Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dig: Graffiti

I think I've said before that I'm a big fan of the whole free speech thing. Assuming you have a brain, it's OK by me if you speak your peace and share your little thoughts with the world. Being blog-boy, I would be a bit of a hypocrite if I didn't think it was cool for others to speak/write their mind just like I'm doing - and we just learned recently that I don't dig hypocrites - so you just go right ahead and speak up. However, my caveat (as in "caveat emptor" as passed along by Mike Brady to Peter) is that I will be the judge of whether your comments are worth speaking/writing.

I'm not necessarily a big fan of defacing public or private property, but I dig graffiti. I always find it a little interesting that someone determines that his/her little message must be spray-painted somewhere for all the world to see. It is THAT important. The guy who writes "Wash Me" in the dirt on the back of a semi-trailer is convinced that all of the Ohio Turnpike needs to see this important message. You gotta admire that conviction. Of course, you can't argue with a classic line like that, either. Kind of like the "I'm With Stupid" t-shirt.

The old finger-in-the-dirt method is simple and to the point, but I really dig the graffiti that looks like it was done by someone with a master's degree in Art History. Surprisingly, the "tags" (see, I'm hip!) that you see on boxcars are often quite artistic. They might be just letters spray-painted on a freight train to the local police, but I see mobile art! Mind you, sometimes this piece of white bread (that would be me) can't quite make out exactly what the letters say, but that's kind of my point. To me, it's not about whether it's East Coast or West Coast - it's about the time and effort that someone put into it to make sure his voice is heard. Imagine the skulking about that had to occur and the study of the classic works of Dutch masters to convey the right message in just a few short strokes of a can of Krylon by the light of the local Amtrak station. I'm impressed!

My wife accuses me of being too hung up on the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan but that is where I saw two memorable pieces of graffiti. The first was scratched into the elevator of my dorm. It said "capitalism, schmapitalism". Love those college students and their ideals! If you're not familiar with this institute of higher learning, U-M is quite a liberal place to be and the students there celebrate the measly $5 fine for possession of marijuana by holding the Hash Bash every year on April Fool's Day. That said, however, most of us were there to snuggle up to the idea of parlaying our college sheepskin into a little dough. If you truly aren't into capitalism, perhps four (or five, in my case) years of study isn't the best thing to do with your time. But it all goes back to publishing your inner thoughts. If you're in the Business School only to make your parents happy but you would really rather just sell pooka-bead necklaces prior to whatever concert is being held at your local bar, you are certainly entitled to doing a little late-night elevator engraving to free your soul. Don't let the Man (or your Mom) get you down!

The other piece of grafitti that has stuck with me since those heady days in Ann Arbor was a two-liner. Somebody wrote something that I'm sure they thought was quite profound and then someone else followed up with a smart-ass remark. Being a smart-ass myself, I appreciated both. I forget exactly where I saw this but it said "It shouldn't hurt to be a child". Pretty profound and heart-string-tugging, right? Unfortunately, for the first guy, someone else came along later and wrote "But it does". That's just quality humor, people! What would possess someone to take a serious topic like child abuse and turn it into kind of a black humor kind of thing? I sure don't know, but it's damn funny. Talk about bursting the bubble of Mr. Grafitti Man #1! That first guy is probably sitting on the board of directors of UNICEF or something but I bet he is a jerk and has no sense of humor.

I also dig carving initials into an innocent tree. The park where I take the dog has lots of trees - to the delight of the dog and graffiti artists alike. How better to profess your love than to carve your initials, a "plus" sign and then the intials of whomever you're digging at the time? A 3-carat diamond ring ain't got nothing on the permanence of a jack-knife and some soft bark on a maple tree. Even though I'm a tree-hugger and much prefer Central Park to Times Square, I appreciate the advertising that a high school kid (because what adult really carves his initials into a tree?) puts onto a tree that will be there many years later.

