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OMARNYCAKASW1

SUBWAY LIVES pt1. JA-SONI/SLICK story

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I just started playing around with my Scanner's OCR...

heres a few pages that relate to subway graffiti and the JA/Soni

story from the book SUBWAY LIVES

 

 

SONI, a.k.a. Danny Gomez, is very nearly the last of the graffiti tag kings. He lives in Bushwick, a rowdy, working-poor section of Brooklyn, the son of an immigrant Dominican, who arrives at work before dawn in the small bodega he runs seventeen hours a day. Tonight, SONI is going to war against JA-John Avildsen, another tag artist, the son of a Hollywood movie director, who lives not in a hardscrabble section of Brooklyn, but in the fashionable Upper West Side of Manhattan. JA has "dissed" SONI by tagging the home of one of SONI'S closest pals with his nom de graffiti. Their battle will be fought in the perpetual night of the tunnels, as trains roar past, the scrawl of the combatants caught in the strobe of speeding headlights. Graffiti is dying, but SONI and JA intend to go out blazing. The mortal enemy of both SONI and JA is David Gunn. A New England preppy who could have stepped from the pages of A Separate Peace, Gunn is president of the Transit Authority-and the man who declared that he would eliminate graffiti from the subway system. For his success, he has been declared "the man who saved the subways"

 

1:05 A.M., Bushwick, Brooklyn: Danny Gomez

"I feel," announces SONI, "like getting up." "Yo," says SLICK. "Yo, man, let's get up, but we got to take care of ]A, man." "Check it out," says SONI. "We dry." The Bushwick night is howling to Danny Gomez and Rubin Fernandez. SONI and SLICK. Very nearly the last of the great Brooklyn graffiti writers. Tonight, they face a critical problem: no respect and no way to regain it. They have no paint. They can't get up. You need paint to get up-to shoot your name across the blackstars, the subway. A few days ago, ]A had seriously dissed SLICK. He came by car to 320 Empire Boulevard and tagged up the walls of Slick's house.

JAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJA All over the walls. Come down and fight, ]A had screamed into the hallway. Fair fight, ]A had hollered. Come on, SLICK, you afraid of a fair fight? Bullshit, man. SLICK wasn't afraid of no fair fight. He told his friends later that he stayed upstairs. There were, like, ten guys with JA, SLICK had said. In a car they came. From Manhattan. Fuckin' JA, man, think he rules the city. Man. Ten white boys he brings. Maybe it wasn't ten, but that was the minimum Slick could be outnumbered by and still keep his respect. SLICK and SONI are members of the Bushwick graffiti posse, U5, which had been formed in the winter of 1986, a marshaling of the dwindling graffiti-writing resources of the largely Hispanic neighbor- hood. JA is John Avildsen, the hated ruling king of graffiti in the city, a white guy from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His father is a big Hollywood movie guy-director of Joe and the original Rocky, he also produced The Karate Kid and Lean on M e, and even got JA a part in one of the Karate Kid sequels. Worse, JA has almost unlimited access to spray paint and is killing everyone's shit. Buffing over their work. In plain language, he was scrawling on top of their scrawls, their tags, the nearly unreadable scribbles that wallpapered every public space in New York. Now he had come to SLICK'S house and tagged it up. The other fellows in U5 agreed that JA would have to be dealt with. But nobody was down for that tonight. People had school, people had work. Yo, maybe the weekend. For SONI and SLICK, that is too long to wait. Tomorrow, after they went to the Door, their high school in Manhattan, they'd take care of JA. They'd go to one of his tunnels on the West Side. "Yo, my cousin, OS, he's got some paint," says SON!. "We'll catch os tomorrow. We'll hang out at the Door, then we'll go by my cousin's house." "Bet," says Slick. "We gotta kill JA's shit."

 

*****

And the 63rd Street tunnel turned out to be a spectacular place for teenage boys to hold graffiti-writing parties. Young John Avildisen once played softball there with some pals, including a pal named REAS, who remembered a fine graffiti gallery the city had built him. "Excellent," said REAS. "We brought our beers, we had time to work on our pieces. It was warm, modern and safe. Excellent."

*********

 

