80.5 F

Davis, California

Sunday, May 26, 2024


One of the cornerstones of male consciousness is an overwhelming desire for mischief. Some kids react by acting out, others by picking fights. We stole a tree.

My buddy Josh and I were 10 years old when we began our journey toward blatant tree-theft. After sneaking out of our respective houses at 2 a.m. sharp, we convened on my front yard and used a roll of toilet paper to make the rudest symbol we could conjure – an angry frowny face – on our neighbor’s hedge. Fifteen minutes later we were frantically tearing it down, convinced by a passing police car that we were headed for federal pound-you-where-it-hurts prison. Ten, remember.

As we re-stuffed our pockets full to bursting, we caught a glimpse of oncoming headlights around the corner. Like skittish kittens we bolted under a nearby minivan and waited with bated breath as a taxi rolled gradually by. The car passed. We exhaled. Then it stopped, and made the all-time slowest U-turn ever, spinning head-on once again before it drove toward us, behind us and away.

I’ll never know if that cab saw us, or if the driver would have cared if he did. What I am sure about is that although I’ve broken bones snowboarding, taken multiple-story falls on the ARC climbing wall and snorkeled alongside a 4-foot shark, I’ll never again feel that kind of adrenaline.

After that night Josh and I made sneaking out a semi-regular thing, and we wandered the neighborhood for nearly a decade. As the novelty began to wear off, we experimented more, but always stuck to our three rules: Don’t hurt anybody, keep property damage below five bucks and aim for confusion rather than anger.

We mowed a smiley into a neighbor’s yard. We lit firecrackers on quiet streets. The first time we encountered a Piccolo Pete we nearly died; we thought we’d set a dud until we approached it, and then its horrible banshee wail woke everyone for a quarter mile. We baffled drivers riding in at 3 a.m. by acting as Wal-Mart-style greeters for the area, and on less motivated nights we mooned the cars instead. My favorite prank was with the mailbox down the block. One inspired night we casually uprooted it and leaned it gently against a tree not 3 feet away.

As we got to know our neighborhood better, we fell into habits. We spent nights harvesting cars’ antenna balls and arranging them carefully on one house’s doormat. Imagine, loyal reader, stepping outside to see 30 little Jack-in-the-Box faces judging you from your porch. Sometimes we would pull the same stunt with for sale signs, advertising houses so fantastic they were being sold by not one, not two, but a dozen realtors. We used borrowed traffic cones to block off both sides of a perfectly good street, and laughed as drivers sat for outrageously long waits, utterly stumped by four orange pieces of plastic. And always, night after night, we plucked our pet mailbox and laid it next to the tree.

One fine summer evening we wandered past our stoic friend the mailbox only to discover that it had been rooted securely into an underground cement base. This was a clear declaration of war, and we were desperate to retaliate. Weeks of tugging resulted only in splinters, however, so we finally surrendered to the family we’d spent our childhoods tormenting. For a while.

Years later we spent a night in the local park swinging like wildmen from trees until we accidentally pulled one free from the ground. As we stood staring at the tangled mess of roots and clods of dirt, an idea slowly took shape. Out came the shovels, and almost an hour later out came the mailbox, concrete and all. In went the tree, and another hour was spent filling in the extra dirt around it to make it look natural. We carefully planted the mailbox in the spot vacated by the tree, in the middle of a grassy field several blocks away. It was achingly beautiful.


If you’ve got a story of pre-pubescent mischief, CADE GRUNST wants to hear it! Give your juiciest blurbs to cade@ucdavis.edu.


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