Don’t lean on me.

SF is a fucked up place to live sometimes.

You acclimate, you know, because that’s what people do. Acclimate. It’s true, what they say, you really can’t see the forest for the trees. Still, sometimes the haze clears long enough for you to look around, appalled. You can tell when somebody is struck by one of these rare clarities. You’ll see them standing on a corner, looking up into space, completely bewildered.

I watch them, and if our eyes catch, we share a brief, silent, all-consuming moment of confusion. What the shit are we doing here?

A valid, necessary question, often overlooked.

This city is a home to much squalor and degradation. Every manner of filth and ugliness. Poverty. Murder. Tourism. Leprosy. Godlessness. Perversion. Death. Fraud. Vegetarianism. Everything.

Oh well. At least it’s not Los Angeles.

——

There are two kinds of graffiti in San Francisco. There’s the traditional kind, the original flavor. Like blue Trident gum. Runic, indecipherable shit scrawled hastily onto any surface by teenagers in black sweatshirts and athletic shoes. Little weird symbols left on everything from mailboxes to bathroom stalls. Good, honest tagging, as perpetrated by generations of urban miscreants ever since Eli Whitney invented the Sharpie and sprayable latex paint.

Then there’s the new shit. Art student graffiti. Stencils. Decals. Faces. Propaganda. Little robots.

What the fuck is it with the robots?

I remember once catching some little fuckers doing it on my garage door, back when I lived in the Haight. There were two of them, curly-haired, unshaven, undoubtedly struggling by with C’s in their liberal arts program at City College, working at a skate shop for cigarette money.

Tagging in my neighborhood was a dangerous proposition, and I was surprised by their boldness. Cops and crackheads were locked in a perpetual struggle for territory down there, chasing each other around our blocks from dusk till dawn every night of the week like new-age cowboys and indians. Any would-be artist has much to fear from either faction, but these little fuckers would not be deterred.

I saw them on a Tuesday night, rustling with their stencils and spraycans, but they vanished mid-masterpiece when an unmarked Crown Vic came around the corner.

I waited up for them the next night, knowing they’d be back to finish their shit. I sat with the lights off, my first-floor window above the garage open, maglight in one hand and a water balloon in the other. They showed up around two in the morning, milling around for a few minutes until they felt safe.

The tall one got his stencils out and started off while the shorter one started gluing up a huge, bass-relief looking picture of Condoleeza Rice waving a North Korean flag on top of a Wal-Mart. Whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

I waited, crouched and eager. They worked diligently.

After five minutes or so, I leaned out the window three feet or so above their heads. I was silent, predatory, evil. I was fucking batman.

Leaping from the sill, I blasted them with the maglight and smashed the water balloon onto the Upper Playground beanie of the tall one, soaking him.

“SURPRISE, COCKFACE.” I shrieked.

The little one took off like a fucking rocket, up to Steiner and around the corner in the blink of an eye, never looking back. Some friend.

The big one, his instincts dulled by years of pot and public education, just stood there shaking and petrified. His limbs vibrated, and he did this hokey, rigid half step like his legs each decided to run a different direction.

“RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWR.” I yelled, keeping the maglight on his face. I had him cornered.

I’ve never seen anyone so scared. He was near to tears, and trembling violently. He knew, he knew with his very soul, that he was going to die. Right now. Every profanity and prayer the kid knew came out of his mouth simultaneously. “Mrffffffastl!” He moaned.

“What the fuck are you doing to my garage!” I demanded. He looked around, writhing like Rainman, mortified. “WELL?”

This humanized me a bit, I think, and his brain began regaining control from whatever reptilian, adrenaline-fueled subsystem had taken over when I jumped down on him. He quickly became capable of basic speech.

“No… Just. Nothing.”
“This doesn’t look like nothing, this looks like fucking Academy of Art bullshit. ARE YOU A COMMUNIST, SON? DO YOU USE MARIJUANA?”
“It’s… It’s a robot.”

I shined the maglight on the giant, stenciled mural on the garage door. It was indeed a robot. Several, actually, of all shapes and sizes.

“I KNOW IT’S A FUCKING ROBOT. I know what a fucking robot is, I’m not some kind of moron. Why is it on my garage, son?” I was determined to get some answers before he realized we were about the same age and he was six inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than me.

He clutched his Timbuktu satchel to his chest like a teddybear, squeezing it desperately. Little bits of yellow water balloon were stuck to his hat. After a few moments, it became obvious he had no reply.

“Ok son.” I said, shining the maglight away “Tell me this: What the fuck is it with robots?”
“What do you mean, robots?”
“All over the fucking place man. I see stickers with robots, on signs, on parking meters, on delivery vans in chinatown. You people love them. Why robots, man?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? Explain the fucking symbology to me. What’s the fucking underlying theme here, son, with these fucking robots on everything?”

We stared at each other for a minute. My questions seemed to freak him out even further, and he seemed once again convinced of his imminent death. He groaned softly and bit his lip.

“Get the fuck out of here.”

For a second it looked like he might reach out and give me a hug, but his legs got the best of him and he ran off down towards the panhandle.

I looked at the robots for a minute. They just stood there, with their rectangular heads and pupil-less eyes. I went back inside.

Fucking San Francisco.

-T.

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