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NYC Graffiti Artist Story

A Night to Forget

Growing up in Brooklyn, there wasn’t a lot to do after school. I tried my hand at sports, namely basketball because I was always the tall kid—I sucked. I tried an acting class, but I hated it. I just wanted to play myself. I tried my hand at art, realism and abstract, but I wasn’t very good at those either. I just loved the way that the colors blended and worked with each other.

 Composition VII Wassily Kandinsky1913
Composition VII Wassily Kandinsky 1913 (Abstract Art Example)

In trying to find my calling, I’d spend a lot of time over at friends houses, playing video games, trying to figure out what my skills were. I was about 12 years old when I went to my friend Franks house. He was a kid I met through skateboarding, which I had just taken up, and it was our first time hanging out somewhere besides the skatepark. His older brother, Paul, was a legend in our neighborhood—he was good looking, a great skater, top of his class grade wise, and apparently, one of the most respected graffiti writers in the city.

Skateboard legend

I watched as he wrote his name over and over again on pieces of paper. I asked him “what’re you doing”, and he smiled and told me to come give it a try. I came up with a nom de plume, and after about an hour I was hooked. It wasn’t just the friendship growing with someone I looked up too—I found something I could practice and get good at.

Fast-forward 5 years later. I never stopped practicing, and soon, graffiti became my life. Putting my tag up in every borough became my calling and the motivation for me to get up in the morning. I was gaining fame and respect, for both my skill, and my prolific nature. I wasn’t sure how I would parlay it into a career, but for now, my grades were good, and so was my life outside of school. The ladies loved that I had this alter-ego. The dudes at my school looked up to me because I was crushing it. Even people who didn’t know one thing about graffiti, but knew what people would call me would say “damn, that’s you? I see that everywhere” and it would perk up my entire day. It became my identity. It became the way I would see New York City. My lens was dirty, but it was clear that this was how I was going to grow up.

 

graffiti life



I’ll never forget that night, May 30th, 2014. The spot was right off an elevated stop. The roof was about 10 feet from the platform, so close to the rail that, in theory, someone could stand on the third rail and do a standing jump onto the roof. The way to get to the roof, though, was from the ground, not the train platform. A chain link fence ran from the ground, all the way to the roof. It was easy enough—like climbing a backstop on a little league field. I made it up there, and so did my friend Derek. We painted the roof, admired our work, and prepared to leave. Nothing outside of the usual.

third rail

Third Rail Track


I went down first. Climbing down is always harder than climbing up, at least for me. More clumsy. I made it down, though and waited for Derek. Now, D is a huge human being. I’m talking 6”4 270 LBS big. Offensive Lineman size. He’s coming down, and has one hand on the fence, and reaches out his right hand to steady himself, but doesn’t realize what he’s about to touch. He reaches out and touches the transformer—the metal box that brings electricity to the third rail—while his other hand is still on the chain link fence. Meanwhile, he’s about 20-25 feet in the air. He was instantly electrocuted. He fell, straight onto his back. I remember his shoes flew off, he hit the ground so hard. I looked down at my friend, and he was smoldering—literally. Steam was coming off of him. I didn’t know what to do. I felt his heart, and it wasn’t beating. I called 911.


I rode in the ambulance. He was still alive, barely, but alive. Derek had a single mother, like me, and was from a really bad part of the Bronx. He was older, 19 at the time, and I was 17. He was a role model for me. A really positive kid, a fighter. I had no doubt he would be okay, and this would be something we would laugh about. At 4:22 AM the doctors told me he had passed. I didn’t know what to do. It could have been me. I could have as easily touched or brushed up against that transformer. I’m a big guy too. I didn’t know what to do in that moment. Who to call. Everyone was asleep or out painting. I decided to call my mother and I just cried.

 

His funeral was two weeks later. I was afraid people would blame me. Hell, I felt guilty. Survivors guilt, I would learn. Alas, though, no one blamed me. Everyone felt for me, heavily. We all cried together, looked at his body one last time, and put him to rest. It seems crazy, risking life and limb over adding paint to a wall, but it’s what we do. It gives us that natural high, that adrenaline rush. Nothing else in this world makes me feel that way. That night reminded me of the fragility of life, and how close we all are, at any moment, especially in a big city like New York, to death. These adventures shaped my life, and gave me perspective, and without New York being the guiding factor, I wouldn’t have learned any of this, and I wouldn’t be me.

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