Sunday, January 21, 2007

Water Tag

If there was ever a perfect day to be drinking water, it was today. Well, maybe it wasn't, but it was just as good a day as any other. So, I grabbed a bottle of water as I headed out the door on my way to 22nd and Nueces. Although this seemed entirely inconsequential at the time.
As soon as I got to the moonlight tower I realized that I had no idea what I was looking for. None.
After a brief bout of utter confusion, I realized that my water bottle was empty and that I needed to throw it away and what better to throw it away in than the dumpster across from the tower on 22nd. Normally, I would've just chunked the bottle from as far away as I could while still feeling confident that I could make it, but, partially because of our project and mostly because of my friend who's got me interested in stenciling over the past few days, I decided to walk up to the dumpster to throw away my bottle and, consequentially, get a better look at the spray painted tags all over it.

Tagging is interesting. Personally, I can't see the point of quickly spraying your name or pseudonym (alias, whatever) on any surface available and I've always kinda wanted to ask someone like "Mikey" or "Consume" why they do it.

Had I been at that dumpster a year ago Mikey might've told me why he does what he does.

Mikey was tired. He'd been sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Jamba Juice on Guadalupe all day hoping for the generosity of the people walking by. He hadn't had much luck today. Just enough to buy himself a bottle of water. People underestimate the value of clean drinking water. If you're in the city you can find food in trash cans and usually bum some liquor off a friend but clean drinking water is invaluable. He'd left his post on Guadalupe about an hour ago and was wandering an alley between 22nd and 23rd a little past Nueces and had just run out of water. He may not have a job anymore but he still liked to throw his trash in an appropriate container when possible. That, and when he went through the effort to find a dumpster it also gave him another chance to find a bite to eat. That's why he was in that specific alley. He knew that the light from one of Austin's famous moonlight towers would be enough to enable him to see the contents of the dumpster.

He was out of luck tonight. Even with the light from the tower he hadn't been able to find any food but he did find an almost unused can of spray paint.

He had been living here in Austin now for almost 13 years. 6 years in an apartment and 7 years on the street since he'd been fired from his last job. He'd seen tags all over everything in Austin and now he figured it was his turn to claim something and what better to claim than his lifeline for the last 7 years.

5 minutes later Mikey was walking away down the alley with fresh smell of spray paint in his nose and a slightly used can of spraypaint in his hand.

In fact, the can of paint had only been deposited in the dumpster an hour earlier by a character of an entirely different nature.
Consume was the alias of a junior at the University of Texas. She liked to think that she was clever; she wasn't very, but she liked to think she was.

She'd actually started tagging 5 years ago, but had yet to find her identity as a tagger and changed her name every few months or so depending on what intrigued her most and how she felt she could make the best "social statement."

For the past few months she'd been calling herself Consume and tagging dumpsters all over the Austin area because she thought that if people saw the word "consume" as they threw their bags in the dumpster they would be forced to think about the ridiculous amounts of products they consumed on a daily basis. What she failed to realize was that no one cared and those that did didn't need to be reminded.
At least she'd been smart enough to start as far away from the campus as possible. She knew that police patrols were more frequent the closer to campus she got and only in recent weeks had she deigned to get this close to campus. That night she learned just how much greater the risk was. She had actually been seen by a patrol as she was finishing tagging the dumpster off 22nd and Nueces and had had to ditch her paint in the dumpster in case she was caught as she ran away she might have a little plausibility when she said it wasn't her they'd seen.

These are all things that I would've known had I been hanging out by a dumpster in an alley off of 22nd slightly past Nueces at 2 o'clock in the morning a year ago, but, instead of a declaration of ownership or a social statement, all I saw when I threw away my water bottle was a mysteriously tagged dumpster.


Kirti said...

I liked the way you acknowledged these "tags" people leave behind and the way in which they invoke some sort of curiousity among those who see them, even if they are quickly forgotten in the end.

everett said...

Carl, you mustmustmust go through with this urban experiment of yours. Whether or not this be your actual intervention, it's something that the city needs. I like in the apartments next to the dump, and periodically the management removes all of the tags (including my favorite of a robot army). Stick it to the man, I'll help you do it!

Marissa said...

Kudos to you, Mr. Bahr, for simply looking at names already tagged and making up elaborate stories about the original "artists"...espcially Consume and her attempt to make all UT students realize something about their lives. Frankly, I can hardly ever read tagging. I've learned to not pay attention. Because of this story, I'll look twice next time.

Matthew Aguilar said...

I think this is an interesting thing to look into, where does tagging fit in to the urban environment. Should it be prevented or left as history. Art, political, or just vandalism? Is there a point to remove it?