We used to have a joke that spray paint was fucking up our memories. A few weeks ago, Mario called me with a new joke. "It wasn't the memory, it was the bladder," he said. "About a year ago I started noticing I had to use the washroom more often. Before I learned to control it, I would urinate in bed even. It kept getting worse. Now, I can't drink anything for two hours before I go to bed. I pee once before bed, then I have to get up again twice during the night" (Mcgirt Insert: me and my homies used to call this "the leaks"... good lord)
The neurotoxins in spray paint have damaged the part of Mario's brain which produces hormones to control his bladder. The label on any spray can will tell you it can also damage the immune and nervous system, kidney, liver and lungs - the same is true for a lot of markers.
Anyone who's gone piecing has felt the slight dizziness, and loss of appetite. Some of us get headaches and nausea. I personally get muscle spasms and my hair is starting to go (one of four writers I know who're early balding). In the long run, who knows? Spray paint could be our Asbestos, our AIDS.
Coincidentally, I have a second friend named Mario. This Mario lives on the West Side, and he's at least as much of a graffiti head as the first Mario. He paints at least as much as the first Mario, and has at least as many problems. "All my life, I never used to pick my nose," he told me recently. "Then in 1988, I started having to pick my nose all the time, getting paint-colored snot, scratchy throat, wheezing. Then one time, I did this real big production and I coughed up blood. After that I lost my voice for like a week. Dude, I was scared. I didn't want anybody to know. The doctor told me don't spray paint no more. I kept doing it, and my symptoms kept getting worse. I stutter... I get a tightness in my eye, twitches in my wrist... Dude, I get major, major headaches... The worst part is, I feel like I'm getting stupider; I can't articulate myself as well as I used to be able to... I think I'm addicted to doing graffiti, I fiend for it. Graffiti is my life. I feel like I might have to die for it."
I have to admit, death by graffiti sounds like an honorable way to go out. I dream of it myself. But isn't that giving up at the game, copping out at the challenge of life: the challenge to be stronger, smarter, healthier, better than we thought we could be. The challenge to survive.
Mario, I don't want to visit you in the hospital or at the cemetery, and I don't want you to visit me there. Sometime in life, I too may have to cough up blood, lose my hair, or to lose my mind because of the painting I've done. But I ain't going out like no sucker.
When I use spray paint, I do everything to dilute the toxins and keep them out of my body. I eat before and after painting, use the wind to avoid inhaling fumes, steer clear of other toxins, refuse to paint indoors, and refuse to go out unless I really care about the piece. Most of all, I wear gloves and a mask, changing the filters regularly. I'm wearing that fucker right now. Please wear your mask too, Mario. Both of you. that shit ain't funny no more."
Taken from "Bomb The Suburbs - revised second edition", by William Upski Wimsatt, published by The Subway And Elevated Press Company. 1994. ISBN:0-964-38550-3.
FUCK... I need to be more careful.