My mother, Anne, who passed away in December of 1993, had a great sense of humor. She exercised it with discretion however, unlike her son, who has been known to don hillbilly teeth and dangle a string of rubber snot after a fake sneeze. To each their own.
The story I'm about to relate is one that I think of fairly often, especially around Mother's Day and my mother's birthday in July. It starts during my senior year at Villanova in the mid-1980s. The fact that I was in college in the first place, I should point out, was attributable to my mother. In my last year of high school, I had decided that I didn't need any additional matriculation.
"Ma, I don't need to go to college, I'm smart enough already," I remember announcing in our kitchen one day. I honestly believed it.
My mother wisely disagreed.
I don't know why, but she had determined that Villanova was the right college for her sonny. I felt strongly that if I was going to be forced to pursue higher education, it should be in a warm climate, like Florida or California.
My mother would have none of that however.
By employing a series of subtle psychological maneuvers, the likes of which the CIA has still not seen to this day, my mother tricked me into choosing Villanova. Not only that, but I went believing that it was my idea in the first place. But that's a story for another day...
One of my roommates, Steve, came to visit me at the Jersey Shore for a few days from his home in Maryland over the Christmas break. Steve had been an Orientation Counselor for the incoming freshmen that previous fall. Orientation Counselors were generally outgoing and personable upperclassmen (and women) who were chosen to help assimilate newly-arriving students to life at Villanova.
Orientation Counselors were expected to follow a whole list of written rules. There were, I believe, some unwritten ones as well.
Steve must've missed the discussion of the Unwritten Rules. When the orientation dust had settled, he was dating a freshman.
I can feign righteous indignation at his actions now, many years later, but had I been in his shoes (for which I applied, but was not selected), I probably would've done the same thing. But I digress...
Steve's girl's name was LizAnne. She was from Summit, New Jersey. One night during his visit, we were returning from a bar to my house at about two in the morning when Steve noticed the Summit Avenue sign in our town.
Steve, circa 1983, at a tailgate.
"Hey, can we steal that sign for LizAnne? She'd love it," he said.
We were in college, it was the 1980s, and having street signs in your dorm room was cool. Honest.
"OK, I have an idea," I said, never being one to turn down a challenge, especially at two in the morning.
There was a length of sturdy boat rope in my trunk, and a trailer hitch on the back bumper.
"We'll tie the rope to the hitch and wrap it around the sign and pull it off the pole," I said. It was McGuyvering at its best.
Being very familiar with the mission-critical considerations of committing mischief at night in a car (which differs from other types of nightime mischief), I turned off my lights so that any potential witnesses wouldn't be able to read my license plates.
We circled the block, arrived at the sign, and fastened the rope around it. Nobody in sight. It was a calm and clear night. Great conditions for stealing a sign, I thought.
I gunned the engine and lurched the car forward about ten yards. The Summit Avenue sign exploded off its perch and shot under the car. However, in the process we pulled the pole beneath it almost flat to the ground.
Steve fished the sign out from under my car using the still-attached rope and we high-tailed it out of there. I drove the three blocks back to my house with the headlights off. No sense taking chances on getting caught I thought.
About a week later I was back at school when my mother called.
"A policeman came to the door this afternoon," she said.
Here's the front end and grill of the sign-stealing car, a 1977 Chevy Nova Concours. The "Juggernaut" label on the front is yet another story for another day... [Editor's Note: We purposely cropped part of the license plate number out of the picture, just in case.]
My heart stopped momentarily.
"For what?" I asked, pretending to be shocked.
"He said that someone stole the Summit Avenue sign last week, and that a neighbor saw a car with a Villanova sticker on the back window pull away. The officer said that the only car in town with a Villanova sticker is yours. He's seen it parked in front when you're home."
"What did you tell him ma?" I asked, knowing that I had a problem on my hands.
"I started screaming at him, I told him that my son would never steal a sign and that he should get off my porch and go bother someone else!" she said.
My heart, which had briefly re-started, stopped again.
I didn't know what to do, but somehow the instinct to tell the truth kicked in. I figured my mother, who apparently thought so highly of my honest nature that she would shoo away a police officer, would understand.
"Uh, mom...uh, I actually did steal that sign," I confessed.
"What?! What are you talking about?" she asked.
"When Steve was visiting, he wanted it for his girlfriend, she's from Summit. We hooked a rope around the sign and pulled it off with the car. I can't believe someone saw my Villanova sticker. It was dark out and I had the lights off. Damn, I can't believe this, it stinks."
"I don't know what you're going to do, they'll be looking for your car when you come home," she said.
"Well, anyway, thanks ma, I appreciate your sticking up for me. I'll figure something out."
Immediately after hanging up, I went out to my car and scraped the Villanova sticker off the back window. This was Step One in my plan to throw the police off my trail.
It just so happened, that semester I was taking a course in play writing at Rosemont College, an all-girls school near Villanova. I hit upon what I thought was a brilliant idea: I bought a Rosemont College sticker and put it on my car's back window, right where the Villanova sticker used to be. This, I thought, would fool the police but good. They were over their heads when dealing with this master criminal!
Just about every friend I had asked why I had a Rosemont College sticker on my window. Invariably, I'd launch into a detailed account of the Night of the Sign Theft. People were generally understanding and sympathetic to a maneuver designed to keep the cops away.
That sticker stayed on my car for well over a year, until, finally, I got tired of telling everyone the story in Boston, where I had moved for law school. By then, I figured, the statue of limitations on sign theft had run out.
For over 20 years, I had been telling that story whenever a related topic would arise in conversation, such as sign theft (a popular topic among my friends), police visits (ditto), car window stickers, or the like. Then, one day, about two years ago, my sister overheard me telling the story for the first time in her life.
"Don't you know the truth about that?" she asked with a disbelieving air.
"No, what?" I replied.
"There was never any policeman at the door. Mommy made up that whole story to scare you into not doing anything like that again. I thought you knew."
I was busted, BIG TIME.
More than 15 years after she passed away, my mother was still getting the last laugh on me.
Somewhere above, I'm sure she's looking down and getting a good chuckle every time her sonny tells this story -- with the newly-discovered ending.
This is a good weekend to take some time to reflect upon, and appreciate, your mother, living or not. She no doubt made a lot of sacrifices to get you to where you are today -- maybe even a few involving a white lie or two, all for your own good.
Here's wishing a happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there.