THE NEIGHBOURS, Part Two
(Part One here.)
The Drug Dealer is probably the neighbour we talk about the most. He’s the most obnoxious and easiest to make fun of. He lives with his wife and kid a couple doors over from The Exhibitionists. He's the kind of short, ridiculous man who wears clothes that are three or four times too big because he thinks they make him look bigger. His attire is designed to make you think “drug dealer” but he might in fact be a crossing guard, on account of the reflective vest he wears when he goes off to work in the morning.
I’ve had one hand gesture showdown with The Drug Dealer. He lets his two dogs get riled up by The Three Dog House’s dogs next door (a din that reverberates up and down the alley). I saw him standing on his back porch with a sandwich, surveying the situation proudly as if he was at an illegal dog-fight with some gangster bros (even though one of his dogs is a tiny, yappy thing). He looked around to see if anyone was watching, which I was, so I threw my hands up in the air at him and he threw his hands up in the air back to mock me. I went back in before I got mouthy because A. is very civilized, so I tend to behave well for him.
Noise—be it his barking dogs or his music at ungodly volume—seems to equal power to The Drug Dealer. That is, until the police come, then he turns into a whiny man-child.
TDD loves to hang out in his garage smoking pot (often with a guy who looks like his brother), music blaring from his car, which isn’t exactly the most pimped-up ride (it’s beige), but I think he thinks that we won’t know the difference as long as it’s blaring Hip Hop. One night, he kept the stereo in his car on long past midnight. It was so loud that the windows in our concrete building were actually vibrating and we couldn’t sleep properly. Had we not been too tired to pick up our phones, we may have called the police, but someone else did it for us.
I missed most of what happened next, but A., who went out onto the balcony, said that TDD was at one point handcuffed and that he was crying out for his wife—who came out with her enormous fake boobs encased in a pink velour tracksuit. TDD yelled to her to “video the police brutality.” Mrs. Drug Dealer shouted back that the battery on her phone was dead. In my mind, she was also chewing gum at the same time, but that is purely fiction.
Did I mention that these people have a child?
It was not long after that incident that A. also spotted TDD cruising through the alley on a bicycle with a ghetto blaster hanging from his neck.
After learning that The Exhibitionist’s house was the birthplace of Beatrice Lillie, I Googled TDD’s address to see if I could find anything out. What I found was an ad his wife had placed on a Nanny website listing herself as a Christian with a good marriage.
Still, I’d take TDD who is at least the kind of asshole that is consistent, over The Wife Beater, who lives a few doors down the other way. We don’t say his name lightly, we say it with contempt. Before he became TWB, he was The Dickhead with the Motorcycle. That was when he exhibited the lesser crime of letting his motorcycle idle for long periods of time, revving it occasionally, while he sauntered in and out of his house.
I don’t think it’s appropriate to give you the details of the domestic dispute, but we did give the details to the police. Once, after that, I ran into TWB in the alley. He smiled at me and I smiled back because at first I didn’t recognize him up close. Then I was mad because I couldn’t take the smile back.
The only neighbour we really recognize up close and talk to is a man named Blaine who has two dogs named Lady and Budger. Lady is an old dog and Budger is a young one, acquired to keep Lady company after her previous companion died. Lady and Budger bark a lot—along with TDD’s dogs and The Three Dog House’s dogs. Blaine, however, has tried to respond to the needs of the neighbourhood and has put humane bark collars on Lady and Budger. We chatted about it one day on the sidewalk.
A few weeks ago, I was coming up the alley with a bottle of wine. Blaine was just getting home from work. He’d swung himself out of his car and was settling into his wheelchair when he saw me. We both said “hey” and “how are ya?” and then he gave me the thumbs up and said, “It’s Friday night!” I gestured with my wine bag to agree that I was equally excited to have arrived at the weekend.
The exchange made me happy because it felt neighbourly. It’s funny, we live in this building that looms over our neighbours, but because of our vantage point, it’s the people in the alley whose lives loom larger over us, not the neighbours in our own building who are so near that sometimes we can hear them pee.
