I still remember the night I started tagging on walls. I don’t know what year it was—maybe late-80s or early-90s—but I do remember that night as clearly as if it happened last week. I went down to a local park with a friend to try out my tag for the first time. I’d been practicing on paper, filling up notebooks, adjusting my letters, trying to improve, but this was the first time I was going to attempt to get it right on a real wall.
My friend was slightly more experienced than I was. Neither of us were even teenagers yet, so I’m not sure how much more experienced a graffiti artist he could possibly have been. But, to a young kid like me, he seemed like he knew what he was doing. I remember we went overboard that night. We used Mean Streaks for white and fat, black Magnums, and we filled that park with hundreds of our tags. Posts, walls, backboards, fence rails, even the surface of the basketball court was riddled with our unintelligible scrawl. Our technique was awful and our letters weren’t great. But I was hooked.
At forty-one, I now have a bit of wisdom and the benefit of hindsight, and I can freely admit what we did was wrong. We trashed that park that night, and everything we did was gone the next day. The city must have hired someone to power-wash the court, repaint the walls, and scrub out the fence rails. Maybe they could’ve used those resources to improve that park—it sure needed improving. Or maybe they could’ve used those resources to fill a few of the potholes that littered the city. Who knows?
One thing I did know is that I’d never trash a park like that again. That’s not to say I’d stop tagging—no way would I have stopped. I’d caught the bug. All I wanted was two things: to get better and to get more ups. But I never made such a mess of anywhere as I had that night. There’s nothing cool about that.
Over the next couple of years, I’d improved, started using paint, and made frequent trips into Boston—a quick hop on the 111 bus from where I lived in Chelsea, over the Tobin Bridge into Haymarket, where I’d get off and head for the spots I knew were out of view from the main streets. Other spots I could walk to from home, like by the tracks up Orient Heights in East Boston.
As with most kids that age, my interests would eventually change. As I headed into high school, I got more involved with sports and girls and hanging out with friends, and found different creative outlets to replace what graffiti gave me—like writing for and editing the school Literary Magazine and finding a niche as the Art Editor of the school paper.
Looking back on it now, that time in my life where I spent so many nights on the streets, creating freely, finding myself as an artist, feels a lot longer than it actually was. In a way, it shaped who I am as an artist and as a writer. Without that time in my life, I wouldn’t be creating the same art I am now, I wouldn’t have the same interests with the types of Art I enjoy and that influence me, and I surely wouldn’t have been able to write ONLY WHEN I FALL.
Sometimes, small moments in our past have a way of trickling forward in time, expanding and affecting everything that follows. What would I be now if I hadn’t gone to the park that night with my Mean Streaks and Magnums? Who really knows? But, I wouldn’t be me.