When a graffiti artist by the name of Sloth used to live with us, I developed a hatred for graffiti that I could only fully explain by pounding my fist into a wall until it bled. Perhaps it was because of his recklessness with the entire game, and his willingness to go out and do graffiti in completely unnecessary places despite being at the edge of his rope. It wasn't his style that I hated so much, just the entire principle by which he painted and wrote, and it pissed me off. I hated graffiti with a flaming passion, and every time I saw it from then on, I couldn't help but grow angry at its motives and ideals, not understanding why it was such a popular culture and why so many people allowed these meaningless letters to control their lives. I couldn't understand why people loved to put themselves in such horrible situations that involved running from cops, paying out their asses, spending nights in jail, and hiding in horrible places for hours at a time, for the simple sake of writing their name on a wall. The entire world of graffiti became misunderstood and disgusting to me.
I don't know how RTARD changed my mind, but for some reason, nowadays I smile when I see it. I see the same graffiti I hated all those months ago, and instead of hating it for what it is, I have learned to understand variations in style, some that please me and some that do not. As a whole, though, something about graffiti has grown on me since that night RTARD came into my house to drink from our free keg, and since the following night when we made out for so long that his stubble burned my top lip, and even more since the night after when he held me all night and called me beautiful as soon as I opened my eyes the next morning. I thought if anything, our conflicting opinions about graffiti would kill us, and nothing would ever work between us. I remained skeptical until the morning after one of his drunken evenings during which he had spray-painted "RTARD" on the side of practically every building all the way up 4th street on his way home. The next day on my walk to school, there he was, everywhere I went. Perhaps it was the sharp style of his letters. Perhaps it was how much that very style seemed to fit the picture of his face in my head. Or perhaps it just felt good to me because I still got nervous with excitement whenever he was around me, and knowing that he was everywhere around me even after he was gone to school or work made me feel that excitement all the time. Something about it felt good to see. It felt good in a way I had not felt about graffiti in a long time, since the days of Opera cleaning up after his messes he left everywhere behind him, and the latenights of Doelemo jonesing for the feeling of the can in his hand and never being able to shut up about it, and the bored days of the Wise crew taking over our whiteboard with curly-q's and arrows and dotless exclamation points that never seemed to go away.
All I knew was that seeing that sharp, skinny-lettered RTARD on walls, stickers, mailboxes, street lights, road signs, sidewalk tiles, and doorways felt strangely good to me, and that suddenly all the names I saw on my way up my street made me happy as well, even when they were not his. It was as if it was a way to see my friends without actually seeing them; a way to reconnect with the ones I had not seen in a long time, or a way to better get to know those I had just met. This RTARD of mine had not only become someone I was growing closer to, and someone I really enjoyed being around with a complete absence of drama and expectations, but someone who was opening my mind up to a world that I had condemned and turned my head from in disgust for a long time. I guess deep down, I never wanted to hate the world of graffiti, and not only because it was everywhere and impossible to avoid, but because I knew that secretly it was beautiful and full of meaning and memory. There would always be things about it that I didn't fully accept or understand, and I myself would never become so involved that it became clear to me, but it certainly became something I looked forward to on my walks up and down 4th street. It was nice to know those certain places up that street where I could see RTARD and tell him that his hair and his A looked nice that day right before Whole Foods, or that I liked his smile and the way he pointed his D in the alleyway by the bicycle store, or that I liked how he kissed and wrote on school bus stickers right before Folsom Street. Whatever it was that this old-school graffiti writer from the South Bay was doing to me and to the streets I lived on, I began to realize how much I liked all of it.