A Graffiti Gofer

Dialogue makes way for thoughtful consideration

During a Sunday morning walk in my lower middle-class neighborhood, I came across a City employee matching paint for a sidewalk wall which had been marked with graffiti.

I asked him, not expecting an answer, “Why do kids do this?”

“Maybe to feel important, to mark their territory like a dog pissing on a hydrant,” he said, as he rolled beige paint over the large black letters identifying a local gang. “By the way, the sheriff caught the Hispanic kid who did this. His family rents a house right around the corner. We get lots of graffiti in the poorer neighborhoods like this one.”

“So it’s a rebellious kid acting out?” I asked.

“Pretty much. The family likely attends church, but that’s a dry well. Usually both parents have to work hard at menial jobs to pay the rent. They get distracted making ends meet, failing to train their kid to respect other people’s property. He’s alone so much, he joins some gang to feel like he has family. If he doesn’t end up killed, he’ll probably raise his own kids the same way. I call it a social anxiety disorder affecting each generation.”

“Did I hear a New York accent?” I said. His New York accent was slight, like my New England twang.

“I’m from the Bronx, a conservative senior, nearing retirement at 63. I had upper middle income parents and went to community college. But my poor choices in life have got me working on Sunday as a graffiti gofer. I blame no one else but me.”

“So, what’s your take on all the protest marches going on now?” I asked.

“In my opinion, the herd is again hollering, looting, and demonstrating over their own neglected and wasted opportunities. They’re blaming the system. They need to look in a mirror for the real culprit.”

“But you just told me a Hispanic kid tagged this wall for other reasons: that his poor family has had to deal with income disadvantages. Don’t you think economic disparities between the rich and poor, along with racial discrimination, play a strong role – way beyond just personal choice and laziness? When I visited Atlanta in the Sixties, Blacks had no choice but to sit in the back of the bus. People of Color are still treated the same, but in more subtle ways.”

“Okay, I’ll grant you, there’s 400 years of prejudice you and I didn’t have to deal with. Our White majority likes the way it is, so change has been a long time coming.”

He resumed painting, apparently finished with that controversial subject. I said goodbye, thanked him for his insightful perspective, and walked home. Perhaps I’d met in that well-spoken fellow what Ralph Waldo Emerson called Man Thinking.


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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