It was definitely a low moment in my life. Not the low of some spectacular failure, which I had almost become used to, but the kind of low moment that sneaks up on you in a crescendo of simultaneous minor losses.
I'd been living in a 8-bedroom, three story, Pittsburgh PA collective house. On the collective house spectrum that extends from one extreme, with dedicated wooden cutting boards that are distinctly labeled for onions or fruit, all the way to the other extreme, where mice die every time someone turns on the oven, it's hard to say exactly where we fit in. We didn't really have working heat to speak of, but we had a dedicated supply of chocolate mints that we'd put on the pillows of our guest bed when friends visited from out of town.
Part of what I was dealing with was the end of the house. It had been a lot of work and a lot of fun, but after three years of scaling crumbling chimneys, wide-eyed gardening projects, and trying to find some real space for ourselves in the wreckage of Pittsburgh, we were moving out. We were moving out, and I was the last one there.
It's pretty creepy to live all alone in a giant unheated eight bedroom three story house, and the stillness was a shocking change from the constant activity of before. That activity wasn't just a collection of memories, though. It was also physically all around me in the form of stuff. Detritus. Generations of people had come and gone, and the stuff had accumulated. Our free boxes had free boxes, and it was my task to somehow get rid of it all.
I had a few different strategies. Every night after everything had closed, I'd load up the small flatbed of a 1980 VW Rabbit Pickup with the most hopeless of the debris, drive down the street, and completely fill the dumpster behind the Office Max near the house. Eventually Office Max started locking the dumpster, but I had just won a new lockpick set in a contest, so every night I'd pick the lock on the dumpster, fill it, and then re-lock it just to make it seem like all the garbage was being teleported inside or something. I didn't have a whole lot else going for me at the time, so the image of the store manager trying to figure out how all the garbage kept appearing really made me chuckle. Like I said, it was a low moment in my life.
I also put out the word amongst all my friends in town: there's stuff to be had. People would come over, look around, and say something like "Oh yeah I'll definitely take that hand crank blender." I'd respond with "Sure, you can totally have the blender, but you also have to take... that chair." For every desirable object someone wanted, I'd try to perfectly balance it with something nobody would want. And just like that, the place really started to clean up.
When Sean and Stuart came over, I knew it was going to be a good day. They wanted a ton of stuff, and I was loading them up with a ton of stuff they didn't want as well. I was balancing out pot sets with broken lamps, knife sets with dilapidated coffee tables, good lumber with carpet samples. At the end of it all, I added "...and that pink stool," while gesturing to a small pink folding stool.
"No way!" they unanimously protested. "That's too much, we're not taking the stool."
"Fine," I demurred. "Then you can't have the rest of this either."
"Oh no," Stuart smiled. "We're taking this stuff and getting out of here."
While loading up their truck, I snuck the stool into the bottom of the pile. I exhaled as I watched them drive off, feeling free of all that stuff, including the pink stool.
Later that day I heard their truck screech to a halt in the ally behind the house, and watched as the pink stool sailed out the window of the truck in a slow arc, landing in our back yard. Evidently they'd found the stool and weren't ready to concede responsibility for it.
This started a period of quick back and forths. They found the stool in their back yard the next day, I found it in mine the day after. They found the stool in their refrigerator, I found it in my room. I think I even got it in Stuart's bed, under the covers, once.
Just before leaving the house for good, I went out of town for a week. That's always a dangerous move in the midst of a prank war, and they made the most of my absence.
When I came back, I walked up my street to see the stool suspended 50ft in the air directly in front of the house. It was mounted on top of four 50ft steel polls extending down from each stool leg and sunk into the ground of my front yard. "Very funny," I thought, as I walked under the stool to drop my backpack on the front stoop. I walked back out to the yard and grabbed one of the polls to pull it out of the dirt, but it didn't budge.
"What?" I thought as I kicked the dirt around the poll away to reveal that they had dug holes and poured cement in the yard to anchor the polls. The entire thing was cemented in and could not be pulled out.
With the sheepish disbelief that comes with having been soundly beaten, I had to cut the polls with an angle grinder where they met the cement. As sparks flew off the angle grinder across the yard, my neighbors gave me their customary skeptical look, and I tried to nod as if everything were normal.
That might have been the last word, since I was leaving town that week, but I took the stool with me across the country rather than getting rid of it. Stuart eventually moved west as well, and I waited, quietly, for years.
Eventually he went out of town, and his roommates were all too willing to give me access to his bike while he was gone.