I found this little piece of graffiti snugly tattooed on a brick at the base of a small set of stairs. It wasn’t easily noticeable. There were a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, because it was scrawled on one single brick among several that make up the surface of the set of stairs. Secondly, there was, and still is, the larger context of the obscure staircase that at one time must have led to a door, but now, if followed, leads you smack-faced into a very solid wall. It would be a fairly safe assumption to say that this quasi-political graffiti gets lost in the greater details when running across this architectural question mark. That said, there is a practical purpose to the stairs. It’s a great place to sit, take five, and maybe make an observation on the devil-in-the-detail artistic musings of the aforementioned brick (that is if you bother to notice it at all).
The town where I, the door to nowhere, and the graffiti-laden brick live in, touts itself as a bastion of liberalism. It’s known mainly for its university, and most folks born in the last couple of decades will have no doubt heard of the free speech movement that was hatched in the university’s hallowed halls in the mid 1960s. Over time, these and other progressive ideals bled from the heart of the school out into the town itself. You can find yoga studios and acupuncture clinics galore (many of which predated the recent yoga trend). There are more than your average amount of Tibetan paraphernalia shops (I can think of at least two such shops within less than one mile of each other), and it doesn’t stop at the commercial façade.
The city police long ago made the policy decision to make marijuana offenses their lowest enforcement priority. The school district long ago implemented a lottery for children entering the public school system that insures not only ethnic diversity in all of its schools, but also socioeconomic diversity. There’s also a running consensus that the locavore movement also got it’s start here. For as long as I’ve lived here (12 years so far) I’ve never seen a Republican run for and win any local office. The kind of graffiti I found on that brick can be found just about everywhere you look, with more elaborate derivations receiving the distinction of “mural” rather than graffiti.
The peace symbol morphing into the that of anarchy (or vice versa should you choose) is telling though. It’s easy to get lost in the details of the city’s reputation. If you stop and look a little closer, you can also see certain contradictions that give credence to the phrase “so liberal their conservative.” It was several years back that protesters made camp (and a long, drawn out stink) in a small grove of live oak trees straddling the university’s sports center in an attempt to save the trees from being cut down for a renovation to the sports center. Never mind that the center was sitting directly on top of the second largest fault line in the state, it was the trees that seemed to matter most. There is still an ongoing controversy about the current mayor’s approval of the building of new housing units across the city in order to stimulate population growth and thereby stimulate new revenue into the city’s coffers. One tactic used by the opposition is to try and have as many sites declared landmarks as possible.
There are some folks here who seem to think the town is a liberal utopia. Still, there are also some who view it as a liberal dystopia (masochism anyone?). Both are usually the type who would probably suffer a bloody nose from using the stairway to nowhere for its originally intended purpose. Yet most of the folks around here see the stairs for what they are, a place to sit down and get lost in the details of how best to navigate the practicalities and impracticalities of living in a town full of contradictions.