Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Weekend Assignment #333: Discussion on a Bathroom Wall

Weekend Assignment #333: Writing on the Wall

Have you ever written on a bathroom wall, or left graffiti anywhere at all? Confess! I promise we'll go easy on you! How do you feel about the ethics of graffiti, and the level of discourse sometimes found in illicit art and messages in public places?

Extra Credit: If you were to leave a message to the world on a public wall, what would it be?

I went back and photographed the Safeway restroom walls all over again for you, because my original photos were on my phone and I can't find the adaptor for the memory card. Darn it.

"RU Born Again?" someone with a blue Sharpie asks, followed by the inevitable Bible citation. Someone with a pink marker adds a different Bible reference. "Born right the first time," someone cheekily replies.

Another exchange on the same wall runs along similar lines.

"Want change? Ask Jesus to come into your life."


"love [something crossed out, possible "God"] MY LIFE"

"Don't depend on Obama or any other political personality!"

I was fascinated with these little handwritten religious and philosophical arguments among strangers that I encountered at my local Safeway a few weeks ago. I have to wonder what sort of person thinks a bathroom wall is an appropriate and effective medium for converting someone to Christianity, or who they expect to convince with a cliche phrase or two. The responses I find more understandable, as someone's attempt to disabuse the original writer of her naivety, or at least let loose with a bit of wit. It's interesting to see graffiti that points out the logical flaw in someone else's graffiti:

"I need some advice"

"So you ask for it on a bathroom wall?!"

"I needed an unbiased opinion"

Apparently the person no longer needs the advice. We don't get to find out what their dilemma was. Dump the boyfriend? Go back to school? We'll never know.

And then there is random paranoia on the opposite wall:

"The government is looking for you."


It seems to me that I may have written on an already well-covered bathroom wall a few times in my life, most likely in Columbus Ohio when I was in my early 20s. I have no idea what I wrote, if anything. The one graffiti of mine that I remember almost-for-sure goes back even earlier. There was a tall silo or water tower at the edge of the farm adjacent to Fayetteville-Manlius High School when I was there from 1972 to 1975. (My junior high before that was in half of that same building.) The farm belonged to the man who moonlighted as the driver of my afternoon school bus. I've long since forgotten his name. The tower was, of course, covered with graffiti, mostly about how great the school and its sports teams were. For years I looked at that silo and had two conflicting impulses about it. On the one hand, I fundamentally didn't like the idea of defacing someone else's property. I considered it unethical. On the other hand, writing on that tower was clearly a school tradition, and one more note was not going to make much difference. In the end I decided to go up to that silo and write the word "HI" in the tiniest lettering I could manage. In pencil.

I don't remember whether I ever actually committed this crime, or merely thought about it for a year or longer.

But yes, I think graffiti can be really interesting, obviously. Sure, there's very little to be said for messages such as "JOHN + KAREN 4EVER!!!" or some bit of rudeness or crudeness. Not do I approve of "tagging," where the sole purpose is to leave your mark on someone else's property in six foot high letters and three colors of paint. But a discussion on a bathroom wall is a different story. That's pretty much a victimless crime,  a momentary amusement and food for thought for whoever comes along and reads it.

If I were to leave a message on a wall myself, maybe it would be the word "HI" in 1/4" tall letters. Or maybe it would be the aphorism version of my personal philosophy:

There is no Them. There is only Us.

But what the heck. I don't need to write on a wall. I have a blog!


1 comment:

Sarah Kishler said...

My parents converted my old bedroom into a laundry room, and they found all sorts of things I had written and drawn on the back of one of the sliding closet doors. Mainly cat cartoons, sentiments about peace and love, and other sentiments about boys in my class and how what they think shouldn't matter to me.

I recently read about a public message someone shared via driving and GPS. In my opinion, the proper response to his message is either "ugh" or "yikes" :)