The Great Parking Meter Caper
Things kept disappearing, some big, some small, some utterly inconsequential, some valuable, it didn’t seem to matter. If it wasn’t nailed down, it was stolen. If it was nailed down, it was spat upon, torn, crushed, kicked, obliterated, and its remaining fragments stolen. Something about being drunk in the Domus basement turned our patrons, both foreign and domestic, into rabid kleptomaniacs. A ratty garbage can filled with various sorts of refuse best not visualized? Steal it. Beer cups, both used and unused? Take them too. Ashtrays, tiles out of the floor, rolls of paper towel, light bulbs in their sockets, discarded clothing in the lost and found box that hadn’t been discarded for nothing, Hell yes, heist the lot. They ripped posters off the walls, ran off with fire extinguishers (certified fully operational as recently as 1971), carried off tables and chairs, and even tried to haul away the enormous leather sofa in the TV room, a truly gargantuan piece of furniture weighing about as much as a bull moose – they dragged it across the hardwood floor, scraping the hell out of it, and only gave up when they realized, apparently, that it would be too much work to get it out the front door and down the steps. We found it wedged in the entrance. One time, after a guy puked his guts out, I suggested that maybe we shouldn’t mop up the puddle of cold sick right away, but wait to see if somebody would steal that, too.
One Thursday night, they made off with Mike and Kevin’s tip bowl, pulled it right out from under their noses from its plainly visible place on the bar. Poof, gone, with not so much as a spilled quarter left behind. Hey! It was just there a second ago! Mike almost admired the sleight of hand. All you could do was sigh and check to make sure the bastard hadn’t taken your wallet too.
There wasn’t much we could do about all the thievery, really. We weren’t staffed to properly secure the place, which was a problem sometimes, and doubly vexing when it wasn’t just robbery that they had in mind, but vandalism too. A main floor radiator valve, opened up by some prankster, seeped water unseen for hours until it rotted out about 20 square feet of the basement ceiling – a shame, all that priceless graffiti gone, and a fire risk too, given the chaotic internal arrangement of the electric wiring. More dangerous still, somebody one night found the master cut-off and killed power to the whole building, right in the middle of an oppressively crowded booze fest – instant chaos, especially since at the time Domus had no emergency lighting (one of about 500 individual code violations). There were some nervous moments, but everybody got out all right. After that we had little emergency lights installed; sadly, the next time somebody cut the juice, they failed to function.
For some reason, they never swiped our TV or upstairs speakers. I suppose the pinball machine and video games (the latter, in those days, being single purpose devices with cathode ray tubes that were about the size of a mail box), also unmolested, were too heavy and unwieldy to cart off, absent a dolly.
The frat boys were the worst. It was as if stealing a souvenir from the law students’ bar was some sort of initiation rite, or badge of honour; or maybe they were just getting their digs in because they knew the extremes to which we despised them. Goddam Delta-Delta-Phi-Delta assholes, or whatever they were, they made us want to retch, they’d stroll in all full of smug entitlement and demand service, often jumping the queue, because, well, they were different. Better. They were Phi-Kappa-Gamma-Omega men! It was outrageous that Mike and Kevin served everyone who bellied up to the bar, students or downtown derelicts, yet ignored them no matter how much they squawked. Outrageous.
We, of course, would have been beaten with two-by-fours had we tried to belly up to one of their bars, in their stinking frat houses with half the Greek Alphabet nailed to their facades. We wouldn’t have made it past the porch.
Most noxious were the commerce students. They had a house on campus too, and they actually wore big round buttons with the slogan “B. Comm. Be Cool”. I guess “Witless Entitled White Boy Capitalist Pig in Training” was too many words. It was a guy wearing one of those “Look at Me, I’m an Asshole” badges who took to lecturing us one night on our manners after we had to deal with a rowdy drunk, which only prompted us to come up with another “call sign” – “Politeness Man” – which was then a comic book character in National Lampoon. Not as cutting as we would have liked, but “Smug Idiotic Interloping Tool of a Commerce Shithead” took too long to say.
