I have spent a lot of my adult life in bars. This is largely because I am an alcoholic, but also because I am a lonely masochist with an obsessive need to observe other human beings. I love, perversely, sitting by myself, eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers as they broadcast into the night details of astounding intimacy because they assume no one is listening. I wallow in my own silent strangeness, invisible and alone. I watch, I listen, I sip my beer, I ache. Bars are places where people reveal a lot of themselves, for better or for worse; I have a collector’s zeal for the bits and pieces they leave lying around. Human ephemera is endlessly fascinating to me: the stray strains of a conversation that float in and out of earshot, the sundry items of a lost and found box, a discarded note about something utterly prosaic (an address, a grocery list, the rare phone number).
And little is as enthralling to me as the phenomenon of bathroom graffiti. Chaotic, absurd, often joyfully ribald, bathroom graffiti is renga for the debauched, a geography of poems and images and illegible squiggles that renders the incessant malapropisms, slurred circumlocutions, and plain all-around dumbassery of bar talk in flat visual form. It’s wonderful. In the ever-shifting landscape of profane bumper-sticker politics, inscrutable in-jokes, and artless doodles one discerns the texture and character of a place and its people; in that obscene anatomical drawing or brusque demand for sexual favors lies the intimate imprint of a ghost.
One can puzzle endlessly over the whys and wherefores of these disembodied missives. Who is Taylor, and did she (or he) really get gangbanged by N.W.A? What did one Scott Beacher do to warrant a call out on the Gyro Wrap bathroom wall? What vague spirit of aesthetic pretense moved someone to quote Oscar Wilde on the World Famous’ Lagunitas’ girl’s shoulder? Did that one guy ever get his genital warts taken care of? They are little mysteries–delightful, trivial, and precious (to me).
Sometimes they’re not inscrutable at all, and a viewer well-versed in the incestuous demimonde of downtown Athens can easily discern the writer or the subject: “Frankie says wash your hands.” Sometimes they are pleas for some sort of recognition, suffused with a deep sadness and futility: “The names Jess and I’m lonely as fuck (come find me).” There are stanzas of melancholic reflection: “So sad/I miss him much/But not anymore,” and simple questions of sweeping vagueness: “can I?”
These demands and mangled poems and cries for understanding are more permanent than the same sentiments haltingly spoken in between alcohol-soaked breaths and long drags on a cigarette on some narrow patio, but they are still only briefly emergent contingencies. Even if a place is forgiving enough to refrain from painting over an exquisite collage of drunk thought, one message soon becomes subsumed under a deluge of others, or aggressively edited and augmented until its original meaning is lost to us forever.
That’s all for the best. Longevity is, like punctuality, a highly overrated virtue; these spontaneous expressions of grief or loneliness or the overwhelming desire for oral satisfaction are best as blurry snapshots; a cracked window into that moment when a person pulls themselves away from their friends and decides to speak their peace in a private place, to add their own words to the gallery of anonymous, scribbling souls; it’s a poem that goes on forever, sacred texts from the barflys, the degenerates, the scriveners of lonesome and giddy nights.
Categories: Kat of Typographies