At age 17, while most of my friends were either studying at high school or studying how to get high at school, I spent leisurely days brainstorming new and creative ways of annoying our local Sheriff and his deputies.
Living in a tiny Gold Rush town tucked in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains – a quaint dot on the map named Nevada City, California – with a population of less than 3,000 people and a downtown district that could be circumnavigated in a brief jog, the only trouble a teenager could get into was trouble he made himself.
Nothing's changed. Except the colors are brighter now.
I had a partner in crime – the prettiest girl in town and my best friend, Autumn. We were soul-mates, mutual muses, and best of all, we were both enrolled in the independent studies program, which meant our actual campus time was reduced to a single 20 minute session a week, leaving the rest of our schedule open for adding to our collection of abandoned lawn ornaments, inventing new kinds of candy, and devising “experiments” to test the moods and reactions of our fellow man. Some people called us practical jokers, but we fancied ourselves social anthropologists.
It was late September and very hot. Autumn and I lounged in a swimming pool, which was conveniently located in the middle of her upstairs bedroom. In a moment of brilliance fueled by heat-stroke, we constructed the pool there so we could watch TV or toast bagels while we soaked. We drank water from margarita glasses, snacked on Joy-Pops (an unpleasant tasting but texturally exciting confection we assembled from parts of Almond Joys, Pop Rocks and wasabi), listened to polka music and played Trivial Pursuit.
“Have you ever noticed,” Autumn asked, frowning, “that most questions in this game can be correctly guessed just by choosing between Margaret Thatcher, Sidney Pointier, or the U.S.S.R.?”
“We need a new project,” I concluded.
I let my eyes wander around the room: toy animal heads mounted on the walls like hunting trophies, the black ceiling with its twinkling white Christmas lights we put up in an effort to recreate a night-sky, and surrounding the pool, an audience made up of chipped and limbless garden gnomes, plastic deer with antlers duct-taped in place, a headless bust of Beethoven (basically a thick neck with ruffles), and finally, the screaming frog sitting on the giant egg.
I’ll explain: This particular lawn ornament was an anthropomorphic frog, looking dapper in a button-up shirt, ascot and waistcoat. His face was focused at the space between his hands, which at one point held a harmonica, but had long since broken away along with both his hands, so his huge mouth, open wide and meant to convey his cheerful singing, instead seemed to be twisting in a tortured wail as he beheld the stumps at the end of his arms.
“My hands!” the frog seemed to scream, “What’s happened to my hands?!”
He sat on a giant egg, upon which I meditated, thinking about how, at age 8, I had learned the truth about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny on Easter Day – the last holiday I enjoyed with a sincere, childhood sense of magic.
I sighed. Autumn asked why, and I told her about the fateful day, which led to our mutually wishing we could recapture the joy of childhood holidays.
“I miss hunting Easter eggs,” she pouted.
“Me too,” I agreed. “We should just take turns hiding eggs for each other.”
Her face brightened a bit at the idea, but before she could respond verbally, I shot-up, suddenly overwhelmed with a fantastic idea.
“We should hide Easter eggs for the ENTIRE TOWN!” I shouted, “In the middle of the night! And surprise everyone!”
“Yes!” she squealed, dropping her water glass into the pool and clapping.
“But wait,” my shoulders drooped, “Easter’s, like, six months away.”
“That’s okay! We’ll do it sooner – in the winter, when no-one’s expecting it!”
We jumped and splashed merrily, in love with ourselves and our idea, until her mother barged in and angrily demanded we relocate our swimming pool someplace where it wouldn’t leak through her kitchen ceiling.
Autumn and I pooled our resources; I had small paychecks from selling pie-sized chocolate chip cookies to local theatres and cafes, and she made money buying vintage clothes at thrift stores and re-selling them to trendy boutiques at a profit.
We hit every grocery store in town and managed to accumulate hundreds of eggs (and almost that many suspicious looks from shopkeepers). A couple huge jugs of white vinegar, dozens of bottles of food coloring, and enough caffeinated soda and candy to sustain us through the process. We were ready.
We had to act fast. Autumn’s mom had a huge storage fridge in the basement which could hold all the eggs, but only after we removed all the food that was already in it, which we donated to the local soup kitchen. It was only a matter of time before we were found out. Autumn made sure to request meals that could be made from food she knew was in the kitchen fridge.
