Chapter 49 – The Night of the Stolen Parking Meter
Cockfighting, or sabong as they know it, is a proud tradition in the Philippines. Following a Friday night arrival to Manila, I began the final full day of my first trip to Asia by getting up and heading over to an indoor sporting arena known as Makati Coliseum where weekly, day-long, organized cockfighting events take place.
After handing a fistful of Pesos over to the tuk-tuk driver that’d taken me to the arena and paying my admission fee, I moved into the lobby where the first thing I noticed had been a bunch of grown men measuring their cocks and playing with their peckers. Almost immediately after that, the second thing I noticed had been a large banner hanging from the ceiling which’d read, “BIG EVENT: 7 COCKS, 1 DAY, Hosted By Congressman Manny Pacquiao.” In addition to the message, the thing also had an accompanying black and white artistic rendering of the world famous boxing champion’s face. Had I been a few years younger and many beers drunker, I guarantee I would’ve made an ill-advised attempt at stealing that sign and, had I been successful, I would’ve hung it on the wall of my dorm room as a testament to how righteous of a college bro I was.
Like many other immature eighteen-year-old jag-offs, my roommate Tommy and I thought it was pretty cool to steal shit from bars. Unlike most other immature eighteen-year-old jag-offs who dare not attempt lifting more than the occasional beer glass or poster off the wall however, our tendency towards thievin’ had evolved into a full-blown kleptomania. The day that I view Tommy and myself as graduating from a pair of bush league amateurs like everybody else to punishable criminals had been during a Saturday night out at O’Brady’s Bar & Grill toward the end of our first semester up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Following a rough Wednesday, a shitfaced Thursday and a fucked-up Friday out on the town, Tommy and I failed to drag our hungover asses out of bed during daylight hours on the aforementioned game-changing Saturday. He and I laid there in our bunks all day, burping and farting then breathing in each other’s burps and farts while feeling all-around miserable. At some point around six or seven in the evening, one of us had gotten outta bed to pop in a DVD of the 2003 version of The Italian Job. With throbbing headaches, we watched the tale of the great caper from start to finish.
When the ending credits had started to roll, I clambered back outta bed to check my cell phone which’d remained in the pocket of my bar-stinking pair of jeans that sat crumpled up on the floor where I’d left them the night before.
“Yo,” I said to Tommy after reading a text I’d received, “everybody’s going to O’Brady’s for the five-dollar all-you-can-drink deal.”
He grumbled and rolled from his bed then grabbed a Busch Light from our refrigerator to go drink in the bathroom while taking a shit. I too grabbed a can to consume on the can, scrubbed my balls in the shower and suited up to go to O’Brady’s.
O’Brady’s – a bar which has been demolished since my time at Marquette University – had been a classic Midwestern hole in the wall that was seemingly built into the living room of an old-ass wood-frame house and had always been packed to capacity by freshman kids with fake ID’s.
Seating at O’Brady’s was extremely limited and on nights when the five-dollar all-you-can-drink deal had been poppin’ off, next to impossible to get a hold of. In the main room, aside from the ten or so stools at the bar which upon entering the place had lined the entire left wall, there’d been two highboy tables with two chairs each on the right half of the room as well as one lone booth at the very front of the bar looking out a grimy, gritty window where a large neon Miller Lite sign with the word “OPEN” had been suspended and balanced from a pair of chains. The front booth had been no more than five feet away from the part of the bar near the front door where the owner liked to sit and smoke cigarettes with the shady, drug-dealing, ass-beating bouncers.
Although for the most part friendly guys who’d be happy to have a conversation with you over a beer or two, you definitely didn’t wanna do anything to piss those bouncers off. These particular neutralizers were big muscular tattooed Hispanic guys who’d done jail time that wouldn’t think twice about laying down the law had you dared step out of line. This I know because I’d once seen one of these dudes grab a fellow alum named Cook – a guy who’s about six-foot-four and built – by the hair on the back of his head and shove his face through the window on the front door before tossing his ass in the street for starting an altercation with some Badgers fans when we’d all been getting drunk one morning before an early afternoon Marquette-Wisconsin basketball game that was to take place at the nearby Bradley Center.
On that fateful December eve, with the owner and the bouncers seated nearby at their usual spot, Tommy and I managed to snag the front booth. The way we sat, the front window had been positioned on my left and from the seat across, it’d been on Tommy’s right. Tommy’s back had been facing the bar which I’d had a clear view of.
