OK, not always. It started after she left my father and moved into one of those apartment complexes catering to broken lives, the kind that offers fully furnished units stylishly decorated to look like bank lobbies. These places are usually stuffed with other finger-snapping, separated people pretending to be ecstatic about their situations, and there is always a community billiard room.
That's when the pool-cue fetish began. She also liked to steal lawn furniture and potted plants, but that was probably because, after the divorce was final, she moved to the beach in San Diego, where it's taken for granted that people's patios are to be routinely looted like Korean convenience stores. Out there, if it's on your patio and not locked down, it's not like you really want it anyway, and the person who takes it practically thinks they're doing you a service, like clearing plates off your table at a restaurant.
"Let me get that out of your way," my mother thought every time she passed an unsecured beach chair. You'd think they would have piled up in our house as well, like the pool cues, but her own patio was unrestricted, and her hot lawn furniture was stolen back from her almost as soon as she could arrange it in a welcoming pattern on her deck.
I once watched a news program that profiled bands of thieving woman who wore really loose muumuus and could, for instance, walk out of a department store with a TV between their knees. I remember thinking, "Why can't Mom steal stuff like that?" Instead, what did we have? Pool cues, shower curtains, hotel-room keys, an entire sleeve of those little, individually wrapped soaps from an airplane lavatory. Don't ask me how, but she once stole a six-deck card shoe from a casino blackjack table. Do you know the slight of hand required to steal off the top of a casino table? You practically need to be David Copperfield to pull that off.
"Why didn't you take the row of $100 chips right next to the card shoe?" I asked.
"Are you kidding?" she blustered, eyes wide. "That would be stealing."
The stealing had been happening since I could remember. Whenever we moved -- which was at least once a year because my mother refused to renew a lease that called for an increase in rent -- she would take something from the old place with her: sink fixtures, switch-plate covers, cabinet doors, a fireplace mantle. It got to the point where we needed a separate truck just to haul all the disembodied parts of our past residences.
And then there were the pool cues. Why would she take them when she never played pool in her life? Everything else she could at least use, even though most of it she never did (after she passed away we found a pink toilet seat she took from a hotel in New Orleans).
My sisters and I, on the other hand, could play pool like prison parolees. We started young, back in grade school when we had to walk to my father's favorite bar after class so we wouldn't be home unsupervised while my mother was at work. We racked the balls while my dad belted beers and joked with the other regulars, then when the clock struck 5 we went home to greet my mother.
She used to argue with him that a bar was a bad place to bring up children, and why couldn't we spend that time at a park or a pizza joint or something. "They like it there!" her husband would holler. "They've got pool, air hockey, Pong! It's paradise!"
Later, after she left him and we went to stay with her, that was when she began presenting us with the pool cues. "I want you to feel at home," she told us. It was the first time I saw her nervous.
So maybe it does make sense. The pool cues and all. Because looking back at all the parts she stole from our past homes, it almost seems like it got to the point where we didn't need a new place at all, just walls to hold all the pieces of the old places together. So maybe that's why she took all that stuff -- the bathroom medicine cabinets, the curtain rods, the door knobs, the stairs -- she actually took a wrought-iron spiral staircase once -- maybe she was simply, little by little, trying to steal us a home of our own.
Not surprising at all.. Most of America is a sprawling-strip mall dotted-suburbia speckled-freeway.
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