It’s a hot summer night in 1985 and I am 16 years too young. I can’t get beer, got no batteries in my walkman and I’m stuck alone without even a soda on this endless evening. But I am high on the hope that Nick is going to show up and take me writing graffiti. I got a bike and a bag of paint and a bunch of nerves as I wait on the edge of the parking lot of the 64th Street 7-11. The Sev is air-conditioned, with a soda machine and a game room, all I need as I wait for Nick on a Friday night. But Murray, owner/asshole of the store thought he saw me stealing last year but I wasn’t (yes I was). So I am banned. I’m cool with Murray’s employees so they never enforce his ban, and he’s hardly ever around anyway, but he’s here tonight. So I’m outside, ass on a milk crate, back against the fence, making a spit puddle and marveling at my body’s ability to generate fluids, Between the spit and the sweat that is pouring out of me, I could fill a 7-11 Big Gulp cup over the course of this boring ass night.
Even if Murray was gone and I could get batteries and soda, Im really tired of Friday nights in West Philly anyway. Here its just 10 dudes walking around a four block radius, waiting for a similar pack of 10 girls to show up and let us try to talk to them. I cant even begin to get into the complex arrangements of who is dating who, and who will knock you out for talking to a girl they are not dating, but are still feeling some sort of way about. Suffice to say Im not talking to any girls, and I’m not concerned with grossing any girls out with the saliva pond that is forming in front of me.
I am Stephen Powers. Thats a pretty good name, on the face of it, but I grew up in a family where all eight of us really despised each other. My defeated mom, my creep dad, my four older brothers and sisters that were already bitter about their limited prospects and furious that me and my little sister showed up to cut into their share of a threadbare existence and a non-existent inheritance. They really loved telling us how screwed we were, as if we were in steerage and they were in first class of our family Titanic. At least my little sister got some shine being the baby of the bunch. Me? I got Mom’s proclamation, as she exhaled a crown of menthol smoke over my head, “kid you’re the leftovers that went bad.”
Tired of being the only guest at my pity party, I reach into my pocket for a roadmap to a better tomorrow, tonight. It is a sketch of the word ESPO, a name built from the chassis of my government name, but stripped down, to be faster. Hopefully fast enough to get away from the ashy me to a shiny new me, and away from this dead neighborhood to the rest of the world. I imagine that if I could just cross 63rd Street, on the other side might be London, or Tokyo. I won’t know until I cross that street. I sure as shit wont get there unless I get out of this parking lot. Stephen ain’t really built for it, But ESPO is ready to roll.
My ticket to ride is a piece of paper, carefully folded around this diagram of four letters, that I drew over and over until I felt i had maxed out the potential of the word. ESPO was not only a vehicle for my ideas, but the ideals I held for myself. Every time I draw the name I am drawing a portrait of who I want to be. So every time I draw I am drawing out of myself my potential. When I go and paint that drawing on a wall I am realizing that potential. At this moment, with the milk crate pressing into my ass like a waffle maker, the sketch was a just a lottery ticket on the verge of expiring. The frequency of the buzzing of the halogen lights and the mosquitos nearly vibrated me into molecules of pure frustration when Nick popped into the alley. He wasn’t expecting to see me, never mind ride shotgun on my dreams, he was just going to the Sev to get a soda and maybe some batteries for his Walkman. He definitely wasn’t dressed for what I had in mind, he was just out of the shower in fresh clothes. Lucky for me he reached the same conclusion about Friday night, and as long as I had enough paint for him, he would take me to a roof top that faced the el train on Market Street. And for extra points, he would paint his name better than I could paint mine without a sketch AND come back to the block with no paint on his clothes.
We rode on my bike, a BMX bike with foot pegs on the back, so Nick rides standing lke Ben Hur on his chariot, while I push the pedals for two miles down the alleys of West Philadelphia. We float along with the the clicking of the freewheel keeping time, and arrive unseen by neighbors and police at a breezeway between two buildings in an alley near 59th Street. Nick had me push the bike to the end of the breezeway, a space between two buildings just a little wider than my handlebars and closed off at the end. I pushed the bike by its seat, and when the front tire hit the wall, the bike disappeared in the dark. I was startled by a sound, but the shock doubled into amazement when I turned to see Nick scurry up the walls of the breezeway with just hands, feet and confidence. In 5 seconds he scaled two flights and was on the roof. I followed by bracing my back against the wall and pushing myself up, like a hand jack lifting a car for a tire change. It took a long 5 minutes and shredded my shirt. It didnt matter. Once I reached the roof top I had left the ground of my own limitations, I was somewhere new in the world and on a new plateau in myself, and there was no going back.