My mom was pissed about me getting arrested again. Livid. Enraged. So mad in fact, that she kicked me out of the house. To be honest, I wasn’t even that bummed about it. It was almost like she was doing me a favor.

“Get Out! Get Out! Get Out! I don’t care what you do. I don’t care where you go. Just get out! I don’t want to see you again until the night before the Shasta trip!”


Illustration by FONSE D30

The Shasta trip was a week away. My Mom had paid for the trip months in advance, and wasn’t about to let her money go to waste. Which worked out great for me.

The youth group at a local church took the 8th graders on a trip to Lake Shasta in California every summer to celebrate their graduation from middle school. It was a week of fun in the water. Sleeping on houseboats. Swimming, inner-tubing, wake-boarding, water skiing, fun in the sun with your friends yadayadayada.

The youth group was less religious (not intentionally) as much as it was an excuse to socialize on school-nights and play dodgeball and soak-em. Not to say every kid who went there wasn’t actually religious. Some of the kids actually were. On the other hand, some of the kids were Jewish. Like Bar Mitzvah Jewish. Who obviously weren’t there for the spiritually uplifting message. A ton of hot girls our age would always be there, too. I sorta believed in God at the time, and did enjoy singing the songs and hearing the speakers talk (going once a week didn’t have that big of an effect on my day to day choices, though). So if the Wednesday night get-togethers at the local church were a big enough draw for a lot of kids who wouldn’t normally go, non-believers really came out of the woodwork for a trip like Shasta.

Being homeless for a week wasn’t that bad, I would just hang out with friends all day every day, like I would normally do anyway. Since it was summer and school was out, I had no problem finagling sleepovers almost every night. The one night I couldn’t find a place to stay I simply spent the night on the green couches they used to have by the Starbucks at QFC in the U-Village, sneaking a few winks between 2 and 6 a.m. One night I slept in Kieran Kelly’s closet. He snuck me breakfast. I ate the eggs and English muffin in silence in the dark as I waited for his parents to leave for work so I could leave my hiding place.

Soon my week of “mild” homelessness was over and I was back at my mom’s house getting ready for the Shasta trip. My mom still wasn’t talking to me. The morning I departed for the trip I met up with all the other kids on the side of the church. It was a large church in the heart of the U district a block off the Ave, bordered on the back by “Frat Row” and was a stone’s throw from the University of Washington.

They loaded us all in to rented white passenger vans. I sat with my friend Franco, who never ever came to the youth group on Wednesdays, a testament in itself to how much fun we were about to have on this trip. To this day Franco is skeptical of religion in any form.

Franco was my friend, but I considered him to be a lot cooler than me. He was a pretty boy, with curly hair, sparkly eyes, and a baby face. He looked super young for his age. He wore board shorts and a hoodie, and a hemp necklace with a sharp piece of crystal hanging from it that doubled as a scribe to etch his tag name HORK into mirrors and windows.

He wore puffy Osiris D3 shoes and was a talented skateboarder, even though he still pushed mongo (he would correct this abnormality eventually). He was so good at skateboarding at the time that I thought pushing mongo was the right way to push and that I was the one doing it wrong. All the hottest girls thought he was hella cute. He was also a lot better at graffiti than I was, able to do multicolored paint pen pieces in his black book that everyone agreed were the best. He even designed the 8th grade t-shirt. It had the middle school’s name in graffiti letters on the back, and almost everybody bought one.

Franco and I shared a pair of earbuds, listening to Pharoah Monch’s album “Internal Affairs,” looking for graffiti on I-5 out the window and talking about all the dream freeway heaven spots that we wanted to hit.

We drove, and drove, and drove. All day into the night. We stopped once at a truck stop to refuel and stop for lunch. There was a McDonald’s with a play structure in it, a bunch of us went in it, even though we were far to old. Franco and I caught scribes in all the bubble shaped windows. It was the last time I would ever go into a play structure. Then we loaded back up into the vans and drove some more. It was 10 p.m. when we pulled off the freeway and stopped at a church in rural southern Oregon. This is where we were to spend the night before waking up in the morning and driving some more.

The next day we embarked bright and early to continue our journey. We stopped near or in Weed, California at a rest stop. Franco and I posed for the obligatory pictures in front of the Weed, California sign. So did a ton of other kids.

Just when I thought I’d had listened to enough Pharaoh Monch to make myself puke, we arrived. They loaded us onto three houseboats and we set off on to the lake.

Lake Shasta is a manmade lake that was created by the construction of the Shasta Dam across the Sacramento River ten miles north of Redding, California. Its shoreline was mountainous and steep, covered in reddish rocks.

We slept in sleeping bags under the stars on the roofs of the houseboats. Far from any cities the night sky was bright with stars. I had never seen stars like that in my whole life. It was beautiful. We stared out on them, and the stars stared back at us. We talked late into the night. Talking about what our houses would look like if we were on MTV Cribs. The girls slept on the houseboat next to us, and my friends and I would lie stomach down facing them, the girls doing the same facing us, and we would talk back and forth.

