We've had to call 311 to get the graffiti removal team to our neighborhood quite a bit lately. The punks are really going to town on the walls around here. I'm not sure what's going on, but it's starting to really get on my nerves. It reminded me of this piece I wrote a few years back on the subject. (This was actually an excerpt from a novel I've been working on that was a sort of spoof on New Mexico detective novels. In the original story, a giant animate tumbleweed -- a Weedwalker -- is terrorizing the citizenry. The sound it makes is Skish-Skish!, hence it's appearance here.)) It's not really complete, but the fantasy part is in place, and it gives me a sense of satisfaction to read it.....
A deadly still evening in Albuquerque. Which meant nothing really. ‘Still’ was relative, even the deadly variety. There was always some noise. If it got too quiet, someone could be counted on to shoot someone else, or start a fire, or crash a car – anything to get the sirens going. Not that it took anything more serious than a stubbed toe to land the EMTs, a ladder truck, a pumper, the Haz-Mat team, the Bomb Squad, a half-dozen APD squad cars, and the Fire Chief on your doorstep, but most Albuquerqueños didn’t like to take chances. “If it’s not worth doing right, do it wrong” was their motto.
On this particular still night, 34 year-old Edwin Lujan was walking his wife’s AD/HD-afflicted Jack Russell Terrier, Cutie Pie. It was 9:52 pm. Edwin Lujan knew this because he kept checking his watch. He wanted to get home in time to watch The Simpsons reruns and the dog was not taking this walking endeavor seriously.
“Dammit, Cutie Pie!” he hissed. “Hurry up and poop!” He felt acutely embarrassed over calling the dog by its name and using the word ‘poop’ in public. He was mortified that one of the neighbors might have heard him. This was a transitional neighborhood in Albuquerque’s heights, primarily auto mechanics and construction foremen who were doing as well as most mid to upper-level management at other firms. Edwin, the manager of a temp-services office, was the only male on his street that did not work in the trades, and therefore felt inadequate. He stopped, listening quietly to hear if any of the neighbors were out, working on cars or just slurping beers in their yards.
Skish! He looked around frantically. Skish! There were no street lights here – he couldn’t see who was hissing to him. Skish-Skish! Ahead, a cinder block wall divided a neighbor’s yard from a bike path that ran along one of the city’s arroyos. Skish-Skish! He gingerly peaked around the corner. Two teenagers, known on the street as “Spud” and “Li’l Cheeto,” were busily tagging the wall with spray-paint. Skish-Skish! Cutie Pie barked. The teenagers turned to look at Edwin.
“Wuddafug you looking at?” one asked him. Edwin ignored the question. He was busy gazing in fear beyond the young men to a form moving from the shadows. The teenagers followed his gaze, turning around. The form carried a Mossberg 590 pump-action police-issue riot shotgun. And wore a mask. One of those halloween masks that just cover your eyes. He also wore a painters’ hat. And painters' coveralls. And a cape. And, before anyone could laugh at his ridiculous appearance – chuck-CHUNK – he ripped off a perfectly executed one-handed cocking of the shotgun and leveled it at the boys. They stood motionless, staring at him. Then Li’l Cheeto started to step back. He spoke to his friend but his eyes stayed on the shotgun.
“He ain’t gonna do shit with that gun, Spud,” he whispered. “We can just walk aw-” The shotgun roared, blowing a small depression in the ground next to the no-longer-confidant teen’s feet. Edwin thought he would wet his pants, but managed to hold it in. Cutie Pie, however, jerked the leash free and ran for home. The form chambered another shell. He reached into a back pocket and withdrew two large zip-ties of the sort police use for temporary handcuffs.
“You,” he said, indicating Spud. “Tie your amigo’s wrists with this. And do it right.” When it was done, the form walked closer. The shotgun pointing at Spud, he forced the now bound Li’l Cheeto to his knees then pushed him over into a patch of dried goathead thorns. The young man howled. “Now you,” he said. “Face down, hands behind your head!” Spud did as he was told. Slinging the shotgun over his shoulder, the form knelt on the small of teenager’s back. He pulled both hands back and slipped the second zip-tie around Spud’s wrists and pulled it tight.
“OK, Rembrandts. Let’s take a look at your work.” From his belt he pulled a large 4-cell Maglite and focused it on the tagged wall.
“Citizen,” he said, calling to the dazed Edwin. “Citizen,” the form called again. “I’d like you to help me evaluate this artwork.” Edwin walked over and stood beside the masked man. The names “Spud” and “Li’l Cheeto” were scrawled on the wall. Somehow, “Spud” had been misspelled.
“You call that ‘art’?” the form asked Edwin Lujan.
“Not really. You?”
“Nope.” The form turned to the handcuffed boys. “The jury has spoken fellas. This show has closed.”
“What the hell?!” one of them yelped. “You can’t do this! You ain’t no cops!”
“No,” said the form. “I’m not the cops. I’m…” He paused for dramatic effect. “El Pintor!” From a pocket on the inside of his cape he withdrew a pair of swimmers goggles. With his toe he rolled the first tagger over on his back. He bent down and placed the goggles on Spud’s face.
“Wuddafug?!” yelled Spud. He couldn’t see anything. He could however hear the sound of a steel ball rattling back and forth inside of a can of paint. “What are you doing, sir?” he asked at little more quietly – and respectfully.
“I’d advise you to hold your breath,” said El Pintor. Spud did as he was told, just in time, as the vigilante started spraying the youth pink – bright, vivid, Barbie pink – from head to toe.
Ten minutes later, El Pintor helped the teens to their feet. “I hope you have learned your lesson about violating other people’s property,” he told them. They ran off, still cuffed.
“I can’t believe you actually painted them,” said an awestruck Edwin Lujan. “That was totally awesome!”
“Oh, I didn’t paint them,” said El Pintor.
“But, I saw the pink–” Edwin started to say.
“Paint’s too easy to clean off. No, that was a special industrial-grade dye. Completely harmless – aside from the social stigma of having bright pink skin for several months.”