11:25 A.M.: The System

The birthplace of Joseph Ramiro Casiano was painted a deep dark red, just a shade lighter than brown. "Deep red. Tuscan red. Well, box car red. It's actually Fox red. Railroad red," says David Gunn. Call it Gunn red. In 1984, when he came to New York to run the subways, Gunn assumed that everything had gone to hell because it all looked as though it had been decorated there- In fact, a year before Gunn set foot on Jay Street, some 200 cars had been completely rebuilt-new engines, air conditioning, new tiles, better lights. And the graffiti had been sandblasted off. What a shame it would be, one of the members of the MTA board had said, if these overhauled trains were just sent out and immediately scrawled on. In a moment of inspiration, she suggested that they be painted white. The notion was so utterly wrong, so contrary to all dictates of common sense, so close to being the definition of preposterous, that the board was enchanted. Yes, they said, paint them white. It will be a challenge to the graffiti writers. By the time Gunn arrived, there was no sign of any of the over- hauled cars. They had been mixed in with the remainder of the fleet and had vanished in the graffiti haze. "Fifty million dollars and you couldn't tell anything had been done to the cars," Gunn said. He convened his top staff. They would pick a color for the rebuilt cars, distinguishing them from the rest of the trains. And they would protect them. "I want a simple color," Gunn announced. "And I don't want lines in the car-they have a fake paint scheme with a painted blue stripe, trying to make it look like a modern stainless steel car. Well, it doesn't work. Also, if you've got a stripe on the car , when you're trying to get rid of graffiti, you've got a masking problem." A few days later the group returned. "The board room was filled with people," Gunn recalled, "with all these buckets of paint. There must have been twenty people there. They had these swatches. ~d people were going, look at this, look at that, how about this. "Everybody was an expert. This was better than that color. This looks dark here, but it'll look better when you get it on." Gunn walked out of the meeting and back to his office. He dialed a number in Philadelphia, where he had been working until just a few weeks before and reached a man named Joe Lough1in, the superintendent of one of the city's trolley lines. "Joe," said Gunn. "Would you get me a gallon of Broad Street red?" "Sure," said Lough1in. "Can you get it to me right away?" "I'll have somebody deliver it to you." Early the next day, a messenger from Philadelphia arrived at Gunn's home with the bucket of paint. "1 brought it in, and we reassembled the group with their swatches. I said, 'Clear the space.' I opened the can of paint. And I said, 'That's the color.' "They're all saying, 'But-but-' "1 said, 'That is the color.' There was a little mumbling, grumbling. 'That's the color,That's it. Paint a train.' That was probably the most obvious decision I made." And that was how Gunn red came to replace the wallpapered madness that had amused, annoyed, and provoked New Yorkers for most of two decades. The day before JA and REAS blew out of Los Angeles, they'd driven to the U-Haul place and rented a container for the car roof.

As he packed up, getting ready to leave town, JA figured he had racked 700 cans of spray paint. Actually, he had 700 left, having gone through 3,000 cans during his eight-month stay in Los Angeles. "I was getting a hundred and fifty cans a day, " JA told REAS. "The paint is beautiful out here. The racks are incredibly easy." Which meant it was no trouble for him to swipe cans, a dozen at a time, from the shelves and racks. In New York, they were locked away by ordinance. Not so in L.A., which in its innocence, had never been invaded by the likes of JA on "racking" binges. Some kids called it "inventing" their paint. The penal code calls it theft. By whatever means, JA and REAS would be returning home with an arsenal of unprecedented proportions by New York graffiti standards, all of it packed in the U-Haul roof container. JA had left his mark behind on the West Coast. Of course, there were no subways out there-it was, after all, L.A., the expressway capital of the world. So JA bombed highway walls. Buses. All through Venice. He warred with KSN-Kings Stop at Nothing-a major graffiti crew on the West Coast. "Within a week or two, I just wiped them out, everything they had, for no real reason," JA said. JA had been in Los Angeles to try an acting career. As the movie director who' d filmed J oe, R ocky , and The K arate K id, his father, John Avildsen, had found JA a part in Karate Kid III as a henchman of the evil guy terrorizing Ralph Macchio. When that wrapped up, the young Avildsen found little work acting, and spent his time picking tag fights with the local graffiti writers. "They were making millions of public threats that I was going to be shot, " said JA, "that they had the Bloods and the Crips looking for me. Which they swore to be true." REAS-Todd JAmes-had arrived in town a week before, to keep him company on the trip back to New York. JA and REAS were part of a small crew of upper-middle-class white boys in Manhattan who had taken to graffiti writing. Most of the kids in graffiti were poor Hispanics and African-Americans. But there were folks like JA, the son of a major movie director; REAS, a gifted artist from Manhattan's SoHo; and the Smith brothers, known as SANE-David Smith-and SMITH-Roger, whose father was a professor at New York University. The Smiths' most famous tag was executed on the Brooklyn

Bridge, the haunting, romantic nineteenth-century engineering poem that straddles lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. One night, they struck near the top of the giant stone parapets of the bridge. The next morning, a few hundred thousand people riding trains on the Manhattan Bridge, just to the north, could see the SANE SMITH tag. " A million writers will tell you that they thought of doing it," said JA admiringly, "but only the Smiths went and did it." The audacity of these boys-and their status as privileged children-made them choice targets of the police and government authorities. Law cases involving white graffiti writers made the papers. And the white boys were prolific. The Smiths andJA were sued by the city-with their parents also named because the vandalism had occurred while they were minors. Then there was the handwriting analysis case brought against Todd James by the Manhattan district attorney, who tried to prove that the REAS tag discovered on a row of trains one night was his. Of course it was; the prosecutors just couldn't establish it as a matter of law. For all these kids, seeing their name on the news was just another way of getting up-writing their tags, their graffiti names. So was getting arrested. One week, Roger Smith was busted. In a rare twin success, the cops nabbed JA the following weekend. He was taken to the transit police vandal squad office in the East New York section of Brooklyn, where he was booked. "I went into the bathroom to wash the fingerprint paint off my hands," JA recalled, "and I looked in the mirror and saw something on the wall behind me. Nah. Couldn't be. I turned around, and sure enough, there was SMITH, in that squiggled hand- writing, above the urinal. He'd tagged the vandal squad's own bath- room. In their own fingerprint paint." As they drove cross the country on the interstates, JA and REAS got up in the California desert, in Oklahoma, in Texas. No hassle. The stakes were bigger, though, because a slow-moving court in the Southwest had the time and appetite to sink its judicial teeth into a juicy graffiti case-unlike the judges in New York, who could barely find time and space to try violent psychopaths, much less a kid with a spray can. Also, REAS'S mom was getting married and he had to get back for the ceremony. So on their road trip, they threw up a few tags here and there, but didn't stop for any major attacks. "That's for the next time," said JA. Back in New York, JA was generous with the L.A. paint, among his friends, anyway. But he kept racking, whenever someone left a shelf unlocked. His goal, he said, was "trying to have seven hundred or so at anyone time-so I could go out and use twenty in a night, if I felt the need."

