Monday, May 7, 2012

¡Thinking of the Master, SKAM!

UPDATE: Don't even bother reading this crap. I just finished heavy revisions. You can find a taste of Saving Fase by following the link. The rest will hopefully be in the upcoming issue of Smile Hon, You're in Baltimore.


Another entry pulled from my old MySpace blog. I'll be editing it for submission to Smile Hon, You're in Baltimore's next issue, dedicated to Baltimore's wonderful labyrinth of alleys. Pardon all the crazy formatting. I went a little crazy interspersing images back then...

So today we're talking about my life on the wrong side of the law. Actually, just one aspect of it considering I've had other brushes. Regardless, what you are about to read will probably preclude me from ever running for President of this or any country. As a matter of fact, I suppose I need this disclaimer for the kids out there: Some of the things I have done in my past are idiotic & dangerous. DO NOT ATTEMPT ANYTHING YOU READ IN THIS BLOG.

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me tell you about SKAM. I was 19, too old to be doing this shit really, and my mom had finally gotten fed up with Jose, her man-for-the-moment that Fall. We were all living together in a little house in East Baltimore when she decided to up and move out, taking my sister with her. I guess she figured I was old enough to fend for myself.

I wasn't about to stay with Jose either, so I got this buddy of mine, Chris Mills, to put me up. I should say, I got his parents to put me up, cuz Chris was only 16 and still living at home. Anything was better than staying with Jose. Chris looked just like Hermey, the elf that wants to be a dentist, on "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", but he was fun to hang around. We always found ways to get in trouble, like the night we were cutting across Patterson Park and got chased by a group of gay guys. Back then, I was just leery; Chris was downright homophobic. A man would die because of this right in that very park someday. Any how, He yelled something at them as they were coming out of some bar on Eastern Avenue, and next thing you know, they're chasing us through the park.

We were starting to worry as they started catching up, not to mention that we were running out of steam by the time we got to the tiny lake on the south end of the park. Just as I felt my lungs were gonna give out, we practically trip over a bike someone had abandoned near the lake. He jumped on the seat and I balanced myself on the bolts that held the back tire in place. We thought we were home free as he pedaled us out of danger, but then we realized why the bike had been abandoned. It had no brakes. I know we wore out some of the rubber on our Chuck Taylors trying to stop that thing before it dumped us out onto the oncoming traffic on Baltimore Street.

Our favorite thing to do though, was to hit the streets of Baltimore, starting around 2am or so, and tag the hell out of any wall that would hold spray paint. Actually, he would do most of the tagging. He was greedy with the paint. Now, this pastime immediately created some issues, not the least of which was obtaining said spray paint. He was under 18, so he couldn't buy it; and even though I could, I'm sure it would've raised a few eyebrows. The only way to get paint without making people suspicious was to steal it, or "rack it" in tagger lingo. So we went racking, a lot (you need a lot).

We were actually pretty good at it. I wore this oversized surplus military trench coat at the time that hung off me like a duster. It was good for about six cans. We'd walk in a paint store, and while he distracted the clerk, I would sidle my way over to to the cans of Krylon and carefully pack my pockets. When we went into department stores, first we would go over to the bag section and rip the tags off a back pack or two. We would then head over to the hardware section where we would organize the colors we wanted and lay them on their sides. Back to the bags, where we would sling the prepped knapsacks over our shoulders. Then back to hardware again, where we would quickly & quietly pack our sacks with our colors. The toughest part was walking out. I would always dread that hand on the shoulder as I got to the exit. Never happened.

It got to the point where we would just steal anything. I saw this shirt I liked, gray denim with red splotches. Really, it looked like someone had just shot me. Nevertheless, I went in the Young Men's dept. took my trench off, put the object of my affection on, put my trench back on over top and walked out. Chris loved the shirt, so I went back in and did it again so we both could have one. Did I say "Kids, don't try this at home" yet? Of course, it felt almost natural to me. When I was 9 or 10, my mother cut the tags off a coat in a Two Guys in NJ, told me to put it on, and we walked out without paying. Racking shit was already in my blood.

So the night he let me move in, we had to come up with a decent tag for me. I was a sucker for symmetry, so I had tagged "OttO for a while, putting dots in the "O"s to make them eyes. Then I had tagged "Fry" cuz that was part of my nickname growing up, "French Fry" or "French Fried Freddy", but Chris claimed that it was too short and had limited artistic potential. Eventually, we settled on SCAM or SKAM, depending on the mood. It was perfect, because back then, it always seemed like I was scamming my way into things or out of trouble. It stuck, and when we went tagging or "piecing", I would think of it as "goin' skammin'". That first night we tagged along Route40 from Highland Ave. in Highlandtown to Howard St. Downtown. The best part was holding on to Chris as he hung upside down over the Orleans Street Viaduct spraying his FASE tag so rush hour traffic could see it as it flowed down the Jones Falls Expressway.

