A selection: On Graffiti

People sure wrote a lot of odd things on the world. Or so it seemed to Adam who had never really noticed until he got a job at the park and one of his major and most time-consuming responsbilities became removing graffiti.

Before he started working there the graffiti was certinaly still  around. There was even some near Adam’s house now and then—a black scribble made over a red stop sign, a silver mess on the side of a fence. But it was all just part of the scene–the backdrop that made up a neighborhood, a city street, or a desk at school. Sure, once in while there was a good tag in a good spot that tended to stand out a bit more, but for the most part graffiti was just a bunch of scribbles on a wall Adam didn’t see.

Obviously that all changed when he came to the park. He had to see the wall because it was his job to see it. It was his responsibility. And because of this he could no longer ignore the scribbles and pass by them as he had before.

One couldn’t say that Adam took his job very seriously, because he didn’t. Adam didn’t take anything seriously. But he wasn’t lazy, and he wasn’t a bad worker. It’s true that he couldn’t show up to work on time but when he did get there he did a good job. Not necessarily because he took pride in his work, or because he cared a great deal about the park or the experience his work helped create for its vistors. He didn’t care at all actually. But then, he didn’t not care either. If he felt anything towards the park it was ambivalence.

If Adam did a good job it was simply because he didn’t want to be that guy. That guy who was such a complete loser, such a complete waste of space and energy, that he couldn’t even clean restrooms and empty garbage cans the right way. He could be bad at a lot of things. He could be bad at school. He could be bad at talking to his mother. He could be bad with girls and with making friends. He could be bad at gardening and at keeping things alive. He could even be bad at counting money at the park’s pay booth or at talking to the public. And he could definitely be bad at showing up on time. He didn’t mind being bad at those things. He didn’t mind being those guys.

But he just couldn’t be bad at cleaning. It was too mind-numbingly easy. You had to draw the line somewhere. Or, in Adam’s case, erase it.

Monday was Adam’s favorite day at the park because it was the best day for reading. The weekends were so busy, and there were so many people at the park, that even the morning crew didn’t have time to do anything else but check in reservations, empty garbage cans, and deal with the various mishaps that always come up when you have massive quantities of people together in the same space. Because of this there were three nights and two days for people to write whatever it was they wanted to write on the vast and varied surfaces of the park . Apparently people had a lot to say.

As far as Adam saw it, graffiti had a few dominant and recurring themes. Just like any kind of art or expression, people pretty much said the same things over and over again but in different contexts and situations—or in the case of the park, different places and surfaces. Most often, Adam found that people simply wanted to claim a space, somehow mark it as their own. Other times they had messages, things they wanted to tell the world at large. Sometimes it seemed as if people wrote things not really knowing why, or without really being aware of it. As if they had a thought and decided to jot it down on whatever surface happened to be in front of them at the time. Almost like a note or doodle.

Someone is watching, said the brown garbage can chained to the basketball hoop.

When mom was around things were different, lamented the top of the picnic table in shelter number 4.

Can’t beat the real thing, stated the bench on the east side of the fishing dock.

Though these miscellaneous thoughts were the most common finds, proclamations and declarations were also popular. There were the usual vows of love and friendship. Eric loves Jessica. I love Josh. Heather and Lisa = Best Friends Forever. Adam would find such messages just about anywhere but the most common spots where on the picnic tables and in the bathroom stalls.

Then there were the hateful declarations. Sally is a crazy bitch. Lucas is a lieing cheating bastard. Amelio sucks ass. Some were more general. Fuck off. Y’all can suck my dick. This world is fucking piece of shit.

All these declarations of love and hate were, of course, written in the same places, sometimes right next to each other. And as a result, messages could get mixed up. Jenny might have loved Ben but because Troy was a stinking liar it looked as if Jenny loved a stinking liar and Troy and Ben had something else going on. (Though what exactly it was, or what any of it meant, was hard to say.)

Adam liked it best when mini-conversations showed up. When people commented on other people’s comments and started a sort of odd, disjointed dialog. Usually it was a debate of some sort, or a string of insults.

This particular morning Adam was pleased to find two such conversations. One in the far right stall of the west rest room:

I love Mark

Then why are you writing his name on a toilet bitch?

If you love someone tell them.

Maybe she just wants to tell someone.

Mark sucks, love yourself.

You suck.

Love is a joke.


And another on a picnic table in shelter 2:

Go Cheetahs!

Cheetahs suck balls Go Marshall!

Were going to kick your ass!

Cheetahs are lame  Fighting Ducks!