11:45 A.M., Bushwick, Brooklyn:

SONI You could have a car, maybe, if you lived in Bushwick and you had enough money. SONI'S father had a car .He got up at five in the morning to drive to the bodega he ran, and he stayed there until midnight. This wasn't a nice suburban town where there were arguments about borrowing the car .The old man had the car eighteen, nineteen hours a day, that was it. But New York kids don't need a car to get around. Even when their arms are too short to straphang, long before they can apply for a driver's license, Bushwick kids have the L train-the Canarsie. The L train could take you anywhere. You could ride it all the way into Manhattan, but even on shorter journeys, a new world rose above every local stop: Myrtle, DeKalb, Jefferson, Morgan, Montrose, Grand, Graham, Lorimer, Bedford. Or you could, as SONI did, ride it to the G train, which would take you back and forth to Queens. Around the same time ]A went to work in Hollywood, SONI started a job at Pergament, a discount hardware chain in the Middle Village area of Queens. It was a long commute, but he had to get some money. He was thinking about college. Today, though, SONI was off from work, and with SLICK and AUDIE was heading into the city on the only car they'd ever known, the L. They were going to take care of ]A once and for all. This was it. A few cans of gray spray paint had been procured, and there was more with SONI'S cousin downtown. The truth was, they were all getting a little tired of graffiti, but ]A wouldn't let it lie. The pride of U5-their graffiti posse-was at stake. The beef with him had started a year before, when they had done some big pieces out in the train lay-up at 121st Street in Queens. A very sweet lay-up it was, too, because the trains would be parked on some elevated tracks between rush hours, from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon. You could go there and take off your shirt, catch some sun, and work in the leisure of daylight, rather than in the shadows of the tunnels. The boys from US had hit the yard with green house paint. Using rollers, they had tinctured three cars, from top to bottom, windows included. That was the base; then they launched the colors. They'd started several pieces-masterpieces, or "burners"-when the police arrived. After the members of the Bushwick crowd had either escaped or gotten handcuffed and led away, JA arrived with SMITH, and they proceeded to write all over the cars that the U5 crew had begun. "You use white, yellow, baby blue, pastel aqua, a hot pink, plum, and you blend with the colors to make a vibrant piece against your background," explained JA. "They didn't get halfway through that stage when they were raided. I didn't know what it said, or even who wrote it. If it was done by someone I knew, I would have tried to finish it for them." Instead, he launched a rocket attack of his own tags. This was the start of the hostilities, the Fort Surnter of the late graffiti period. U5, with SONI leading the retaliation, began to write over JA'S tags. He buffed back. And so on, for weeks on end, and no one was running any productive pieces on the train. One day, there was a call to JA from SONI. "We want to squash beef with you," said SONI. Call off the quarrel. "Fuck that. You dissed me, man. That's that. Time for war." "Let's meet up." "Nab." "Yo, why don't you want to squash beef?" "Yo, you set if off, you know. Face the music." "Yo man, c'rnon, let's meet at 121lay-up," said SONI, picking the same train yard where it had all started. JA considered for a moment. "Yeah, I'll meet you there at twelve tonight. Dress warmly. " "Bet." That night, the U5 crew waited for JA. They had brought a bucket of yellow house paint, and began to tag the cars with handprints. SONI and AUDI did burners. As the hours stretched on, no JA. Someone kicked in a few windows on the cars, frustrated by his arrogance. Around 2:30, the last of U5 had left the yard, through the hole in the fence, next to the Long Island Rail Road tracks. A few minutes later, JA and two pals strolled in through the same hole. They pulled out spray cans and slashed the U5 burners with paint, and laid their own tags on top. Then the coup de grace: VICTORY IS MINE-AGAIN! EAT SHIT! Gratified by his labors, JA drove back to Manhattan. The next morning, his phone rang early. "Yo," said SONI. "YOU didn't show up." JA laughed. He could roll out of bed, still half asleep, and spit a rival square in the eye. "I just waited till you guys left so I could stamp all your shit, " said JA. SONI realized then what JA had done, that the train would parade his humiliation across the city. He scrambled for a retaliatory tactic: "Yeah, well, one can is going to dog all that shit you did," said SONI. "Too late," cackled JA. "It already pulled out." . SON! knew the time, knew that JA was right: the train already was in service. "just something to make them feel stupid when they saw the train go by, " JA later explained. This was the last attempt at a truce between 05 and JA, although for a while, the war went into an extended cease-fire-when JA moved to L.A. for his work in Karate Kid /1I. After a couple of months, the guys in 05 were getting restless. Their lives were going on. Married. Kids. Jobs. Graffiti writing was getting old. The trains were beat. The trains were clean. A train with a big piece on it, something you'd worked on all night, wasn't going out of the yard. Hell, a train with a tag wasn't going out. It was getting to be a waste of paint. AUDI called a meeting and made an announcement: "This is the deal. We're going to close down 05 for 'ninety. Before then, we're going to king the city. The streets. Write everywhere we can. After we reach our goals, like a writer wants to, we're going to break up 05, because we don't want 05 to fade away, like a crew that was tough, and the new writers come up and they go over us. We don't want to go out like that. We want niggers to know that when U5 was strong, nobody would take us down. "Even if they buff us after we stop writing, they know that if we was together, they couldn't handle us. That's the point." Later, AUDI explained, "It went beyond trains. Streets, mainly. What we hit now is trucks, the streets, things that still move. Like the train used to be. Garbage trucks." AUDI could talk tough. He could talk about kinging the city. But his boys were growing out of it. Then one day, JA returned, and he seemed to have more paint than God.

