The blue graffiti had not graced the bike path 20 minutes before, when I’d pedaled eastward along the river to the beat of Lady Gaga’s “Americano.” Upon my return, the bright blue paint caught my attention. In neat, all caps, someone had penned across the pathway, “Loserville.” Another few yards along, on the side of a cement irrigation pump house, composed in the same ink, was the profound proverb, “Be Happy . . . Fuck Them.”
I’d seen the taggers perched on that cement block only minutes before. Two teenaged girls with backpacks and bad posture had been sitting there cross-legged, heads hanging in commiseration, probably bemoaning their sad existence in a small town in the middle of nowhere, Idaho.
My first thought was to chase them down and confront the little punks, but then I remembered my pre-adult years, and empathized their angst. As a teenager, I existed in a much smaller community in a much more conservative atmosphere where everyone knew everyone else’s business and life droned on in tedious normality. In my hometown, there’d been no store in which to purchase spray paint, and prying eyes dissuaded any ideas of spewing rebellious complaints of social dissatisfaction on random structures.
As I continued along the levee, my pedaling slowed as my mind quickened with memory. Immediately I projected my own teenaged experiences on to those young, female vandals. What could they possibly be so sullen about? They at least lived in a town with more than one high school, more than one church, more than two grocery stores. For teenagers with big dreams and far-fetched ambitions, nothing is more restricting and unimaginative than an environment of complacent contentment. As an adolescent, I couldn’t wait to escape my “Loserville.”
My rebellion came in the form of rejecting church on Sundays, dating a guy who parked in the “stoner” section of the high school parking lot, and applying to the most liberal university in the state of Utah. Each act warranted a call to my mother from some neighbor overly concerned about my well-being. What I really wanted was freedom from the expectations of adults who just didn’t understand me.
When I started my freshman year at that liberal epicenter of a conservative state, I chose to live off-campus, in an apartment complex just down the street from a three-story retaining wall displaying a wide variety of “street art.” Everything from stick figures to portraits, gang signs to imaginative murals colored that concrete. It was the topic of city politics and local news. How dare those juvenile delinquents (assumed children) destroy public property. But the property wasn’t destroyed, it was used, artistically for the most part, and the university students campaigned to have the landmark considered a canvas for budding street artists. Surprisingly, after much debate, the conventional city council agreed, set down some rules (no vulgarity or obscenity) and the wall became a vibrant destination for the community, visitors, and the outspoken socially-conscious.
I imagine these Loserville girls’ preference for old school penmanship on public walkways over social media meant they were somehow kindred spirits. They were lyrical rebels, perhaps without a cause, but with plausible passion. To them, the bike path and pump house were the only medium big enough to hold their declarations of frustration, anger, and pain.
Most likely these girls were experiencing a rough patch in their adolescent lives. Perhaps their paint statements were directed toward parents, school authorities, boyfriends or girlfriends, classmates, strangers, me. The tagging definitely had me thinking, even days later. “Be Happy…Fuck Them.” Exactly. It’s a great affirmation.
This town may be a “LOSERVILLE” to some, but it’s my home sweet home, and yet it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of where I’m from, where I’m heading and all the places I have yet to explore. The epithet has become my call to action, a prompt to dream bigger. So thanks, graffiti girls, for speaking out in blue spray paint on our public footpath. You probably had no idea your rebellious tagging would make such a positive impact. And if you’re interested, I have at least 100 feet of wooden fence on 14thAvenue ready for your next art project. Stop by. I’ll provide the paint.