The best times would happen when we went "piecing", meaning we were going to put up full-color works of graffiti, not just quick little tags. This always took planning and patience. One time a crew of us, Chris was part of Kant Stop Writing (KSW s'up!), wanted to put up a piece at an elementary school on Lombard St. Only problem was that there was already a piece there. Now piecing over someone else's piece is a good way to get your ass beat, so rather than risk a fight, we stole a bunch of milk crates from a nearby 7-11, tossed them onto the roof of the school, and stacked them so we could paint above the existing piece. I've never held on to a milk crate so hard in my life.

Another time, Chris & I were piecing alone. We were on the athletic field of Patterson High School. It was only 1am, too early to start. We decided to hide out in this little wooded section nearby. We came across a blanket someone had laid out, picnic style. Obviously, this was someone's make-out spot, but it was the perfect place to chill. There was a paper bag just sitting there, not far from the blanket, and immediately Chris & I thought it would be perfect if there were beer in it. I opened the bag, and sure enuff, a whole unopened six pack was there, chilled by the cold November air. Nothing like piecing with a good buzz on!

We weren't always so lucky. One night we were piecing at Stemmer's Run Middle, a school I had attended five years previously when I was living in Middle River. Beforehand, we stopped by this kid's house. He tagged "CARR", but not really, because he was always too scared of getting caught to go out with us. He was really good though, so sometimes Chris would have him do a "FASE" sketch for him to work from. We vainly tried to get him to come with, but his mom was having none of it. Back at the school, we start throwing up our outlines when Chris notice a car in the parking lot a couple hundred yards away. "Is that five-oh?" he asks, always a little paranoid. He would get angry if I looked at other people's work for too long during the day because he thought a cop might see us and "know" we were taggers.

"Nah! Can't be," I said, "I don't see the lights on top. Must be a couple making out." He couldn't stand not knowing, so we crept our way closer until we could make out the flashers on top. It seemed that at that very moment, we heard this sound in the distance. "fwooop fwooop fwooop" And then we could see it: a helicopter flying straight at us. We did the only thing we could think of. We dropped our paint and booked like illegal mexicans from border patrol. We made it about two thirds of the way across the campus, hitting a small hill, when I turned to look to see how far the chopper was. I swear to you, the bird's light was just about on our heals when it suddenly veered left and away from us. We made it to Carr's where we had planned to rendevous afterward, only to find a note on the door to his bedroom. "Sorry, my mom said I can't let you back in." At that point we realized that his mother had snitched us out.

Having nowhere to go, we just ran. At one point, we were so exhausted that we had to stop. We made it to this nearby High's convenience store. We took a moment to catch our breath, and casually walked in. We had hardly made it in the door when the cops cars came flying by, flashers making the High's feel like a disco. They didn't stop, but neither could we. We figured it was just a matter of time before they looped around and decided to check the High's. So we started running again, this time until we reached this giant drain pipe that poured into some stream, probably Stemmer's Run itself. We hid out on the banks of the stream for a couple of hours. When we felt the coast was clear, we made our way back to the school to see if the paint was still there. It was. So what the hell, we thought, we might as well finish what we started.

This situation with Chris didn't last too long though. I had a job and he didn't. I eventually realized he was mostly using me for my money. One night, he told me there was a big party at his girlfriend's house in Perry Hall. He convinced me to get a cab to take us there. When we got to her house, there was no party. We went straight to her bedroom where I had to lie on the floor listening to them fuck. That was the beginning of the end. I paid him back a few weeks later, but that's another story for another time.

Chris is in jail now. He apparently developed a streak of violence and apparently beat an old lady to death for her money. I saw it coming when I had heard he had struck the first blow in an incident where two of his friends beat a gay man to death in Patterson Park. The only reason he didn't get time for that was because his girlfriend at that point, Kim, had vouched that he wasn't involved. She told me about it when she lived with me for a short time. It was a bit sad, because I felt that if I had been around, I would have never let that happen. If I hadn't abandoned him, maybe he'd be out of jail today. Of course, if he had treated me with a little more respect, I wouldn't have felt the need to leave his ass behind. You don't scam SKAM.

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