Steam Graffiti


When the weather is right, the windows of Starbucks near my workplace, or on the Lamma ferry, fog up, and I can then do simple drawings of my series of Hong Kong kids: Evil Chuckie, Xia Yi, and Peter.

The Starbuck’s staff laughs appreciatively because like Suzy Wong says, in China artist is special: in Chicago, at a minimum, the supervisor would call the cops because Chicago has “tagging” laws which prescribe jail for graffiti, and in the cop mind, ya have to treat like stuff like stuff it’s like, so the fact that the graffiti disappears would make no never mind. Besides, ya let da guy do it he might draw a penis, or the Lamma Island Ferry picture of Evil Chuckie might miraculously start to weep.

I would never draw a penis even with steam, but on the street, dey don’t know dis.

In Evanston where my kids grew up while I worked all around the country and the world, someone had written “Tim O’Hollearn the Great” on the sidewalk circa 1950. Nearby, on the blank wall of a bank someone had written “Cochise” and someone else had written “David and Lisa, Timeless Love”. It was pure poetry.

But in 1999, they were laying a new sidewalk on Clark street. A day after I saw the workmen putting down a new layer. They said some kid had written on the sidewalk, and their supervisor had said to erase it.

Of course, a Kantian test would say that if everyone wrote graffiti, no graffiti would exist, just a blur.

But even more constructive projects are verboten. In 1995, I was crossing Lake Shore Drive in Chicago to the Oak Street beach, and a Mom and her kids were stopped in front of a deep puddle in the pedestrian tunnel under the drive, loth to splash in the dirty water.

I noticed some large flat stones nearby and quickly made them a Zen bridge.

A week later, a crew was repairing the tunnel sidewalk. When I told them what I done they yelled at me for making them get off their ass.


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