I think of myself as a good neighbour. Not to toot my own horn, but when a fella down the hall in our building accidentally set his kitchen on fire and the building had to be evacuated, I was the only one (with A.’s help) who seemed to care about him, shocked as he was with singed hair and a badly burned arm. I plucked him out of the thick smoke to begin treating his burn before the paramedics arrived. Later, while he was at the hospital, I left a cute jar at his door with an apple cider vinegar and baking soda mixture to help get the smoke smell out of his hair.
Then again, I’m also the neighbour who will Google you, which quite possibly makes me a very bad neighbour. I feel a little sheepish about that. Blame Nancy Drew. In Vancouver, when we lived above a hair salon that was surely a front because no one ever seemed to get their hair cut there and our plumber had told us they had no running water, A. stopped me from conducting my own investigation (I wanted to check their garbage for actual hair clippings, but he was worried that we might end up somewhere tied to a couple of chairs and having to explain ourselves). Funnily enough, I’m no Gladys Kravitz when it comes to people I actually know and would never root through their garbage, even if I suspected them of criminal activity. I swear. You have to be a stranger for me to be that nosey.
Now that fall is here, the lives of our neighbours will recede a bit from view and everyone will be more inclined to keep their clothes on. I can’t say that I won’t still notice what’s going on though. I’m looking at you, Runny Dog Shit Couple.
THERE, THERE // Understanding Penis Graffiti
I do a lot of walking, mostly by choice. So many benefits, blah, blah, blah. What I don’t understand is why people paint huge penises on sidewalks, paved trails, and roads. I can sort of understand it on the stall walls in public toilets because, you know, there it is. Please, can you help me understand?
~ Stepping Out in Oregon
Dear Stepping Out in Oregon,
Penis graffiti is not just in Oregon. It’s international (though “Oregon” sounds like “organ” so if you see a bit more than usual that might be why). That’s what makes this question culturally relevant to everyone: we’ve all been exposed to it.
Did you know that, just last year, phalluses were found carved into the rocky peninsula of the Aegean island Astylpalaia? Experts say they’ve been there for around 2,500 years. One even has an inscription that says (in Greek letters), “Nikasltimos was here mounting Timiona.”
So even diddlers Nik and Tim were dong-doodlers hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
I asked A. for his theory on penis graffiti because he is literally better equipped to understand penis psychology. He thought about it, then emailed me his answer while he was out the other day:
Males from a very early age would like people to look at their penises because they think they’re cool. Society dictates that it’s not polite to show off one’s dong. Still, one would find it amusing if others looked at one’s dong. Since one can’t do that (and, also we’re probably worried that people might laugh at our dongs if they’re not dong enough), some males draw penises in public places as a way of showing off their dongs—albeit in a sublimated way.
From this, I understand that A. is at risk of being a flasher when he’s old and senile... but I think the take away is that guys can’t get over how cool their junk is and want everyone to know about it.
Penises are easy to draw. Want to do a quick public doodle? Can’t beat two circles, a long “U” shape, a line, and a notch. There’d probably be more vagina graffiti if they were easier to draw. One Reddit user says, “I tried to draw a vagina and it ended up looking like an angry seagull.”
Interestingly, another Reddit user says that Finland has a commonly recognized symbol for a vagina (that looks like a diamond with a line down the middle), so apparently, in Finland, there’s just as much vagina graffiti as penis graffiti (although, still drawn mostly by males, one supposes).
I know that there are gals who are not above a dick doodle now and then too. The reason? Genitalia cracks some people up. You can no more explain that than why some people think fart jokes are hilarious. Here’s a Tweet that came up by a woman named Lexus when I searched for “penis graffiti” on Twitter:
My mom had me pose pointing at a graffiti penis today without knowing it. Pics to come.
I laughed. Did you laugh?
Of course, that doesn’t mean that penis graffiti is just a fun joke. Take, for instance, this Tweet from someone named Katie Campbell:
I will not let a spray painted penis ruin my wedding. #graffiti #notcoolkids
Okay, I still laughed, but that spray-schlong—wherever it was (and isn’t it fun to imagine?)—clearly challenged Katie on her special day.
On a serious note, what about the giant penis graffiti that overwhelms images of women, particularly on posters? Whenever I see them I cringe. Women have long been victims of male dominance and sexual violence. We don’t need uninvited penises in our faces—even if it’s only representational.
