Bleary-eyed, I shuffled up Main Street in New Paltz to grab my morning java. Despite housing a coffee before setting out, my blood had not yet reached its required caffeine percentage, so I may have acted more irately than usually when I came across the trio in orange safety vests.
What…what are they DOING?…was my stimulant-starved brain’s initial response.
What they were doing was scraping the multitude of band stickers off the corner walking signal post.
Main Street in New Paltz has a very bohemian feel to it. Eclectic shops crowd the sidewalks, and dive-bars blare honky-tonk and EDM out of
their dim interiors. The street is stuffed with traffic and some of the strangest people you’ll ever meet, wandering and clotting together like cells
in a fatty artery. The poles and flats of the street signs are all tagged with graffiti and plastered with the stickers of the same bands and DJs that play in the bars. There are years and years of stickers layering the signs, a display of the musical history of the town.
And these fuckers in their safety vests were wrecking it all, scraping away with dumb smiles on their faces.
“What are you doing?” I asked, innocuously enough.
The trio consisted of two teens and an older man. The latter spoke up.
“Oh, we’re part of the New Paltz Clean Sweep…just cleanin up.”
“Who’s telling you to do this?” I asked, trying to find an authority to confront.
My anger must have been visible behind my forced smile, because the man turned away with an annoyed and startled look on his face, simply saying, “Oh…no one.”
“Could you…y’know, not do that?”
He refused to respond, just kept scraping away like some idiot Visigoth crapping all over the majesty of Rome’s Architecture, like whatever
Taliban member blew up all those Buddhist Monuments in Afghanistan.
Graffiti (tags, street art, band stickers) are the people’s history. It’s written by amateurs, true, but amateurs who have a view of their place and time which is unique and often overlooked by the people that write the history books and newspapers.
What these obtuse wieners were destroying was decades of musical stories. As I watched in horror, one of the teens scraped off a sticker of a band that hadn’t played
in New Paltz in years. One of their members had died of cancer. The guy’s Facebook
page still existed as a memorial, filled with well-wishes and memories from his friends. I felt like asking if the scrapers wanted to wreck THAT too.
The fact that this was done under a “clean up” program was all the more insulting. The pole now looked cleaner, yes, but so did the Bagdad Museum after it was looted during the American invasion.
Places gather their history from the people that inhabit them. They leave parts of themselves on the dead architecture, making them live. The fact that some feel that this history needs to be wiped away in favor of antiseptic blankness, a lack of color, made me realize that no amount of coffee would have made me feel better.