We started and ended the day with prayers. Each day we had 20 minutes of quiet prayer time accompanied by workbooks that were optional to complete. I filled mine with halfhearted answers to theological questions and filled the margins practicing tags.

We spent most of the rest of our days swimming or playing Egyptian Rat Slap (a very addictive card game) on the table in tone of the kitchen cabins. A speedboat would come by periodically to pick people up to go innertubing or wakeboarding behind the boat. Twice a day an old lady in a rowboat with an outboard motor would come by to sell us snacks and drinks out of coolers she kept on the boat. Every night I would freestyle rap for the other kids, and they were all impressed.


Illustration by FONSE D30

One night on the back of one of the houseboats, a girl from our middle school showed Franco, me, and some other boys the stick and poke tattoo her friend had given her. It was a tattoo of a heart and it was right above her vagina. I think this was the first time I’d ever seen a vagina in real life. I held my breath, speechless.

We would jump off the roofs of the houseboats into the water. You had to get a running start to clear the deck below the roof. On the second day a girl pussed out at the last moment and didn’t commit to the jump. She landed on the deck below and broke her leg. They rushed her by speedboat and then van to the hospital in Redding. When she returned she had a neon green cast and spent the rest of the trip confined to the houseboat, more or less.

There was one boy who went to an obscure Christian private school back home. No one liked him- he creeped out the girls. He would go on to stalk one of the girls from the trip for years after. He stole my friend Daniel Bond’s money for the trip. $160. We knew it was him, but we couldn’t prove it. We were planning on jumping him but the chaperones stopped us before we could. We each gave Daniel $20 of our own trip money. I saw the same kid years later in college, he had changed his name, not legally, and was trying to reinvent himself. I was very drunk and I threatened him with a box-cutter and attempted to rob him for hella bottles of liquor at a party. Someone called the cops. I had ditched the box-cutter by this point. Somehow, the kid didn’t snitch on me and told the campus cops “Joe’s an old friend of mine, we were just kidding around…” redeeming himself in my eyes.

Our days repeated themselves like this day after day. Each the same, each a little different. On the second to last day, we took a day trip to Redding. First we went to IN-N-OUT burger, It was the first time I’d ever eaten there. It was good, but Dick’s is still better in my opinion. The girl with the broken leg had already eaten there earlier in the week after she left the hospital. She bragged about it.

We spent the rest of the day at a family fun center. Playing video games and laser tag. Racing go-karts. Franco and I caught scribes on the mirror in the bathroom. Soon the day was over and we were back in our sleeping bags under the stars.

The next and final day we had a mandatory three hour silent prayer time. It was probably the most boring time I’d ever had up to that point in my life. We all sat in a grassy field next to a retaining wall that overlooked the lake. The sky was blue, and the air was cool in the way summer mornings are when you know it’s about to be hella hot. A baby deer walked thru the middle of the field. All the girls gasped and cooed.

Early in the evening that night, we waded up a pristine stream into the hills. The water was crystal clear. I felt like I was in the water cave in Zelda: Ocarina of Time. At the end of the stream was a deep pool with a water slide formed into the rock naturally, water rushing down it into the pool. On the left of the slide was a black rope with knots for hand holds that you climbed to the top of the slide.

I was a chubby kid, not fat, but definitely chubby. All of the other kids got up the rope with no problem, except for a few other fat or chubby kids, who didn’t even try. I could not do it, no matter how hard I tried. I lacked the upper body strength to pull my own weight up the steep rock. I could get about half way up before falling backwards or forwards and sliding down to the bottom. I tried till I was red in the face. I tried till my hands were covered in blisters. We stayed probably an extra thirty minutes just so I could keep trying. No one laughed. Everyone just stared. Finally I gave up. I was on the verge of tears. I was embarrassed, I was ashamed. I hated myself.


Illustration by FONSE D30

No one mentioned it to me ever again, although about 40 kids saw it. The next day we loaded up into the vans and left back to Seattle, our future, and high school in the fall.



The next few months were fairly uneventful. Except for getting beat up by Freddie Smith. A black kid in my homeroom, he was six feet tall and had facial hair. We were the same age but Freddie would go on to repeat the 8th grade three more times, finally graduating middle school at 16. I feel sorry for the 6th graders that year.

Freddie thought I had snitched on him for stealing the gel pens from the hippie art teacher Ms. Raznik’s class. He thought this ‘cause I sat next to him and had seen him with the pens. It wasn’t me. It had been the fat chick who sat on the other side of me than Freddie and had seen him with them too. She wore baggy South Park novelty shirts from Fred Meyers and looked like she was going to grow up and be either a crazy cat lady or a compulsive hoarder. Probably both.

Freddie didn’t know this, and I didn’t know he thought it was me. One day at the Ravenna Rec Center he confronted me about it with his homie Vladimir, a surly Russian immigrant who was also much larger than I.