As we sat there intermittently engaged in a somewhat coherent conversation, the two of us had been splitting a pitcher, unnecessarily adding to our already over-the-top BAC’s. At some point, when the things we had to say to one another succumbed to naught, I found myself lustfully gazing around the barroom, checking out the coeds and deciding which ones I would and would not plug when I suddenly heard some loud clanking right next to me. I turned my attention back to the table where I found Tommy standing up, clumsily tugging at the chains of the Miller Lite sign in the front window, trying his best to rip the fuckin’ thing down.
“What are you doing!?” I gasped, thinking it impossible for the bartender, the bouncers and the owner to not notice what was going on.
Tommy didn’t respond and kept to the task at hand. Seconds later, he had the sign down off the hooks, unplugged and hidden under the table in the booth.
“Are you fuckin’ nuts?”
“Timmy,” he remained all business, “we gotta get this thing outta here. How we gonna do it?”
“Um, okay, uh,” I took a deep breath and set my inhibitions aside. “Alright, how ‘bout this – you go outside and I’ll open this window then hand you the sign and you run away with it. Sound good?”
He agreed and went to go take his position.
After easily shifting open the sideways-sliding window with Tommy awaiting the handoff on the other side, I quickly found out the screen didn’t wanna comply.
“Try sliding it from out there,” I said as the frosty winter air blew into the bar, “I can’t get it.”
“Shit,” he replied seconds later, “I can’t get it either.”
“Oh my god, what are you guys doing?” said one of the three loudmouth sluts standing nearby. “Shut the window, it’s fuckin’ freezing over here. God!”
The request was promptly ignored as we both continued pulling on the screen. Time was of the essence and I knew that if I didn’t get that thing out pronto, chances are I was gonna get my head tossed through the front window Pete Cook style.
“Dude, fuck it,” I said just before punching my fist through the metallic screen, tearing it wide open and scraping the fuck out of my hand in the process. Tommy pulled back the flaps as I reached under the table and grabbed our claim to fame. “Here! Here take it!”
Tommy grabbed it from my hands and started running away down the block. With no one of importance having taken notice of our transgression, I shut the window immediately after the transfer, moved far away from the scene of the crime and did my best to blend in with the rest of the drunkards. Minutes later, my accomplice reappeared in the crowd.
“Yo,” I said, “what happened? Where’s the sign?”
“Don’t worry,” he reassured me, “I hid it behind a dumpster down the block. We’ll get it after closing time. But until then, I wanna make the most of this five-dollar all-you-can-drink deal.”
As freshmen, since we still lived in the dorms to which all after-hours access had been strictly controlled by two uniformed campus security officers to whom we had to show our student ID cards, getting this and all future signs stolen back in the building at three in the morning while piss drunk was not an easy task. Each time, judging by the type of questions these guys would ask us regarding the origins of our loot, it must’ve been fairly obvious that we hadn’t obtained our new decorations legally. However, doing anything short of calling every watering hole around Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and asking if they were missing a fuckin’ Miller Lite sign, these guys had no way of proving that we were guilty of any wrongdoing. The most they could’ve done was put a little note next to our names saying, “On the off chance anyone happens to call about a missing neon sign, these guys are definitely 100% no-doubt-in-my-mind the culprits.”
Little over a year and three additional neon thefts after our initial triumph, the shit hit the fan right around the time the temperatures had begun to rise during the spring of our sophomore year. The night my confederate and I fell from grace, since the weather’d been so nice, we started drinking early in the day in my buddy O’Shaughnessy’s sister’s backyard. As per usual, we got nothing short of shitfaced during this session and afterwards headed over to some retro 70s-themed dump called Have A Nice Day Café for a one-dollar Miller Lite bottle deal. By no later than ten, after we’d gotten our fill of the drink deal and could no longer tolerate the Saturday Night Fever atmosphere, Tommy, my buddy Hoffman and I had been completely trashed and decided to ditch that shitty bar for greener pastures.
I can’t even remember which street we were stumbling down as I’d been so retarded at the time, but at some point in our wandering I pulled a Cool Hand Luke and started drunkenly fucking around with a parking meter. The thing had been implanted in an old cobblestone sidewalk and after I’d delivered a swift palm strike to the meter-head that caused the ground to buckle, we all realized there was a very real possibility of uprooting this thing and taking it away with us.
