Monday, January 12, 2009

Be Careful What You Leave Behind

You know, graffiti is a wonderful thing. Anytime I see interesting graffiti, I try to push back any sense of annoyance at the defacement of property and just appreciate the art of it.

The thinker in me believes that what a person chooses to write for all to see says something about him or her. Maybe Midwest Moms is my own, carefully crafted form of graffiti.

Years ago, I lived in Washington, D.C. I was a carless college student. My job was far from campus, so I had to take the metro and a couple of buses to get there. Any bus or traincar I rode in always had graffiti from someone called "Cool Disco Dan."

Cool Disco Dan's mark could be seen anywhere the public transit system went. It was scrawled in the traincars or spray painted on the concrete barriers outside the train windows. It was on one or more of the seats of any bus I ever rode in the District. I always wondered about Cool Disco Dan -- who he was and why the heck he was riding the bus all the time? What was his day job? All I knew was that he was cool and he really dug disco. Maybe that's all I needed to know.

I like to think that graffiti says something about the person who writes it. My parents tell a story about when my oldest sister was in kindergarten. They noticed one day that she was in the bathroom for a long time. They checked on her a few times and she said she was fine -- she just needed more time to 'finish up'. When she finally emerged, apparently, she was grinning from ear to ear. My mother thought nothing of it.

Later that day, my mother went into the bathroom to clean and what did she find? My sister's name scratched deep into the toilet seat. From the way it was facing, it had to have been written by the, shall we say, toilet sitter. My sister may have blamed it on her younger siblings at first. But she was cornered into admitting the truth by the fact that, well, they couldn't write yet. And it was her name.

Which brings me to something else I've noticed about graffiti: often, it is truth-telling, even when you don't want it to be.

If you're wondering why I'm exploring this idea right now, I'll tell you. We've been renovating our children's bedroom this month. This weekend was spent cleaning up the mess from some of the renovation, including cleaning my boys cherry bunk beds. The beds were made by my husband's grandfather and first slept in by his dad. My husband and his brother slept in them as children, and now our boys do. As a way to honor the wonderful heritage of this particular piece of furniture, I thought I would give them a good washing.

I removed remnants of fossilized bubble gum and old adhesive from countless stickers. I washed and washed, and when the washing was done, I rubbed down the wood with linseed oil. The beds were beautiful.

As I started to move them back into their place, I thought, "Why just wash the beds? I should clean up the slats, too. After all, whoever is in the bottom bunk has to look at them all the time."

It was then that I found it -- a treasure-trove of graffiti from my husband's boyhood. Apparently, he had been the bottom bunk kid for a while and enjoyed writing from time to time.

He had drawn in pencil and crayon, and much of it was undecipherable. But one particularly prominent item stood out.

It explains a lot -- especially about my boys and what they get from their father.

In dark crayon in large capital letters was a word my husband, apparently, valued so highly that he wanted to look at it before bed every single night. As his lasting gift to future generations of our family that might sleep in the bed where he once slept as a boy, he wrote the word...


Yes, we had a hearty laugh at it and I couldn't bring myself to wash it off. Certain things should be kept sacred, especially those things 'passed on' from father to son.

Don't you agree?

- Midwest Mom


  1. Well the sensible part of me is saying oh heavens now, graffiti is how GANG members communicate and my gosh they could infiltrate my neighborhood? The kid in me loves the kid who tags a big giant carrot on EVERYTHING!

  2. That is awesome!
    I don't care for graffiti as a rule, but you made me see this in a new light. Thanks.

  3. I've always found graffiti very interesting and often beautiful. Of course, when it starts happening to my walls, I may think again.

    Thanks for the fun story.

  4. What a great story right up until the end lol.

  5. Always, Thanks. You just exited the realm of imaginary readership. ;)

    Court, I understand that gangsigns can be a frightening reality, but if you live in an urban area, there are some true artists who express themselves through graffiti. To me, artistic graffiti is worth appreciating. (No, my husband's kindergarten scrawl does not fall into that category.) ;)

    Green Girl, I'm sure the only thing you would encounter on the back 40 would be initials carved in a tree. (Or random hunter-orange scarecrows!!)

    Abbyjess, Thanks. I have two words for you -- washable crayons.

    Laurie, I presume you intend a double-meaning to "by the end"? ;) I can just imagine my love as a 6 yr old thinking he was writing the funniest word in the English language. Worth it to wake up happy, I suppose!

    Have a great day, everyone! And thanks for reading. -MM

  6. Very funny story! Yep, I wouldn't have washed it either.

    This comment is a "tag." I don't know who started it but I was tagged and had to contact six random blogs and post comments. The rules are that you post a blog about six random things about you and comment on six other random people. Kinda makes the world smaller and stretches our bounds :)
    I am
    (also in the midwest :)

  7. I'm sorry I missed this post-- it's awesome. You had better never erase FARTS from this Earth-- that would be an unspeakable tragedy. (And "passed on" was perfection.)

    Since no one else has come forward, I will out myself as Cool Disco Dan, unless he's got trouble coming his way, then I'm just lying to look cool.

    He was probably homeless and had plenty of time to while away on the trains. But don't feel sad for him-- he told you himself, he's cool.

    And I bet he is swimming in all the disco-era memorabilia he can shovel out of the dumpster behind local thrift stores. Happy as a clam!

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