They moved to attack me and I ran. They caught up with me on 65th. Vladimir held me down while Freddie punched me, kicked me, and whipped me with a small chain that I guess he carried for just that purpose. I went home bloody, bruised, and crying. My mom wanted to call the cops but I wouldn’t let her.

Anyways, I digress…


Illustration by FONZE D30

I grew up in my parents’ house in Ravenna, a upper middle class residential neighborhood in Seattle. Our house sat on a long alley of other houses. The alley started at the Ravenna Ravine and followed a relatively straight line towards Lake City. I don’t know where it ended but once it crossed 65th it might as well have been another country. Past 75th, Mars.

I drew the majority of my earliest childhood friends from a two block world of trashcans and basketball hoops, secrets and short cuts, never ending water fights, and laser tag games that only ended when the batteries died. Or pretending to be US soldiers fighting Nazis in World War II. Epic swordfights where no one ever died. Capture the flag on warm summer evenings until it got too dark to see and our parents beckoned us home.

I was a year or two older than the majority of my friends and as I entered adolescence and fell under the influence of rap and graffiti I started to draw away from them, viewing them as childish. They were just good kids who weren’t interested in anything that would get them in any serious trouble.

I still hung out with them almost daily, shooting basketball and sitting for hours talking about whatever had caught our interest that month: video games, Warhammer, what Star Wars: A Phantom Menace was going to be like (huge disappointment by the way, but there’s already enough George Lucas critics on the internet), cool things to look up on the internet (which was fairly new to most folks at the time), rubber band guns, etcetera etcetera.

One day a new family moved into the alley; a man and his younger girlfriend who had a son a year or two younger than me from a previous relationship. She was in her early 30s and although I did not know it at the time, I’m pretty sure she had a boob job.

Her son was a small kid named Jonah who looked about three years younger than he actually was. He rode a Redline BMX bicycle that he was very proud of. He introduced himself to the kids in the alley one day. He brought with him a a high powered slingshot and a plastic jar of large marble-like BBs. We clicked immediately.


Illustration by FONZE D30

We soon grew bored with shooting pop cans off the top of recycling bins, and decided we needed to up the ante. We spent the rest of the night trying to shoot the rats that scurried along the power lines in the alley. I hated those things- they made my skin crawl. We did not manage to actually hit and kill one, but if we had I would have felt no guilt or pang of remorse that one usually associates with childhood incidents of killing an animal. They were not birds. I don’t think Jonah cared either way. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Illustration by FONZE D30

Somehow, despite my recent arrest. I had convinced my mother to buy me a copy of the book “The Art Of Getting Over” by ESPO, a famous graffiti artist. It was a book all about graffiti and its history. It was extremely well done. I had spent months at the Barnes and Noble at U Village looking at it and wishing it was mine.

I would have stolen it, but racking from stores with sensors and doorway alarms was still a mystery (besides CDs, you just opened those bitches up in the store and took the disc). It would be a while before I realized the store randomly inserted RFID stickers in the books and that all you needed to do to not beep out was remove the sticker from the book. The day we figured that out we went ham, attaching stickers to unsuspecting shoppers, then watching them beep out as we leaned against the railing on the second floor that overlooked the exit on the first floor. Confused Seattle soccer moms and dads, apologizing profusely to the UW college students who populated the majority of the store’s workforce, neither party able to figure out why the alarm kept going off. Come to think of it, those poor people were probably beeping in and out of stores all day that day.

Anyways, my mom bought me the book, and I would go on to spend countless hours tracing and copying the pictures of graffiti in that book, poring over the different articles, soaking up as much of the traditions and history as I could from the book.

I brought the book with me to the alley one day to show Jonah. I was talking excitedly and flipping the pages and pointing at different things.

Jonah said, “Yo, this shit is so fucking sick dude. I need to get a tag name.”


He was just as enthralled as I was.

By this point my tag name had changed again to SIEB (Suicidal Imbecile Entering Battle). I think I might have been listening to too much Wu-Tang at the time (my rap name was The 5th Disciple…smh). Jonah picked the tag name ACHE, which in retrospect was a much sicker word.

Jonah and I started our own crew. OFF. Out For Fame (which made perfect sense at the time). We used a sniper crosshair for the O.

Ravenna Park, The Ave, and 65th once more served as the canvas for our adolescent expression. I remember ETEA PI-RATS crew would do a ton of ET mop tags. We thought it was hilarious to write “phone home” underneath them. Not because we were trying to beef- we just thought it was funny.

One day we saw someone painting a piece underneath the 20th bridge. He was a Native American youth, probably about 5 years older than me, who wore his shiny black hair in a long ponytail and spoke with a calm demeanor. He wrote CALKULUS RYK.

He told us lots of stories.

“So I get this big duffel bag right? and I put it in the bathroom. Then I go fill up a cart with spray paint and take it to the bathroom and load up the duffel bag. The bathrooms got a window up hella high and I push the bag through that into the alley. Then I leave out the front empty handed and go pick up the duffel bag full of paint…”

We listened in silence, our heads nodding up and down like bobble-head dolls.