5:15 P.M., JAy Street, Brooklyn: David Gunn

David Gunn gives every appearance of being an adult-he is well over six feet tall, has beaten cancer, and has run three major rapid transit systems-but he is possessed of a child's energy. After a big meeting, he'd bounce in and out of his office every five or ten minutes, replaying winning arguments and turns of phrase with Peter Barrett, an aide who was particularly low key. Gunn would sit down in his chair, return a phone call or two, and try to read a memo, but some fugitive thought would come to mind, and he'd spring to his feet and stride across an alcove to Barrett's cigarette-hazed office. Gunn is a bubbler, a kid, people say, explaining why they find it impossible not to like him. Today, when he gets back to the thirteenth floor at Jay Street, the MT A meeting just past is still on his mind. At his office, his secretary, Monica Santanelli, hands him a batch of messages and reminds him of an appointment that would delay any postmortem of the meeting just past. A gang of Parisians awaits him in the office. Gunn is well practiced at the hearty greeting, though his hospitality tends to run no further than coffee and bowls of unsalted and butter-free popcorn. Which means that people frequently get right down to business when they come to see him. "How did you do it?" asks the head of the delegation. The question was kind of funny. Everybody was always wondering why the New York subways couldn't be like the French-or the British, or the Swedish-and yet, all those

"New York," Ed Koch once said, "is where the future comes to audition." An arrogant remark, in some respects; accurate, too. At the end of the 1980s, graffiti was reaching the status of pestilence in many of the world's other major subway systems, just as it was being eradicated from New York's. Gunn wastes no time gloating. He cannot forgive New York's failure to stop graffiti at the very beginning. "You better deal with it now or it will become a massive problem for you," he warns the Paris delegation. "I mean, there was, in my opinion, no excuse for that /, ever getting out of control here the way it did." It began, in a burst of innocence and excitement, around 1970 and captured a certain kind of imagination outside the borders of tbe middle class: for the art crowd, it was the great spirited voice of the If .- ghetto rising. For Europeans, it was as exciting as Jazz. That year a Greek-American kid from Washington Heights named Demetrius went to work as a messenger. He rode the subways from one end of the city to the other, delivering packages and envelopes. Soon, people noticed cryptic words scrawled on the walls of stations, in cars, everywhere, it seemed. TAKI 183. As his name rolled across the city on subway cars, he became an underground mystery. Maybe these were surveyors' marks for the new subway line that was always being built. Or a coded message for terrorists. Then the New York Times discovered that TAKI was a person. It was a diminutive for Demetrius. On the condition that they not reveal his last ' name, he explained why he wrote: "I didn't have a job then, and you pass the time, you know," he said. "I just did it everywhere I went. You don't do it for the girls, they don't seem to care. You do it for yourself. You don't go after it to be elected president. ...I don't feel like a celebrity normally. But the guys make me feel like one when they introduce me to someone. 'This is him,' they say. The guys know who the first one was." Demetrius of 183rd Street between Audubon and Amsterdam Avenues, known evermore as TAKI 183, caught fame. For New York kids, the subways always have been a nearly perfect form of mobility: no driver's test required. Not much cost. Available around the clock. No parental hassle. But also, no status-no " way to whitewall the tires, no flashy equalized stereo systems, no five-speed transmissions to gun up and down the avenues.

