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The man with the mask 0

Dear Bradshaw,

About to descend the stairs to the metro, I saw two sanitation workers scouring the graffiti that desecrated the walls, benches, walkways, poles, and trashcans of the station. Workers have been there before. Many times. In fact, they come about twice a year. This, however, was the worst vandalism I’d seen so far and, on a whim, I decided to do something I’d considered doing for ages.

A mask covered one worker’s mouth as he scrubbed down an area of tiles with a dripping broom. The other worker was gripping a hose, spraying the walls from point-blank range with a pink liquid that looked toxic or nuclear or, at the very least, lethal. The paint was coming off, for the most part, but this metro station would never be what it once was.

Preferring to avoid the cloud of mist that encircled the sprayer, I approached the man with the mask. “Excuse me!” I yelled over the noise of the hose’s motorized water tank, “I know this is going to sound strange but you guys come here every so often and do your best to remove the graffiti, and then, the very next day, the graffiti is back. It’s a futile, senseless, and I imagine costly, endeavor. I know this because I’ve lived right around the corner for about five years. In fact, I pass through here two or three times a day, and I know who’s responsible. There’s a group of kids with their skateboards. They also happen to be the same ones who leave the beer bottles all over the place. I’m not saying anyone needs to be arrested or anything, but why not have one or two police officers make an appearance. They introduce themselves, very nicely, smiling and pleasant. They ask some questions, look inside a few backpacks. Perhaps they find some cans of spray paint. So they take down names and then make it perfectly clear what will happen if they have to come again. It takes about fifteen, twenty minutes, and that’s it. Problem resolved.”

“Where are you from?” the worker asked, his voice muffled by the mask.

“Los Angeles.”

“And that’s how it works there?”

“More or less.”

The worker shrugged his shoulders, glanced side-to-side, and then said, “Well, in Rome it works like this: They put it up. We take it down.”

I smiled.  “Of course. Sorry if I’ve wasted your time, and thanks for hearing me out.”

The worker might have smiled. It was impossible to tell with the mask in the way. But judging by the angle of his eyebrows, I think he did, and as I walked off, having received the answer I’d anticipated, I chuckled to myself, tickled by the absurdity of so many things, like wearing a suit and tie when the temperature outside is 100 degrees, or hunting animals to extinction when we know our lives are intertwined with theirs, or Congressmen who vote for war even though they themselves don’t have to fight it.

I feel frustrated when a solution dangles before my face like the string of a balloon while reaching out and grabbing the string is out of the question because there are powers that be, insurmountable obstacles that refuse to let me lift a finger. I also feel frustrated to hear people say that things are the way they are and can’t be changed.

Of course, there are financial interests, individuals who make their living by developing the products that remove paint from walls. There are others who profit from selling the paint that needs to be removed. Sometimes they’re the same company. Then there’s Rome’s sanitation department. If there’s no graffiti, there’s nothing for them to clean. Everybody’s out of a job.

In any case, I prefer to grind my teeth about more important matters, and that’s if I decide to worry about anything at all, because you can’t change the world, but you can definitely change yourself. As I always say, Shaw, if you can’t find heaven here, what makes you think you’ll find it anywhere at all?

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