Friday, June 22, 2007

The Big Wheel of Time (part 2)

Besides myself, my team consisted of Lanny, Stuart and Phil. Lanny was a local (Columbia) boy; small and wiry with wild blond hair and unlimited energy, he was best described as a preppy Tasmanian devil and was the perfect representation of our spontaneity. Stuart was from a small town outside of Charleston and he was the polar opposite of Lanny: Tall, lanky, short dark hair, horned-rimmed glasses and extremely casual (slow). Nothing could make Stuart rush, so he represented our appreciation. Phil was the only "Yankee" in our group, having joined us from an average size town in New Jersey, and he was my best friend on the planet. He was short and stocky (built like a fire hydrant), wore his hair in a kind of flattop, had a mustache (like me) which his Italian heritage dictated and since Phil lived each day with a desire to laugh but a tendency to worry, he represented our conscience (or our mother). As for me, I was an average kid from a small South Carolina town who spent a lot time asking, "what if." I guess you could say I represented our possibilities.

As we descended the stairs, I shouted ahead to Lanny, who was already a floor ahead of us, that when we reached the third floor, Phil and I were going to go by my room to get a screwdriver and then we'd meet him and Stuart, who was nowhere to be seen, in the game room. Lanny shouted back a quick, "Whoo-hoo!" as Phil and I yanked on the fire door to the third floor and headed to my room. I wanted a screwdriver not only because I knew it could come in handy (no pun), but because there was one item on the list that had provoked immediate but silent eye contact between the four four of us: a foosball man. We all knew there was a storage room at the back of the game room and in in that storage room was four or five folding tables, fifteen or twenty folding chairs, various deflated sports balls and ripped volley ball nets, three pairs of crutches, two wheel chairs and several large canvas drop cloths laying on top of an old and broken foosball table. There was no way to know if any of the other teams knew about the table or not since we had discovered it, quite accidentally, when we were removing the wheel chairs for a race soon after realizing the storage room door could be opened by grasping the handle, lifting up and then pulling sharply to the right while simultaneously pulling it open or, in other words, forcing it. In our haste to get the wheel chairs out, a handle had caught on one of the drop cloths and pulled them all off, exposing the table. The foosball table was in poor shape with a cracked top, bent rods and missing handles but I knew we could easily remove one of the men without doing further damage because a team that can't play, can't be a man short. The only real problem would be getting into the store room without attracting the attention of the Resident Assistant on duty at the front desk, which was only about twenty feet away but, thankfully, facing away from the game room. The RA's had been keeping kind of a close eye on the game room, as well as us, since our wheel chair races had caused a bit of a ruckus and they had informed us that there would be disciplinary consequences if we were discovered entering areas that were off limits, again. With screwdriver in hand and heading towards the stairway that terminated beside the game room I was pretty sure I heard Phil say something like, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

I'll admit, as we descended the stairs, I was growing a bit nervous because, if the RA was up and roaming or not otherwise occupied, we were going to have a difficult time getting to the store room without wasting too much time since we couldn't very well keep wandering back and forth without seeming to be up to something. As I eased the fire door open, I heard the unmistakable sound of a disturbance consisting of a couple of raised voices, several people laughing, a loud and continuous squeaking and, louder than the rest combined, a sharp and pronounced , "Whoo-hoo!" every couple of seconds. Looking out across the main floor, it took Phil and I a minute or so before we grasped what we were seeing. Lanny, obviously knowing our intent and desiring to be the tactical diversion, had, upon exiting the stairwell by the front desk, commandeered the janitor's big yellow mop bucket (with mop wringer) by placing his left foot inside the bucket, holding the wringer handle for support, and pushing with his right foot in an effort to utilize the bucket as an unruly skateboard. Upon each push, Lanny would bellow a resounding, "Whoo-hoo!." From our perspective, Phil and I could see several students in the lobby watching the entertainment in confusion as the RA stood at her desk, yelling at Lanny to stop playing and getting water everywhere while the janitor, a amiable older black man who chewed tobacco and surreptitiously drank lime daiquiris from a thermos (long story), was yelling about his clean floors and, with mop in hand, trying his best to catch Lanny without busting his ass. We could tell when Lanny was approaching the desk because the squeaking would get louder, Lanny would pass in front of the desk and, before disappearing from sight, bellow a "Whoo-hoo" followed by the janitor, slipping and sliding and brandishing his mop overhead. After the third pass, Phil and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and ducked into the game room.