Graffiti changed all that. Tags, spray-painted on a car that moved past millions of people, evolved before their bleary eyes into a typography of flourishes and stars, clouds and crowns, the ornamentation so thick and rich that the names were recognizable only to other kids. Even the names were code: FLASH. SCENE. CRASH. DAZE. LEE. DONDI. They reigned in a dark empire well known to the authorities of the street world. The kids could find emergency hatches in the sidewalks that led directly into tunnels, or pad along catwalks to areas where trains were laid up. The third rail, carrying 640 volts of elec- tricity, was instant, fried death in the eyes of the adult police officer; young graffiti writers danced over it, knowing where to put their feet. The more juice, the bigger the thrill. Official notice of the graffiti phenomenon came on a summer day in 1973 when Mayor John V. Lindsay went to Brooklyn to cut the ribbon on a new municipal swimming pool. The new pool was a typical Lindsay-era project: an amenity in a poor neighborhood that, symbolically and practically, might cool people off during the deranging heat of New York summers. Lindsay was beyond his hour of hope then, his campaign for the presidency having died a quick and public death, and his energies for running New York City having waned after seven and a half years. The press no longer cared where he went or what he did. Still, the pool was a Lindsay win. It had survived in the city's capital budgeting, a brutal process often dictated by powerful construction interests more concerned with roads and giant edifices. As he walked in, Lindsay looked around. Before a single drop of water had been stirred by swimming kids, graffiti had been splashed over the walls of the pool, on the benches and the walkways. A group of neighborhood boys, outfitted for the ceremony in bathing suits, crowded around the mayor. "You gotta see the locker rooms," one of them said. There, it was the same story: marker scrawls across the new cabinets, on the floor, the walls. "It's stupid," said the boy. "Brand new and its messed up al- ready." Steaming, Lindsay returned to City Hall and walked into the office of his chief of staff, Steve Isenberg. "Get the fucking place cleaned up," Lindsay ordered. "I want you to get on top of the graffiti." Isenberg launched a press war against the manufacturers of spray paint, and pushed shopkeepers to shelve cans and markers out of reach. Laws were passed making it a crime to carry an open spray can. Vandals were sentenced to clean up their own messes. Lindsay sniped at the MT A about its ineffective measures against graffiti. More than half the fleet had to be stored out- side secure areas and there was no stopping the tireless writers. By the end of his final term in 1973, the city was spending $10 million a year on graffiti removal. The announcement raised goose bumps among teenagers around the city. Ten million! And they, the kids, with spray paint they had "invented," grabbed for free in hard- ware stores, were winning: by then, 63 percent of the subway cars were covered with it. The number grew daily. To catch the graffiti writers, transit police spent long nights hunkered down in the weeds of Bronx cemeteries, positioned on tombstones with infrared binoculars that allowed them to peer into the adjacent train yards. The few kids who were caught laughed at the cops. They walked in and out of courts crowded with violent criminals. In the police vandal squad, Roger Smith had tagged the men's room with the paint that had just been used to fingerprint him. And if any mayor had stuck his head out the window of City Hall, he risked having his nose tagged with Day-Glo pink or gringo gold: not 100 yards from City Hall was a major production center for subway graffiti. In the very hole in the earth occupied, a century earlier, by the magical wind subway train tunnel of the inventor Alfred Ely Beach was the perfect studio for graffiti. Behind a locked, unmarked door in the City Hall BMT station is a flight of stairs down to an unused platform and level of tracks. Here in this lay-up area for the N and the R lines were prime spaces for the graffiti writers of the 1970s and 1980s. The city had built two stations on top of each other. The lower one was part of an expansion plan that was dropped. The facility was unused, except for storage of trains between rush hours. The Rolling Thunder Writers- the RTW crew-took over the lower level and executed "burners"- colossal murals-that are still spoken of with awe among graffiti alumni. The simple tags of TAKI 183, once mistaken for the dry musings of an engineer laying out a tunnel, had given way to great dancing murals. Love letters, and political messages, girls with improbable breasts, soared atop the old trains. Cartoons moved across the city eye. The City Hall lay-up, old Beach's tunnel, was perfect for such detailed work "because it has a platform, and (we) could do top to bottom writing. There were lights there," said REAS. "In the yards, a lot of times, you have just a foot and a half to work in, and the trains are way taller than you can reach," said JA. "City Hall was perfect. " It aroused the imagination and the indignation. "The thing that depressed me most about the subway, and everyone else, was the graffiti," said Felix Cuervo, a federal worker who grew up in the city ~d did not learn to drive until he was over fifty. (And gave it up when he turned seventy, in favor of the subways. ) "When the city was on the verge of bankruptcy in the early seventies, each time I saw a graffiti-covered subway car , I felt like crying-the graffiti seemed to me a realistic symbol that my hometown, if New York City can be called a hometown, was really going down the drain." No doubt millions felt just like Cuervo. But graffiti chic also arose. "I've always wanted to put a steel band with dancing girls on a flat car down in the subways and send it all over the city. It would slide into a station without your expecting it. It's almost like that now," Claes Oldenberg, pop artist, told New York magazine in 1974. "You're standing there in the station, everything is gray and gloomy, and all of a sudden one of those graffiti trains slides in and brightens the place like a big bouquet from Latin America. At first, it seems anarchical-makes you wonder if the subways are working properly. Then you get used to it. The city is like a newspaper anyway, so it's natural to see writing all over the place." Norman Mailer wrote "The Faith of Graffiti," an extended, meditative essay on subway pictures. " At night, the walls of cars sit there like the mechanical beast of omnibus possessed of soul-you are not just writing your name but trafficking with the iron spirit of the vehicle now resting. What a presence." He was loudly denounced; essentially for thinking the graffiti had any value. The only correct value was to curse graffiti from the pulpit of public office and the editorial page. Not a word of these homilies could reach the ears of the boys and young men who labored in the graffiti world; in fact, Mailer had captured the wild noise of their hearts. Painting on walls was a game for "toys," the apprentices of the graffiti world. Subways were the peak. "The main thing was to hit the trains," said SMITH. "It's more of a rush-you're communicating with the trains," said JA. "Things that move," said AUDI. "Writing is like an addiction, " adds REAS. "You get a Ban deodorant roll-on and take the top off. You buy the ink, put it inside the roll-on bottle, then get a chalkboard eraser and tear a strip. If you had drippy tags, it showed you had a lot of ink and you were taking over the entire space. It was-" "Vandalism," says SMITH, laughing. I' "It was good," says REAS. "You were like, yo, check out my drips. The tirades that greeted Mailer were unlikely to persuade REAS, or, if they did, would only encourage the black spirit that lifted his gifted hand to draw, on a station wall, a startling lifelike pile of steaming turds with a balloon message: EAT IT. Guard dogs were assigned to the yards, briefly, at the behest of Mayor Koch, despite worries that they would cause more trouble by being hit with trains than they would solve . "I would prefer wolves," Koch announced. He had sworn off the subways, but the graffiti issue was a nightly blight on television news-not only because people were talking about it, but because the decline of the subway system had become the number-one problem of average New Yorkers during the 1970s. Every night, break- downs and fires stranded thousands. This demon, graffiti, was the most visible icon of a failing, dying subway system, collapsing from government ineptitude, ignorance, helplessness, not from Magic Markers. If Koch or any other senior public official had been a regular user of the city subway system, they would have known that graffiti were no more than a signature on a plaster cast on a leg: what kept the patient from walking wasn't the cast or the scrawled names on it, but the fractured bone beneath it, unable to carry any weight. The graffiti were a symptom, yet on the lips of scores of politicians and news- casters, they reigned as both substance and style.

