Three and a half years ago, I flew from NYC to San Francisco to celebrate my birthday with a few wonderful friends — Naomi, Amy, and Dawn, our host in SF. For my second visit, it was nothing short of perfection…wine country, a breezy picnic on the beach, fish tacos, my inaugural Tartine croissant, and lots of laughter — beginning with the Virgin America flight, on which Naomi and I relocated a fellow passenger’s banana to first class (seat-to-seat texting can be quite fun).
While I was out there, this guy Brian Stegall had been chatting me up from back east. He would soon be heading out to San Francisco to begin a two-month, cross-country bike trip. That weekend, I had been tasked with stealing 30 things before turning 30 that weekend. I didn’t even close (I think I got maybe five, including an old candlestick), but I told Brian that I would hide one of those items for him to find.
I swiped a walnut from Preston Vineyards in Healdsburg and drew a face on it — a mustachio’d man with a long, thin nose. Because he would be hiding outside in the vicinity of hungry squirrels, I wrapped him in foil and shaped it into a bird…sort of a turkey/swan hybrid.
Dawn lived in the Mission, on Albion off 16th Street. My home for the weekend. Just outside her door was a historical landmark sign marking the site of the “Original Mission Dolores Chapel and Dolores Lagoon.” It was an ideal hiding spot. In between either side was a narrow triangular opening, about an inch wide on the bottom.
I used a stick to push the foil bird into the center of the opening, and then I took a photo of just a small portion of the sign. This would serve as the clue. The bird remained hidden for a few weeks. But once Brian got into town, it didn’t take him long to discover the precise whereabouts. Blame the Internet.
Brian and I kept in touch over postcards and phone calls during his bike trip. He carried the bird with him for 2,800 miles and eventually brought it back to NYC, where we started dating. About a year later we moved to San Francisco, and the bird with us. It sat on Brian’s bookshelf, and then later on our bookshelf when we moved into an apartment together, just a few blocks from the Mission Dolores sign.
We would occasionally walk by that sign and peek in to see if anything was hidden there. That’s what I did last Sunday, as we were heading to a store on 16th. I didn’t see anything at first, so Brian told me to look again. Still, nothing. He looked a little confused — almost baffled, actually.
I could see the wheels turning in his mind, but I couldn’t place their direction. He told me that something was supposed to be in there. We kept walking. For a second, I thought he hid a wedding ring. Talk about a devastating blow! I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to assume the worst. Maybe 15 paces down the block, Brian pulled a ring out of his pocket and asked me to marry him. It was so abrupt. I think I said “yes” before I fully realized the weight of the situation. I did of course, but it happened like that. *snaps fingers*
I hugged and kissed this teary-eyed man, a part of me still wondering what was supposed to be in the sign. A minute later he told me he’d placed the foil bird in the sign, only this time it had a hand-drawn proposal card wrapped in its tail. I melted. First at the idea, and then at the thought of an interloper taking off with the PRECIOUS BIRD! Brian hid it on Friday night, and proposed Sunday early afternoon. Sometime during those 36 hours, somebody discovered the bird. But how? And what did they do with it? Last time it survived weeks without incident. Brian even wrapped it in a little paper bag so that the foil wouldn’t catch anyone’s eye.
I imagine that whoever somehow spotted it thought it was food or drugs. Had they unwrapped the foil and read the “marry me” card, or the “marry him” speech bubble that Brian added to the walnut, they would’ve HAD to put it back. That’s a surefire ticket to hell, otherwise.
This leads me to believe it was a zombie or a cracked out homeless person. San Francisco has no shortage of either.
I know the outcome doesn’t change, but the sentimental side of me really wants our foil bird back. The night of the proposal, I posted a note to the Craigslist lost and found section. (Side note: It’s difficult to describe the value of a foiled walnut to a sea of strangers.) On Monday night, I and a couple of friends combed the area. The night after that, I posted a couple of fliers on the sign offering a reward for the bird’s safe return.
No responses, save for one spammer on Craigslist, offering irony in the form of lost pet fliers. It gets worse. Brian and I drove by the sign a couple days later to see if my fliers were still up. One of them had been torn down completely, and only the top half of the other remained. Turns out some BART representatives tore the tape off of my fliers, only to hang up their own. I know this because half of my email address was stuck to the tape they used. (Who hangs up fliers without bringing tape? Honestly.)
At this point, more than a week after the bird was last seen, I have come to terms with it being gone. Forever. But not forgotten.