Chubby. Shirl. Slick. Deacon as Danny the Love.
"Mal" means "Bad." Muppet mania! No nukes. Toot too heyyyyy beep beep. God is watching.
They come in the night and the next morning the names are there for the commuters. Or the message is there:
I want you and love you cause your the BEST!!!
Washington's monuments are gracefully clean of graffiti. Drive the length of, say, U.S. 1 from Rhode Island Avenue all the way to the Beltway, and you don't see a single splash or spritz of paint that doesn't belong.
Still there are pockets, if not to say galleries, but places, anonymous places, where alley artists roam and become inspired by a wall.
As is often the case, the inspiration comes to the young, the daring, spray paint in hand . . . A rush in the night the pat pat running feet the hiss of the spray can and by god they're gone . . . One assumes they're young. It's hard to imagine, anyway, someone over 21 writing 2 Gether 4 Ever = 6 Cess.
There is a message, there is always a message.
The walls tell a history of the demonstrations, the ones that happened, the ones that failed (African Liberation Day May 13. July 4 White House smokein. Stop the Railroad of Bob Avakian Rally Nov. 18 Free the Mao Defendants). The graffiti mark the territory of ethnic neighborhoods (Viva Che!), or gangs (Brave Maggots), or a lone writher (Hambone territory). Sometimes a dialogue happens. (On the masonry of an office building at 14th and L NW, someone writes "Hell" on four grey bricks. A pollyanna comes by and suffixes and "o" to a couple of them. Someone else adds the word Hades, and another scribe prints "holy" over one of the hells.)
The messages are passionate. They reflect political passions or the passion of unrequited love between teenagers. They're threats against the Ayatollah, or fervor for the Grateful Dead, or sometimes just an expression of taste: Beer is Good, to which someone later adds Rolling rock -- best around.
Washington's graffiti-writers prefer legible lines, unlike the fillips and flourishes, swirls or ballooning letters of the fading subway-train scrwals in New York, where the names, the names (Lollypop 135, Evil Evil 136, Mr. Nice, Iron Mike, Queen Be, x-15, King Ray) still flicker past the station platforms. And in their restraint, the locals mercifully confine themselves to underpasses and overpasses, anonymous walls beside parking lots and the plywood fencing at construction sites.
The scratchings are signs of life. They tell what people are thinking about, people that Gallup overlooked. In Adams-Morgan, at 18th and Kalorama, on the wall under the broken windows in a vacant yellow brick apartment house, almost obscured by the "Turn D.C. Upside Down" posters: FIGHT THE RICH. On the alley that weaves behind this building, someone writes, up and down stairways and along garage doors, of her love for Arturo. On Kalorama near Ontario on a garage door: Revolution -- Total Transformation . . . And up the street more: Fight the Rich -- Housing for All.
Carefully printed black letters chronicle plans for a demonstration: May 79 -- March May 5 -- Rich Pigs Will Fall.
On a nearby alley just off 18th, someone else has another vision: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
On the corner of 18th and Columbia Road, a savings bank is labeled Piggy-Bank, and alongside are the words in red on red brick, Society is a carnivorous flower. On down that side of 18th Street in front of the Madams Organ Art Coop, we find this etched in the sidewalk from when the cement was wet: Save the Plankton. Nuke the Whales.
A few blocks over, at 14th Street and Florida Avenue, there are still more populist considerations. Auto Thrift Shop -- New and Used Parts -- Closed, but the white monolith still has a purpose. It's white paper for scrawled messages: Love is The Way. Lincoln Feed Your Body Islam . . . headlaights, someone rounding the corner to cut the messenger short . . . And in huge black letters, America (k.k.k.) HAS POLITICAL PRISONER'S TOO. Across the street, another attempt: Lincoln Feed Your Body Islam Free Your Mind. Wall after wall, beside parking lot after parking lot, like billboards flashing past, as you travel north on 14th: At U Street, America ain't s . . . because the white man's got a god complex. At V Street, in one hand: Islam is the solution. In another: Ain't no freedom in this damd land. At Belmont, this time the graffitist succeeds: Lincoln freed your body -- Islam frees the mind.
On the south side of the 1500 block of Swann Street, a macho dialog begins: Norman as Man. Carlton as Sambo.