High school is for losers Smoke pot


Adam always read the writings, considered them momentarily, laughed at a few, sighed at a few more, wasn’t surprised by the majority, and then stopped thinking about them altogether while he washed them away.

Most graffiti was removed one of three ways:

  1. With soap, water, and scrubbing.
  2. With a spray of Graffiti X and scrubbing.
  3. By painting over it.

Soap and water really never worked and even though he was supposed to try traditional methods first, Adam always went straight to the Graffiti X–an odd smelling solution that seemed to work wonders. Adam didn’t know exactly what it was or how it worked, but the Graffiti X easily removed spray paint and most kinds of pens from most kinds of surfaces.

When that didn’t work all he could do was start over with a fresh coat of paint. The most popular tables had been painted over so many times they no longer looked like your standard wooden picnic tables but seemed as if they were covered with some kind of plastic or sealant.

There were a lot of what most people would call repeat offenders but since Adam had never found graffiti especially offensive, he just called them regulars.

The most tenacious regulars were the taggers. South Side 13 was the gang at the park and had, without knowing it, become quite close to Adam. Or rather, he became close to them because everywhere they went he went too. Unfortunately for Adam, South Side 13 went a lot of places.

They hit all the normal high-visitation spots—the bathrooms, the picnic tables, the benches, and the numerous signs throughout the park that directed people places. They also wrote on the concrete pathways and once they even tagged a tree which was really the only tag that Adam had objected to. Not so much because it violated nature but because it was impossible to remove.

Adam didn’t see how he could paint over a tree and even the wondrous spray of Graffiti X was no match against the dark black paint that had marred the tree’s rough, textured surface. So Adam went to Robert, who had been at the park so long he couldn’t imagine him having any kind of life anywhere else, and asked him what to do. As it turns out, you don’t remove graffiti from a tree, you add more to it. Robert gave Adam three cans of brown, black, and grey spray paint and told him to make the paint blend in with the tree as best he could.

Adam was surprised at how well it worked. He could tell what was there of course. If he passed by that particular spot he would always notice the odd little patch of discolored tree that didn’t quite fit in. But he was the only one. Nobody else ever noticed. Even Robert, who had never been shown the graffiti but merely told about it, couldn’t find the odd tree out and Adam wouldn’t tell him which one it was. In fact, Adam never told anyone which tree it was. He kind of liked that he had a sort of secrete with the park. That he knew something about it that even Robert, with all his knowledge and years of experience didn’t know.

Adam never saw the point in all this tagging. To him it seemed like a lot of time and effort to spend writing something that would just be washed away. And then, tags never really said anything. Or at least not to Adam. He supposed the odd scribbles conveyed a message to some people but to him tags looked like a lot of nothing on the side of a wall. One more thing that needed to be cleaned up before he could move on and clean up more things, find more messes, remove other unwanted stains and damage from the surfaces of the park.

However, it should be said that there was one tagger that Adam did like. Because even if this tagger’s message was nothing, it was at a least a colorful nothing. The tagger was not especially good but he or she wrote in that style of loud, exaggerated writing that Adam usually only saw on the side of the trains downtown. This particular tagger didn’t just use black or red, but combined colors—yellow with green, with white, with orange, with aquas and blues, even pinks—to create one big blurry mess of illegible writing. Adam could never make out the actual words, or even the letters, but the stretched exaggerated shapes that only vaguely resembled characters seemed to take on their own meanings and identities. Though he was not sure why, Adam enjoyed that there was this other, more-artistic form or tagging.

All of the other regulars actually said something. They weren’t taggers but writers. They used pens instead of spray, and their damage was much less severe and always easy to clean up. Some of the most prominent regulars were the “Latina Babies.” They stuck to one table in the middle of Central, the oh-so-original name the staff had come up with for the central area of the park, and tended to write the sorts of things Adam imagined other girls wrote in notes they passed in class. Just about every other week he would go check on the table and find it completely covered with pictures of eyes, pacifiers, hearts, swirls, and other odd sketches along with the usual Latina Baby propaganda:

Latina Babies 4 eva.

Babies don’t cry.

Babies can take care of themselves.


They always wrote their names, or rather their nicknames, in large decorative writing as well and Adam guessed that there were either four of them, or seven. The names were Angel, Cleo, Foxy, and Tiny along with the three eyes: Green Eyes, Brown Eyes, and Blue Eyes. Adam wasn’t sure if the eyes were entirely different girls or if they were just alternative nicknames for the first four, but whenever they used their names the messages came across as oddly cryptic:

Cleo doesn’t need Angel’s wings to fly.

