If It Ain’t Nailed Down…

        Of the many laudable pastimes we engaged in during those lean college years, from drinking to gaming to giving a smelly young man a really hard time, the most questionable of these was our lack of inhibition about theft. The lean years obviously don’t refer to the protuberance of our middle age bellies, but the complete lack of liquidity we suffered, our assets all tied up in the dubious investment of book learnin’. It is no wonder than that there existed a certain ease of justification in the fine art of petty larceny. Although none to my knowledge went so far as to outright shoplift or burgle a private citizen or business, there was no small degree of pilfering when it came to items held mainly in common share. This tale will recount said deeds in hopes that the entertainment value generated will make up for the minuscule monetary value lost, if any.

        The first such event worth making mention of was what I consider the pivotal moment wherein we transferred eras from Goodyear to Comstock. I’m talking of course of the day room table. It was the last day the dorms were open, and there was a considerable amount of hustle and bustle as hundreds of students packed up their belongings to take them to wherever they spent the summer. Aaron, whose parents moved away a few years previous and saw fit to take his personal belongings, and presumably his furniture, to Albuquerque, was bereft of a place to call home for the summer. The previous year he had endeavored to take the bus all the way out and I cannot imagine a more hellacious mode of conveyance. In conversation he confirmed the presence of the same variety of troglodyte one generally finds on the city buses; a fact of little surprise. Airfare at the time was relatively cheap and the trains cheaper still, leaving only the cash starved and mentally challenged left to utilize the services of Greyhound especially across country. On such a long voyage I can only theorize that the ‘don’t poop in the bus bathroom’ etiquette was abandoned making for an especially odoriferous journey.

        Having survived, he retained the mental capacity even with such company to vow never to travel this way again. As luck would have it, he found other accommodations for the summer sparing him the choice between the dumpster and the bus ride. Dan’s mom, possibly to dilute and mitigate the effects of just having Dan around all the time was kind enough to offer up either a spare room or the basement; I forget which and thus spare myself the inevitable correction. This being well before the inception of the Dashwood Society or Church of Unconscious Revelations, the option didn’t seem all that threatening, so he took it with little reservation or glee. The sum of his possession, however, consisted only of those clothes and knick-knacks he had strewn about the room with nary a meager stick of furniture to call his own. Under the auspices of something being better than nothing, his hunt for at least something was on.

        While the dorm rooms did indeed contain a few nice pieces, having them go missing was very traceable to the person who occupied the room. We were already in enough debt over the replacement cost of the toilet that incurring further wrath from the student housing authority seemed unwise. Aaron could not help but notice, however, that the day room contained a number of nice items, solid, stout and true. The wood was thick and sturdy and as we were to find out, pretty heavy as well. A test lift of one of the big tables took it out of the running. The chairs were nice, but largely unnecessary as at this young age it was not much of a discomfort to sit on the floor or any item that would serve as a perch. Just right were the end tables that could serve as a gaming table, coffee table, or convenient foot rest. Aaron saw these and he coveted.

        Getting one of these out would be no easy task. The university naturally disfavored the removal of common law items, especially when one has no intention of returning them. Somehow, perhaps because he was dating my cousin at the time, I was roped into helping out. The strategy was simple; hide in plain sight and act like we know what we are doing. We brought big bundles of blankets down to the day room, and acting exhausted from the 30 foot trip, happened to set them down on the most pristine of the small tables. Having gotten a good breather, we coincidentally decided to get moving again just when the halls were clear of students. There must have been some confusion in the lifting of the blankets again, for somehow the table itself became tangled in the mess and was hoisted up as well. So the story would have been in the event of questioning.