And let's not forget the ever-popular bathroom graffiti. I don't have a lot of experience with women's bathrooms and we all know how I feel about public bathrooms in general. However, this otherwise unpleasant environment can be brightened just a little by the quantity and quality of the visual and verbal artistry in a given men's room.

Ninety percent of men's room grafitti is covered by the following topics (either written or drawn):

Male genitalia
Female genitlia
Someone's sexual preference called into question
Political commentary

Thought-provoking topics, all. Picture a blog but it's really a bathroom stall. Same thing. Got an idea? Write it down. Bust out a Sharpie and speak your mind, my brother! Unless you're signing your name to your work, it's anonymous (read "comes with no responsibility") and maybe some guy will stumble back into the bar and share with his little drunken friends that "Sue Smith Is A Slut". And that's just plain old helping a brother out.

Thank goodness for the dude who wrote that amendment to the Constitution because the first guys totally missed an important little piece of liberty that I like to call The Freedom to Deface Public Property To Provide Entertainment But Without Really Wrecking Said Public Property. Rolls right off the tongue, huh?!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dig: Turning Left on Red on a One-Way Street

Laws don't really hurt my feelings. I'm a fairly upstanding citizen so I don't feel pinched by rules that don't allow me to take someone's TV without asking (also called "stealing"), for instance. Despite the opportunity a year ago to leave a body behind in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina where it would just blend in with a bunch of other dead folks, I've resisted the urge to kill anyone so I'm able to move about in society unencumbered by a big heavy thing around my ankle.

Assuming that all the dumb people took the day off from driving, tooling the down the road in my Passat/Shark-mobile is a pretty controlled event. You got your speed limit which I mostly abide by. You got your driving on the right, passing on the left thing. And you got your various Stop/Yield/Red/Yellow/Green thing. Red always means stop, right? Or does it?! Suppose I stop. And then I go. With no green involvement whatsoever. Yep, you read it here first. I'll stop for the briefest of moments and then I'll go about my turning, thank you very little. Making a right turn may not be too special, but I feel a little dirty when I'm turning left on a red light on a one-way street. How you like me now?!

Oh, the freedom! Turning left on a one-way is a free pass, man! It's "cuts" in line, baby! It's finding a Titleist when you really lost an X-Out! It's finding one more beer behind the expired cottage cheese! The Man is not going to get me down today! Badges? We don't need no stinking badges! I don't feel like stopping, I feel more like pausing. The rest of you sheep, you just sit there while we Movers and Shakers take over the world. No red light is gonna keep me down. You Straights can just watch us Left-Turners motor while you sit there listening to what is, undoubtedly, bad music on the radio.

And how about the look on the people's faces who don't know about this little loophole? If it's someone behind me who also wants to turn left, they kind of get that look that says "Huh, wha... That good-looking guy in that sweet car just turned left on a red light. Good God, is there no end to his bravery? He must have the strength of ten men!" The people on the one-way street get the look that says "Look at that guy. He's employing the old "Turning Left on Red on a One-Way Street" strategy. He's a bloody genius! And good-looking too! Oh, to be him...." Meanwhile, I go on my merry way feeling dirty - in a good kind of way.

This feeling is similar to the one I described in a previous post about taking the day off of work. It's called freedom, my friends. The Boston Tea Party's got nothing on me. Even though laws don't really get in my way, I'm more than happy to get a little lawless every once in a while. For those of you who are thinking that my life must be pretty mundane if "lawless" means turning my car when I normally shouldn't, you are correct. Some people find excitement by stealing the change machine out of a laundromat but that's a little too out there for me. At the same time, I do get a little crazy sometimes and leave the TV on when I leave the room. The Left on Red trick is as nutty as I get.

Before I suggest that you break free of your bonds and put this little secret to use, I should probably do some research to see if it is indeed legal everywhere to do this. And yet, I'm not going to do that. I implore you to just do it anyway. The birds will sing and rays of sunshine will penetrate even the darkest cloud as you leave the Straights in your dust. Enjoy your freedom and ask not what your country can do for you because all we have to fear is fear itself!