Playground wall at 14th and W: Paul is the Best -- Bubbles -- bootie bootie. Other walls cheer George and Arleen and often. Near T Street, the red brick side wall of the Plush XIV Lounge still celebrates Block Party, Spirit of '76, though the red, white and blue fireworks are fading in the sunlight. At P Street next to Sam's Pawnbrokers', along with the African Liberation Day posters and half-scratched-off photos of Malcolm X, Curtis of L.H. has signed his name in blue. An embryonic philosophy taps at its shell: The ren . . . the reason we are here . . . black paint scrawl fades out . . . Yes? Yes, go on . . .
We hereby proclaim the self! Kilroy was here, with his phallic proboscis. I'm angry and you're gonna know it.
What would arouse the spray-can gypsy in someone?
Says former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Bertram S. Brown: "The motivations reflect the full range of what makes people tick -- from an expression of self, through an attempt at art, to an obscene gesture telling the world in some way to go screw itself."
But, "in order to really understand," Brown says, "one would have to look at three dimensions of the graffiti scene -- the graffitor (the one who writes the graffiti), the graffiti itself, and the graffitee (the reader of the graffiti) . . . I just made those words up.
"The messages -- I see them as communications -- range from the expression of forbidden thoughts permitted by the cloak of annonymity," he says. "The graffiti in the New York subways were a reverse-Rumpelstiltskin style: that they exist, that they have a name and that they live somewhere.
"One other place for graffiti is quasi-public invited graffiti -- the fencing at building sites, where in additon to John loves Mary and birthdays, you find some attempts at artistic graffiti," Brown says. "Occasionally an innovative school teacher will bring her class down and that will start the process."
One example of this is the plywood panels around subway construction across from Georgetown Prep at Rockville Pike and Strathmore. Some Lady-Bird-Johnson-beautification-type must've organized the artistic attempts. On six-foot sections in the fence are pictures captioned, "Soccer is Kicking," and "It's Good To Be Alive," "Color My World" and the cloying "Smile."
After the process starts in this sanctioned form, come the improvisations. In neat white paint, I'm lost without your love -- jonboy. Directly underneath, the words PROTECTED AS A NATIONAL LANDMARK may have been added the same day, or when it dawned on jonboy how long Metro would be on the job.
Still others note, on this enormous bulletin board for Bethesda youth, Markie will wait no more Kelly, Laura it's not your car, and the curious Dillo has stew for lunch.
On other green-painted fencing at the entrance to N.I.H.: Get in the sack, Pete. GLEE! Ducklips. Chicken. I miss you, Hambo. I love Chris forever. Nearby, sprayed in a suspiciously similar red, CHRISTOPHER & THE WOMAN. The message, Marky -- 'I'll get over it' M.A., could never have been delivered in person.
Well, at least it's a way of knowing what those high school kids are thinking about: According to the walls, they like Monty Python and Grateful Dead, they want LOVE PEACE SEX DRUGS and Yogurt! Jimi Hendirx Lives, and someone named Kenny Roberts is God and No. 1. In six-foot-high white letters: These girls welcome Ken to B-Town!
Not to worry. On the plywood that encircles a block at Wisconsin and Old Georgetown Road, Eno is God.
There are so many, scribbled over and around each other: Weez was. Sweet Sylvia is a baby goose. Nuke Iran. Love is an always thin. Aloha. (There was time to think and time to write this one, in white): Our lives are shaped by those who love us and by those who refuse to love us. Painted over it in blue: I HATE L. M.
People stay just a little bit longer. Cocaine for the masses. Mildew City. SMALL TALK IS BACK (in six-foot-high red letters spanning half a block). Burn Iranians -- not oil. MOO MOO. Katie -- I'll see you in cow country, Your pal, Rachel. Billy Joel. Metro Bob Lives. P.P.P. Outlives. I love the partridge family. Hi! Mom Dad Go to Montana. WELCOME BACK!
("People come our TO the woodwork," says Dr. Brown, enjoying the pun.)
Metro is practically graffiti-proof. But leaning on a finished parapet of a future station at Seventh and H NW, waiting for a bus to come, pulling a Magic Marker from a pencil case, looking around, no one to see . . .
WILSON OF 7TH Q ST NW, Crusher, Killer, Destroyer. ("That's Casper Milquetoast yearning for his first experience," says Dr. Brown.)
Also on the parapet, Eggshell == Anthony, Richard and Purnell. Are they all for one and one for all? Or are they one? Tina and Pinky and Jackie come by. TINA & N.Y.K. -- Nobody You Know. tCorquette. Pinky -N- TFOTW -- The Freak of the Week. Then Jackie: Jackie -N- the shortest freak of SE.
