The war on the war on graffiti

Power washing a laneway at St. Clair and Earlscourt Avenue a few weeks ago, Rob Ford declared war on graffiti in the City of Toronto. Wearing a blue sweater that most people wouldn’t wear in the privacy of their own home, Ford posed for a photo op and told a media scrum that he’s “determined more than ever to get this off.”

I don’t know why Ford is making graffiti eradication a priority. I for one don’t mind the city’s graffiti. I grew up in the suburbs where the landscape looked exactly the same from the day I was born to the day I left home for university. I think graffiti keeps things interesting. It’s urban, it’s gritty and if done well it’s pretty cool. Living in the city now for three years I hardly even notice it anymore. It seems graffiti is to city walls what two car garages are to the suburbs. Or, garages at all really.

But walking the dog the other day, I immediately noticed a change in the graffiti vista. All the brick walls along the main road by my house were covered with black, scrawled “I Love Yous” or some variation thereof: “I Luv You,” “I Love u,” “I Heart You,” phrases in cursive and bubble letters. They were everywhere, and proved too many to count.

I typically find grandiose gestures of love to be somewhat contrived, barring a man publicly singing to me Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.”  But there was something so raw and earnest about these declarations of affection that I couldn’t help but swoon.  Sincerity leaped from the bricks.

“Isn’t that so sweet!?” I gushed to my husband, pointing out the phrases one-by-one while we walked. “A graffiti artist in love!”

“You know it’s probably some sort of drug-dealing tag,” he said.

What? How could he say that about Mr. Graffiti!? An urban romantic who was brave enough to be vulnerable and express his love so purely. I began to think about Mrs. Graffiti, the object of this gesture. Was she young? Was she old? Was she always a big fan of spray paint? Was black her favourite colour? Was this the first time Mr. Graffiti told her that he loved her? I pictured the happy pair walking hand and hand down the street as he serenaded her with: “Why do tags suddenly appear every time you are near just like me they want to be close to you.” It was all just so quixotic.

I was determined to prove my husband wrong and defend Mr. Graffiti’s honour. Doing some street art-based research, I discovered that the “I Love You” tags, thankfully, have nothing to do with drugs or any other crime save for the obvious vandalism. They are actually the product of an anonymous artist who simply wanted to make busy Torontonians smile by being enveloped in unknown affection. His work inspired the creation of an art show, a book of poetry, a blog, and a cultural study about love.  What is known about the artist, is that he’s a man in his twenties who rallies against the stereotypical machismo that seemingly inhibits men from saying those three words. What has become known as the “I Love You World Graffiti Project” has spread from downtown Toronto to New York, Paris, Berlin, Montreal and London:

“You were right,” said my husband in a rare moment of concession, “no drugs involved.”

But I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that these little “I Love You’s” had traveled across the globe, uniting city dwellers in a moment of amore and reminding them that someone, somewhere holds them in their hearts.  This wasn’t romantic. This was slutty! Mr. Graffiti wasn’t a chivalrous idealist. He was a player! He didn’t love Mrs. Graffiti. He loved everyone! How could he!?

This realization made me feel so ordinary, so commonplace, so utterly indistinguishable from everyone else. I felt awful in the face of my clear unremarkableness.

Does anyone know a drug for that?