Once in the game room, getting into the store room, getting the foosball man and getting out again took us less than ten minutes. When we made our way into the main lobby, Lanny had already made his exit (or escape), the janitor was mopping up the excess water and mumbling something about "crazy white boys" and the RA was glaring at Phil and I as if we were miscreants beyond redemption. I glanced at Phil, who had the foosball man in his pocket, and his ears were a bright crimson and I swear I could feel heat radiating from them.  Calmly and slowly we made our way out the front entrance and, once the doors had shut behind us, Phil looked at me and said, "Now all we have to do is get to the parking lot and find Lanny." I started to answer but, instead, I simply pointed down at what I can only describe as the trail of a one-legged sponge making a break for it, and even though I knew who the single-footed print belonged to, it was still a rather odd sensation following the trail of a lone wet foot. Luckily, by the time we made it up the entrance ramp and was crossing the sidewalk to the parking lot, we could already see Lanny coming around the fire lane in his white pickup truck, wicked grin, windows down and Aerosmith blaring. Lanny had recently discovered the song "Dream On" and was so overwhelmed by it that he had taken a two-hour blank cassette and recorded the song eighteen times on each side and would let it play in a continuous loop. The first thing Lanny said as he stopped the truck was, "Whoo-hoo!," followed by, "Where's Stuart?" Phil and I, again, looked at each other but before we could shrug and say anything I heard Lanny say, "There he comes." I turned around and watched as Stuart, hands in his pockets, came strolling up the entrance ramp, across the sidewalk and over to the truck.
"Are we ready to start?"
Lanny gave Stuart a brief and empty stare and said, "Just get in the truck, Speedy."
So, with Lanny driving, Stuart in the front, Phil and I in the back and the four of us doing our best to devise a strategy through the sliding rear window while Steven Tyler wailed about getting old, we pulled out into the early evening with one item obtained and an hour and forty-five minutes left for the remaining nine.

The next hour passed rather quickly and uneventfully. During that time, we had acquired a railroad spike, a barrier sign with flashing orange light, a plastic pink flamingo, a cue ball, a hard hat, a traffic cone (we got the hard hat and traffic cone from the same telephone truck) and a neighborhood Community Watch sign (ironic, I know). With a little less than forty-five minutes left, we were faced with trying to find a beach, or other large, umbrella and a kid's Big Wheel. Since we were already in a housing community, Lanny was trying to drive slow enough so we could all scan the yards for either item, but fast enough so as not to attract any unwanted attention. Finally, after several minutes, there was a communal gasp as we all saw the same thing while being reminded that maybe tomorrow the good Lord would take us away.
"There it is," said Lanny.
Stuart followed with, "I don't care what anybody says, I'm getting out this time."
"We're going to get in trouble," piped Phil.
I just stared at the open garage; car pulled in on the right and a Big Wheel on the left near the inside door and said, "Park a couple of houses down and we'll walk back."

Now, to this day I have no idea why we all got out to go after the Big Wheel. I could understand Stuart wanting to be involved because we hadn't allowed him out of the truck based on his penchant for leisure; forcing him to sit and watch while the rest of us got out and ran around like a bunch of morons with no sense of direction. As it was, after previously only having only one or two people collect any given item(s), there went the four of us, slowly walking up a quiet sidewalk toward a house with an open garage and, as best we could tell from the lights, no activity near the object of our desire.

Standing at the end of the driveway, we scanned the road for signs of headlights and the surrounding houses for signs of movement. Hopefully, everyone was in front of the television watching The Cosby Show. Satisfied that all was clear, we looked at each other and with Phil whispering, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," we casually walked up the driveway and into the garage.
"Okay, somebody grab it and let's go," I said as quietly as I could and still be heard.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God"
"Maybe they have a beach umbrella in here," Lanny said.
"I get to carry the Big Wheel," Stuart said as I heard him lift it off the floor of the garage.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God"
"Let's go," I said as I looked up the street for any signs of cars.
"I'm still looking for an umbrella."
"Forget the umbrella. Let's go," I hissed.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God"
"I've got the Big Wheel and I'm ready......uh oh."
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God"

It's amazing the chilling effect a small phrase like, "uh oh" can have on a person. There are probably millions of situations in which that phrase is the last thing you would ever want to hear and standing in some stranger's garage trying to steal their Big Wheel (and beach umbrella if they happen to have one) is definitely one of them.

I briefly locked eyes with Lanny as we both turned around to see why Stuart had uttered such a ridiculously terrifying phrase. Phil was standing next to Stuart still whispering "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," and I swear his eyes were squeezed shut as tightly as another, less sunny, part of his body probably was at that particular moment. Stuart was standing where he had stopped and picked up the Big Wheel and, as he stood there holding it by it's right handlebar, I didn't say a word, I merely continued turning to see what he was looking at.

Standing just on the other side of the storm door was a little boy, maybe five or six-years-old, eyes beginning to well up, bottom lip starting to quiver and face turning a mottled purplish-red color. He was going to blow any second.

** to be concluded.........


Chris said...

Thanks for the escape. I like your story telling. Just finish it tonight so I can read the outcome before I catch my flight.

Tell me you don't have the moustache any more right?

John Taylor said...

hi chris-
You're welcome - I'll try and get it finished - memories are a lot longer when you write them down - anyway, I'll do my best.

And at the moment, yes I do, I tend to have it for a while and then not - just depends on my mood, really.