I love Graffiti. I hate “throw ups.”
Graffiti artists spend hours sketching their pieces in notebooks, making stencils or printing stickers. They’ve come up with aliases based on letters they enjoy drawing. Graffiti has been used to make social statements and remember the departed. There is significant skill involved.
“Throw ups” are vandalism for the sake of marking territory, most often by gangs. They are applied in less than a second and require no real artistic skill, just going through the motions of the gang’s “same old” packaged acronym. Blah.
But I didn’t always feel this way. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid, I was vehemently against all forms of graffiti.
* * * *
It was 1999. I was 13 and playing competitive tennis, which meant I was training with bigger kids. One night I was invited to “hang out” with the older kids at “a friend’s house,” which happened to be located near my elementary school. There were four or five kids, ages 14-17 and the 13 year old, 90-pound me. So… I was up for anything… right?
After a few hours (and the parents went to bed) we headed out. I really didn’t know what we were doing, but I was gonna tag along… mostly because I would be the only person not on this little outing and I wanted to look cool… duh?
We walked quickly down the street, jumped over the wall, and sat on the ground, talking game plan. The older kids were in a “gang” together and they wanted to mark their territory: my elementary school. [Quick side note: my elementary school was actually split into two groups of buildings, one for the elementary school and one for the middle school. The middle school was further up the hill.] Their gang name? The WHITE RATS.
I told them that I attended this school, but I went to the middle school up the hill. If they only tagged the lower playground, I wouldn’t say anything. I mean, how much damage could they possibly do with two cans of black Krylon?
I didn’t go with them. I stayed by the picnic tables while the boys ran cackling into the darkness. I don’t remember how long it took them, but they eventually came back and we all decided to part ways and go home.
“Good work, guys.”
The following Monday I was on my way to Physics class (or maybe it was just “Science” back then) when I turned the corner and saw it. Next to a “throw up” of their initials, WR, was a terribly drawn rat. A black outline that looked more like an Etch-a-sketch than a freehand spray painting. Clearly the work of a teenage amateur. Either way, they had gone beyond the lower playground and onto my classroom.
At the start of class, the teacher mentioned the Rat, to which I responded, “I not only know who did it, I was here while they did it.” [Side Note: I struggled with writing this line today. I’m actually quite ashamed of this. If I could go back in time, I would punch my prepubescent self in the face and give myself a quick rundown on the importance of maintaining a trustworthy reputation and, if there’s time, why this incident didn’t really matter in the long run of anyone’s life. Nevertheless, I am keeping this line in to keep the story authentic.]
I was a Snitch, plain and simple.
I was rushed away to the Principal’s Office, where I truthfully told her everything. I couldn’t remember the kid’s name, but all it took was a little deductive reasoning for her (with the help of my neighbors) to track down the kids. By the time my Mom picked me up from school, the graffiti was the latest gossip and I was the “good boy” for speaking up.
I didn’t see the older kids at tennis practice that day. Or the day after.
A few days later I was called back into the Principal’s Office. When I got there, the Principal, my English teacher, and my Mom were all seated around a small conference table. All eyes were on me.
“We found this on the lower playground. It looks like it belongs to you.” The Principal placed a PLAYBOY magazine on the table with MY NAME written in blue Sharpie on the cover 5 TIMES. I was stunned. It definitely wasn’t mine.
“Isn’t this obviously a retaliation against my son for having told on these older kids?” My mom was right. It was totally obvious.
“Except that is Chris’ handwriting.” WAIT… what?
The Principal had taken the Playboy to my English teacher and asked if it was my handwriting. My teacher, clearly an expert on juvenile calligraphy, pinpointed me as the only culprit. My 13 year old handwriting was SO UNIQUE that it had to be me. [Funny story, the first “C” I ever received was in “Handwriting.”]
Just so we’re all on the same page: My principal accused me, a 13 year old boy, of acquiring pornography, writing my name on the cover 5 times, and “accidentally” leaving it on another playground of my elementary school.
* * * *
Nothing ended up happening to me, but I don’t know what happened to the older kids I told on. Word quickly spread about my indiscretion in the Principal’s office. I tried to defend myself but it was no use… I was out. I legitimately lost some friends over this. Who knows how those kids feel about me now, 14 years later. Maybe they’ve forgotten about me… Maybe they forgave me for being a kid… Maybe they’ve built themselves an alter and a voodoo Doll of me they poke with rusted safety pins.
… Maybe this blog post was a bad idea.
P.S. I went on to study graffiti in college, participating in my own “guerilla” pieces as well as staging graffiti for exhibition purposes. “Throw Ups” are still weak sauce.
Here is a link to one of my graffiti projects, “Nina:”