to play the situation exactly right, to grab hold of the reins of power and show her that I could step up and be a man when the situation called for it. 

“Denise,” I said. “I think we should break up.”

And with that, I slammed the rest of my orange juice and walked out of the house.

— to be continued —

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