"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Am I bleeding? Because I just got tagged.

I feel violated.

I don't live in the most savory neighborhood. But I do have a pretty great house. My wife and I obtained a deal through the Teacher Next Door Program--you can't sneeze at a house for half price. That arrangement was supposed to result in heaps of equity and the chance to move to a better land after just three years. Of course, the housing market sank and we're still here almost six years later, but that's another story and the point is that we were glad to have the opportunity to move into this house, in spite of its location.

If this isn't feng shui, I don't know what is.
The inside is just the right size for us, and we were able to fix it up right. Refinished hardwood floors. Paint paint paint. New appliances. Completely new bathrooms. The living room has cool rounded doorways, and the ceiling has this swell molding that looks, I don't know, Victorian or something. Outside, we've got a decent yard with mature trees, a covered back porch convenient for year-round grilling, and a huge detached two-car garage. The garage driveway backs up to an alley, one of the few paved alleyways in our area.

Get away from our little plot of paradise, though, and the rest of the neighborhood is--what's the right word?--unpleasant? Let me use two outsider points of view to try to explain.

Not long after we had moved in, some coworkers and I were having a discussion at lunch about the run-down apartment complex that resides behind our school. Someone said some shady things went down back there, and someone else said it probably wasn't as bad as people think. Then an older gentleman who knows his way around town interjected, "You want to see a bad neighborhood, you should go over to..." and he proceeded to relate the exact cross streets of the block I live on. I said something like, "Hey, that's where I live," and we laughed, then looked sidelong at each other for a moment because we all knew what he said was basically true.

And just last week, I had a play date with a friend I hadn't seen in a long time. He drove in from the south part of town, and around here that means he was slumming it by coming to my house. We talked about my new son for a few hours, then, not five minutes after he left, he called to tell me he was following a dog that looked like a stray in need of sustenance. He had stopped and checked for tags, finding none. He gave it some food and water he had in his car. But not knowing what else to do, he left, called me just to let me know, and asked if I would keep my eyes open for the dog. Now, you animal people probably find this a reasonable course of action. But around here a stray is a stray is a stray. I see cats and dogs--and squirrels and raccoons; we live in a veritable urban wildlife preserve--on the streets and especially in the alley all the time. That's the kind of neighborhood I live in.

Yesterday, my wife wanted a milkshake and I hadn't left the house all weekend, so away I went, excited to get myself a Route 44 sized squishy from Sonic. But as I pulled out of the driveway and the garage door came down in front of me, this what I saw:
What my garage door currently looks like. Major uncool.
My squishy trip was ruined, and ever since then I've been trying to figure out why the tagging bothers me so much. I mean, I'm sure it would bother anyone. But all we need to do is call the city, and they come clean it off or paint over it. Since we've lived here, someone broke a window in our car one of the few times we had to leave it out of the garage. Our garage has been broken into. (Gee, without a garage, would I have any problems at all?) So why does it matter that our garage door has been tagged twice now?

There's a couple of deals that are big. The first one is practical and small in scope. To me, there's an inherent threat behind any tagging. (And I hope you understand I'm not talking about the street art kind of graffiti. If Banksy were to come along and paint a rat on my garage, I'd put up a velvet rope and charge admission to the alleyway.) But tagging is a person coming along and saying, "I was here, and I'll be back." Whether it's gang related or just an idiot child with nothing else to do at night, when someone puts their mark on your possession, it's as if they're calling you out, challenging you to a duel. You think you're so big? You don't own this big metal doorway. Not while I'm around. There's nothing you can do about it, really. The city can paint over it thirty times, and the tagger can come back the next night and do it again.

The second deal is social and large in scope. When you live in a community, you enter into a social contract. I try to talk to my students about this at the beginning of each school year. Each class is a community. We might or might not even like each other, but we have to live here for nine months, so let's agree on a few things. If you're being a nuisance, it's going to affect the people in the room. As a community, you trust each other to do what's right for each other as much as what's right for yourself. I'm not going to throw garbage into my neighbor's yard because that makes my yard look junkie by association. My neighbor won't have outdoor parties late at night with the bass thumping and the motors running because he's conscientious that other people would be disturbed by it.

But with the graffiti, tagging, or whatever you call it, someone's not following the Golden Rule. My trust has been breached. And I feel violated.


  1. I wouldn't feel safe it my house had been tagged, either.

    But that really does look like a bored kid did it, if it's any consolation.


    What does that even mean?

  2. I don't know what H2K means, either. Have 2 Keys? Homer Too Killer? It's just stupid. Who grows up thinking this is cool?

  3. When I was a kid I remember the entire city was being terrorized by graffiti. Someone was going around tagging JSMACK on everything. Everyday there were a couple new marks. It was the talk of the town.

    Then one day it stopped. I was told the cops had found the kid and proved it because apparently he had been practicing the exact logo on his mattress.

    Your story reminded me of that. I remember it made me feel curious but angry at the same time. Like our world was being defiled, and not in a pleasant way.

    I hope your tagger practices on his mattresses too.


  4. tkchan: yup. Taggers are idiots. Thanks for more proof.

  5. You should leave a note:
    Dear Tagger-
    If you insist on drawing on property that is clearly not yours, could you at least make it one of those cool, multi-colored, professional looking drawings instead of crappy initials that no one understands?

  6. Maybe the tagger was thirsty and he forgot the formula for water. "Crap. It's H2...something. K sounds good. I'll go with K."

    Your molding is amazing by the way.

    Sorry you got tagged and it wasn't cool artsy tagging. You should set up automatic paintball sprayers. There is something poetic about a tagger getting pelted by paintballs.

  7. That sucks! I hate the lack of respect some people have for other people's property.

  8. If it happened to me, I'd hide in a bush with a scatter gun and just wait. I'm as liberal as it gets and anti-capital punishment/guns but I'm also the most paranoid person in the world. My garage getting tagged would basically equate to post-apocalyptic rules. Thunderdome time

  9. to everybody: thanks for the gentle good humor--or not so gentle, Johnny. It really makes the experience much more bearable. I will consider the revenge scenarios if it happens a third time.

  10. Oh, maybe you should pay someone to professionally tag your garage and then they would leave it alone! They could do it in the middle of the night to make it look authentic and then they would just admire the world of another tagger and not interfere!

  11. Some punk kids took our sidewalk chalk and drew a very large interpretation of male genitalia on our driveway. I labeled the parts for them. They haven't been back. Maybe you could turn that design into one of these http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1201018/My-cars-jet--Or-turn-garage-door-work-art.html

  12. That majorly sucks. And I've never been a fan of the word "tagging." It de-emphasizes the fact that this is destruction of property, like calling car theft "joyriding."

    - With you being a teacher, I am overly conscious of my grammar. I know I started a sentence with a conjunction. Please don't get out the red pen.-

  13. And should I have stuck a hyphen somewhere in "overly conscious?" That rule always confuses me. Which is amusing, conidering I used to be a newspaper reporter, but that is what copy editors are for. <---------- ended sentence in preposition

  14. How frustrating! I'm so sorry you guys got hit by taggers. This really bugs me too as it's something we're seeing more and more in our neighborhood.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  15. @ Jen: Love the garage door covers, but in my neighborhood, someone will think that the plane or alligator really is in there and try to get at it.

    @ Doug: There really isn't any rule against starting a sentence with a conjunction like "And" as long as you have an independent clause after it. And the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition is as unused as the rule against making up your own words. Shakespeare did both. But thanks for watching yourself around me. :)

    @ Angela: Thanks for the sympathy. Are we all just being overrun by idiots?