A SIGN FROM ABOVE
How many have you taken in your lifetime? Signs that is. I'm sure your garage is full of them. Stop signs, one way signs, and most of all street signs! They were the best!
Oh don't look so disappointed. What did you think, I was going to talk about signs from God or something? Hey, he gives you a sign every goddamn day when he allows you to take another breath! Take that as a sign that he likes you!
Ok where were we? Oh yeah, street signs. Why do we collect them in the first place? Because they're cool that's why. And you gotta figure that they're rightfully ours anyway! With all the damn taxes that we pay, I'm sure some of our money went towards the making of those babies. So it's only right that a couple of them end up with their rightful owners, you and me!
Probably one of the coolest stories I know surrounding a street sign was when I was about sixteen or seventeen. It was right before we were going to play another team in tackle football. You know, one of those neighborhood games. (Neatherlands/VanName -VS- Simonson)
Ricky, one of the guys from our side (and you know who you are) got totally pissed off because he had to go to work and couldn't play. So right before the game, he ran up the block to the next corner and proceeded to rip the Simonson Ave street sign right off the pole with his bare hands. Then he ran back down the street to VanName Ave to the Gas House field and tossed the sign over the fence onto the field to give us inspiration in his absence. It was so fuckin' cool!
My only street sign adventure was no where near as exhilarating an experience. As a matter of fact, it was just one big headache! It happened not too long after I got out of the Navy in 1985. I was hangin' out with Billy. A guy who I met while in the service. And who also introduced me to his cousin, and now my wife... Lynn! Small world huh?
I remember drinking beers all-night and driving around with the tape deck spilling over with Doors music. This was when drinking and driving was actually fun! You can't get away with it now-a-days! Eventually, we got the brilliant idea to drive over to Morrison Ave and take one of the street signs. It was easier said then done though! Especially for two drunken fools.
Well, we found the street. We then slowly drove from corner to corner to find the most isolated sign. And when we found just the right one, I pulled the car all the way up onto the curb, close to the pole. Then gingerly got out of the car and climbed onto the hood. Tippy toed myself as close to the sign as possible. I then grabbed it.
I began tugging on it with all of my might. But that fucking thing didn't budge. How the hell did Ricky rip the Simonson Ave sign off the pole? Man, he must've really been pissed!
We kept looking around to make sure no one was watching. Fat chance of that though being it was about three or four in the morning.
I tried pulling on it a couple more times, but still nothing. Finally, with one last ditch effort in a move of desperation, I leaped into the air towards the sign. Both hands came down on the top of it. But only the top bolt snapped, causing that fucking thing to come crashing down on the top of my head like a hammer. Bang! Wow! Those things are a lot heavier than you think!
Oh man it was so funny. I was knocked off the car and onto the ground by the blow. The metal sign was now clanging against the metal pole that it was hanging on like a fuckin' dinner bell! I'm telling you it was just a pathetic scene. Thank God we didn't do this kind of shit for a living, because we were the loudest thieves in the world.
I finally got to my feet, feeling slightly dazed after that crack to the skull. But we had to have that sign. We've come too far to turn tail and run now. So one last time I climbed onto the car and grabbed that damn sign while Billy cheered me on. And I pulled on that bitch as though someone were trying to take my last beer!
I pulled and yanked until that fucker finally gave way. We were victorious! Morrison Ave now belonged to the people! And we were proud! But before we were too proud, we quickly got back into the car and got the hell outta there as fast as possible. We could be just as proud from five miles away. We didn't need to stick around here and gloat!
I still have the sign to this day. It's hangin' up in the garage. And every once in a while when I look at it, I get a strange sensation on the top of my head. I wonder why? Surly, that's a memory that will stay with me forever. It has to. It's physically embedded into my brain!
Now although Morrison Ave was truly a momentous event. I have one other that is by far the showstopper. The cream of the crop! The icing on the cake! And yes even the cherry on top! And that is the Orchard Inn sign. My finest hour!
You see, this was the name of the local bar that we all hungout in while waiting to grow up. Let me just give you a little back ground on it, then maybe you'll understand why the sign had to come with me.
There was nothing really special about this place. It was your typical neighborhood bar. A pinball machine, a video game, and of course a pool table! A bartender who NEVER bought back any drinks! Hangin' on the wall near the bathroom entrance was a TV that was always tuned to some kind of sport.
But it wasn't the place that made it special. After all, it was only a stupid building. What made it special was that we were there, my friends and I. It was a time to hangout. A time to drink beers and play sports. A time before life's responsibilities, tension, and everyday bullshit had a chance to sneak into our days.
We all have an Orchard Inn in our lives. Some of you hungout at the bowling alley, or maybe the corner store. Or where ever you got together with your friends! It didn't matter where. It was the when and with whom that mattered!
This was one of two main hangouts for me. And that's why I get so sentimental over a stupid sign. It's the memories that make it special. The sign itself, well, it's only a dumb sign. But those memories that it stirs up inside of me well, that's what makes the sign so remarkable! If it could only talk! (I'm such a big baby. I'm practically crying on my keyboard while I'm writing this. Remember, it's always the guys with the biggest, loudest mouths, which are the biggest sobbing sentimental fools!)
Ok, so how the hell did I end up with the damn thing anyway? Well, actually, it all just happened with a snap decision. A spur of the moment type deal. There was nothing thought out, and there were certainly no plans drawn up.
It happened one day when I was driving past the bar. I took one look at it and then a million memories rushed through my head. And I said to myself, I gotta have that fuckin' sign. And that's it.
