The groundskeeper pointed one calloused finger at a line of white drips, too obvious to be accidental, trailing into the tunnel. Beckoning us.
Our footsteps echoed in the tunnel. The kaleidoscope of graffiti smacked with color and contrast, but after several years dealing with gang graffiti, I saw only a few tags of the Vice Lords or Latin Kings. No crowns, no pitchforks or top hats. And I saw only a handful of racist or inflammatory graffiti. Usually tags are much…dirtier.
In fact, the graffiti was mostly cartoonish. Names, characters and a lot of cryptic poetry. There was a skeleton smoking a J and playing guitar. Patrick of SpongeBob fame was one of the freshest, standing almost three feet tall and sneering at us from the wall. Kirby from the popular video game floated on the opposite wall.
In several locations, a tagger had sprayed an eye staring out from a pyramid, a popular symbol called the Eye of Providence, or Eye of God. Most people recognize it from the back of the one-dollar bill. The message was unclear, but I doubted it had been the Freemasons. Or had it…?
But most predominant was a single word: SCRUMP.
The trickle trail of paint led to the center of the tunnel, where Scrump had tossed patterings as high as he could, almost to the peak of the tunnel’s curved ceiling, like an ambitious Jackson Pollack. SCRUMP in black script. SCRUMP in white script. SCRUMP in typeset. SCRUMP in letters only inches high and SCRUMP in blaring, two-foot print.
This last looked the freshest and had probably been the most recent. Kitty corner to this was a stack of school books with the words “Math. English. Crap” printed on them. As a teacher I abhorred the sentiment; as an art lover, I appreciated the color contrast and use of perspective.
The groundskeeper came forward and peeled off a long strip of paint, revealing yet another coat of graffiti beneath.
“We used to cover it with that Kilz stuff. But we were just given them a fresh canvas. ‘Specially Scrump. So now we just leave it. Paint peels away, makes it hard to paint on. Like painting bark. Stopped most of ‘em. But not Scrump.”
He dropped the strip and it fluttered to the ground. He peeled another and another. The groundskeeper wiped his hands on his work shirt and hocked a gob of tobacco juice to the ground.
He stared at the large white SCRUMP for a long moment, chewing and spitting into the weeds. Behind him, the trail extended beyond the trestle, too narrow for the Kubota and parallel to the twisting river.
“I’ll get that little shit one day,” the groundskeeper said. “I’ll get him arrested then I’ll make him come down here with a ladder and the world’s dullest paint scraper, about yay wide…” The groundskeeper held his fingers an inch apart. “I’ll sit and watch him scrap all this crap off.”