How I (may or may not) have become the Chalk Bandit.

(All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)

I was born at South Bay Hospital.  I grew up here.  The South Bay is an interesting place to grow up.  It’s a very small town- Every time I am out I run into someone I know.  I like that small town feeling.  So many of us have gone to school here and send our kids to the same schools.  When my son is skating about town, there are people keeping an eye on him (It takes a village). The South bay is also a very big place- spread out (like the rest of Los Angeles) for miles.  Sometimes it doesn't seem like a community at all- Los Angeles is the city without a center and the South Bay is a community with many hearts.

I've lived in most of the cities that are included in the term “South Bay” but Hermosa has my heart because of its artist culture. Hermosa was the center for Jazz music, the center for Punk Rock. 35 years ago I saved my money to buy a pair of purple suede roller-skates from Wild Wheels- the skate shop on the strand. I bought my first pair of Doc Martins at Re-Style, I bought my first Bukowski book from Either-or-Bookstore.  I worked graveyard at Denny’s, worked a few days at Uncle Stavros, worked for years at Rocky Cola.

At 3:am when my shift was over at Rocky Cola, after serving drunks on one side of the restaurant, and “friends of Bills” on the other, I was often too wound up to head straight home to bed.  My friend and I started going down to the pier to draw with chalk.  We would bring coffee for the police and they would hang out and drink it while we drew murals with chalk. The next day we would go down to the strand and listen to the comments- “I wonder who did that?”  “I liked what it says” “That’s pretty”  “It’s only chalk”.  I felt encouraged. 

My room-mate and I started to draw on the brick wall that blocked our front door from Inglewood Ave.  In the morning, cars would wait for the light to turn green on Artesia as they headed to the freeway. This was back in the day when no one was looking down at cell phones at every stop.  We drew flowers and hearts and stars and smiling faces.  We wrote messages like “Hootenanny is my magic word” or “Smile today” or my trademark saying “Wake Up and Frolic”.  In the years that we communicated with the increasing traffic, our chalk never caused anyone to lash out at us, or wash it off, or find our chalk a “Gateway to graffiti”.  In fact, when the messages faded and were no longer legible or attractive, we would wash it off ourselves, in order to have a new, clean canvas to work with.  My neighbors began to leave chalk on our doorstep, and I interpreted that as encouragement to continue. 

When my son was young, I started doing things like the “WaxLips Brigade” “Google Eyes” and “Toy tagging”.  The toy tagging evolved into leaving tiny plastic mermaids around. Once I started posting photos on Facebook, and others participated, it turned into an international game.  It is much bigger than me, and anyone can play.  It made the world a smaller place.  See: “GlobalMaids”. 

The Wax Lips Brigade, Toy Tagging, Mermaids.. All of these things (concepts? Projects? Movements?) can be filed under the heading “FUNism”. 

FUNism- the ideology of FUN, the Religion of FUN.

Playing with chalk is part of FUNism.  I've been doing it for over 20 years.  My chalk activity increased when my son was young. We left messages on friend’s driveways, on sidewalks, near elementary schools.  The messages were well received.  We made a difference in people’s days, helped to cheer people up and that made us feel good.  I was encouraged.  So I took my chalk back to the places where I spend the most time- primarily Hermosa Beach.

The first time someone passed by me and yelled “That’s graffiti” I was sad and a little shocked. I don’t want to upset anyone.  I never for a moment figured that anyone would be against CHALK.  The reason I was down on the strand with my chalk was because I wanted to give the world a gift.  I wanted to give back to the community that I love so much. 

I sat back and anonymously watched others viewing the chalk.  95% of the people who noticed would smile, or stop and take a photo, or comment about how much they love seeing these little surprises on the strand.  But I don’t even want to upset 5%, because those 5% have a right to peace and happiness as well.  So, I thought a compromise would be to come around regularly and wash off the chalk messages, as soon as they began to fade, or when they were there too long. 

At this point, the chalk thing has become such a big deal.  I have divided a community that I want to unite.  I was never trying to be subversive.  But in a strange way, I feel the chalk part of FUNism is almost “a calling.”   

On Thanksgiving of 2012 I was going for a walk with a dear friend of mine.  While she stopped to get a drink, I wrote on the face of the stairs that lead to the bathroom: “You don’t have to know where you are going, just take the first step.”  A dog came up to investigate and while I was petting him, his owners asked me if I was the person who leaves chalk messages on the strand.  I gave them the reply people more “mature” than I have advised me to give- “I cannot confirm or deny my involvement in that activity.” 

“Well, we just love it and want to say thank you.” She said to me. “You’re welcome. It is me”, I said.  “Happy Thanksgiving!”  My friend next to me told them about how I left chalk messages on her driveway every week while her husband was recovering from a hit and run car accident and unable to walk.  As soon as he was able, he sat at the computer and ordered a big box of chalk from her teacher’s supply catalog. That was Thanksgiving day 2011, exactly a year before.

“If you are not opposed, I would love to get your phone number and donate some chalk to you” the man said. 

“I can always use more chalk, that would be fantastic” I gave them my phone number and a hug.

Two days later I got a call, saying my chalk was ready to be picked up.  I got their address and took my son there after school.  Their home was one I recognized, because they live on the strand and I always liked a particular piece of art they have decorating their yard. I was gifted a big brown grocery bag full of chalk and told when I need more to give them a call. As we walked away my son said to me “Mom, you have a chalk sponsor” and we both thought that was exciting and cool.

I have had other interactions with people that I can only interpret as encouragement.  One time a lady came up to me and said “I have always wanted to catch you in the act, so I can thank you.  Your messages mean so much to me and have helped me in my darkest days.  One day I came down and read “Don’t stumble over something behind you”… she couldn't complete her sentence, tears welled up in her eyes.  I stopped chalking, stood up and hugged her.  “I am so glad you like it.  Thank you for telling me, YOU just made MY day brighter.”  Situations like that are more common than you know.  I hope to write about more of them in the future.

 Mermaid in Rome

Some people believe artists suffer to bring meaning to their art.  I believe I make art to bring meaning to my suffering.


Shutterfly said...

I just love what you do! Your words & chalk art are an inspiration to the community ♡♡♡

Anonymous said...

Read your blog.. compelled to comment. I love you KP..your light shines into my life/heart more than you know. Your messages stick with us and remind us that life should be loving and joyful despite forces against that aim. That dancing in a rainstorm is worth infinitely more than crying at the window. The *moment* is more precious than the regret ever could be. Most remind us that it should be lived that way, NOW. It is a struggle, sometimes, to be this free and still "conform" enough to get by in today's society.. but you remind us to try; daily. Thank you my friend. Even when you are not with are. Never give up. Xoxo Crick.

Anonymous said...

PS.. Thanks for the secret link! I loved what I found! xoxox crick

Carly Kaste said...

It is absolutely beautiful how big your own mission has blossomed. You are so important and I am so happy and full of hope to know you exist!