“…Sometimes I even dress up like a bum when I’m downtown so the cops don’t sweat me, you guys want some caps?”

He then gave each of us a handful of spray paint caps: German thins, Rusto fats, NY fats… He had a ton of them. Each kind collected in its own separate bag (like drugs).  We took ours and put them in our pockets. We were super stoked.

A few days later I saw another writer painting a piece underneath the 15th Avenue bridge. I was alone. I approached him, expecting at the most some more caps, at the least a chance to meet another writer and learn more stuff.

Boy was I wrong. He was working on a green and brown piece I could not read. He would stop to blow on the lines, to keep them from dripping every so often. He looked to be 23, but I was 14 at the time, so he was probably 19. He had a punk rock/street chick with blue hair wearing baggy camo pants and a tank top looking out for him. She was wearing a candy necklace and had lots of homemade friendship bracelets.

I said, “What’s up, dude? What do you write? I write SIEB OFF!!!”

I then did a gold paint pen tag to show him.

He replied, “OFF? You never heard of AFO foo? ALL FOR ONE FOO!! I write AFO crew dude.” I was a novice graffiti writer and had actually not heard of them.

He kept going. “Yo, someones been crossing me out with a gold paint pen. I bet it was you. Give me your shit.”

He was up in my face at this point and had my shirt clenched in his fist. He ran his free hand through my pockets, relieving me of my markers, six one-dollar bills, and some loose change. He then shoved me. I fell backwards on my butt then got up and backed away slowly before turning and running away.

I never found out what that guy did write. At the time I thought it was completely normal for a grown ass man to be robbing a 14-year-old boy. Once I got older, though, I realized how fucked that was. What a fucking loser. Hope your skank girlfriend gave you herpes after she blew you for drawing her name in graffiti letters, fag. Seriously.

Maybe I should thank him, though, he taught me a valuable lesson that day. To quote the late KERSE BTM, “It’s a cold world, homie.”

Soon it was summer vacation and sunny days were now free for Jonah and me to pursue our delinquent hobbies as often as we wanted. We spent entire days roaming Ravenna Park and the U District. Tagging and window shopping. Racking occasionally. Jonah was left handed and would always accidentally smudge his tags as he wrote them and get paint all over his hand.

We were always painting underneath the bridges that traversed the Ravenna ravine. 15th. 20th. I’d paint bubble letter SIEB throw ups. My favorite color combo at the time was a pale green outlined with a darker green. I remember ruining my brand new ECKO button-up shirt a week after I got it. I’m embarrassed to admit I was pretty upset about it.

One day Jonah was catching spray-paint tags underneath the 15th bridge while I was looking out for him. An undercover cop dressed up like a jogger ran out of the bushes and grabbed Jonah by the arm.



Jonah squirmed and tried to escape the cop’s grip on his forearm. They struggled.

I began to yell.


A man who was jogging in the distance broke into a run towards us. He ran right up to the undercover cop and punched him square in the jaw. The cop was lights out. He let go of Jonah and fell backwards into the dirt. Jonah was free, and we both ran away as fast as we could. We laughed our asses off about it once we got home. I hope that guy didn’t get in any trouble for knocking out that cop he thought was a sex predator. Thanks dude.

A few days later we were painting underneath the 15th bridge again. Two uniformed police officers rushed us, one from each side of the bridge. I tried to run. One cop tackled me to the ground, knocking the wind from me. I choked on the lack of oxygen in my lungs and I could taste dirt.  This time we were caught. They handcuffed us and sat us down on the edge of the playground in Cowen Park. We had been using gold spray paint.

“Gold spray paint? You kids been huffing paint too? I thought only spics huffed paint,” said one cop.

“Huff paint? No, not at all!” I said.

Why did cops always seem to think I was on some sort of crazy drug?

I knew one of the cops. He was the school cop at my middle school. Officer O’Dwyer. He was a porky man in his 40s with porcine features. He actually looked like a pig. I’m not just saying that because he was cop. He would have looked like a pig even if he was a Hell’s Angel who rode a Harley.

A group of small children arrived at the playground with their daycare coordinator. Officer O’Dwyer decided to seize this golden opportunity to make an example of Jonah and me in front of a group of 4-year-olds. He sat them in a line in front of where we sat handcuffed. Their eyes wide staring at us.

“You see these guys here kids? These are bad kids, they were vandalizing the playground you guys come to play at everyday because they are horrible kids….blah blah blah blah blah….Now I know none of you kids are ever going to end up bad kids like these kids here, right?”

The kids of the daycare chimed back, “NO!”

We hadn’t even touched the playground with graffiti. EVER. He was lying (to 4-year-olds).