Kevin finally declared war when some commerce types ran off with some of our admittedly worthless furniture. Time to get some back. He deputized a couple of other Domus troopers, marched up the street to the Commerce House, grabbed a sofa, and carted it back to Domus. Stupid bastards had left it sitting there on the front porch, not even chained down. We were awfully pleased with ourselves, but the thing was, we had no use for another couch, and there was nowhere to put it where it wouldn’t be an impediment to navigation, so we were kind of like the proverbial dog that caught the fire truck. After a few more drinks we decided that a great way to dispose of it would be to cart it over to a Greek place, maybe Phi-Delta-Gamma, or whatever the hell it was, and put it on their porch – implicate the frat boys! Maybe we could spark off a sort of dickhead war of attrition between them and Commerce Nation, perhaps unlikely but worth a shot.
So there we were, Kevin and I, one at each end of the sofa, marching right up the middle of Seymour Street at something around 2 AM, like a couple of looting Roman Centurions bearing booty back from some sacked Gallic village. We were in plain view, if anybody was around to look, but who was around? Nobody! We’d get this wrapped up in a jiffy, and no one would be any the wiser. What clever boots we were!
Well, not so much. There was somebody looking – a rather bemused Dalhousie security guard, out doing his rounds, just exiting the Student Union Building. We could see him, no problem, yet drunk and stupid as I was, I was thinking that maybe he didn’t see us! Kevin, pulling from up front, and entertaining no such delusions, was hissing at me sotto voce to get the lead out, for chrissakes.
“Kev, Kev – I don’t think he sees us!”
“Shut the fuck up, and keep the fuck up, for fuck’s sake!”
Can you romp while lugging a sofa? I think we romped. The security guard did see us, of course, but we were able to beat him to Phi-Del, dump the thing on the lawn, and then circle back to Domus in the shadows, and he didn’t seem to want to chase us. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t his first sofa theft. He probably figured that our little escapade fell a bit short of Crime of the Century.
Back to the basement, then, have a drink, the night was young! About 20 minutes later a couple of Dal security guards paid us a visit, but we played it cool, and it turned out they just wanted to ask us if we’d lost a sofa, since they’d just seen a couple of knuckle-heads running up the street with one. Kevin, coming on all innocent, told them he’d better check, and as they followed him upstairs he led them into the TV room, and – golly, no sir, look, there’s our sofa, all safe and sound. He then offered that some guys from the Commerce House had stolen a couple of our tables earlier, so they looked good for the sofa heist too, maybe if security paid them a visit they’d cop to where they got it. One of the security guards nodded. Yeah, they’d had complaints about those Commerce House guys more than a few times, and off they went to see what was what with those business trainee dim-bulbs.
I don’t know what it was, after that. Maybe I’d contracted the klepto-bug. Maybe I thought our successful sofa robbery proved we were criminal masterminds. Maybe I was just going insane like everybody else at Domus. But the germ of an idea was turning into an actual plan.
This will be hard for the adult reader to understand, as it is for me too, looking back, but I became fixated upon a certain parking meter. It occupied a space just in front of the entrance to a bakery at which I worked to earn pocket money – no, relax, of course I don’t know how to bake anything. I was a glorified stock boy, I’d go in every evening, and do things like replenish their flour bins and clean their peanut grinders. I marvel, now, at the physical capabilities I must have possessed, since much of the job entailed carrying things like 40 kg. bags of flour, or 50 kg. bags of rolled oats, up two flights of stairs, a feat that any attempt to repeat would kill me today. I was young, once.
Anyway, there was a parking meter opposite the bakery’s entrance, and it wasn’t embedded in the sidewalk in the usual way, it was in its own discrete concrete plug, which was itself sunk into a hole in the sidewalk. It was almost like a tooth in its socket, and it was a loose tooth – idly, sometimes, I’d push the meter back and forth in just the way a kid plays with his baby teeth as they’re about to fall out. At some point, I grabbed the functional part of the meter and pulled upwards, and sure enough, lifted the thing up about half a foot. It was completely loose within the sidewalk. It would be possible, hypothetically, to yank it right out of there.
I became obsessed with the idea that we should do just that. We could pull the thing right out of the ground and transport it back to Domus, where it would be a terrific complimentary accessory next to the shark’s jaws and the “Goose Green” helmet, I mean, why not? Properly planned, such a scheme could surely be effected in just a minute or two. All we needed were willing hands and a vehicle.
