Thursday, January 14, 2010
The Parking Cone
For Mochi, who is inspiration herself, and for Catalano, who needs something to read on her lunch break. Based on events of the summer of 2009, and various other occurrences between 2002 and 2004.
I stood in my kitchen, mug of coffee in hand, and surveyed the situation disdainfully. It was staring back at me, equally judgmental and full of spite. We were caught in this staring match, it and me, and it was fairly clear who would claim victory.
A parking cone had, somehow, appeared in my kitchen on the morning after a night out.
Now, let me be the first to say that although I certainly have my moments, I am not wont to participate in illegal activities. Stolen government property being, of course, up there with public nudity and other terrifically stupid acts. I am a person who is polite to officers of the law, almost to the point of ass-kissing. I follow directions and rules.
I do, from time to time, get a dangerous thrilling rush from jaywalking. But this is neither here nor there.
What was there was a damn parking cone. A bright orange, slightly dirty rubber traffic cone mocking me mercilessly from where it perched, in a droll fashion, next to the bottom step just off the kitchen. I had questions and I wanted answers. I mentally scrolled through the events of the previous night (aside: isn't it interesting how computer lingo works its way into our vernacular creating a very apt description of flipping through memories like Poloroids) and nowhere in between the karaoke and Buckhunter existed a memory of a traffic cone inserting itself into my life again.
In the fall of 2002, I rented an off-campus house with two friends. We would later wind up all hating one another and never speaking again for various reasons, but in the beginning it was all shared booze and Nintendo at two am. We had cute neighbors, a gang of boys who brought over six packs of beer and once took two of us minigolfing in Ocean City on a very awkward "date" of sorts. We were twenty and living off-campus for the first time. I was white-blonde then, and recently returned from a summer abroad in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland. I was eating Nutella out of the jar, discussing world politics, and thought I was better than everyone else. This could have been part of the reason why we all ended up hating one another; I have no doubt I was insufferable.
The neighbors flirted with us in ways only college boys can flirt. They mooned us out of their living room windows, pelted us with snowballs in winter, stole our trash can lids, and wrote dirty items on the grocery list taped to the refrigerator. There was never any intention of any of us dating one another, although there was a brief scandal when one roommate had a few sleepovers with one of them, but that ended as abruptly and awkwardly as it started. It was simply the pure thrill of a houseful of girls living catty corner from a houseful of guys and copious amounts of free time spent dreaming up ways to catch each other's attention.
And one day, the parking cone appeared.
I never knew who found it, or from whence it came, but one morning a parking cone appeared in the boys' living room. A trophy dragged home after a night of SoCo and lime shots, no doubt. One of those "hilarious-at-the-time" moments that, the morning after, no one can precisely remember. The evidence exists and, no doubt someone thought it was a good idea at the time.
And then the parking cone decided to move in with us.
At first, it moved to our driveway. I came home from class one day to find my parking space reserved for a Mr. Cone. There it sat, tapered and somehow elegant in the scrubby grass. I don't know what it is about a three-foot tower of orange rubber that is so stultifying. My car could easily have rolled right up and over it, but societal norms and scrupulous studying for my driver's license only four years prior prevented me from even attempting such a thing. With all of my prior social training intact, I got out of the car and carefully moved the offending cone out of my space. And there it camped, on the edge of the lot of grass designated for parking.
The cone stood fast. In the mornings, it glistened with dew. When it rained, mud from the car tires splattered it. One morning I came out to go to class and discovered that it sparkled with frost. It became as much a part of the scenery as the naked, skinny tree that leaned up against the side of the house, and the rusted clothes line pole with ancient bits of unexplained string hanging off of it. Like most other college kids living in our particular neighborhood, sharing sidewalks with the poorer citizens of a small town on the Eastern shore, we had a landlord who existed on paper and who had a mailbox somewhere for our rent checks but was primarily absent. The parking cone, after a time, became unnoticed.
Until it decided to approach us.