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Guest railroadjerk

thats a really great article...is there any more about the ja soni and slick thing?

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heres the info if anybody is interested in finding the book...

the HC is out of Print but im certain theres paperback copies

around...

 

Subway Lives : 24 Hours in the Life of the New York City Subway

by Jim Dwyer

Hardcover: (October 1991)

Publisher: Crown Pub; ISBN: 051758445X; (October 1991)

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Guest Can you sign my book???

That is the shit......

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Guest -MOE LESTER-

god damn that article is nice....3,000 cans of paint....holy crap i wish i lived back then.....what ever happened to that whole soni, ja beef?

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man, i've looked all over the place to find any info or whatever on JA from those movies and it's impossible

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Guest -MOE LESTER-
Originally posted by jedifive nyc

didnt soni and slick eventually die attempting to rag JA in some tunnels?

 

yea thats what i though

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Originally posted by Mr. ABC

man, i've looked all over the place to find any info or whatever on JA from those movies and it's impossible

 

I'm confused. What exactly are you trying to find out?

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I think I speak for every1 when i say I'd love to read the second part if there is another. If you've got the book, and a scaner it would b sweet if you could post that up, thanks peace:D

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PART 2

 

But graffiti were an empire tottering of it’s own weight. The quality and energy of the writing dwindled in its birthplace with the rise of its cachet. "The top names were pulled into the mainstream art world," notes SMITH. Gallery exhibitions were organized, and tourists, especially Europeans, would come to view subway-style murals. The writers began to earn good money-money unheard of in the scrape-by streets of the Bronx and Brooklyn where the greatest talents had bloomed. Money that lifted the best of the writers and artists out of the subways. "After 1982, that was when you started to see a lot of throw-ups," said SMITH. "A throw-up? That's when you just throw a tag up on a wall. You'd start getting whole trains, just tags, people tag over other tags."

The writers started wars that consisted of little more than illegible scrawls over someone else's throw-up, like dogs waiting to lift a leg at a cherished fire hydrant. The age of graffiti was coming to an end. Not only were the galleries pulling out the most inspired talents, but the arrival of Gunn and his boss, Robert Riley, at the Transit Authority, had signaled a whole new approach to the war with the tottering cast of writers. David Gunn started his first year by hiring hundreds of new car cleaners. To pay for them, he did not replace mechanics as they retired or quit. A few voices protested that this substituted cosmetic improvements for the meat and potato work of maintenance, but even with fewer mechanics the reliability of the trains nearly tripled during Gunn's tenure. This was due, primarily, to replacing 70 per- cent of the battered old fleet with new or overhauled cars. The old fleet remained terrible. As part of his emphasis on the appearance of the trains, Gunn appointed A. Richardson Goodlatte as the chief mechanical officer. Goodlatte, despite his title, was mechanically illiterate: once, he tes- tified before the legislature that he was unable to read blueprints. He said that he didn't know which end of a wrench was up-not surprising, since his academic training was in accounting and political science, which gave him little preparation for the upkeep of $6 billion worth of cars and their associated pneumatic, electrical, and mechanical systems. But Goodlatte was meticulously organized. And he was devotedly loyal to Gunn. He launched a Clean Car program with missionary fervor.

Every week, he chaired a graffiti task force at the Transit Authority-with high-ranking executives from every department within the 50,OOO-person bureaucracy. With Gunn's backing, Good- latte worked line by line.

Once a car was declared graffiti-free, it was not allowed to leave a terminal with new writing on it. Instead, the train was removed from service. The edict was enforced with suspensions and penalties for train dispatchers who violated it. It was a profound insight: writers felt greatest pleasure seeing a fresh tag or piece moving through the city, a supreme achievement, equal to a suburban kid's Simonized car. With that thrill gone, so was the drive to write. "The trains are dead, a waste of paint," AUDI had said in 1989.

The Gunn administration was relentless. It accumulated scores of Labor Department violations by operating unsafe car-wash facilities where workers often were drenched in mists of toxic chemicals. When the governor finally applied pressure, Gunn and company instituted a worker safety program. By then, two hundred people had been treated for central nervous system damage brought on by exposure to the harsh chemicals. Acid washes were applied that stripped graffiti-but also ate through the floor boards, corroded electrical parts, and undermined structural elements of the cars. A transit manager who pointed out that the acid also had lethal effects on the workers handling them was banished to bureaucratic Siberia.'