The two cops took us up to their car that was parked illegally (for anyone else) on the bridge, blocking a lane of traffic, with the lights flashing. The cops put Jonah and me in the back of the car. They ran our names. Jonah had the same name as his father, who was in prison at the time for car theft. Jonah’s father had a lengthy rap sheet. The cops realized that this must be his son. Officer O’Dwyer turned around in his seat and said to Jonah,

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, eh? You’re a chip off the old block, eh? Bout to be a jailbird, just like your old man, eh? A good for nothing low life piece of shit. Going to end up in prison just like him. You guys can write each other letters. Maybe you’ll get lucky and be in the same prison, you guys can play catch together on the yard. Make up for lost time…”

The cop kept berating Jonah for five minutes until Jonah burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. He was 12 years old, but he looked like he was 10. A grown man had just ripped him into shreds emotionally. I’ve never despised anyone as much as I despised that cop at that moment. The cops laughed. They never even said a word to me.

I fidgeted in the back seat of the cop car next to Jonah. Could they have made these cuffs any more uncomfortable? We drove by a mailbox that Jonah or I had tagged OFF on. Officer O’Dwyer noticed it.

“You guys know tagging mailboxes is a federal offense, right? a big felony.”

Both cops laughed.

The cops dropped each of us off at our respective houses, telling our parents that a detective would be by in the next couple days to follow up. This time Detective Hardon must have been busy- we never heard anything about it again.

Just like the cops predicted, Jonah is currently in prison- his 2nd or 3rd bid. He has been vilified by the local media. He’s made a lot of poor choices, but I always look back on that day in the backseat of the cop car and wonder if things could have turned out a little different for Jonah. That was not the only time I heard an adult tell him he would end up just like his jailbird dad. I heard his mom and step-dad tell him similar things.

-Joseph Paul



“It’s just kid stuff” Storefront. 65th Street

Trey’s dad picked us up in a 1980s blue Volvo diesel four door sedan with sheepskin seat covers. Trey’s dad had curly black-gray hair and a full beard. He was very gruff, and I was somewhat frightened by him and I didn’t like to talk to him. I let Trey do the talking.

 “Dad, you’re being hella wack. Seth’s staying at Joe’s house too…”

Trey’s father consented, grumbling.

Treys dad dropped us off at my mom’s house. My father had recently died and my mom had been a tad bit out of sorts ever since. She was very excited to have us boys over for a sleep over, though.

It was still fairly early in the evening and she piled us all into my dad’s 1991 Buick LeSabre. Its maroon leather interior was beyond luxurious. Each plush bucket seat had its own electronic controls and separate climate control, a rarity even in the year 2001 a decade after the car had rolled off the lot. The back seat might as well have been a living room couch for how soft and spacious its leather pillow-top seats were.

My mom drove us to the now-defunct BLOCKBUSTER video across from the University Village. She waited in the car and sent us in with cash to rent ourselves a movie. We roamed the store for a good 30 minutes arguing over titles before we finally decided on the gross-out comedy flick “Road Trip.”


We were 8th graders, don’t judge us.

Back at home, my mom was even nice enough to order us two pizzas and sodas from Pizza Hut. We had ordered Pizza Hut so often in the months since my dad had died I think we were on a first name basis with every employee, manager on down, at the Pizza Hut on 65th.

Our plan was to enjoy the pizza and the movie, then sneak out the “purgatory” doors on the side of my house. The doors had been intended to lead on to a deck my dad never had a chance to build before he died. The doors instead opened onto a five-foot drop into my back yard. My mom was usually out like a light before 9:00, so we would have no trouble sneaking out.

Something had gotten into my mother that night, though, and she sat up late typing some sort of diatribe or another on the computer. After Road Trip was finished we had to pick a movie I already owned and watched most of that before she finally called it a night.

Once we were sure she was asleep, we busted out our ill-gotten supplies and laid them out guerilla style on the floor of my living room, divvying up the paint and the mops and the markers between the three of us.

One by one we lowered ourselves into the backyard, leaving the “purgatory’ doors open a crack so that we would be able to let ourselves back in later.

It was cold. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up against the chill. I still shivered, not because I was cold, but because I was excited. The streets were ours. We walked in silence past the blocks of residential houses till we hit 65th street, the busiest and closest commercial street to my house.


65th at night.

We went behind the old PCC (now Third Place Books) and Seth painted a full color piece on the large double doors of the loading dock, Trey and I keeping an eye out. From there we walked down to Bagel Oasis, liberally applying our tags to whatever we fancied.

We went behind the Bagel Oasis. There I painted my first fill-in on one of their delivery vans. I was such a novice, I didn’t realize you were supposed to do the fill-in first and then the outline. I had painted the outline in black, then tried to do the fill-in with blue like I was coloring the lines inside a coloring book. it ended up looking like a horrendous blue black blob that may or may not have said “XIN” even though i was trying to write “KIN.”

Trey and Seth then painted two fill-ins of their own on the stucco walls of a parking garage adjacent to the truck i had just painted. We emerged back onto 65th near to the ancient rug shop.

The truck parked outside was tagged, but not to the extent it is now. They still would make halfhearted attempts to buff it every couple of months.  There was still some blank white space on the side of the truck for me to catch a tag on. Trey and Seth stood on the sidewalk while I stood in the street tagging the side of the van facing away from the wall (so people driving by could see it).


