Hmmm have I done anything to wreak havoc? Have I not conformed?
Should I write about carving my name into every fresh slab of concrete within a quarter mile radius of my house,
or maybe about my dead of night jaunts through the neighborhood to snip succulents for decorative pumpkins,
or about the time I showed up at my toddler swim class without my bikini top, or possibly how the sight of a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign compels me to jump over almost any fence.
None of these are as interesting as my family’s affinity for street signs.
The year is 1981 and in the starlit Waikiki night my grandfather, a graduate professor of electrical engineering, climbs up the side of a pole barefoot with a wrench in his mouth. He climbs until he reaches the cross bar holding up two large green signs. He takes his wrench out of his mouth and unscrews the first bolt then the second. Coconut Ave. clatters to the ground, Diamond Head Road soon follows. He puts the wrench back in his mouth and climbs down the pole. He takes these signs wraps them up and ships them to my mother in college.
As the two big green signs cross the Pacific, my dad, a student of electrical engineering, too has climbed a pole. Sporting a stud in his left ear and his white cross zip Guess jacket, he sits on the crossbar of a somewhat busy intersection and attempts to unscrew a massive green sign. Being afraid of heights and afraid of getting caught he unwinds the bolts as quickly as he can. Avenida de la Playa tumbles to the ground and he scoots down right behind it.
Fast forward 33 years, those three signs and a few signs my brothers and I have picked up – End of Road Work, Do Not Enter, No Parking, 11thSt Beach, Neighborhood Watch – hang in the garage.
The day is February 11, 2016. A huge storm has just hit San Diego. Flash Floods are as common as cracks in the pavement, winds reach speeds of 60 Mph, palm fronds fly through the air like prehistoric birds before they land, and street lights, lamps and signs wobble and sway. I had attempted to remove Cofair and Marsolan from my horse shoe shaped street of less than twenty houses. I wanted to send it to my brother at college. But technology had changed since my ancestors’ time. I tried a screw driver, a socket wrench, a monkey wrench but nothing worked. I even tried the bent piece of metal that seems to come with every purchase from Ikea. The tool I needed eluded me.
On this day in February of 2016 the anti-theft bolting technology proved no match for mother nature. With one major gust of wind the sign blew off and rested squarely in the shape of a three-dimensional ‘X’ twenty yards from my driveway. My mother and I driving home, in excited anticipation of another captivating episode of The Great British Baking Show, saw it on the slick asphalt. My mom stopped the car, gave me a look, and I stepped out of the car into the pouring rain. I, not ever planning on being an electrical engineering professor or even an electrical engineering student, grabbed the bulky slippery sign and ran home. I put it in my room and called my brothers, “Guys I got it, I got it, I got it!”
Well, not everyone shared my stoke over one of the greatest heists of all time. The missing street signs generated a fair amount of buzz on the busy-body Nextdoor App. Comments included questions about who took the sign, followed by denigrating asides about the general bad character of anyone who would do such a thing. In the words of Walt Whitman, I felt, “society whip me with its displeasure.” Even months later, when the city had failed to replace the sign, people would post photos of the barren pole and begin anew with the comments on the thief’s character or lack thereof. It is important to mention, again, that there are only 20 houses on our street and the sign in question didn’t even stand at an intersection. It really served no purpose.
I was never able to separate Marsolan from Cofair, so the two remain fused together in a dusty dark part of my garage. In a sense I will remain stuck to them as well, I can’t risk blowback of making my ‘crime’ public.
Emerson and Theroux would rejoice in my decision to fight against society’s norms. The more street signs the more praise from those two.