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shai

One of the writing projects I've been working on this summer...

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...has been about my experience with graffiti over the years as sort of a biography/interview.

 

So far, I've been writing it in what I consider a haphazard way, or at least one I'm not very familiar with- I'm writing about events and how I felt about them more or less at random, then adding details and tying them together as I go along....as opposed to writing in a linear A-B-C-D-E fashion. Usually I'm a "one take" writer, in that I don't do edits or revisions. That's how all my posts get written, and about 90% of what I write.

 

This new style (for me) came about when I was helping a friend of mine out with some English papers recently, and I started to actually enjoy the editing process. It's been sort of fun, so I wanted to post some of my recent work to show everyone what I've been up to.

 

So, anyone interested?

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Guest T14K

i will never read anything written by a jew.

 

just saying...

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Okay, I'll do it in sections. So far it's 3400 words and covers one specific year in detail. Everything else is pretty general and most of the names are blanked out...there's a couple I left in there but I'm not giving up any details about them.

 

If you have criticism, try to keep it focused on the writing. Not on me, or the subject matter.

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I was born at the tail end of 1973 in SF. My folks moved to LA when I was 3 or 4 and split up right afterwards, then my mom remarried and I landed in the north San Fernando Valley with her and my stepdad. My earliest memories of graffiti was seeing all the cholo tags behind the laundromat and at the park. My mom passed away when I was 11, and when I was 13 I went to live with my dad and grandma in Santa Monica. I started skating and smoking weed on Venice Beach at 13. Saw lots of graffiti there. When I was 15 I moved back to the Bay with my dad...we ended up in a town of about 20,000 people right next to SFO. It definitely wasn't what I was used to. I did meet some cool kids, though...one of them was this guy that wrote *****, who went on to start **. We used to smoke weed and do petty crime...what the hell, there wasn't much else for me to do in the suburbs.

 

I was your typical Deadhead stoner guy for most of my teenage years. When I was 17 I moved out and for the next few years had a lot of ups and downs...there were some awesome adventures traveling, living in different parts of the Bay Area, working nowhere jobs, going to raves, doing drugs and skateboarding...living life day to day. All in all it was a great time but after a while it got old, so in 1995 I decided to straighten up and fly right and moved back to the suburbs to stay with my dad. I cleaned up my act, got a job at a grocery store and made a commitment to skateboarding to pass the time. All the years of beating myself senseless on the stuntwood finally started to pay off...I got pretty good, to where I was riding for a shop and getting flowed from various companies. On my days off from being a corporate lackey I spent a lot of time in SF skating and going to punk shows. Needless to say I met a few graffiti writers along the way. This was around the time that SF graffiti really took off and every time I was there I was blown away at how fucking destroyed the city was. This was a few years after the earthquake of '89 and SF was in a transitional phase between being a somewhat seedy port city to becoming a Disneyland for rich people. A few of my friends from my area started a crew called *** and put me on...why, I still don't know. For the time, they were good and definitely doing the damn thing, but I was only really dabbling. I had a stupid tag and wrote it here and there and thought I was down but it wasn't anything serious. Most of my activity at this point was spent going on missions with them and being shook, because I didn't realize that I was in the midst of a golden age of getting over. With little to no police intervention, the stakes were pretty low- one of my friends got arrested something like 30 times between 1997 and 1998- so lots of writers from all over the world were coming to SF and making it a destination for graff. Unfortunately, my lower-middle class suburban background (read- still somewhat sheltered, no bail money) sort of got in the way of me being a player. Oh well, 20-20 hindsight. I still had fun fucking around in the MUNI tunnels and the pits of downtown...I met some pretty cool street people, saw some giant fucking rats and roaches, yelled at hookers, walked through the projects at 2 am....you know, the SF experience most tourists never get to have.