Following several minutes of us three jackasses forcefully wiggling the meter back and forth as if it were a giant loose tooth while not giving a shit who might’ve seen us doing so, we managed to pop it up and outta the ground. With no concrete plan but figuring we’d go ahead and try to sneak it back into our dorm room, Tommy hoisted the awkwardly heavy-ass piece of metal up over his shoulder and started stumbling down the block with it.
After making what would be our final steal, I’d been walking behind Tommy through the streets of downtown Milwaukee as Hoffman took the lead, a few steps ahead of the pack. Before we’d even made it a whole block, a cop car pulled up from behind, “blooped” the sirens and flashed the lights at us.
“Oh shit!” I said while taking off.
While still in front of me, Hoffman had also attempted to take off running but tripped on his own feet, hit his head on the side of a car and was knocked out. Police failed to notice this and Hoffman became a non-factor in the story. Tommy too started running but had been quite a few steps behind on account of having to drop the hundred-pound piece of steel he’d been humping before he could bolt.
Hearing footsteps behind me the entire time, I sprinted as fast as I could for about a block-and-a-half. Somewhere along the line, hoping to lose whoever had been in pursuit, I turned into a parking lot between two buildings. At the end of the lot had been an eight-foot-high wooden fence. It was a dead end.
“Don’t move! Get down on the ground! Hands on your head!”
Without hesitation and without looking back, I dropped to my knees then laid on my belly with my hands over my head waiting to be subdued. While bracing myself in anticipation of getting roughed up, I could still hear orders being barked but no one had come to apprehend me and I couldn’t figure out why not. Without making any sudden jerky movements that might be construed as hostile, I peeked back to see what gives.
About halfway into the fifty-yard-long parking lot, I could see one of Milwaukee’s finest putting Tommy in handcuffs while his partner removed my buddy’s keys from his pocket and threw ‘em in the bushes before taking his cell phone and whipping against the brick wall right after. Upon impact, it broke into pieces.
Since the officers had been too preoccupied bringing destruction upon Tommy’s personal effects to take notice of my presence, I decided to get outta there while I still had a chance. Not wasting a second, I jumped up, grabbed the top of the fence and pulled the rest of my body up there only to realize that on the other side of the thing had been a fifteen-foot drop down into the Milwaukee River. Complete with condoms, shopping carts, all sorts of garbage and oily bullshit, if ere there was a body of water from which a human being could contract HIV, it would be from the murky depths of the Milwaukee River.
After hastily maneuvering myself to the other side, I grabbed onto the top of the fence and lowered my body as far down as I could to decrease the impact. I then used my feet to kick off the side and let go before falling down and kerplunking into the toxic sludge that I wish I had time to put a condom on before entering. Upon hitting the “water,” I shot straight to the bottom and kicked myself back to the surface.
Never before had I tried to swim with jeans and gym shoes on and I could immediately tell why not. Once drenched, both articles of clothing had become extremely heavy and restrictive. Trying not to be a statistic in a study about how college students die while drunk, I reached underwater and pulled off my shoes. Using one hand to hold my clodhoppers over my head and the other to doggy paddle, I swam away from where my buddy was being arrested, slowly but surely making my getaway.
After about five minutes of fully-clothed drunken swimming, I came across a steel ladder embedded in the man-made river walls and used it to climb up and out Diarrhea Creek. Once ashore, I figured that the police – if they were even after me at all – were gonna be looking for someone who’s soaking wet. So, my first order of business had been to get myself dried off.
After replacing my ten pound shoes on my feet and trudging two blocks over to Mo’s Irish Pub, I handed the bouncer my soaking wet fake ID and paid the cover charge with an equally saturated Abe Lincoln. Upon gaining entrance, I made my way to the bathroom where I stripped down to my boxers, rung out my clothes in the sink and then held ‘em under the hand dryer of which I repeatedly pressed the button every twenty seconds for the next half-hour. Eventually, after getting a heaping helping of strange looks from everyone who’d come in to use the facilities and once I felt my rags had been sufficiently dehydrated, I threw ‘em back on and returned to the dormitories where I was fortunate enough to sleep in my own bed.
Aside from almost becoming a bloated, water-logged corpse that the authorities would’ve had to fish out downstream, my night turned out way better than that of Tommy who sat wide awake in jail, keeping a close eye on his rambling middle-aged murder suspect of a cellmate that swore on the life of his now-dead girlfriend he too would be attending Marquette University the following year and would be sure to see my buddy around on campus.