The truck recently. RIP KERSE BTM

A cop car whipped around the corner. It had been driving with all its lights off, but then its headlights and flashers came to life, tires came screeching to a halt directly behind me. Trey and Seth ran. I stood frozen with fear, in the cop’s spotlight.


The 5-0

In retrospect we had probably attracted hella attention on ourselves by acting suspiciously, wearing hooded sweatshirts and backpacks. That alone would probably have elicited 911 calls from the concerned Seattleites of Ravenna.

Not to mention the graffiti. If someone had seen us doing that they would have definitely approached us, cell phone in hand and would have attempted to detain us till the police arrived. “Heros”.

The cop had probably been looking for us.

As soon as the cop had stopped, he was out of his car and had me by the collar. He soon had my hands on the trunk. I guess I was lucky I didn’t have to put them on the hot hood, but that was the farthest thing from my mind at that point.

He had the contents of my backpack emptied out on the trunk: markers and spray paint. I was still wearing the paint-stained gloves that I had worn for the sole purpose of not having paint on my hands should I be stopped by the police. I felt like the world’s biggest moron. At the same time, I had never been so afraid in my life.

The cop asked me about my friends.

“I don’t know what friends you’re talking about.”

I’m pretty sure it was not very convincing.

At this point he handcuffed me and put me in the backseat. Once the door shut I started to have a full blown panic attack, complete with OCD and Asperger’s/Tourette’s body movements and babbling nonsensical swear words at random, which I am prone to do in moments of extreme stress (although I’ve gotten better at controlling it with age).

The cop looked at me weird over his shoulder and said, “Jesus H. Christ kid, what kind of drugs are you on? Are you on speed? Are you on acid?”

I said “Drugs? Drugs???? Fuck no! I don’t do drugs. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. I’m fucked. My life is over. Fuck my life. i am so dead, fuck, fuck, i’m mother fucked in the fucking fuck fuck…”

“You look like you could use some, you fucking wierdo.”

He kept asking me questions. All I gave him was my name and address, ‘cause I figured I had no other options, I was 13 or 14.  I felt like a POW in a old war movie

I still maintained that I did not know what friends he was speaking of, all while continuing to twitch and curse spastically in the backseat of the cop car.

He drove the three blocks to my house. Parking his car in the alley, he didn’t turn off his flashing lights- how embarrassing. He marched me up to the front door in handcuffs and with one hand on around the back of my neck he pounded on the door.

My mother, in the wake of my father’s death, had been prescribed numerous pharmaceuticals to keep her from freaking the fuck out. Chief among them was Xanax, of which she imbibed liberally before bed. Safe to say she was a heavy sleeper.

The cop and I stood at the door for five minutes while he kept knocking at thirty second intervals before the light in my mother’s bedroom turned on. I could hear her make her way to the door, imagining her pulling her bathrobe over her nightgown and tying it shut as she walked.

She didn’t open the door.

“Who is it? Do you have any idea what time it is??”

“Seattle Police ma’am, i have your son here.”

“B.S., my son’s asleep with his friends in the living room.”

“Ma’am, I stopped your son tagging up a truck on 65th.”

“How do I know you are who you say you are and not a rapist or a robber?”

The cop began to speak but I interrupted him. “Mom, it’s me open the door.”

And she did.

Trey and Seth (who obviously had managed to make it back to the house safely and unnoticed) were roused from their sleeping bags by the cop. He talked to us and my mom for a little while and then he left. He told my mom and us that a detective would be by to all our houses to talk to our parents.

It was all my fault, and even though I had not told on my friends my incompetence had landed them in hot water with me.

At school on Monday, I tried to talk to Seth in the main hallway before class.

“Don’t talk to me, keep your fat fucking mouth shut, you FAG!”  He said before turning and walking away from me. I wanted to die.

That day after school things got worse. I had spent every day since the arrest confined to my room. Around 5 p.m. I was chilling on my bed with my Discman listening to Wu Tang’s “Enter the 36 Chambers” feeling hella sorry for myself. Staring at the ceiling. Then I heard a knock at the door. it was a polite but firm knock. My mom answered the door.


Can it be that it was all so simple then?

Ten minutes later I was sitting with my mom in our “fancy” front living room we rarely used, with the Seattle Police Graffiti detective, Rod Hardon. Yeah, they had a guy who worked full time on that. I know it sounds ridiculous.

I remember he was wearing faded black Levis and a rough suede greyish black jacket. He was middle aged with white gray hair. I remember thinking he looked a little bit faggy, in all honesty, because his appearance was so meek and frail.

He looked more like a soccer dad than a cop, if it weren’t for the badge on his belt and the handcuffs in their leather case. I didn’t see a gun; I don’t know if graffiti detectives carry guns.