 

All of this made me realize I was bored as fuck with the suburbs. I moved out of my dad's house and started messengering in SF towards the end of 1997. This was during an El Nino winter, which for those of you who aren't from CA is a weather pattern that happens on the West Coast every ten years or so that brings days upon weeks upon months of rain. Joke's on me, I guess. While I was learning to appreciate the joys of riding a bike soaking wet every day for a living, I was also meeting a whole bunch of writers that were connected with the messenger scene. I still wasn't putting in work yet, though...to be honest the guys I was hanging out with were on this whole other level where it was all business to them and at the time that was kind of intimidating. I didn't want to come at them like "see, I'm cool, check out my tag, guys." Basically I kept myself in check. In the meantime I paid attention to different aspects of style and leaned how to make and acquire the necessary supplies. I had a couple good teachers (notably **** and **** from **) who probably didn't realize they were actually showing me the ropes. So my education mostly consisted of me hanging out with them and learning through osmosis...I'm pretty sure had they known they would have approved.

 

I'd say the turning point for me was around the end of 2001. I had been living out in Oakland for a while with friends and was pretty disillusioned with messengering and where my life was at. I was in the middle of a bad breakup and had to move a couple times within a six month period, plus a few of my friends had died so it was a pretty gnarly time for me in general....I was definitely under some pressure and I wasn't dealing with it all that well. One bright spot was that around this time *** and *** were making serious moves and getting me really stoked on the whole punk rock-destructo-nihilism trip. I went to Seattle with my best friend to blow off some steam and realized what was going on there graffiti-wise with people traveling up and down the West Coast, and that fueled the fire even more. When I got back to Oakland *** was just blowing the fuck up, and I think that's when I realized that I wanted to get me some cut-up too so I started drawing and working on hands for the first time in a while. Around this period I met ***. To give credit where credit is due, he gave me a pretty big push when he saw what I was trying to do on paper and told me that I should be out there getting up instead of screwing around with sketchbooks. This coincided with me getting hurt on the job and going on disability. At this point, I had all the time in the world, free money and drugs and a metric shit ton of pressure in my personal life. I was sitting on a powder keg, and all it took was someone to light the fuse.

 

That happened one night drinking at the Arrow Bar in SF with a friend of mine. We were getting shithoused on greyhounds while listening to David Bowie and The Sweet on the jukebox, and I believe the story goes something like this- at some point he wrote "********" on a napkin in some retarded hippie style, which was weird because he's definitely not a hippie. Since he couldn't really write graffiti for shit I started doing uppercase **** prints in my book and something clicked. I asked him if I could write it, and he looked at me kind of sideways and said no, which didn't surpise me but I was not to be denied. So I offered him $20 and to pick up the bar tab. Done deal. I finally had what I needed, a simple word to run with. I went in the bathroom and caught my first ever **** tag with his silver pen and it was all over. The rest of that week was spent acquiring as much Marsh, mops and stickers as I could beg, borrow or steal. I decided I was going to go as far as I could with this graffiti bullshit to until I either got tired of writing or got busted, whichever came first. I made up a crew called ***. I was the only member but I made sure I pushed that crew as hard as I pushed my own word.

 

From the summer of 2002 till the summer of 2003, I decided that it would be my job to go out at least every other night to write my name far and wide across the land, occasionally pulling solid weeks of bombing at night and racking during the day like it was going out of style. I did most of my work on foot and on an old shitty track bike that I converted to be my partner in crime. It had a basket and a rack I could put supplies on and I always had a water bottle full of house paint to do drip tags with. At some point I asked a friend of mine what his secret was to getting over...he told me that the best way was to look like someone that no one would want to notice, talk to or mess with. So I grew my hair out and dyed it blue and started wearing the most fucked up clothes I could find...and it worked. Who would have guessed that being a freak could also be an incredible hood pass for a white dude? I began to feel invincible, like I could walk through almost any hood in Oakland or SF at three in the morning looking like a weirdo with confidence. A lot of times the dudes on the corner were cool as hell...they would say shit like "Aw nigga, you too sick...oh you tagging? Hit us up too, player!"

 

I think that the funniest prank I ever pulled was simply rolling like this for a while without bothering to tell most of my writer friends what I was up to. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure they knew what I was doing and figured it was best to leave it alone. Or they thought I was a toy and didn't have anything to say. Whatever, they played along with the charade and didn't put me in a awkward "you got some 'splaining to do there, dude" situation. More power to them. Around this time I became aware that there were pictures of my shit in zines and on the internet, and when I found out about all that it was a little weird but I kept it moving....by my own guesstimate I plastered around 10,000 tags, stickers, wheatpastes, stencils, fills and hollows on other people's property thanks to the drug/depression/rage induced trance I was in the year I was most active. I was on opiates for most of this time, which is why it never occurred to me that I was on some serious hotboy shit. Fortunately I somehow managed to completely avoid the cops during this time...considering some of the stories I've heard about shit I did second hand and my own hazy memories of this period, there must be a graffiti guardian angel out there.