It didn’t take long to bring Kevin on board. Mike was more reticent. This was theft of City property, likely a criminal, or at least provincial, offence. It involved risk. It might not go as smoothly as I envisioned it. We didn’t have a suitable vehicle. We worked on him, and wore him down, no doubt casting aspersions on his manhood, and we also managed to procure the necessary transport. Jason happened to drive an enormous Plymouth Fury, a pure product of the Seventies, when everything was about length and wheelbase. The Fury was a classic land yacht, it was twenty feet long – no kidding, I looked it up before I wrote this, 20 feet long – and seven feet wide. You could fit a beluga whale in the trunk. All we had to do was persuade Jason to lend us his car, and that proved surprisingly easy. Then it would be simple: the parking meter, which was chest-high, and its sub-surface plug, maybe adding another foot, I figured, could be yanked out of the sidewalk, hidden in the trunk, and we’d be off in no time, home and dry at Domus in less than 30 minutes. Maybe then we could saw the head off and use it as a bar ornament! Or maybe just mount it in a corner somewhere! Oh boy!!
My idea, I’m afraid.
The Domus equivalent of the Great Train Robbery was soon under way. We drove downtown, and Mike, driving, let me and Kevin out next to the loose meter. I bounded out of the Fury, and proceeded to pull its concrete plug out of the sidewalk. It was easy to shift, but as I kept pulling it upwards, it became apparent that it was a bit like an iceberg, with much more beneath the surface than was immediately obvious. The damned thing was heavy! I kept yanking it upward, and realized it weighed about 150 lbs., and was just about as deep as it was tall. I couldn’t seem to get to the end of it.
Mike was sweating it out as wheel man. Rather than just park, we had him circling the block, awaiting, each pass, the signal that we were good to go, and I had to wave him off a couple of times. I could almost see his knuckles going white as he gripped the big Plymouth’s steering wheel. Finally, I pulled it free of its hole, and holy crap, the parking meter with its plug and previously sub-surface length stood about, I don’t know, eight feet tall. Too long, even, for the capacious trunk of the Fury.
So as Mike pulled round again, we had a problem – how to spirit it back to Domus all clandestine-like? We wound up jamming it into the back seat, with about three feet hanging out of one of the back windows. With all due haste, we drove back towards Seymour Street, Mike sweating bullets, expecting at any moment to be pulled over by a cop who would, inevitably, ask “son, what’s that thing you got stretched across the back seat and hanging out the window?” As camouflage, I think we had the extruding bit covered in some sort of blanket, but it was a fairly suspicious arrangement nonetheless. Yet we made it back without incident. Jason, who I think had assumed we were just kidding about the whole escapade, almost laughed himself stupid at our actual seizure of the prize.
See? Criminal masterminds, that’s what we were!
So now, Domus had an authentic, eight-foot parking meter with a 150 lb. plug of cement on the end, a real sharp item – but way too tall to put anywhere in the basement, with its low ceiling. I lobbied for the prior idea that we could simply saw it off about a foot down from the head and use it as a bar ornament, but Mike was starting to get all antsy. If we did that, the evidence of our illegal caper would be sitting there, permanently, on the bar – surely, at some point, somebody would rat us out, no? The simple presence of this pilfered parking meter was a threat to our well-being, legally, wasn’t it?
Mike was concerned that there might be enough change inside it to push the overall value of the pilfered meter into “theft over” territory, and that was serious. Suppose we only got a slap on the wrist – that was still a criminal record. Did we realize what a criminal record does to you? It’s a lot worse than not getting to be a lawyer. Look, dummies, have you ever filled out a job application? Did you notice the routine question “do you have a criminal record”? What do you suppose happens to that application if you tick the “yes” box?
Moreover, that was a best case scenario. Mike had visions of himself not just being kicked out of law school, not just being forever banned from admittance to the Bar, but also serving time in the five-bar motel, banging his cup on the steel and screaming for the warden. No, no, unh-uh – the parking meter had to go. We couldn’t keep it. It was toxic waste.
He was right, of course. I don’t think prison time loomed, but it was undoubtedly a bad idea to display openly that we’d yanked a parking meter right out of the ground as some sort of half-assed trophy.
Maybe this little caper was actually a really stupid idea.
Thus the meter leaned at an angle in a corner for a couple of days, and then, late one night/early one morning, Kevin and I skulked across the parking lot out back and laid it on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the Dal. security office. It lay there for about a week, before somebody from the city came to collect it. It never made its way back downtown – a shiny new one soon occupied the space in front of the bakery, not at all loose in its hole.