He really wanted to know about a graffiti crew called NOK, which stands for No One Knows, I would come to find out in later. Ironically, I didn’t know either. I honestly had no idea who they were either. So even if I was a tattle tale I would have had nothing to say to Detective Hardon.

He told my mom that I was a gang member (What the hell?), that the majority of graffiti “taggers” were white males in their teens to mid twenties with low self esteem who skateboarded, that there’s no such thing as good graffiti, a legal wall just attracts more graffiti, All graffiti was bad graffiti. He gave us the contact info for property owners of the places we tagged. Told us we would have to contact them and buff the graffiti for them. Other than that I (and my friends) got off with just a warning and a day of physical labor.

Before he left he asked me “Do you have a book you practice your graffiti in, a sketchbook, sometimes known as a black book?”

“No sir, I don’t.”

My Mom interrupted. “JOEY!!! You have a book just like that hidden in the back of your closet, I saw it when i was hanging your clothes up.”

My mom ratted me out and fetched the book out of my closet and handed it over to Detective Hardon before he left, politely declining coffee from my mom. Why did she have to be so nice to him?

I would find out later that Seth’s mom had not even let Detective Hardon in her house, and had spoken with him briefly on the porch, sarcastically referring to him as “Officer Friday” to his face. I was hella jealous.

The social shunning at school persisted for a few weeks. I walked home from school alone walking a route that avoided contact with any of my friends. Then the day came to buff the graffiti. I thought we were just going to bang the thing out in thirty minutes with roller paint, no sweat. The property owners had something else in mind.

They equipped us with steel wool, buckets of water, and “Bon Ami” all purpose cleaner. We were instructed to remove as much of the paint as we could by scrubbing, and then one of their employees would paint over it. We were there all day till dusk,our finger tips raw. The walls really looked like shit now, but that was ok ‘cause they would paint over that.


Not a friend of mine!!!!

By the end of the first hour of scrubbing, Seth and Trey had stopped shunning me and we were quietly cracking jokes throughout the hellish day. it felt so good to have my homies back. it was the only part about that day I was stoked on. The rest of the day sucked. Bad.

Although we were technically not supposed to hang out, we still did at school and I started walking home with Seth again although we had completely chilled out on the graffiti aspect of our extracurricular lives.

The cure took for Seth. He lost complete interest in graffiti. He was still down with stealing and being a devious bastard, but he just stopped caring about graffiti. He was smart enough to see that it gave him no solid reward and was wrought with risk.

I, on the other hand, never lost interest in it for a second.


We had all read the SKUF YKK interview in the graffiti magazine “The Vapors”. He talked about how he never paid for anything. This guy SKUF…..he even stole his groceries. He said you could not be a real graffiti writer unless you stole your spray paint, except he used the word “rack” instead of “steal.” “Rack:” another new word I became instantly enthralled with. A word and an action that permeates my thoughts to this day. The SKUF interview might as well have been carved in stone and handed down to us from God himself at the peak of Mt. Sinai, the way we took it to heart.

 SKUF’s words echoed in our psyche as Seth, Trey Parker and I boarded the #71 bus to the University District at the stop on 65th. It was a gray Saturday morning but it was not raining. Classic Seattle weather. We all wore empty black backpacks– we were on our way to rack spray paint from the Tru-Value hardware on the Ave.


I spent way to much time standing next to bus stops.

 We all would save our old bus transfers so we could reuse them as long as possible. There were only seven colors, one for each day of the week. I pulled a two-week old transfer of the appropriate color and waved it at the driver quickly. Seth and Trey did the same.


The keys to the kingdom…

The bus stopped a block from the store. It was a strange location for a hardware store, tucked between a family owned Greek restaurant and an Asian owned mini mart like the one in “Menace II Society.” The outside of the store was lined with wheelbarrows, all chained together by the wheels to prevent theft (although I can’t imagine wheelbarrows being a hot commodity on the black market).


True Value on the Ave. View from the back.

     We entered the store. The spray paint was in the back left corner of the store far away from the cash register. The aisles were piled high and had rakes and brooms and shovels hanging above them from the ceiling, so the visibility was bad throughout the store.

    We all formed a line next to the spray paint facing the door. Seth stood in front pretending to peruse the paint section as I filled up his backpack from behind with as many cans of spray paint as I could. Trey Parker did the same to my back pack. Trey and I switched spots and I did the same for him.

When we were finished loading our backpacks, we feigned disgust at the hardwares store’s horrible selection of paint. Complaining loudly, we walked out the front of the door, past the lone store clerk. All of us tried our hardest to walk cautiously so the paint in our backpacks would not rattle.

Walking away from the TrueValue we were aggressively stopped by some hippie chick with a clipboard.

“Would you like to sign this petition to save the whales?”

“Would you like to see my balls?” I responded as seriously as I could.

She looked at me, horrified, her face twisted in disgust and said “NOOO!” before quickly walking away. We all had a good laugh about that.

We pulled our backpack routine again on the magazine racks at the old, old Tower Records. Pornos, Lowrider magazines, Graf Mags. Seth probably copped some Esquire’s and GQ’s. He was a classy guy like that. Trey Parker would go for The Source and XXL.