 

In the summer of 2003 I started meeting writers in the "I'm so and so, who are you" context, and graffiti transformed from this solo punk rock mission from God into being a social event. Sure enough, I started writing less and hanging out more. I was still putting in work but nowhere near as much...basically I took a ride on the get-fame-jock-you-jock-me-get-drunk-and-do-tons-of dope-nonstop-merry-go-round that is the SF graffiti scene. I still wasn't cognizant of how much work I had put in at that point, I just took it for granted that my tags were everywhere I was so because of that everyone knew who I was which was sort of gratifying and scary at the same time. After about six months of this grind, I realized that my drug habit was out of control and that the that scene was mostly bullshit in that there were way too many people that claimed to be my friends that I barely knew much less trusted. I decided to kick drugs and take a break from my one man crime wave so I could take stock and finally get some sleep. Around the same time I turned 30 and started messengering again, which lasted from the end of 2003 till the beginning of 2006. Also, during my hiatus I had a couple of girlfriends who weren't 100% on board with my hobby, which definitely made me realize that there was much more to life than racking and bombing. In short, I pulled a 180...yet despite all of that sideline shit, I did my best to keep current and caught tags and fills once in a while out of boredom to keep myself sharp and sane. I started concentrating on other diversions I'd picked up over the years like making messenger bags and doing canvases to fill the time...eventually I started to feel like graffiti was passing me by, which definitely brought up some mixed emotions.

 

I think it has to do with a couple of epiphanies I had during my down time. First and foremost was that this **** character was very much a separate guy from who I aspire to be in my day to day. Those that know me will vouch for the fact that I am a pretty decent person who says "may I" and "please" and "thank you" and holds doors open for people. However, this **** guy...he does not give a fuck. He's not violent or anything, but he has been known to-

 

-fornicate with your sister and not call her back

 

-shoplift and steal shit for no good reason other than to do it

 

-lose a shoe running from hallucinations through a swamp and walk five miles barefoot, then take a dump in the drive-thru of a Jack-In-The-Box a block from the house

 

-catch paint tags in your shower after he has drank all of your liquor and done all of your drugs

 

-throw bottles at parked cars outside your party, then nod off on the sidewalk in front of your building, THEN break into your neighbor's apartment to pass out on their couch

 

...in short, he is a borderline sociopath/alcoholic/dope-addled wolverine with ADHD and when he's on a roll he is very good at getting away with whatever he wants to do. He has caused me many sleepless nights and hangovers, not to mention all of the fallout from various sticky situations and transgressions and considerable bodily injury. At the same time, I have to confess to having a healthy fear and respect for the dude and his hustle but I'm not sure if we'd be friends if I were to meet someone like him in person. I suppose I've come to terms with that duality, but I try to keep those two aspects of my life separated.

 

The second was that me and the graffiti scene just don't mesh that well. I see a lot of myself in other writers, but I've never really considered myself a writer....well, maybe it's more accurate to say that I'm a lot of things besides that and "graffiti writer" in no way defines who I am or what I'm about. Yet there's a lot of the same moral ambiguity, awkwardness and unfocused rage and creativity I experience every day in most of the people I've met that have picked up a pen or a can in the name of vandalism, and I'd like to think that has more to do with their standoffishness towards me than some sort of deficency on my end. Early on, though, I realized that there's no secret handshake, no password that gets you in....my lasting impression has been that it's just like any other scene- if you hang out long enough and don't fuck up, eventually you'll be accepted (to some degree) and you'll get a chance to meet all the right people, if that's your inclination...and then it just sort of goes from there, for better or for worse. However, it's clear that 95% of the rebels, weirdos and misfits I've met apparently have the same basic social instincts and tendencies that I had to deal with in high school...it's kind of disappointing but at the same time it reveals a lot about human nature. I'm not surprised by this or anything, but over the years I've only made friends with about 10 writers...and by friends I mean people that I know I can call anytime and speak to honestly about what's going on with my life. Everyone else...well, I try to keep it all friendly and nice but I'd have to say that my dealings with them are much more circumspect.