Well, you remember what it was like, a teenager in the hyper phase, almost do anything, almost write anything. And maybe the closest you'd ever get to the freak of the week, whoever it was, was writing your name next to his. A fantasy, and by immortalizing it on the subway wall it would BE it really would BE.
And the names. At Eat Capitol and Benning Road Se: Tootsie Roll -N- Shakie, Tassie of Death Valley, and Cha Cha as Wanda of D St SE -N- Moe of Simple City. And old Free Huey weathers on a wall at East Capitol and 58th Street NE, but mostly along East Capitol the kids declare themselves -- Charlie and Monty and Christine and Darnell and Doreen and Michael and Tony and Fishbite.
In front of The Bayou under Whitehurst Freeway in Georgetown, waiting in the queue to get in on a Friday night, they draw with felt-tip pen on the Army-green I-beams that shore up the freeway. The outline of a woman with a crown on her head: God Save the Queen. Someone has scribbled a blindfold on her. Then there's a reference to some guy who needs an escort to answer the call of nature, though put differently. On the other side of the column, TOURISTS R MEAN. A sympathizer writes, Tell em. Others sign in: New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, No Future, Buck Was here.
On more columns along K Street, there's a well-weathered Nixon, and VC Will Win, and an ode, entitled Ricardo Lloyala: Billy Billy he's our man if he can't do it Jerry can Jerry Jerry he's our man if he can't do it Walter can Walter Walter he's our man if he can't do it Johnny can Johnny Johnny he's our man if he can't do it no one can except Ricardo.
Farther downtown on K near 10th, molders away a boarded-up olive-green building that looks like it was a small apartment house. Written in black that matches the peeling window trim and the paint on the fire escape, are the words: YIPPIE! HILTON COLOR TV HEATED POOL ROOM SERVICE
Graffiti offer an outlet for humor -- and for the bizarre, like the sayings sprayed on the sidewalk and walls south of Dupont Circle, echoed at 20th and R NW and on a railroad overpass at Arizona Avenue and Dorset Place NW (along with feats don't fail me now, Dutch Go Home, and Free Armenia ) and God knows where else:
Stop dirty chop stickball railroads. Stop revering human feelings by remote control for class ripoffs.
"That sounds like my paranoid-schizophrenic kind of patient. The remote control aspect," says Brown.
Shrinks . . . societies rich pyrmid police.
"It comes across professionally as a clang assocation -- it has to do with two Ps, or the word associations on the primitive level. That same mechanism," says Brown, "leads to great creativity. Some primitive thing connects and all of a sudden you get a great insight."
Earphone facist control and chop hell.
"A psychiatrist looking at it immediately starts to specualte what relationship it has to psychopathological mechanisms, such as 'neologism,' the creation of new words, 'word salad,' putting together words without consistency of meaning, and 'clang associations,' words put together because they have the same first letter or first sound.
"Relaize," reminds Brown, "this is the ulitmate in not wanting to diagnose without seeing the person."
At the construction site at Spring Valley, 48th and Massachusetts NW, once again Eno is god. Readers are urged to Do mushrooms. And for all the various efforts, written graffiti-style on the gate comes a final admonishment: Keep out or get hosed!
For every person who writes on walls, there are so many more who just read the walls -- with shock or a secret primal envy, or just curiosity. Understanding graffiti can be harder than learning French without a Larousse, and the language of graffiti changes faster. Just watch a wall once. One day, a Canal Road overpass touts a suburban school, the next day the overpass is painted starkly black, and two days later, GRATEFUL DEAD appears in Tom Sawyer white and looking like it's always been there.
Wall-writing is an old tradition. The walls of Pompeii held the passionate scratchings of a people unknowingly doomed; and there've been attempts to understand the Pompeiian citizens through studying their ancient graffiti: "Good luck to Nero's decisions." "Blondie had me hate the dark ones. If I can I will. If I cannot, all unwilling I will love them still." "All the fruitsellers with Helvius Vestalis support the election of M. Holconius Priscus as magistrate."
Cut to the year 2980, Solar Language Forum XI convening. "Very intersting. Here we have the folk epigram, Well-bucket Speedball, barely legible on the so-called plywood. It was written near the White House, one of earth's power centers at the time."