We spent weeks locked in her bedroom, sitting on the floor, surrounded by supplies – pens, pipe-cleaners, glitter, cups and bowls. Our hands became stained and muddled with shades of red, green, blue and yellow. The acrid fog of vinegar so permeated the room that, when we occasionally left for food or to prove we were alive to alienated loved ones, the outside air actually smelled sweet.
You would think that, after endless days of decorating Easter eggs, you’d become increasingly careless about how they looked. Sure, on Day 1 you’d pull out all the stops: perfect pink and blue stripes with glitter detailing, but come Day 10, a quick dunk in some yellow dye is good enough, but it wasn’t that way at all.
Instead, we became more obsessive and, I suppose, deranged. After over a hundred hours hunched over and huffing dye, our senses of humor took a turn for the surreal. I remember hearing Autumn squeak – I looked up and she looked at me, confused.
“What?” I asked.
She held up an egg, half orange, half purple, and across it, written in ornate, gold cursive, a single word: YEAST.
“Yeast?” I said.
Autumn nodded. “I just wrote ‘yeast’ on this egg.”
“No,” she frowned, “No, I knew I was doing it.” There was a pause, then we burst into a fit of loud, maniacal laughter that wouldn’t stop.
We worked at least as hard as any Easter Bunny...
By early November, we finally finished adorning every egg. It happened suddenly and to our astonishment. We weren’t looking for the end, so when it came, it came as a surprise. Now it was time to hide them.
We chose Friday night, so the tourists who poured into our town on the weekends could also enjoy our handiwork. We bathed and, for the first time in weeks, wore nice clothes without dye on them. Dark colors, of course – we were going to be hiding from the patrolling eyes of our local law enforcement, after all.
We waited until after the bars closed, 2:00 AM, then we sneaked around the deserted streets of downtown, each laden with backpacks full of eggs. It was cold now, and it started to drizzle light rain. Though we became soaked and chilled, our adrenaline was pumping. We returned, trip after trip, from Autumn’s basement fridge, back into town, making sure every business, home and establishment had at least one egg to discover on their property. Like any good egg hunt, some were obvious and easy – some you really had to search for.
Once we finished, we returned to her house to dry off and get warm. We were shaking with excitement; permanent smiles on our faces. We waited for dawn, listening to Talking Heads and Crass, smoking pot and eating toast.
Sunrise! We raced into town, looking for anyone – eager for reactions. The sky was grey and gloomy; everything was cold and wet.
The first people we saw were a thirty-something couple, holding hands, out for an early stroll – and sure enough, they were pointing, chuckling, shaking their heads. Business owners were arriving at their shops. They’d see one egg and think it curious, but when they noticed others, you could see their bafflement, fleeting concern, then again, the smile that Autumn and I were hoping for. People started to huddle, talk about it, exchange information, announce that the eggs were indeed everywhere. We overheard people exchanging salutations of “Happy Easter!” to each other. It was a success! Autumn and I couldn’t have been happier.
Until we saw something that exceeded our expectations. Coming down the street, each dressed in rain-slickers, were two girls, about age 8. Between them they had one umbrella, which they were holding upside-down and filling with the eggs! It was beautiful, perfect – they had no concern or consideration that it was November and rainy; they knew Easter eggs were for the hunting – Easter or not.
We asked the cute little girls if we could take their picture.
“Why?” asked one, frowning. Then the second little girl flipped us off, grabbed her friend by the hand and they ran away squealing.
Awful, snotty brats aside, Autumn and I had rekindled that childhood exuberance we’d longed for.
We retired to our favorite diner for coffee and pancakes. The restaurant was buzzing with talk of the eggs. Autumn and I listened, blissful, silent, and exhausted. The Sheriff came in and sat at his usual stool at the counter.
“Happy Easter, Mike,” a waitress said to him, “Did you notice it was Easter?”
“Yeah,” he snorted, and he turned to look at us with a knowing frown. “Let’s just hope those eggs get found before they start smellin’.”
And that was it. Autumn and I knew we weren’t going to get into trouble.
Until the next summer, when we decided it was time for Christmas…