But here's the circumstances guiding the event. At the time, the neighborhood was going through a change. It was ten years ago that we used to hangout there. In fact, the bar had closed its doors for good, and within months would no longer be a bar at all. Someone had bought the building and was turning it into a travel agency. Imagine that! My memories were now becoming a fuckin' travel agency.
Anyway, at that same time, my dad had just gone through a major operation. And when that kind of shit happens, nothing matters. Nothing at all! So I was in one of those kinda lost, "I don't give a shit" moods. Ya know? Well, when I was driving by the bar this specific day, I just couldn't believe that the Orchard Inn would be gone forever!
They had already begun construction on the inside. But the outside was still untouched. So I turned into the McDonald's parking lot which was adjacent to the side of the bar. I pulled the car around so it faced the long Orchard Inn sign on the wall. And I got out to take one last look around before it was all gone for good.
As I was walking around, my emotions got the best of me, and I just said to myself "I just can't let them make this fuckin' place disappear forever! I'm taking that sign and I don't give a fuck what anybody says!"
I was like a sentimental psychopath at this point. Thank God no one fucked with me while I was doing this, because at this point, even I, pussy boy, would've kicked his or her ass. Or at least yelled at them really loud! Hahahahaha, oh sorry!
So I walked over to where the sign was hanging, to try and figure out a way to get it down without killing myself. Now I had no tools with me, and no way of reaching it, but I was going to get it! Somehow, I was going to get it! I didn't know just how yet. But then, a different kind of sign appeared right before my eyes. You see, I glanced across the street where some workers were rebuilding the old Silvestri's gas station. And what did I see standing there before me? A fucking ladder! I just looked up to the sky, smiled, nodded my head to the Man and said "Fuckin A!" I could talk to Him that way ya know. We have a special agreement. So after I acknowledged the heavens, I walked over to a nearby deli and bought a couple six packs of beer. No not for myself silly, for the guys who owned the ladder. Miracles may be a gift from the Gods, but they ain't free my friend!
So I walked over to the guys and told them the whole story. I said that I needed the ladder for about thirty minutes or so. And in return I gave them the beers. And to my surprise, they actually let me walk away with the damn thing. It was pretty funny watching me cross Forest Ave, a very busy street, with a forty foot ladder under my arm.
Well I made it back to the sign. I set up the ladder then ran to the car to see what kind of tools, if any, that I had. Of course the only thing I had was a pair of vise grips. And as it turned out, that's all I would need to complete my mission.
So I scoped everything out for a second, then went right to work. And I'm tellin' you, this thing turned out to be larger then I anticipated. It was about eighteen feet long and three feet wide when I came face to face with it. Man, it was gigantic!
It was held on to the wall by about ten bolts that were six inches in length. And I'd say that it was maybe fifteen up from the ground. Well I just started at one end and began unscrewing those bolts with my trusty pair of vise grips. One by one they came out ever so slowly. Things were moving along nicely. I even had an audience by now. A local bum with half a bag of aluminum cans had taken a break from his daily routine to watch a madman rescue a sign from the grasp of the Arthur Kill Landfill!
I finally got all of the bolts out except for the two top corner ones. Now, here came the tricky part. Getting it down! Especially with all of the electrical wiring next to the left side of the sign. I stood there and thought for a second, then came up with plan. It was simple. Loosen one of the bolts a little. Then go to the other side and take that bolt out completely. Then slowly maneuver the sign around the wires and let it slide down the ladder with me as I made my descent. The loosened bolt at the other end acted like a pivot. And bingo! I had that mutha halfway home.
Next I moved the ladder over to the other side. Unbolted that last bolt completely and once again slide the sign down the ladder with me. I've done it! I got that muthafuckin' sign down! Even the bum clapped for me. God forbid the dirty bastard would've offered to help me. But who needed him anyway.
I ran the ladder back over to the guys at the gas station and thanked them. Now it was time to try and put this gigantic thing on the roof of the car, and try to tie it down somehow so as not to kill anyone on the ride home.
Unbelievably, I found some twine in the car trunk. I then daintily maneuvered that sum-bitch onto the roof of the car. I began tying it down when all of the sudden, my newly appointed foreman, the bum, had something to say. Now, after the whole ordeal was practically over, did he decide to give me constructive criticism.
"Ya know. You have to make sure you use the proper knot on that, or it might come loose and fall off!" Was this fuckin' guy kidding me, or what? I quickly returned fire. "Oh why don't you just shut the fuck up over there! Where the fuck were you before, you smelly prick, when I could've used you! Leave me the fuck alone, will ya!" As you could tell, I was a little high strung at this point. Yelling at the poor bum and all.
But, much to my surprise, I made it all the way home without incident! And once there, after much begging, the rest of the members in the household agreed to let me hang it up on the front of our own garage. Now I didn't say inside the garage. I said in front of! We now had a new Orchard Inn right there in our very own backyard. It was beautiful man! I still have the sign to this very day. Only now it's wrapped up in canvas and lying on the side of the garage. (Grownup's are no fun man!) It only comes out on special occasions now! But I recently strapped it to the roof of my car and drove it down south about thirty miles via the Garden State Parkway to a surprise birthday party for one of the guys who hungout at the bar (Jeff). It was a big hit. Everyone signed it and took pictures with it. In fact this was the party in which the whole neighborhood reunion idea was first hatched. Man, that sign has special powers!
The memories and war stories were flying all night long. It was very cool. You see, the building, the bar, even the stupid sign itself means nothing, if you don't have the people and the memories to go along with it! Memories are pretty cool, aren't they?
I'll see you guys at the next picnic! Tommy