Maralyn Lois Polak is a Philadelphia-based journalist, screenwriter, essayist, novelist, editor, spoken-word artist, performance poet and occasional radio personality. With architect Benjamin Nia, she has just completed a short documentary film about the threatened demolition of a historic neighborhood, "MY HOMETOWN: Preservation or Development?" on DVD. She is the author of several books including the collection of literary profiles, "The Writer as Celebrity: Intimate Interviews," and her latest volume ofMore ↓Less ↑
I am not the woman in the news who just saw Jesus on an Easter egg. Nor have I seen Jesus in the shower, or on a grilled-cheese sandwich, or on the garden wall among the ivy. No, not like the others. Not this year. Not lately. That wasn’t me.
This Good Friday, at 9 a.m., bursting with breakfast cravings, I head out to the store for something special to spread on my austere Passover Unleavened Bread, aka matzo, when I happened to look back at my house.
That was my mistake. I should have kept going, postponing the inevitable awfulness.
But, unfortunately I look back. And what do I see? Sometime in the dead of the previous night, my sweet little brick row-house, painted a pleasant, relaxing shade of avocado green with dramatic black trim, had been vandalized by some miscreant who audaciously traced, in thick black magic marker, the disgustingly obscene outlines of yes, you should pardon the expression, the male organ, defacing the full 14-foot front of my house.
I want to scream. If this outrageous act isn’t a kind of rape, I don’t know what is. It’s such a violation.
Naturally my first thought is: “Who hates me this much?” Because it feels like a hate crime. It really does. I mean, obviously it’s not falling prey to a disaster like Hurricane Katrina, but it hurts nevertheless. I don’t have people in my life who hate me that much. At least, I don’t think so. Besides, all my exes live in Texas, so to speak.
Was it intended as some sort of warning? Was I, Goddess forbid, earmarked for worse by the junkies or hookers or hustlers or delinquents who use our street as a corridor?
Just in case, I want this crime on record. I telephone 911 to report the vandalism to the Philadelphia Police. They say someone will call me back shortly to take a report over the telephone. Amazingly enough, someone does. The worst part is describing what happened – Officer Erwin, someone drew a huge penis across the entire front of my house! If that isn’t humiliating, I don’t know what is.
Since my homeowners insurance policy has such a high deductible, I know I’ll never be reimbursed for this type of repair. So, following the first rule of urban graffiti – repaint immediately – I find my only can of remaining paint, stored near the front door for emergency touch-ups, and pry open the lid with a screwdriver.
While I’m valiantly trying to cover over the disgusting design – it keeps bleeding through paint unless you use some sickening chemical concoction called Killz – a neighbor passes by and informs me another house down the block was also hit. I walk down to see. Lo and behold, a neighboring front door has a big ugly doodle scrawled across it.
This is the first time since I’ve bought my house in 1992 that it’s been graffitied. Usually they leave our little houses alone. When the so-called “wall-writers” do bother this block – and they do, again and again – they’ve restricted themselves to defacing the side of the big commercial building across the street, a combination theatre-apartment house-condo tower.
I don’t like it. I don’t want to live this way. I’m not angry. I’m not afraid. But I sure am ticked off.
I comfort myself by thinking how, in the traditional Judaism of my grandparents, to prepare for the Passover holiday, religious Jews would rid themselves of chametz, or leavened products, by “relentlessly expunging both breadcrumbs and specks of dirt from their homes,” according to Answers.Com. In fact, the night before Passover begins, the devout go through their homes “with a candle to seek out unnoticed bits of leftover chametz. The next morning, they burn them. This removal of chametz can be understood on a metaphorical level as well – one can perform an introspective examination and root out such unwanted traits as pride and vanity, symbolized by yeast, the leavening agent that puffs up chametz.”
In this spring season of rebirth and resurrection and redemption and renewal, I really wish I had some pat solution to the problems of neighborhoods and nations. Not just smallish, annoying crimes against property like I just experienced. But larger crimes against people and property known as war. Maybe we could start locally – beginning with my block – and work on up, globally. How’s that? That would be nice, wouldn’t it?