        Despite the presence of elevators and the increasing heaviness of the table, we decided to take the stairs in order to leave the lifts open for those on legitimate business. The sheer laziness of our generation ensured the stairwell would be clear, and for the most part it was. Upon reaching the ground level we felt it would be best to take the side exit as opposed to the main one. Pausing only for a few breaths here and there, we shuttled the table all the way across Main to the Mooney house. Not once were we questioned or was any mention ever made of a table being found missing. A fortunate thing, as I’m certain we would have been the prime suspects given the infamy we gained over the year, culminating in the toilet explosion. Surgically extricated, the table has been a group possession ever since and a prized trophy of past glories. It will be passed as such down the generations, though likely with the SUNYAB branding against the wall to avoid uncomfortable questions.

        The table I feel started the slippery slope descent into a Robin Hood philosophy of theft for just cause, or because we really needed something. My professorial hero, Raymond Federman, had interesting thoughts on the matter such as “it’s not a crime to steal a book so long as you read it” and “good writers come up with good ideas, while great writers steal them”. I was happy to share these quotes with my comrades and it was generally agreed upon that the sentiment was a correct one, and that it could be righteously applied to other areas as well.

        Working for FSA, especially freshman year in the dish room at Norton with Luis (a nice fellow who used to throw plates at me when they came out the other end of the machine still dirty), I could see the amount of wasted cutlery in items that were accidentally thrown away or twisted out of shape by creative members of the student body. Given the number of items FSA was already losing, would it really be so terrible if some of those items, instead of being broken, bent, or lost, instead found their way into our backpacks? I mean the FSA did provide these items to serve students food off of, and we were students who occasionally ate food off of dishes with flatware, so wouldn’t our use of such at home be justifiable. We felt yes, yes it was and subsequently built up a fine collection of ware. These, along with the Camel cups from the Wolverines party, served as the official Comstock china set.

        Our house rich with items to eat off of was next found to be lacking to deal with the inevitable conclusion of those meals some hours after. From the get go there was some amount of confusion as to what constituted common items amongst the 4 of us. One extreme was Knaus who felt that all items had set ownership that was sacrosanct to the level of severe retaliation. At the other end, to no great surprise, was Jason who held a more socialist view of ‘from each according to their means and to each according to their needs’; a philosophy that coincided well with his complete lack of means and high degree of needs. He was the basis of my suspicion that those who argued strongest for equal distribution of wealth are universally those willing to do the least amount to get it. A number of threats managed to clear up any confusion with him over the notion of ‘house detergent’, ‘house beer’ and ugh, ‘house soap’. The last was verified by Aaron who was the lucky one to find a blond short and curly on his Irish Spring. Toilet paper, due to the frequent presence of guests, had to be a house item.

        The problem with house items is that everyone has high motivation to use them to their fullest utility, and almost none to procure them on one’s own dime. In the beginning we attempted to be civil about it, taking turns and all, but that quickly degraded into a number of unfortunate incidents where napkins, paper towels, or worse, coffee filters, had to be used in place of the real thing. Aaron, still brash from the table adventure, became our official roll man; probably because he had the largest backpack. During lull times he would hunt the bathrooms of Lockwood, waiting for them to empty out and steal each and every roll. This hunting ground proved less attractive once he was warned that his timing coincided with an underground homosexual rendezvous point. From there he moved on to the computer labs as it was unlikely that those who occupied them would prove much threat.

        Although it was considered to be bad form to steal from each other, it would happen from time to time, primarily based on need. Food was the primary target, especially when the loss could be covered up. For that reason I cultivated a liking for items none of the rest could stomach, such as anchovy pizza and tins of sardines. The item we really wanted to steal was cable, from Jason. Jason, always low on cash, late with the rent, and complete non-contributor to those few items designated house ones, had the audacity to have cable installed, but only in his bedroom. It was a slap in the face that stung like blazes and once again, we coveted. Paul was the project leader; assigned the task of splitting the cable off and running it to the living room TV as well as only he claimed the knowledge to make this happen. Happen it never did; as I said, Paul was assigned as the task leader, thus guaranteeing no action would ever take place. I consoled myself by immunizing my nose to the stench through increasing exposure, and dragging a chair into his room when he was away to watch MST3K, the X Files, and an occasional very special episode of Blossom.