Even during a drought alert in 1988, the subway car washes continued to operate, as if these somehow were exempt from the strictures imposed on every other government agency and business in the , city. Bull strength knocked out graffiti. But it wasn't just a group of transit managers. "For some unexplained reason this summer is proving to be an exception to the historic rule that summer is the worst season for graffiti, " a member of the T A graffiti task force reported in August 1985. "Except for the Number Seven line, which is still hit regularly, hits have been minimal-about one a day per line on the average." The graffiti writer Roger Smith had a theory, "Look at the kids from my block," says SMITH, who grew up in what is acclaimed as the city's toughest drug neighborhood, where a middle-aged United States senator and federal prosecutor arrived in preposterous biker gear and still were able to score crack in a few minutes. "Any kid in Washington Heights, they stole chains, they wrote graffiti-when they were nine. When they were thirteen, they started holding drug money. Now they don't write graffiti, they have incredible cars. Around 1985 was the last burst of creativity. Mass amounts of people were dropping out to gangs, crack. The arrests for graffiti are way down." Hard as it was for adult society to admit, graffiti writers had been basically nonviolent, and creative impulses attended at least the ambitious projects. In 1986, when SONI and SLICK came downtown from Bushwick with AUDI, they'd unlock a gate and sneak into the City Hall lay-up. But the lay-up had been taken over by the Hot Crew, with the Rolling Thunder writers having vanished for more profitable pursuits. The Hot Crew had guns, ran drugs, and used the lay-up as little more than a hideout during police crackdowns on crack trade in the street. The gang, from a Lower East Side housing project, consisted of "the most scheming people. You wouldn't want to write when they were there," said JA. "They cut this one guy from ear to ear with a razor. That's why you wanted to go in bulk-if not for the company and the comradery, then for the protection." "We never let no other people push us around," said AUDI. "We fought for what we believed. In this neighborhood, you were fighting since you were a little kid." U5 was made of tough kids, but they were hardly criminal class. They were interested in splashing a few tags around, and toyed with ideas of becoming graphic artists. Those who stayed with graffiti generally stayed away from drugs. Those who didn't, the "generation of stupid slaves," as SMITH described them, had no patience for the bloodless vandalism of painting a train. Gunn beat them. Galleries took the talent. Crack killed the rest. By late 1989, the kids had just about given up on the subway system: from the peak of eighty a day, the hits were down to four or five, an easily manageable number. And it was this success that brought people from around the world to see David Gunn.

6:25 P.M., Lower Manhattan: SONI and SLICK

A good long ride from Bushwick is The Door, way downtown on the cusp of SoHo and TriBeCa, two old industrial zones that recently went high chic. The L all the way to Eighth Avenue. Then an E train down to Spring Street, and a block south to Broome Street. There. The Door's banner hangs over the entrance, swaying lightly in the breeze. It took a solid forty-five minutes on the train, but AUDI and SLICK and SONI were members in good standing of The Door and made the trip three or four days a week. Most youth centers are built on unkept promises. One night, a forgotten crisis commands the attention of the press and the politicians: a murderous rumble, say, or a wolf pack rampaging through a serene part of town. Let's get them something besides the street. Start some programs. From these traumas is brewed a nostrum of jaded adults reading newspapers, a Ping-Pong table with chewed corners and a sagging net. Cast-off folding tables. A basketball court ruled by ten kids. Another handful who hang out near the Nok Hockey table. If a puck

can be found. If the set still exists. Even with fists full of city dollars, most after-school programs are held in the same barren public buildings that, day behind day, exist only by the power of inert bureaucrats who fill out forms for books that never arrive, semester upon semester, in buildings that were new fifty years ago and haven't seen a roofer in twenty-five. Where teachers with a notion or two about how to engage kids are eaten alive. And where only those with enough political hooks can land a gig in the after-school youth program at $26 an hour , with little chance they will stir themselves or anyone else. And here come the boys from Bushwick, killing an hour on the train to get to The Door . At the very first, The Door surprises with the lavishness "of its physical appointments. Why is so much money spent on these modular furnishings?-these corporate-style office pods where counseling is given, the oak banisters along the splashy mid-room stairways, the subtle but profuse lighting? This was the design vocabulary of a first-rate private school, the sort of place where you might find the children of the city's rich ghettos. But just past the entrance, near the reception desk, a sign an- nounces that this is not an exclusive holding pen for youngsters waiting to assume a position of comfort in life:

TRAIN PASS SCHEDULE: 7:15 P.M. 8:15 P.M. 9:00 P.M. 9:30 P.M. Tues., Wed.

See, the train passes provided by city schools are no good after 7 P.M. The city doesn't want kids riding the trains for free all night long. For The Door, the TA makes an exception, since its activities don't get rolling until two in the afternoon. Then, during the evening, an announcement is made for the Train Pass, an escorted walk to the subway, with a counselor who shows a clerk the proper papers for the students to pass through the gates. Around the city, chartered buses shepherd privileged children to and from home, to avoid the dread subways. Not the kids at The Door. At The Door, a kid can take a class in ceramics. Learn the double somersault. Act in a play. Meet a counselor about a bad situation. Find a job. Or, as Danny Gomez was doing, finish the courses for a graduate equivalency diploma, so he can become the first member of his family to apply for college. The Door, in short, is a department store for the emotional and social lives of New York teenagers. It has a nursery for teenage mothers, and a health clinic, complete with laboratory and pharmacy. Any teen needing a lawyer can find one here-and more to the point, a lawyer who would do more than try to beat a court case, would also help turn kids away from the uncaring arms of the law. The institution reports that six thousand kids a year visit, of their own free will, free of charge.

First stop for AUDI, SONI, and SLICK is the weight room downstairs. Sheets of paper lie along the walls for graffiti tags-authorized writing , with none of the hot outlaw flame of drawing on a train, but The Door is their place, and graffiti-free but for the assigned space in the weight room. "They want to be part of the system," said Elma Denim, The Door's associate director. "They're being held out of it. That's why there's all this rage. They're not breaking down the system." SONI and SLICK have signed the paper on the wall. But they wanted more. They had to have more: SLICK has been humiliated.

