The month of August was waning and Pluto was facing demotion in its status as a planet.
Rob and I were in his basement, sitting on his unexpectedly comfortable couch as he flipped through channels on the TV. I didn’t expect a couch in a basement to be too comfortable, simply because it’s in a basement. Who goes down there?
We did. We came down here, so it was a luxury.
I needed a break from my painting and from all this time I’ve spent alone the past couple days. It was nice to get out of the house, even if that meant being in somebody else’s house. I was really just looking for company.
He surfed through a variety of channels at a rhythmic speed; every few seconds, a new channel would appear. Some flashy, some dull, but all unworthy of watching. The news told us that Pluto was now considered a ‘dwarf planet.’ I’d be more interested in it if all of my peers weren’t already outraged by it. MTV told us that their awards show was happening at some point. If I cared about it more, I would have paid attention to the date mentioned in the commercial.
It was a Thursday night. What’s on TV late at night on Thursdays?
Apparently, not much.
Our eyes were fixated on the flat, bright screen in front of us. Without turning his head, Rob said, “Jesus. Can we go now?”
“Please,” I sighed, unhappy with the selection.
With that one word, he immediately shut off the TV and tossed the remote down on the coffee table in front of us. He glanced at his watch. “It should be dark enough by now.”
We both got up from the couch and I followed him to a closet nearby. He reached inside a cardboard box and pulled out two black ski masks. He tossed one to me and I reluctantly caught it. He put his mask on and I began to mindlessly follow his lead, but I stopped halfway.
“What’s this for?” I asked him.
“We’re committing thievery,” he responded through the mask.
“No, I’m not. What do you think we’re going to go do?”
“You can’t word it like that.”
“It’s too awkward of a sentence.”
He ignored my criticism. We were both just a couple of years away from turning 20. Somebody had to call him out on this, and I didn’t mind being the one.
With the mask on, he stuck his fingers through the inside of his eye holes to adjust it.
“We don’t need these,” I told him. “We’re on a back road on a Thursday night. Nobody’s going to see us.”
“This town is unpredictable.”
“We both grew up in this town. And, it’s August,” I challenged him.
He stared at me.
“Won’t this make us look even more suspicious if we’re seen?”
He contemplated it. “I guess you’re right.” Defeated, he threw off his mask and I tossed mine back into the box as well. Good riddance.
We climbed the stairs and made our way through the front door. It was late enough where his parents were already asleep, so all we needed to do was stay silent.
We entered his car and he drove for approximately seven minutes before we came to a stop at the intersection of Nichols St. and Green St.
“I get Nichols because this was my idea,” he said to me.
“Why do you want Nichols?”
“Because then I’ll be halfway there to opening a nickel-and-dime store.”
I paused. For a moment, I was jealous of this seemingly-clever concept. Then, I had a miniature realization. “Don’t those have a bad reputation?”
“I didn’t say it was a good idea.”
There weren’t any streetlights that could guide our sights. We relied on the headlights of Rob’s car. And when we got to our predetermined spot, we each relied on a flashlight.
With a crowbar in hand, we approached the two signs. Green was mounted on top of Nichols.
He handed me his flashlight so I now wielded two. I pointed both of them at his target. He jumped up and swung, attempting to knock it down. Swing and a miss. He tried three more times, all of which yielded the same result.
“Do you wanna try?” He asked me, almost out of breath.
I was at least four inches shorter than Rob. I did, however, believe that I could jump higher than him, so I gave it a shot. I exchanged the flashlights for the crowbar.
I jumped up, swung, and missed. I tried it a second time. Still a miss.
I made contact on the third try. It was louder than I expected, but, in contrast to the rest of the dead air around us, it only made sense.
Rob’s face lit up immediately after I hit it. I jumped up a few more times but I had only grazed it, at most.
I shook my head and extended my arm to him, offering up the crowbar. We made a trade and I took the flashlights back.
He widened his eyes at me and smirked right before he launched himself into the air. I could tell that he had a good feeling about this attempt. And he was right; he finally hit the signs. It caused them to slightly shift.
After he landed, we looked at each other for a moment. Neither of us could contain the grin that formed on our faces.
Our grins were soon broken by the sight of headlights in the distance. We came to a quick consensus to dart into the woods that were adjacent to the roadside. I instantly turned off both flashlights.
I heard a quiet splash, followed by a whispered groan from Rob. I didn’t know what had happened. I kept silent.
I probably should have kept my face down so I would be completely hidden from the view of the road. But I watched the car as it passed. Its headlights illuminated the path ahead on the road. There was something about that image that made my synapses click. It was like a scene that I wanted to recreate for something.
My painting had improved over the summer. I had more time to practice and I was feeling more confident about it. I didn’t think I would find any source of inspiration tonight, but it was a nice surprise. It felt like I was looking at an Edward Hopper painting in motion. It felt like tonight had the potential to allow me to have some creative thinking for once in what seemed like a long time.
I watched the car make its way by us. A few seconds after it turned the corner, we both exited the woods. I turned on the flashlights.
“I stepped in a…” Rob was trying to find the right words. “A damn cesspool.”
I started to laugh. “A cesspool?”
“Well, maybe not that. Maybe just a little bit of mud.” I shined the flashlights on his legs. His right shoe and sock had clearly been dipped in mud.
“I’m gonna have to throw away just the one sock. Now I’m gonna have an uneven number. Do you know what they say about odd numbers?”
“Odd numbers are for odd people.”
“God forbid.” I didn’t understand his logic sometimes.
I turned the focus of the light from his leg to the signs. We returned to them. With crowbar in hand, Rob jumped up again and hit it. He repeated the action three more times.
“It’s gotta come down soon, right?” I asked.
“I hope so,” he said, out of breath.
Three more hits. The last one did the trick. The signs tumbled down onto the tarred road.
“Yes!” Rob yelled.
“Oh my god,” I laughed. “You Mickey Mantle’d that thing.”
He threw his hands on them and picked them up. We jogged back to his car. He tossed them on the ground at the rear of the car and opened the driver door to pop the trunk. He placed the signs and the crowbar into the trunk and slammed it shut. We got into his car and drove off from the sight.
“This was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done,” Rob told me.
I agreed with him.
“I don’t want to put the focus on how boring of a life I’ve lived up until this point,” he continued.
“Hey, it’s tough growing up in a small town,” I reassured him.
“Amen, Jay. Remember this night. In a year, we’re going to look back on it and reminisce about it, just like everything else we do.”
“Remember the details,” he said.
I heeded his words even though I was way ahead of him. It must have been the combination of the intensity and my imagination that made this such a memorable adventure.
I was going to remember the night. I was going to paint the night.
We were thieves.