Problem as solution
Stopping graffiti by letting kids graffiti
If you work in a middle school, sooner or later you’re going to see a drawing of, shall we say, a frank and beans. Especially if you use the bathroom. I prefer when graffiti is in pencil and easily erased, like the one found on poster paper left unattended. Sometimes it’s more permanent, like the markered CACA scrawled on a hallway staff photo. I hate graffiti, and in my classroom it feels personal. I work hard to make my room comfortable and inviting, I give unlimited access to markers, paper, pencils. Graffiti feels like, “That’s all cool, but you still suck.”
My classroom has upright posts that kids like to sit behind, and some also like to tattoo those walls. A few even write their names, which feels like leaving your social security number at the crime scene. Or maybe it’s brazenness: I dare you to call me to task. But I do, and my punishment fits the crime: clean my tables. I scribbled over the graffiti, stacked crates to block the space, hung signs that said NO SITTING, NO GRAFFITI, and the graffiti proved a nuclear cockroach and persisted.
So I acknowledged I cannot beat ’em. And you know what follows.
I ordered supplies, located a paintbrush, and painted the posts with chalkboard paint. Then I gave kids chalk pens and let them tag the wall how they wanted. They had a blast, it looks great, and the graffiti is now under my control. So when someone wrote BUD LIGHT YEAR, I wet a paper towel and erased the BUD. I must admit, I stole this idea from the genius social studies teacher next door. I’m not sure hers was an anti-graffiti move, just top-notch community building. But as I was told in grad school, it’s not stealing, it’s collaborative teaching. And I love to steal any good ideas I encounter.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Lovisa to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
I have this hanging on my bulletin board at school, and I remember an old friend putting it on an apron, but now I can’t remember if it was mine or his. Either way, it’s an apron-worthy classic, one of my favorites. Also, Lovisa has a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
As I do every year, I made a playlist called Notable Albums of 2022 consisting of anything released in 2022 that intrigued me in any way. Plenty are the droning guitar rock and electronica I’ve shared many weeks. The third most well represented genre is a female-led rock bands a la Helium, Sleater-Kinney, early Heartless Bastards, Dum Dum Girls on their perfect first album, and so on. My latest love in that category is The Paranoyds and their 2022 album, Talk, Talk, Talk. Power-pop girl rock, my heart swells, plus you can dance to it.
My Back Pages
Post-college, now Columbia professor-cum-multi-media guru Duy Linh Tu and I joked about starting a webzine called Hustler of Culture, the name taken from a Chuck D lyric (at 1:34). Not a full year into my LA adventure, and impatient for someone to invent the blogosphere, I spent a month putting out four issues.
In a section called Arbitrary Nostalgia Trip, I penned a love letter to You Can’t Do That on Television in the premiere issue, Nov 15, 1999:
The day my family got cable was monumental not for MTV, or for the promise of nudity, but for a far more childish reason: Nickelodeon mystified me. I just couldn’t fathom a network designed solely for kids, and I spent hours trying to comprehend its existence while poring over a two-page spread for the channel in Muppet Magazine (yes, it existed, and yes, I was a subscriber — maybe that should have been this week’s topic...).
In the early ’80s, the television industrial complex had yet to figure out how to monetize childhood, so there was little content for me outside of afternoons and Saturday mornings. Nickelodeon gleamed with promise. As for Muppet Magazine, I remember it fondly. Who could forget the Muppet Babies kicking Steve Martin’s ass?
Nickelodeon provided me with wonderful adolescent entertainment: Double Dare, Dangermouse, and especially Turkey Television. But they all paled in comparison to the slimiest, funniest, and most well-known of them all: You Can’t Do That on Television. It was almost like a shoddy Monty Python Jr., a chaotic triumph of the young, and I immediately fell in love. Of course, they were Canadian, but I didn’t figure that out until the episode on “Hangin’ Oot,” when my parents had to sit me down for the big Canada talk.
In the early ’80s, it really did feel revolutionary to have sketch comedy by kids. And as I wrote this, I had not set foot in Canada. I’ve since set foot in Montreal, Vancouver, and Halifax, and all were lovely. Plus, Lovisa hails from there, so the Blah’s an international collab. I just thought Canada was a good punchline, but I was young and foolish, I’m sorry!
I loved the anarchy and the perpetual threat of slime or water. I loved that the chef was named Barf (okay, Barth, but that can’t be just a coincidence). I loved that there were only a few adults, and they were constantly being made into fools. I loved their bastardized William Tell Overture theme song.
Right, that song ruled. Later in the piece, I covered the Alanis-inspired resurgence of interest in the show (she was after my time) and I bemoaned a lack of easily accessed reruns. I built to a climax.
I remember one joke that I still tell to this day. Picture a row of brightly colored lockers, and forgive my selective memory for misquoting and almost certainly misattributing. Hell, I’m starting to think this joke didn’t even take place in those lockers, and maybe was from some Police Academy movie. But I'm already committed:
“Why do they call it borscht?”
“I don't know. Why do they call it borscht?”
“Because that’s the sound it makes when it hits the floor. [Feigning vomit]: BORSCHT!”
Does comedy get any better than that?
Oh man, I forgot about that borscht joke, I have to reintegrate it into my patter. And this was the first and final Arbitrary Nostalgia Trip, mostly because it was too much work to write multiple articles every week. Remember The Week in Dog Poo?
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