 

Even though I never went away completely, I've tried to get back on the merry-go-round since I took my sabbatical from graffiti but in a more controlled, structured way...mainly I just switched up the tag I do here and there and tried to refine my approach. However, I've realized that even though I'm still as bitter and angry as ever I am also older, sadder and wiser than I was when I started out which that has definitely had an effect on my commitment to doing graff. Don't get me wrong, I still dig graffiti and I love/hate what inspires it, but I don't like a lot of what I see out there so I'm nowhere near as psyched as I was in 2002. There's a few people I check for, but overall I'm kind of disappointed with where the game has ended up...people on the come up not progressing, veterans regressing, nobodies coming out of nowhere with no style to speak of but putting themselves out there as the real deal and getting shine for not doing anything important. I'm sure it's just a phase as much as my lackadaisical attitude is just a phase.

 

It's inevitable that someone is going to come along and put a foot in my ass to get out there and wreck shit again...in fact, I just got put down with a new crew recently. I honestly don't know why they bothered since I never thought I was that great, but it's nice to know that I left some kind of positive impression. In the interest of not giving away too much, I'll simply say that I'm stoked on the team and that I've still got a couple tricks left up my sleeve. Lately I feel like what I want to do has only tangential connections to graff...one of my lifelong goals has been to write a book and get published before I die. Graffiti is definitely going to have some role in whatever comes out of that, but since it's really only in the planning stages I can't make any predictions on where that's headed just yet.

 

As far as influences, there's not much to say. I'd say SPIE, ALERT and TWIST all had a pretty big effect on how my tag turned out. I didn't set out to copy them or anything, I think it was just seeing them up a whole lot at an impressionable age. When it comes to simples and throws, I really can't point at any one person or crew...honestly I think I got most of my ideas from reading underground comic books and the 60's SF/Fillmore/Avalon Ballroom Art Nouveau posters...that's what inspired me to start drawing as a kid. I can still see it in some of the stuff I draw. If I had to pick some examples from graffiti, maybe GREY and REAS. Some writers I currently check for are GATOR, SPRAY, WWL and the guys in my crew, who are all super talented. There's others but that's the short list.

 

If I learned anything from all this nonsense, definitely rule #1 is to keep your mouth shut. A lot of people you'll talk to are negative and full of shit, so learn to smile and nod a lot. Have some self respect but stay humble. Try to set a good example, listen to your heart and never turn your back on the people who care about you. Moderation is important. Get away from graffiti and the pressure of society once in a while. That's about all.

 

8-12-2009

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Right on man. That one excerpt is rad. Not pretentious in the least bit I can tell you wanted to stray away from sounding like you were lookin for praise.

 

 

I dig.

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Good stuff. I like to catch interviews/excerpts of people sharing their experience without sounding like mAd tYte taGGeRS and gleaning some advice/history off of it. Post some more here so I don't have to buy it like Saber's book.

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im just posting so that i remind myself to read this later on when everyone has left my house.

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I'd personally find it interesting to hear about your drug use, the ups the downs, self analysis on how you felt when you kept going back.

 

Other than that it was a good read.

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This is what you sent me last week, Shai. I said it once and I'll say it again, this is some really good reading and some great writing. Glad you're alive to tell the story.

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you go more into detail with the actual like crazier experiences that made up that time in your life

or not i suck at writing so fuck it lol

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you go more into detail with the actual like crazier experiences that made up that time in your life

or not i suck at writing so fuck it lol

 

i agree. i enjoyed the read, but i feel like it's done. end of story. dive into detail at critical points. your first year writing was summed up in a paragraph, when it should be a chapter. tell about your first time going out. how it made you feel. close calls, etc. your fall into drugs could be another chapter. it sounds like you've lead a very interesting life and since you want to share it, really share it.

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tell about your first time going out. how it made you feel. close calls, etc. your fall into drugs could be another chapter.

 

i hate that idea. i really dislike reading a descriptive writing style like that, especially about graffiti and "the rush of the night, when i first heard that aerosol paint hit the wall, the smell blah blah".

 

maybe thats not what you are saying but thats what i imagine.

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