As the evening of our 30th High School Reunion wore on, Paul would sidle up to one or a few of us and say, “so, ya going tagging with us tonight?” And even though most people scoffed at him and dismissed it as another one of his crackpot ideas, no one really doubted that Paul was going to follow through. That’s just Paul.
He pulled a can of red spray paint out of his car and started shaking it, the look on his face exactly like a hyperactive 8-year-old boy who is conspiring to steal all the cookies – not one cookie, all of them. Late into the night, a group of the curious congregated at one of the plastic patio tables on the outdoor deck.
“Okay. I’m gonna need three lookouts.” Paul grew more animated as he started hatching his elaborate plan. “Dan? You in? Okay, you’re one of my lookouts. Now. Here’s what we do. First we’ll drop the lookouts off and you climb up to the top of the underpass, one on each side. Got it? Okay. Okay. And we’ll need a signal.” He was pacing back and forth as he talked, swinging his arms and gesturing broadly, really putting on a show. “Right. A LOUD signal, you guys, I’m serious. I need to hear you.”
“What happens after you drop off the lookouts?” someone asked.
“Okay. Then we swing around” — he jerked his body in a 180, hands holding an invisible steering wheel – “and when everybody’s in place, I’ll jump out and do the deed. Amie, you’ll keep the car running right there. Then we’ll get the fuck outta there and swing back” – another 180 – “for the lookouts.”
He stuck his head forward as he looked at us, raising his eyebrows, looking for a sign that we understood his plan. He did not get one.
“How many people are we talking about, here?” I asked, trying to figure him out. Which was something I had never succeeded in doing since the day I met him in 9th grade.
“Right.” He started pacing again. “Three lookouts on top. Two on the road, one for each side. Driver. Me. That’s what, eight?”
“Seven. Right.” His pacing grew more energetic, almost a line dance he was doing alone. “Okay. Now, a signal. It’s got to be loud, people! Loud!” And with that he cupped his hand alongside his mouth and looked off into the distance, yowling in a booming, high-pitched voice,
He looked back at us with that raised eyebrow again, and as a group, we collapsed in laughter. Which is, of course, Paul’s drug of choice. So he raised his hand again.
The people at the other end of the patio, fifty feet away, turned to look at this 48-year-old man in an oversized tie-dyed t-shirt, hopping around like a loopy bird doing a twisted mating call. I had tears squeezing out of the corners of my eyes and bent over to try to stop laughing.
“Paul the goop-goop bird,” deadpanned Brian, sitting next to me.
“An exotic, endangered species native to West Chester, Ohio!” I sputtered.
One of the nominated lookouts told Paul there was no way he was going to yell goopity goop from the top of the West Chester Road underpass at 2 in the morning. There was agreement that the plan would have to be modified.
And so after way too much discussion, during which every single one of us wondered “would Paul notice if we just got in our car and snuck off?”, the hooligans were narrowed down to five. I was among them.
As we got ready to leave the bar, I noticed Paul had gone missing. When he returned to go over the plan, his eyes were pink.
“You’ve been smoking weed,” I said.
His Rodney Dangerfield eyes widened in mock surprise. He paused and then said, “Why on earth would you say that?”
“Because you smell like weed.”
“Oh. Well, there’s that.”
We left a small group of intrigued classmates, along with Dan, my husband, in the parking lot of the nearby Waffle House. Amie was driving, her husband Tom in front. He, along with Cam, would be the lookouts. Paul would commit the actual crime. I had the camera to document the action.
All the way there we made cracks about who would post bail if the West Chester cops came along. We even passed one on the road, so we knew they were out. As the others made jokes about a bunch of almost-fifty-year-olds getting arrested, I wondered what on earth had possessed me to come along on another one of Paul’s crazy batshit schemes, 30 years after we had graduated together.
But that was Paul. He had always been the guy who made everyone laugh. Senior year he was voted Most Fun To Be With, probably unanimously. We were drama geeks together; sophomore year, we put on a home-grown production of “M*A*S*H”, based on the television show. Paul was the only guy who offered to play Klinger, earning him the nickname Man In A Dress for the rest of his high school career. He would drive us around in his Big Blue Boat and yell “Baja!” and swerve up onto the dirt, laughing maniacally. He became so close with my family, my mom used to call him her third son. He was like a brother to me; the little devil that sat on my shoulder and easily, confidently pushed me out of the box.
And now here we were 30 years later, me and my emotionally stunted third brother, about to perform a misdemeanor crime at the old underpass where high school kids in our hometown have been making their mark for decades.
Meanwhile back at the Waffle House, a couple of drunks pushed each other out of the door, threatening to really fuck each other up. Another guy moseyed over to Dan and Brian and introduced himself. There are two kinds of people in a Waffle House after the bars close: drunk and fighting, or drunk and friendly.
“I just ordered a giant potpourri of food in there, man,” said the drunk guy.
Brian considered the statement for a moment and decided to go ahead and take him on. “Well, you know, the word ‘potpourri’ generally refers to perfume or scented dried flowers.”
The drunk guy looked taken aback. Dan added, “I think the word you’re looking for is ‘cornucopia’.”
Drunk Guy brightened immediately. “Yeah, that’s it!” he said, and went back inside to enjoy his cornucopia of two a.m. eggs and pancakes.
There were no cars to be seen on West Chester Road. Amie pulled up right inside the tunnel and Paul yelled “go! go! go!” and we tumbled out.
Cam took the front and Tom took the back. I had the camera ready to go and as Paul got to work, I snapped away.
L. A. S. (Snap.)
“Car!” yelled Cam.
“Back in the car! Back in the car!” Paul hollered, and ran for the back seat.
“I don’t know. Go! Go!” Tom and I piled in and Amie took off. The oncoming car had caught up to us by then and she pulled down a side street, turned around and went back, all of us hooting at the adrenaline rush.
Back in the tunnel we yelled for Cam, who had jumped into the bushes when the car came, and Paul shook the can.
I snapped away as he sprayed a huge 80 on the left side of his writing. As soon as he was done he ran for the car. Tom and I jumped in and we both said to him,
“80 CLASS OF WAS HERE? Why’d you do it like that?”
Cam hopped in and we sped off, Paul’s bizarre choice of graffiti layout left behind us. Elated and relieved, we joined our comrades in the Waffle House parking lot, shouting victory and showing the photos of the deed in progress. The five of us posed for pictures and were almost immediately exposed as criminals on Facebook via Paul’s Blackberry.
Two days later, I was safely on a plane back to the west coast. I nestled into my travel pillow and closed my eyes while Dan flipped through a magazine next to me. At the other end of the flight, my everyday life waited for me: three kids, two dogs, a too-small house, the new school year and the PTA. But at that moment, I was a fugitive from the law; seventeen again, with tales to tell of friendships old and new, bars we closed down, fireworks and riverboats. So many new memories.
You could even call it a cornucopia.
|This is a totally photoshopped image of a person who does not really exist, in front of a fictional work of vandalism. Really.|