The rest of the summer came and went without incident. I had cooled my jets a little shoplifting and graffiti wise.
My mom took me to Northgate mall for back-to-school shopping, the same as we did every year. I spent most of the money my mother had allotted me on three baggy Triple 5 Soul sweatsuits. One of them was all red.
My first day at school I was in the locker room before gym when a black kid wearing navy blue Dickies and a black t-shirt and shoes with blue shoe laces grabbed me violently and slammed me against the lockers. He held me up against the locker by my neck, looking me in the eyes. His face was inches from mine. He had stripes shaved into one of his eyebrows.
“More like triple-5-slob, mothafucka!”
He let me go and swaggered off, his pants sagging around his knees. He was holding up his pants by the belt buckle with his right hand.
Slob? I happened to think I looked quite sharp. I voiced my opinion once the black kid was gone as I rubbed my upper chest where he had grabbed me.
“A slob is what Crips call Bloods, retard,” said a much mellower black kid. “That dude’s a Crip- it’s probably not the best idea to be wearing all red if you don’t bang.”
I never wore the accompanying sweat pants again. I could get away with just wearing the hoody with some jeans, though.
Being a freshman in high school was intense. Older kids would routinely punch me in the stomach or the arms as they passed me in the stairway. My arms and chest were covered in black and blue bruises that eventually would turn brown and yellow. I did my best to hide these from my mom. I was confused; these were kids I had drank 40’s with in the park and thought I was friends with. They also gave me advice.
“What you need to do FloJo, is find you the fattest ugly bitch you can find, and lose your virginity to her, then work your way up the chain, building confidence, banging a girl who’s a little hotter every time, pretty soon you’ll be banging the hottest girl, the key is to just remember to treat them all the same way you treated the fat ugly bitch.”
“Word up,” said a friend of the older boy speaking.
In retrospect it was sound advice, albeit morally fucked. I didn’t want to bang any fat ugly girls though.
The only class I really liked was metal shop, even though I was horrible at it. The teacher was a gruff older dude with white hair. His name was Mr. London. There was ancient tags hidden all over the school, and some of the best ones were in the metal shop.
It was the first day of class. Mr. London was going over the class rules and what he expected us to do and whatnot. It was my only class without a syllabus. I hated syllabi. I usually lost them the first week anyway. Mr. London started talking about graffiti and taggers. My ears perked up.
“…In my opinion, taggers are just like serial killers, they keep doing it till they get caught. Any of you thinking of tagging anything, remember that you WILL get caught. Taggers want to get caught. They’re sick people who do it for attention.”
“Hey Mr. London, you got any kids?” asked one kid as he snickered.
“In every Navy seaport in the world.”
He shuffled some papers on his desk and took a long sip of his black coffee. He would have probably been smoking a cigarette if it wasn’t against the rules.
I liked Mr. London.
Most the kids who wrote graffiti at the school had different tag names they used at school. That way if you got caught tagging at school you wouldn’t get busted for the tags you did outside the school. Most of these tag names were sexual in nature, derived from STDs or bodily functions. HERPES. JIZM. AIDS. GONOREA. SYPH. Names like that. I took it all in as I walked the hallways in my hooded sweatshirt and ever-present oversized headphones. Wu Tang. Big L. Atmosphere (I’m embarrassed to admit).
In most of my classes, I would kind of tune out and just practice graffiti in my notebooks. One day in my math class, a nerdy blonde kid saw me practicing my throw-ups. He had blond hair, wore green khakis, red Chuck Taylors, and a generic fleece jacket. He looked like he spent a lot of time hanging out with his family. I imagined that his family also shopped at the PCC organic grocery co-op with some regularity.
“Hey, wow, you write graffiti? Graffiti is so cool. I went on a family trip to Europe this summer. There’s so MUCH graffiti in Europe it’s INSANE. I took so many pictures. I can bring them class tomorrow and show you if you want. What do you write?”
“Whoa dude, chill. What do you write? What middle school did you go to?”
“Oh I don’t have a tag name yet, but I plan on getting one. I didn’t go to a middle school really, I was homeschooled.”
“I write VERK, you said you had hella pictures of graffiti in Europe?”
“Yeah, the subways are covered in it.”
“Mos def I wanna see those.”
“I’ll bring the pictures tomorrow, so you can see them!”
That was how I met Elijah Potts. I spent the rest of math class teaching him the rudimentary basics of graffiti that I knew at that point. In two weeks he was ten times better than I was. His graff looked pretty and clean, whilst mine looked sloppy and ugly.
Another kid I started to see fairly often around the school was Max Hopper, who I knew from middle school vaguely. He had left in the 6th grade to live with his mom in California. I had met him again that summer with Jonah. They were friends through riding BMX bikes at the dirt jumps by Greenlake. He must have been at least six feet tall at that point with a blonde whiteboy Afro. I had a whiteboy afro too. He looked like he was the product of some kind of Nazi genetic engineering experiment. Blonde hair, cold blue eyes, athletic, tall, and he was fearless. Secretly I called him “Hitler’s Master Plan” in my head.