Penis graffiti often adorns images of men the same way, but the message reads differently. For example, one might come across an image of Stephen Harper with a large, Sharpied wang. The message in that case would be, No matter how big this graffitied penis is, Harper’s still the bigger dick.
Another theory might be that penis graffiti can act as a sort of thumbing of the nose to the man. The government doesn’t control everything, penis graffiti might say. Take the super-interesting case of the “art terrorist” group known as “Voina” who painted a 60-metre high penis on a St. Petersburg drawbridge facing the local headquarters of the Federal Security Service (successor to the KGB). When the drawbridge was raised, the giant penis also erected itself, like an extra-fleshy middle finger. The group, controversially, won a state-backed 2010 Innovation Prize from the National Centre for Contemporary Art. Voina was also jailed for aggravated hooliganism and were later bailed out by none other than Banksy. (In the art activism category, there’s also Wanksy, the artist who painted penises around potholes in the UK as a way to get the government to fix them.)
Related to being anti-government/anti-establishment, the last taboo in the mainstream media is the erect penis. It’s the image that censors have traditionally worried most about and yet penis graffiti is almost always erect. Intriguing, huh?
During my research to answer your letter, I also came across a Facebook group titled “Penis Graffiti”. There are over 400 members (no pun intended) who can view and post penis graffiti with captions like “Summer camp classic.” I sent a message to Penis Graffiti saying, “I'm wondering if you might want to comment on why you started the group and why you think people like to graffiti penises on things?”
I received a note back from Adam Ames, one of the site’s three administrators. Ames is a NYC-based artist in his forties. He said:
The page was started to showcase penis graffiti since, as many have noticed, it’s all over the place. It’s completely puerile but has a clear undercurrent of panic (most likely) for the men who draw it. It’s a pictographic pissing contest. At the same time, it can be super funny. The response says much about the viewer.
When I asked him to elaborate on the “undercurrent of panic” he wrote:
The more men feel threatened/emasculated, the more they will flaunt their masculinity (think about the contemporary plague of bros). Graffiti tags are so that people know the tagged were there. It’s marking territory. So, men draw penises to make sure people know they have penises.
Ames also mentioned that he and his fellow collaborators (who never graffiti penises themselves, only collect them)—Andrew Bordwin and Nick D’Emilio—all explore issues regarding masculinity in their art. “So, we have an interest in penis graffiti for both the lowbrow humor as well as the sociological ramifications,” Ames says.
It’s possible, Stepping Out in Oregon, that the whole penis graffiti thing, right or wrong, comes down to that old saw: boys will be boys. However lowbrow it is, penis graffiti is a cultural ritual with the staying power of Viagra. Here’s how I look at it: were aliens to observe our culture, penis graffiti—along with shoes hanging over power lines—is just one of the indicators of how absurd it is down here. At the end of the day, I’m pretty okay with the absurd (even if I'm exsaperated by penis graffiti). In fact, the absurd makes me feel like I’m living in a comedy, instead of a tragedy.
I hope this helps you come to terms with what you see on your perambulations. It’s a weird world, my friend.
THREE THINGS // The Unhipness of Decorative Gourds & Pumpkin Spice
Come fall, we’re supposed to make fun of decorative gourds and pumpkin spice—because that’s what hip people do—right? Here are a couple links to help you out.
1 / It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers by Colin Nissan
Published by McSweeneny’s in 2009, this makes for solid annual reading. Here’s a sample:
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands on some fucking gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table. That shit is going to look so seasonal.
2 / 16 Pumpkin Spice Products That Don’t Exist and Should Never Exist by Jen Lewis
Published by Buzzfeed last year, there’s a good chance that at least 50% of these products now exist. Pumpkin Spice Doritos, anyone?
3 / How to Make Pumpkin Butter
This is really a recipe for pumpkin butter. It’s amazing on toast or fresh scones or in oatmeal. I never thought I was hip... I really wanted to talk about pumpkin spice, but I tricked you by leading with that spoof stuff in case you're too hip for pumpkin spice. Now I have to go see if the florist has any decorative gourds in yet. They didn't have any last weekend for Thanksgiving, so I had to buy a ceramic pineapple instead.