Tag, You’re Not It

“Be so good that they have no choice but to notice you,” he was always prattling on, like some sort of unpaid motivational speaker. Well she was good. The best, really. At least in a century so lacking in quality control. And not just at avoiding reality (which she often had to do in order to have sex with him), but at her artistic medium of choice: tagging–graffiti, if you prefer. It started out as youthful folly when she was still in high school in San Francisco. The San Francisco of ’05 being a very different place to foster one’s creative and vandalistic urges. At first, she would go out at night with a group of guy friends to do it, but gradually, when they all opted to get real jobs instead of going to college (rightly so, as, after all, the only thing college ever got anyone in America was debt and ridicule), she found herself on her own in the act.

An act that she quickly realized was her calling as she sprayed the city with tags, stencils and elaborate artwork that put Banksy’s to shame. It was while finishing up an image of an Indian baby in a Louis Vuitton basket that she encountered Allistair, two years her senior and attending USF thanks to his British father’s backing and clout. From a long line of bankers, Allistair had been determined to break free from the mold with a degree in Advertising (minoring in French Studies, for that necessary English pretension). It was a hard sell, at first, until Allistair delivered a PowerPoint presentation on his potential earnings. An impressive feat, since Mad Men had not yet come out to make advertising look all shiny and new again. Plus, it would at least give Allistair some leeway for being creative if he couldn’t just outright be a novelist until he got rich on his own, pulling something like a Don DeLillo in his later years.

She caught his eye immediately, bent over in just such a way so that her arse was hyper-accentuated by her ripped jeans. She was wearing a partial gas mask, crouched in the dark like a cockroach waiting to lurch at whoever passed by. He wasn’t afraid of her though. Flew right over to her like a pigeon carrier determined to deliver a message with no precise reason why, just filled with an ingrained inclination. She whipped around, sensing a presence, instinctively spraying him in the face with the can that was in her hand.

“Ah fuck!” he screamed in agony. “Was that really necessary?” Suddenly aware of her brash action, she set the can down and proceeded to comfort him. “I’m so sorry! I thought–I don’t know. You scared me.”

He squinted at her. “I scared you? The girl in the gas mask?”

She shrugged. “I’m not as tough as I look.”

Grinning, he concurred, “I tend to believe you.”

They began their whirlwind romance right then and there, with Allistair the only one in her life truly aware of her identity apart from the boys she had started out with, the ones who had forgotten about her in going through the motions of living their lives of ordinariness. He was all in at the outset, even scouting more politically tinged locations for her, including on the USF campus. Momentum was starting to gain by 2012, when the two had both decided to move to New York together in order to take the utmost advantage of their career pursuits.

But something seemed to keep stalling for her. Sure, everyone wanted to take their photo in front of her work, but no one seemed to want to give her credit for it, with a number of men in the field stepping forward to attempt claiming it as their own (that means Shepard Fairey). When this finally happened one too many times, she could stand it no longer, coming forward in the most anonymous way she knew how: with a fake Instagram account touting her name as Graffita. By putting up new work that no one else could take credit for based on time stamp and location alone, she attracted a little more interest, though it appeared like less than what the men who initially pretended to be her might have generated.

And then, all of the sudden, the sticker phenomenon came to roost in both San Francisco and New York, rendering her more analog and intricate methods less relevant–less photographable. Her days were spent in darkness, an ironic foil to her nights. While Allistair would go to work at his uptight ad agency in Midtown, she would dream the day away, thinking up ideas and binging on too much coffee. He came home one night to find her chain smoking on the fire escape, the dark circles under her eyes making her look like a freshly risen zombie. Startled by her bedraggled appearance, he took her by the shoulders and escorted her back inside to the couch to give her his usual spiel, his vexing pep talk that had only become more vexing over the years, and proved that he had spent his entire life in a privileged situation that genuinely made his outlook so fucking Pollyanna. Genuinely made him believe that everything turns out okay at the end of the half hour. She knew otherwise. She knew better. But she had let his rosy perspective contrastly darken her life. If she had just continued on without having anywhere in the back–or rather front–of her mind a notion of inevitable success, maybe she wouldn’t feel quite so depressed in the present. So utterly hopeless and in search of what purpose her work really served. And the more she questioned it, the worse her output became, as she lacked the confidence she once did when she was doing it from a place that was pure of heart.

She snapped at him as he finished reciting his platitude, “Well Allistair, I’m so fucking good–no, great–and they have yet to notice me. To come knocking on my fucking door and offer me anything worth a damn as modern currency, not even accolades, followers, endorsements. I would even take those in lieu of money–but no, nothing! Fucking nothing!”

Allistair, repulsed by her display of emotion, just one of many displays of late, decided in that very moment that she was no longer worth enduring, worth standing by. He could see that she was never going to get famous and that all of his pep talks alluding to its inexorability had only fucked her up all the more. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe she was talented, it was that he could see she didn’t have the streak of luck that he did. And that the more she resented this lack of luck intermixed with talent, the more negative energy she was putting out that would only further result in her sealed fate as a nobody. He kept this to himself for awhile, of course, not wanting to further damage her.

It was as she wandered the part of Canal Street near the Manhattan Bridge that she finally snapped, seeing a frivolous sticker of Marilyn Monroe reworked with a baseball hat that said “DOPE” on it that she could no longer contain her contempt for what people flocked toward: art without statement or meaning. She started screaming as she dragged her nails against the wall to rip it off, her hands bleeding. She kept screaming, not because of the physical pain, but the emotional burden of no longer being a true artist because she cared so much about an “end result,” the only one of “worth” being fame and allegedly correlating money. She despised this seed that Allistair had planted inside of her (though at least it wasn’t the type of seed that would result in a child).

With a slew of onlookers watching her in horror, a police car pulled up to appraise the situation, from their vantage point seeing just another woman who had gone crazy in New York.

As the police carted her away, she chanted over and over to herself, “Be so good that they have no choice but to notice you.”

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