Max was insane. He didn’t even ride skateboards that much, but one day he dropped in on the ledge that ran parallel to a 100 step staircase in front of our high school and rode it all the way to the bottom on a dare. Second try. I was blown away.
I didn’t know that Max wrote graffiti for sure. Somehow I knew though. I could just tell by the way he dressed. The way he carried himself. Maybe it was the flecks of paint on riveted Dickies, maybe it was his “fuck you” attitude.
“Yo, what do you write Max?”
“I write SABER MSK dude!”
Max was lying. He was fucking with me, his eyes sparkled sadistically.
“Quit fucking around dude, you don’t write that! that’s some dude in LA!”
“Nah dude, I told you I write SABER dude!!! I just moved back from living with my mom in LA! duh!.”
The part about moving back from LA from his moms was true. I gave up on trying to figure out what he wrote. I eventually found out. His tag name was FUCK. He just wrote FUCK on stuff.
One day after school Max joined me and Elijah and we went to my house. I had stolen a bunch of nail polish and I wanted to try and thin it out and use it as a ink in a mop. Elijah had brought some Marsh ink to make mops with, too.
I was using a steak knife to cut open and fix the mops. The blade had gotten some Marsh ink on it. I went to pop the top off a shoe polish dauber. The knife slipped and stabbed me in the hand. I had given myself an accidental tattoo. There was a black dot between my left pointer finger and thumb. It stayed there for about two years.
When we were done making mops, I busted out my DecoColor paint pens and we all drew pieces in our black-books. When we were finished I put the paint pens away in my room. While I was putting away the markers I showed Max and Elijah some of the pornos I had stolen with my homie Seth that were in the same stash spot.
We went downstairs and knocked on Basement Dude’s door.
When my dad was still alive he had converted part of our basement into a studio apartment. We had had a series of tenants over the years, both my half brothers (at separate times), a jazz musician, a computer programmer, a young married couple, but Basement Dude was the most legendary. A half-Chinese, half-Italian “reformed” Deadhead from New Jersey. He worked as a private contractor with his buddy, who from here on out will be referred to as Basement Guy. Got that? Basement Dude and Basement Guy. Thats actually what we called them.
He was a very entertaining dude from a 14 year old’s perspective. I had started hanging out in the basement with him shortly after he moved in that summer. It had taken me about a month to broach the subject of marijuana with him.
“What?? You mean to tell me you’ve smoked weed this whole time? What the fuck, I’ve been hiding it from you for a fucking month! Do you have any idea how agonizing this has been for me? I’ve been sitting here like when the fuck is this fucking kid going to get the fuck out of here!”
With that he produced a neon green plastic bong from behind the couch and preceded to smoke me out. From that day onward, I smoked weed with him almost every day.
“Joey, don’t go telling your mother I’ve been smoking pot with you. She’ll kill me.”
Here I was a few months later. This was the first time I had brought friends with me. He didn’t answer the first time I knocked. I knocked again.
“Who is it?”
“Joe, I’m with some friends, too.”
“You mean there’s more of you little shits? I’m coming, hold on.”
He opened the door and a strong scent of marijuana blasted our nostrils. Basement Dude held the door open with one hand and bowed and waved in a sweeping motion with his other hand. He smiled widely. His eyes looked more Chinese than they normally did.
“Come on in!! welcome to my humble abode!” He said sarcastically.
We all trudged in, Max ducking his head through the doorway. We sat on the couch. The TV was on. It was playing one of those movies that always seems to be on cable television. A good one. One you’d probably seen three or four times.
Basement Dude loaded up a bowl. We passed around the bong and each took massive rips. We passed it back to Basement Dude. He held it as he stared blankly at the TV.
He paused to take a bong rip. The water in the bong bubbled and the chamber grew opaque with smoke. He pulled the bowl piece out quickly and cleared the chamber. Basement Dude leaned back into the couch. Tilting his head back as he blew smoke out his nostrils.
“…I don’t see why you fellas is all jazzed up about this graffiti nonsense. You don’t make no money doing it. If you’re gonna break the law you might as well make some money while you’re at it. Hmmppfh. Plus if you get caught, you’ve more or less signed your damn name all over the place, they can just go back and fuck you over for everything you graffitied on. When I was your age, we did fun stuff…like acid, or banging broads. Did I ever tell you about that one Grateful Dead concert I went to with my good friends Ricky, Billy, and TIna?”
We shook our heads.
He preceded to tell us. I zoned out on the movie.
“…..what a fucking great night, you shoulda seen the look on Tina’s face.”
He laughed and smiled at us.
We all nodded our heads and laughed. He loaded another bowl. The bong made its rounds again.
Max excused himself to go to the bathroom. After he left Basement Dude said,
“He’s a big fucker, ain’t he?”
Elijah and I nodded.
Max came back from the bathroom a little while later. We chilled a little longer, then my friends had to leave. It was a school night after all.
I realized after they left that all my DecoColor paint pens were gone. Someone had stolen them. I knew it wasn’t Elijah. My pornos were gone, too.