Foxy is too hot to trot.

Tiny is the biggest baby there is.

Brown eyes is winking at you.

Green eyes is smiling.

Blue eyes aint saying a thing.

Adam enjoyed these messages. Not only were they easy to clean up but he could almost picture the young girls sitting together, laughing. He liked thinking about the sorts of friendships they must have had with each other, the odd inside jokes they must have shared. He used to walk by the table looking for them on weekends but there was never a loud group of girls there so he guessed they came at night after closing. That perhaps they lived in the neighborhood. Maybe even grew up there together. He thought of them tip-toeing through the dark armed with pens and flashlights. Making their way to their table on some sort of midnight mission. The blue, green, and brown tiny angel eyes all gathered around the table scribbling away. What a force they must be. What a group they must make. Adam thought of them as something strong and enduring. He imagined them fighting the way all girls do, but never for long, and never about anything serious—just about silly things like boys and borrowed clothes. He would have liked to meet them only it might have ruined things.

Because one of the best parts about reading the graffiti was that Adam never really knew where it came from. Sure he thought about the people that wrote it, weaved little stories about them. He pictured them in his head, felt that he knew them in a way, and yet they never seemed real enough somehow. He thought of them more like characters in a book than breathing, living, walking, and writing people.

He was always amazed at how he could work so hard at erasing the words that were left for him—clearing the proclamations and tags, wiping away the random thoughts and conversations—and then come back the next day and there it was all over again. Like it simply appeared all on its own, or like some kind of graffiti fairies came each night and sprinkled their messages across the park like dust or water or some other dispersible thing.

There were a lot of mystical and religious messages of course. This helped add to the aura. There was one girl, or what Adam assumed was a girl by the loopy, bubbly quality to her writing, who always wrote Jesus loves you in bright red marker on a table at the top of the fishing docks.  Sometimes she added more details like He died for your sins or a pslam of some sort. Adam never really understood her motivation—a picnic table seemed an odd place to spread the word of God to him. But then maybe she wasn’t spreading anything at all. Maybe she just wanted to reassure herself.

There seemed to be lots of reassuring going on. Perhaps people wrote what they did in order to establish themselves somehow. There certainly were a lot of people who simply wrote their names or the ever-popular statement So and so was here. There were a lot of people that were here. Lisa was here. Yolanda was here. Paul was here.  TJ was here. Gregg was here. Your mom was here. Aaron was here. Being here seemed to be a very important thing to a lot of people.

This particular morning Johnny was here. Adam had noticed that Johnny was here quite a lot actually, since Johnny had scrawled his name across the back of every door of every stall in the swim beach restrooms.

Johnny was here.

Johnny was here.

Johnny was here

Johnny was here.

Well, good for him, thought Adam who was here too but didn’t really see why it was necessary to tell anyone. But then, it was never really necessary for Adam to tell anyone anything. None of it seemed necessary to him. All of the words and phrases, scribbles and scrawls. Sure it was entertaining for him, far more entertaining then emptying garbage cans, but what was the point of it all ? Who the hell really cared if Johnny was here? Or if Brown Eyes was winking? Or if someone loved Mark? Or if there were a bunch of colors swiped across the side of a wall?

He walked to the truck and took out the can of paint marked, “restrooms,” and got to work. He rolled over Johnny five times, until finally Johnny wasn’t here. Johnny was gone. Just like that. All it took was some time and a bit of fresh paint and it was if Johnny had never even existed. As if all of them, each and every one, had never been there at all. As if they were nothing.

Adam sipped his last sip of coffee and blinked at the morning. He was fully awake now, the caffeine had done its job, and the park had a sort of buzz to it as well. Down the way he could hear cars pulling up, loud little kid voices echoed across the paths, and there was a stirring to the lake that hadn’t been there before—small bubbles rising up from beneath the surface caused by the water pump Robert had turned on a few hours earlier. But Adam wasn’t quite ready for the beginning of the day. He still had to check the other restrooms and make sure the shelters were clean before too many people showed up.

So he packed up his materials, put away his paint and brushes, and before he left to do and accomplish other things he had his own proclamation to leave behind–his own message to the world at large. He wrote it out with a magic marker on the back of a park flier—both of which he found in box underneath the passenger seat of the truck.

It was a clean and simple message that spoke calmly and assuredly to those that would read it. It was a warning, a caution, and simple declaration all at once. It was a sign.


He duct-taped it on the outside wall of the swim beach restrooms, then got in the truck and forgot about it for the rest of the day.


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