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…
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.
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.
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.
He said, “SEATTLE POLICE, I GOT YOU, YOU LITTLE SHIT!!!”
Jonah said, “LET THE FUCK GO OF ME YOU FUCKER”
Jonah squirmed and tried to escape the cop’s grip on his forearm. They struggled.
I began to yell.
“HELP! HELP! HELP! CHILD MOLESTER! HELP! CHILD MOLESTER! THAT’S NOT HIS DAD! THAT’S NOT HIS DAD! HELP! CHILD MOLESTER! HELP HELP HELP….”
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.