I tore down your signs. And I’m going to keep doing that.
The first sign I saw in Wicker Park. It was a Saturday and my roommate and I were trudging through the snow on Milwaukee to get to brunch. Along a wall in the spot where the street goes from grunge to trend, there was a poster-sized sign, cheap butcher paper shellacked up with wallpaper paste.
The handwritten big bolds in different colors of paint read “YOUR OPTIONS INCLUDE:” and listed horrible marriage plans for women. A douchebag boyfriend. Their college sweetie Kyle. Someone just like their dad.
“Don’t fret,” it said sarcastically at the bottom.
I paused, read it and spent the next few minutes peeling the still wet poster off the wall, tossing the shreds into a nearby garbage can.
“Good for you,” my roommate said as she and I kept on our way, talking about how life’s hard enough without people trying to make you feel pathetic.
A few days later, I saw another bit of your work at night. This was a version for men, listing depressing career options instead of marriage ones, your stab at counterculture betraying your 1950s politics.
YOUR OPTIONS INCLUDE: (it read in all caps)
- BECOMING YOUR FATHER.
- JOINING THE ARMY.
- MAKING CONCEPTUAL ART.
- DYING ALONE IN THE WOODS.
And in tiny letters at the bottom right: DON’T FRET.
This was along a boarded-up storefront next to a late-night liquor store on Chicago. It was paired with a similar sign saying depressing YOUR OPTIONS for dealing with vegans and across a boarded doorway from two more signs by the same hand, detailing what you said and what you really thought about some organic vegan loaf someone made you eat.
Tonight I went back for photo reference for this story. In shimmering flakes reflecting neon through the skies, I tore down your signs the minute I got there and threw the peels in a nearby Dumpster.
I left the vegan loaf signs.
I tore down your signs because the streets and windows of Chicago fill with graffiti at night. Names like Juicy and OH SHIT! appear scrawled in Sharpie on all flat surfaces. Spray paint murals appear on overhangs, outcroppings, the tops of vacant buildings. Gang tags come. Pasted-up images of childish lions and intricate ravens pop up during the night when no one watches.
I tore down your sign because this town fills with graffiti under neon skies. And yours just isn’t very good.
Graffiti is art in its purest and earliest form. “Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls” on a wall in Pompeii. “Bird-bird-snake-your mom” scribbled on a pyramid.
It’s a savage field, evolution through competition. The meek and mediocre get covered or torn. Insults, brags, bathroom wall filth — it’s not all or even 10 percent beauty. But it’s real, someone screaming on a wall “I AM HERE! THIS IS MY NAME!”
Except for you. You just sneer at others and declare yourself an artist. You don’t scrawl your name on the wall. You scrawl the name of someone else and implicit deem them not as good as you.
I reached up to the poster and peeled off a piece. It came off jagged in my hand.
Your options include unromantic marriages for women and bad work fates for men. Your options include a futile stab at making strangers feel bad about themselves, but snidely. Your options don’t include a simple, brutal “Fuck you” or “Piss off.” You took to the bathroom wall and decided to be all passive-aggressive and backbiting about it.
There is a graffiti cavern a few blocks south of you, where spray can artists deck a train overpass with fantastic explosions of color and pain. You fingerpainted a sign with the cattiest snideness this side of a soap opera bitch and even wrote “CONCEPTUAL ART” right on it just in case no one got the point.
Graffiti can be beauty. It can also be blunt defacement. But being aloof and smug and not even executing it well? Being both mean-spirited and mediocre? That’s nobody’s child.
As I ripped and picked and shredded and scored with my keys so your words would come off in bigger chunks, I saw old band posters. Fliers people put up to drag people to their fundraisers, readings, indie films, big corporate club dance nights. Thick and matted, pressed together by paper over paper over paper, these old signs were for people who wanted to share, who wanted to create or just get people to show up for their bar band gig.
I tore down to the plywood in spots, leaving tatters and shreds of your attempts to be superior. Each glance of wood was a fresh spot for someone else to vandalize, someone better at it than you are.
So, your sign’s down. Your efforts to make strangers feel bad about themselves got shredded by a man standing in the snow. What now? What’s next for you?
Glad you asked.
YOUR OPTIONS INCLUDE:
- Laughing to your friends that someone didn’t get the joke.
- Not noticing it happened, frankly the most likely option.
- Getting better. Actually making art worth a damn rather than pasting up crude signs that have “CONCEPTUAL ART” written right on it so everyone knows how deep you are. Be savage. Be brutal and unkind. Learn to paint or just scribble your name. Be cruel if you want. Be mean and vindictive if you so choose. But whatever you do, do it well and do it honest.
Show the world your emotions. Don’t just sneer at theirs.
I’m sure you’ll get better at making strangers feel pain. I have faith in you and your dedication to making people walking by a liquor store at night feel helpless and trapped. Don’t worry about it, man.