        The subject of theft wasn’t just limited to our one little band of miscreants, but may have been endemic to the student body at large. The most telling example of this was the political scandal that erupted the fall semester of our junior year. A new SA president and staff had been elected and promised to be the start of a glorious new era for the organization. Our new president was a bright and motivated woman who seemed dedicated to bring forth positive change and had a better slogan than her opponent who spouted the old ‘working together we can make a difference’ line. As it turns out, he probably could have compared to the treasure we got. Within a few weeks of being elected, she pilfered the treasury in order to help her family with some crisis. True, a seemingly justifiable action of a person in a real bind, but what a disaster. Although it had no bearing whatsoever on the action or intention, by coincidence she just so happened to be the first minority female elected to that position. The tragedy is that there were no doubt many who linked one with the other, reinforcing tired old stereotypes as they fight to hang on year by year. Her name was stricken from the roster and she was quickly replaced by Joe Fox and forgotten.

        As the years moved on we abandoned the practice of grabbing anything that wasn’t nailed down, moving instead toward seeking honest ways of attaining possessions. Legitimacy, however, never quite equaled the same level of excitement we felt with that well varnished wood beneath our fingertips in the stairwell.

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5 Responses

  1. Just for clarity I took the spare bedroom, on the upper floor of the Mooney home. A small room, but as I spent most of my time there in the basement wasting time with Dan, it was not a problem. I paid Mother Mooney a paltry sum of $100/month, or at least it was paltry the first month as I had landed one of the student summer jobs of cleaning out Elliott. The first month of the summer they hired a small band of students to aid the regulars, but after the bulk of the work was done they only kept on two students, and as I learned that tow of the students were related to the head custodian I was out of a job after a month. Overall this was not a large problem as I was paid a good amount for that first months work, but since I invested the remainder of my summer in wasteful activities and in no way looked for another job my funds had to last me for a few months. Hence I stiffed Mother Mooney for the next two months of rent, for this I am regretful as she had enough problems with Son Mooney without me adding to her woes. My apologizes.

    The table we procured was also camouflaged with empty boxes, while the stairwell was filled with discarded furniture by leaving students, who no doubt would rather see their possessons destroyed, than enjoyed by another. King Solomon turns over in his grave.

    The table was held in my trust until a little over a year ago, when I moved to Portland. I had no room to take the table, but I had no intention of leaving it for the Elmwood street urchins to take, so I asked Wolf to hold the treasure, for which he was both honored and ecstatic.

  2. Further notes about the toilet paper. For anyone who may still be in need of procuring this valuable commodity; here be some helpful suggestions in your quest. The first floor of any campus building is right out., and often the second, as this is where “clever” people go to find a “clean” restroom. Of course, if this is like Baldy, where there is more traffic on the second floor (a computer lab on the floor should rule it out immediately), then skip this floor also. I found the third floor on Bell the best. Only a few offices for staff, hence it was clean, and not ransacked by toilet bandits.

    The TP issue quickly went form community item to personal trove. We each had our own, except Jason. Frequent guest knew enough to ask me for TP.

  3. This of course begs the question, what did Jason then do for TP anyway? I can think of no acceptable answer to that question that may also be true.

    I was correct about Jason using your soap though, right? Your wails of horror at the discovery still haunt my dreams late at night.

    I think Princeton finally broke down to the level of personal TP as well toward the end, didn’t it? I recall a roll sitting on top my dresser. Although we look back at these times with great nostalgia, I would never want to revisit circumstances in which I had to carefully ration my TP, to the considerable annoyance of guests, until my next paycheck.

  4. I honestly do not remember the soap thing, though Jason’s history and my psychological self-defenses may have erased it from my mind.

    I think you are correct about Princeton personal TP. As at the end neither was us was frequenting UB, hence no TP source.

  5. I would like to hear from anyone reading this who successfully applies Aaron’s tips in toilet paper acquisition. In addition, I would like to mention the room of printer paper which was never apparently used for any purpose other than obtaining reams of paper for personal use.

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