My debt to society for the crime of graffiti was 5 days community service. 5 days in the service of the community means 40 hours, and it was up to me to find a recognized organization that would accept my labor and report to the court when I had settled my debt in full. Usually convicted graffiti writers just work for the parks department, where you meet other convicted writers who share your love of writing on stuff and hatred of sweeping. The time flies by when you can talk about graffiti while not sweeping. I opted for actual service and applied for a shift at God’s Love We Deliver. GLWD had a really good logo that I uhh, referenced, when I made a logo for a San Francisco org similar to GLWD. It got caught immediately and I was bounced off the gig. So, other than infringing on their intellectual property, I had no idea of what was God’s Love, and how the delivery system was set up distribute that love. To find out, first I had to be hired and that required an interview and a drug test, even I was only working a week, especially if I was only working a week. I went somewhere in Maspeth Queens and peed in a bottle, and when that sample came back sparkling, I sat down for an interview with David Christmas. David Christmas was a rare blend of smiles and business. He handled the scheduling for over a hundred workers cooking and packing meals for the homebound. God’s Love started in response to the AIDS crisis, but expanded their reach to deliver warm meals to any one in need, regardless of their medical condition. David asked me my crime, and when I told him, he asked me what I wrote, and when I told him, asked, “That ESPO?”, while gesturing over his shoulder towards a wall that I thought had an indecipherable ESPO on it. I said “Thats me”. David shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess the 6am shift is ok since you’re out late?” “It’s great, is it full time?” David put his elbows on his desk, folded his arms and said “No one works more than one three-hour shift a week, keeps everybody fresh” I looked past him at very unfresh ESPO, and told him I was looking forward to being fresh some day.
The people who worked the Tuesday, 6am shift at God’s Love We Deliver were mostly theatre people, actors, ushers, and stagehands, there was also a book editor, and a few people who never showed their cards. A busy three-hour shift packing meals means the only information you learned about the volunteers was what they volunteered themselves. All I knew after the first day I worked is they knew I wrote graffiti, and they didn’t like graffiti. I couldn’t spin what I painted, they equated me with the graffiti on the corner. Everybody had something to say along the lines of “some of it is art but not the scribble scrabble. I heard everybody out, accepted the judgements as tough but fair, when one woman who was only listening took her turn to ask, “you have to serve 40 hours, at 3 hours a week, are you only going to do 13 weeks?Or are you going to be extra generous and work 14 weeks? I was salty at the insinuation, I said “I guess we’ll see”.
The woman that asked that question skipped the next shift, and never returned. She was asked about a few times and forgotten. It was a standard restaurant ditch-and-switch. If she hadn’t left I was going to work 14 weeks just to spite her, so I had to find a better reason to stay. I fell into a great routine with a great group of people who saw every show, knew every actor, read every New Yorker, and knew every author. Once in a while I would explain something low brow, like R Kelly or GTA III, but I spent most of every shift just absorbing the enthusiasms of the Manhattan cognoscenti. They asked me what kept me on and I said “I finish my work at 9 and I feel smug the rest of the day.” The truth is I became a better person just by being around better people. I ended up staying for 53 Tuesdays, my last shift was the morning of September 11th. That’s a whole other story. But David Christmas stayed on for another 10 years, I’m sure he replaced me the following week and kept it all moving, and it moves to this day, providing thousands of meals packed by the best people in Manhattan, and hopefully a couple jerks striving to be better.
I painted my quarantine experience across these boards at 524 Broadway, and I auctioned them off to benefit God Loves We Deliver. Good news is we raised 20k, bad news is now these boards are worth 20k, and the building security stops at the front desk. Several of the boards were stolen, then immediately replaced and repainted. One of these boards was painted three times already, I think of this now as an endurance art piece. See it while you can, and if anything is missing, come back tomorrow, I’ll be painting.