"We could kick JA'S ass if we ran into him," says SONI. AUDI grunts and bench presses. Fat chance. JA lived in an elegant apartment house in one of the finest neighborhoods in the city, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and had gone to a high school where the tuition and fees were over $9,000 a year. That was just about a full year's pay in most Bushwick houses: the mean income there was $10,000, one-third that of the Upper West Side. A baby born in SONI'S neighborhood had a 70 per-cent higher chance of dying before its first birthday than in JA'S. A thousand buildings had been abandoned or torn down since 1970 in Bushwick. On the Upper West Side, condominiums had been pried into every square yard of space.

The murder rate for Bushwick was four times that of the Upper West Side, death by cirrhosis or chronic liver disease 70 percent higher. In short, Bushwick had many of the earmarks of a third-world country. Once, it had been a great center for German immigration and for beer production, with fourteen breweries in an eleven-block area. It also boasted a dozen theaters, including the first in the United States to use electric lights. The Irish followed the Germans into the tenements, then the Russians and the Poles. After the Depression, the Italians arrived. In the 1950s, the area was cleared of middle-class whites in a spectacular housing scam: rampant blockbusting was accomplished by offering easy mortgage credit to scraping-by minor- ities at scandalously high rates. What banker could do this? None, without the help of Uncle Sam, which guaranteed the mortgages to people unable to carry them and thus oversaw the meltdown of the neighborhood.

Whites fled to the newly opened suburbs. Puerto Ricans, without jobs, without education, without English, settled the husk of Bushwick. In this, Bushwick, like virtually all New York neighborhoods, is very much a historical shell through which great churnings of people pass: there are practically no old New York families, practically no New York neighborhoods where familial lines extend more than a single generation or two.

In the late 1970s, Bushwick changed again. Jose Gomez left the tiny village of Denares, near the city of San Francisco in the Domin- ican Republic, and found a home with other Dominicans among the cinders of Bushwick.

In time, the father sent for the rest of the family, his wife, the three boys and a girl, and scraped together the cash to open his own bodega in the East New York section of Brooklyn. (The su- permarket, with sprawling aisles and acres of groceries, could not survive the New York real estate market, leaving thousands of tiny niches for all-purpose grocery stores, known in Hispanic neighbor- hoods as bodegas-crowded but complete Noah's arks of victuals.) Mr. Gomez spent nearly all his waking hours there, accompanied by his son, Ramon. But not Danny. He was SONI, he wanted more. He wanted to catch fame. He had gone part of the way through Bushwick High School, and along the way, made the friends who formed U5.

Maybe to the rest of the world, the graffiti scene was fading in the mid-1980s as SONI and SLICK and AUDI came of age. But U5, their crew, had a purpose. They were a loose grouping of teenagers going through high school in a decaying city, who could see ahead of them long hours in the bodegas with their parents, or car repair shops, or a job in one of the envelope factories still running in Brooklyn. In their generation were kids who could swing knives and bats and rampage through subway trains. Other kids could hang out on comers and wave 9-millimeter guns. The graffiti kids went to make their mark another way.

"There were a lot of crews here in Bushwick. I wanted a central crew, that would be known citywide, that would be powerful," said AUDI. "That's when I made up U5. Instead of two letters and three numbers, I decided to make a letter and a number. It was something new, that nobody ever had, a letter and a number. We caught fame. But we gained it, too."

They would meet on nights in the apartment of Jesus Torres, who could draw cartoonlike figures so well that he was commissioned to paint a line of sneakers for a company in Puerto Rico. There, in Jesus's bedroom, they would plot their strategies. A subway map hung on the wall behind the door, so that routes could be studied. Soon, though, the map in Jesus's room started to look like the ones in the subway: so obliterated with tags that it was impossible to read.

"We used to go hit the trains every week," said AUDI. "We went on a frenzy. We used to go every week. Sometimes, even, like three times a week. We used to hit a lot. We wanted to give U5 a name. We wanted to catch fame among the young people, you know, the writers." "In our school, there was at least fifteen people from U5-they was into graffiti," said Jesus Torres. Sometimes, there was problems with rival groups and things like that. But most of the people in U5, they're strictly into art. They're not into drugs. They're not into the streets. They don't be hanging out, or all that, none of that stuff. Most of them are well-spoken, they're intelligent people. They're striving for their goals. Most of them work, you know, and have decent jobs. I work as a cook. In the Empire State Building, Houlihan's. I cook shrimp- I'm in the mid-fry. Onion soup, clams, whatever.

SONI had his job at Pergament, a big home improvement and house- wares place. But after he started going to The Door, he wanted more. There, he was learning a few other ways of earning self-respect besides scrawling a name on a train. In a month or two, he'd be done with the courses, and could send in the application to Manhattan College. The graffiti scene was kind of dead. But this stuff with JA. Man, he couldn't walk away from that. They walked over to a pool on Carmine Street with one of the staff people from The Door. They'd take a swim and be about their business.

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Guest me IS cool

Damn that article's sweet....

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Originally posted by mud_buddha

 

I'm confused. What exactly are you trying to find out?

 

well, i have seen the karate kid movies (except for the gay one with the girl) and i was just wondering which bad guy he was. oh well, it doesn't really matter.

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