We woke up one morning to find that the parking cone had become aggressive. It had approached the house, without permission, and was now staging a sit-in on the front stoop. Like some representative of a religious organization, it remained at our front door in a sort of hold-out. In reality, of course, the boys had simply picked it up and transitioned it to a more obvious locale. But it almost felt as though the parking cone itself was making a bold move. As if it got tired of being ignored in the driveway and decided to invite itself in for tea.
But the parking cone, however aggressive, was somewhat lacking in strategic planning because our house was laid out like every other squat, square home in the neighborhood and therefore possessed a second side door into the kitchen that, like every other home in the neighborhood, was used as the primary entrance/exit. I think the only time we even opened the front door in the year that we lived in that house was to retrieve the mail and, even then, it wasn't uncommon to walk around the front of the house from the driveway in back to do so.
So, the parking cone sat on our front stoop for another uncertain period of time. And, after awhile, in the wake of never opening the front door, we forgot about it entirely.
Until it moved in.
In a final offensive act of affrontery, the parking cone somehow made it's way inside after a particularly rowdy party (the same party that also resulted in a semi-permanant sheen of sticky, sugary red detritus on the kitchen floor from an ill-conceived cooler of Jungle Juice.) I came into the kitchen one morning and there it was in the living room amidst the beer cans and wine bottles and empty pizza boxes. It might as well have been wearing a party hat. I'm almost certain it was hungover.
We would later discover that the parking cone had been transferred from the long-forgotten front-stoop to this location by one of the residents of the boys' house, an impressively large, gentle giant known as much for being a bouncer at one of the local college bars as for his motorcycle on which he tore down Route 13. Later that spring, in an act so swift and still, seven years later, inexplicable he would put a gun to his head and leave behind a bereft community and three roommates who would never be the same. I believe that the reason the parking cone took up permanant residence in our living room after that had much to do with memorializing the sense of humor that would place a piece of stolen government property next to our DVD rack and under the permanantly-lit Christmas lights. We were twenty years old and suicides didn't fit in with drunk pranks. None of us knew what to say about it.
When I moved out of that house in May of 2003, the parking cone was still in residence in the living room. I left behind a lot of bad terms, screamed insults, a broken coffee maker and the parking cone. I don't know what the other roommates did with it, but I'll wager a guess that the cone either became a part of the lease for the next generation of college students who moved in to use and abuse the house, or that it was demoted to the driveway again.
Over the years there were other things that followed us home after drunken nights out. One of my roommates my senior year of college had a particularly nasty klepto habit that emerged after some undetermined amount of liquor and, as such, we had a fantastic collection of bar signs and ware ranging from sandwich boards to signs to salt and pepper shakers to a bar stool that would later come with us when she moved to Florida with me. Government property, in all its utilitarianism, somehow lost its appeal for us that year. We had moved on to greater trophies: things we could actually use. And somehow, deep in our collective drunk unconscious, I think we understood that dealing with an irate bartender was vastly preferable to the concept of being accosted by a representative of the law. The incident of the exit sign, stolen off of a dorm wall, notwithstanding.
In later years, drunken detritus ebbed and flowed. Somewhere in my mid-twenties, the act of swiping items lost its appeal completely. Mostly because whatever seemed like a good idea at the time more often wound up creating clutter in the house that I just didn't know how to purge. And also because my evening bags got progressively smaller, my drinks stronger but fewer, and my general sense of fun leaning more towards convivial conversation than pranks or destructive acts.
Which is why, standing there in my kitchen with my morning mug of coffee steaming and my head frantically ticking, I could not for the life of me figure out why I would have brought home a traffic cone. It was inexplicable, inconceivable, and something so entirely out of my current character that I was becoming angry with myself. How could I have done such a thing? This was my past, this was a parenthetical period of bad behavior coupled with small-town college boredom. This wasn't my grown-up life, this wasn't interesting, and it wasn't funny. I sipped my coffee and felt a surge of self-loathing.
This was short-lived, however. A moment later, Whack stumbled down the stairs, head in one hand, and breezed past me towards the back door to let the dog out.
"I'm sorry about the cone. I'll get rid of it, I promise," she said. "I don't know what possessed me to do that."
The parking cone was gone the next day, replaced very carefully in the exact location from whence it was taken.