© Terrence J. Brady -aka- TEAKO˜170
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The year was 1978.
Burke Avenue, The Bronx.
I was only thirteen yet my career as a writer was nearing its end - or so I had thought.
It was a dreary afternoon when my writing partner at the time, JAG-1, and I exited the I.R.T. # 2 and descended the platform heights to White Plains Road. We made our way up Burke Avenue for several blocks and soon were face to face with the renowned writer named COMET.
For years I had seen his name, alongside his partner BLADE, sprawled across the two's-and-five's and always wondered: "Who was this titan of the graffiti gods?" "Was he one man or many?" His name seemed to be everywhere. Inside. Outside. Walls. Windows. Doors. Parks. You could go to a yard late at night. It would be cold, dark; no friends in sight. Then, the all too familiar throw-up, "Comet-Comet-Comet" ... still slightly wet. "He" had been here. Like the infamous "Kilroy was here," his message was a reminder to the troops that they weren't alone.
Back to Burke....
I was rather surprised when I found out that this titan had heard of me. Little me. TEAKO~170. Starting out when I was only seven-years-old, I perfected my "signature" over the early 70's. By 1975, I was hopping the trains (35 cents in those days AND even that was too much!) and riding/writing my way up and down the 7th Avenue Express. From New Lots Avenue to 241st Street - on almost any # 2 car - there was my tag in black ink or paint and he (Comet) had seen it. What can I say? I was excited to be acknowledged by my "Kilroy." However, it was something else he said that day which has stuck with me for almost twenty years.
I had done a horrid piece (several) a few months earlier. My long-time friend, KEY who later became KI-ONE, and I were out one night bombing the Lex 5 line when we found ourselves in the Esplanade Yard. Inside the yard, we had come across several hidden bags stuffed full of spraycans. Fluorescent colors. Fat and skinny tips. It was like finding Santa's secret stash! Needless to say, we put our find to good use and spent hours piecing our way up and down the endless rows of parked "flats." One of the pieces I had produced was a revolting bubble-lettered creation with huge fluorescent pink pokadots! That night, in the darkened yard, it looked okay (what doesn't look good in the dark?) but when the train rode out into the light of day for all to see ... I was horrified.
I had spent the past several years of my young life building a slow but steady reputation as a known writer. I was popular, foe and friend alike knew my tag, even Comet had heard of me but this ... this was my Titanic. My Hindenburg. I now knew why ostriches buried their heads in the ground. In a time when pieces would seldom last a few weeks, if they were lucky to even survive the buff before exiting the yard, my pokadot monstrosity eluded the magic cleansing agents of the MTA for over a year. I even heard a rumor it had been seen as late as 1980-81.
Graduation Day, 1979. My classmates and I stood outside St. Mary's on White Plains waiting for the ceremony to begin. Anyone care to guess what came chugging along the elevated tracks? Those who knew my graffiti connection laughed at my expense as the fluorescent colors went whizzing by. One of my friends, who wasn't laughing, shouted at the others: "What have you got to show? At least he's trying." The laughter stopped. Failure isn't a word any of us like to hear. Success, that's what we want to hear - but what exactly is "success?"
Flash forward to 1996. Living in Chicago, I was besieged by an extremely difficult film project. I had a cast of 25, plus dozens of extras, and a 13 week shooting schedule that constantly grew in size. My one full-time assistant was overwhelmed and my crew was but a handful of unpaid student filmmakers whose interest in the project diminished quickly after working 8-10-12 hour days. Over budgeted. Over sized. Overwrought. The dream of my first feature-length production came to a catastrophic halt after only 20% of principal shooting had been completed. Dejected - Suicidal - I had lost all hope.
One day, a friend of mine was eating Chinese take-out and gave me the message from her fortune cookie. It read: "Success. If you have tried to do something and failed, you are vastly better off than if you had tried to do nothing and succeeded." I thought long and hard about this. I realized that, even in failing, I still was not a failure.
So, what was it that Comet said (in 1978) when he had seen my pokadot train of shame? It wasn't, "What a waste of paint" or "Take your toy ass home and find yourself another hobby." No, he didn't say anything like that. His criticism was of a constructive nature. He commented that I should try, next time, to bring the letters down to the edge of the train instead of just to the bottom of the doors (where the platform is).
Constructive criticism. Something we all need to hear. Anyone can say: "You suck." Comet helped me overcome my embarrassment and led me to believe that my writing career wasn't over. While many may think graffiti is a negative art, I believe the opposite. It has helped to inspire within me my own creative talents without the fear of criticism or failure. Art (be it painting, poetry, music, film, dance, etc.) is a difficult and sometimes lonely road to travel. It does indeed take hard work, patience, and perseverance if you want to see your creation come to life. You have within you a gift. Don't waste it in fear of what the other guy might be thinking.
Today, I still write - though not graffiti. Now, I write screenplays, film reviews, articles, and various forms of fiction and non-fiction. So, to Comet, and all those who offer positive feedback to those of us who strive at our art form ... thank you.
"Teako's Tale" first published in 1997.
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