Tuesday, July 24, 2007


About a mile from our house is a strip mall with two billboards looming over it. Early each month when the billboards are changed over must be like Christmas for the area taggers. The new ads are virginal for about two days until they're just totally tagged. I imagine if you went out there at the right time of night, you could watch about 20 teens in hooded sweatshirts and Dickies fighting and climbing over each other to scurry up the ladder first to get up there. Like ants covering a piece of cantaloupe. For all I know, they have their own cherry picker and set up cones to direct traffic around them.

If you live in a downtown loft, you see graffiti as the ultimate urban art. The last uncorrupted art form. A symbol of our constant struggle against the man. A rallying cry. A poor voice crying out for attention.

If you create lemon-lime soda ad campaigns for a living, you see graffiti as a great thing to co-opt in an attempt to make your brand street. When you work up a big thirst from tagging a building, dawg, keep it real and quench your thirst with a Sprite.

And if you own a home, you see graffiti as a terrifying sign that your house is now worth half what you paid for it and the bank will be taking it back soon.

Last week, somebody sprayed CMG in big black Arial on a residential wall around the corner from us. What it lacked in artistic flourish, it made up for with pure simplicity. I don't know if it was Carlton Michael Gaines or the Crazy Mallorca Gang responsible, but there it was. I immediately rushed out to Home Depot and bought the materials to build a moat and a 15-foot wall around our house to protect ourselves from the inevitable crime wave.

Happily, in only two days or so, the homeowner painted over the graffiti. This was probably one of the most ecstatic days of my life. I once again lived in a roomy house in a leafy suburb and not a shanty in the slum hills above Rio de Janiero.

Then, this morning, driving past the retaining wall that separates our yard from the street, I saw the scourge. Somebody had tagged our wall with the same black paint. I'm not sure what it says because I temporarily lost my vision in a panic. By this weekend, the farmer's market down the street will probably have converted into an open-air drug bazaar. I will sell you my house for $35,000 right now.

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