Eighteen. Freshman year and terrified out of my gourd most of the time, though I'd no idea that was what I was feeling. It's amazing to look back on it all now and see how constantly fear piggy-backed me round the campus and flew with me coast to coast each Christmas and summer break.
Anyway, Connor and I went into one of the dorm community lounges late one night after a Thursday Funk Night dance in the p.o. courtyard. Thursdays were routinely the best party nights in school, though they made Friday sections (those were the more intimate "discussion" groups at the end of each week, in lieu of lecture) a thin slice of hangover hell if you'd imbibed. most times, I was just real tired. So Connor takes me into the lounge (which wasn't like the time Freddy Cooper and I went into the lounge, but that's another story), and shows me the Coke machine, and how he's discovered that if you put the quarters in and hold the flap up inside the catch tray at the bottom, you can get more out than the one. So we worked about eight cokes out for, what, fifty cents? Then there was the malfunctioning coin return. Without breaking a thing, we took at least twenty bucks a piece in quarters. I had laundry money for the rest of the semester. And a dirty conscience.
But, it's funny how things like that don't really seem that totally wrong when you're doing them as a kid. I know eighteen is legal, but let's be honest, it's still a teen-age, and I was definitely still a child. There is some kind of sweet, delicious feeling you have while behaving so badly. We laughed so much that night, mostly over the possibility of being caught. It's not so much glee over what you're taking as it is the thrill of seeing what you can get away with, how far you can go. Until that age, I'd never stolen a thing in my life, unless you count that peach I pulled off the shelf and drooled on when I was two and sitting in the grocery cart. I'd even turned down a piece of bubble gum offered by a second grade school mate who'd shoplifted it from the corner store, and that with a grim sense of duty pressing in on me.
So maybe the elation I felt at eighteen in my first act of delinquency was that of a kid shrugging off some fear. I'm not calling it right, I'm just saying what maybe was.