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.


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