Monday, September 12, 2011

O Wall, O sweet, O lovely Wall . . .

What you may see here is a plain brick wall. Actually, given the light, you -- like me -- probably see much more, but I'll get to that in a minute.

This wall tells a story, but one without a real denouement. A blank brick canvas is a bit of a midsummer night's dream to gangs working to (re)establish their territory. In the days prior to this photo being taken, one of the largest tags I've ever seen broadcast itself prominently across the building. I actually went out that morning to photograph the tag, but I was relieved to see that our city Graffiti Blasters had beaten me to the punch.

Chicago is strapped for cash these days, and graffiti-removal efforts, like streetcleaning teams, have seen deep cuts. This results in tags lasting longer than they once did, which means the gangs in question get to claim that corner for longer than they used to. Even a few extra days can mean a lot, and trust me, as a neighbor, you feel it.

But the missing tag reminded me that down isn't out, and the city still responds to 311 requests, even if it takes a little longer. It's important, in these trying days, to remember that every problem has a solution, even if that solution requires some extra work on residents' parts.

And yet the ghost of the paint still lingers. You can see it in the proper light, and you know it's never really over. That phantom reminds us that it's a matter of a drug sale on the wrong corner, a girlfriend looked at the wrong way, an Explorer cruising with intent down the wrong block -- and on a larger scale, the job market failing to improve, public education remaining anemic, and cycles of poverty repeating themselves -- and the tag will be back, the tension right along with it.

It's hard to imagine those masons, laying every brick, applying every single layer of mortar, with any sense whatsoever that this would be the legacy of their work.