I liked the skateboarding magazines but I really loved this obscure paintball magazine called Action Pursuit Games. I had never even played paintball. But I read about it avidly, reading product reviews and comparisons. Articles about tactics. Articles about South African paintball teams. Computerized paintball guns. Except they weren’t called guns. They were called “markers” (I think to try and downplay the negative connotations of the word “gun”). I read articles about the early history of the sport. I wanted to play it so badly but it was definitely not a sport the child of liberal Seattle parents could easily get into. But I dreamed about it. To this day I have only actually ever played paintball three times in my life.


Hella cool, right?

We sat at the bus stop on the Ave, waiting for the bus to Northgate Mall, perusing our magazines. There was a homeless guy with a sign that said “PUNCH ME IN THE FACE FOR $5.” Trey borrowed a dollar from  both Seth and me, Trey ponying up the remaining three. Trey paid the bum, then with no warning, decked him in the jaw. The bum fell back against one of the columns outside Wizards of the Coast, before shaking himself off and muttering “Thank you… grrrr.” His breath smelled strongly of cheap whiskey. His face was bruised and cut from all the punches he received throughout the day. We clowned about it after he left, laughing. Deep down, the whole thing made me sick in my stomach.

We rode the bus in silence to Northgate, sitting in the very back (‘cause that’s where cool kids sat). There was one older boy sitting in the back also. He was stocky with bad complexion. Blonde hair in a buzz cut with a face that reminded me of a pig. He wore a baggy hooded sweat shirt. He mean mugged us.

Suddenly in a confident succession of quick strokes he scribed a tag into the bus window hella big. Each line screeching, KRRRCHH, SKRRCH, REECCCH.  The word “FUI” materialized out of the chaotic lines. The pig-face boy jerked the cord that rang the bell for his stop and got off the bus; we were dumbstruck. The bus driver hadn’t noticed him, and neither had any of the people sitting towards the front. How was this possible? My mind was blown at the possibilities this suggested.


Northgate Transit Center. Looks more like a circus.

We got off at the Northgate Transit Center. Its modern design made it look like a small roller coaster if you drove by it on the freeway, at least I always thought so. Groups of black kids milled around in small groups, holding their Discmans as flat and level as possible in front of them so the CD inside would not skip. Rapping out loud to songs no one else could hear. One of them had a portable DVD player shaped like a laptop and was watching “Girls Gone Wild” with his friends. When they walked they took careful steps making sure their soles hit the ground as flat as possible so the soles would not bend, in an attempt to keep the shoes looking brand new. Some of the kids were brushing their shoes with a toothbrush they carried for that sole purpose. A few of them spoke to us in hushed tones.

“Yo, I got that fire…”

“I got that purp…”

“I got that good weed, little homie…”

We ignored their offers, avoiding eye contact and shaking our heads. Trudging across the road and across the large parking lot of Northgate Mall, we went to Toys R Us and racked ourselves a gang of Tech Decks. We opened the packaging in the store and removed the contents before hiding the goods on our persons, discarding the packaging out of sight at the back of the rack.

As we left, I beeped out somehow. I had a library book in my bag that had set off the RFID alarm. The security guard waved us past after looking in my backpack, not checking our pockets or even raising an eyebrow at my backpack full of spray paint.

We entered the food court side taking the glass elevator up into the food court. We hit paint pen tags inside the elevator. We ate lunch at the food court, the first money we had spent all day (aside from the money we spent for Trey to punch the bum in the face). Kidd Valley. Ivar’s. Panda Express.

We perused different shops but didn’t steal anything because racking at Northgate was hot, at least for 13 years old in baggy clothes and baseball hats. Seth and Trey had both been caught stealing there six months before when Trey had gotten caught shoplifting some faux diamond earrings. Seth had been guilty by association. We caught tags on the back of the bench built out of skateboards at the Zumiez.

We left the mall and made our way to a strip mall close by. This was before most kids had their own cell phones, so we stopped at a pay phone and called Trey’s dad for a ride back to my house.  Trey’s dad agreed to meet us in front of the Rite Aid by TJ MAXX in half an hour.

We continued our crime spree inside the Rite Aid, stealing fresh shoe polish daubers (“mops”) and RIT dye. We went to the store’s bathrooms and emptied the mops and refilled them with the dye, making a huge mess of black dye in the sink. Seth racked some boxes of latex gloves as an afterthought before we left.


Graffiti Paraphenelia. Photo Credit Mass Appeal

We then went outside the store and waited for Trey’s dad to show up. We all caught big black mop tags on one of the columns in front of the Rite Aid. It was 7pm and the parking lot was busy, so this made me more than a little nervous. I really hoped Trey’s dad would show up soon to pick us up.


*I do not own the rights to some of the pictures I used for this post. I’m not using them to make a profit. If I used your pictures and your not cool with it, let me know. I’ll take them down.