Alfred delivers a lesson on graffiti taxonomy: the difference between tag and flare and roller, between a masterpiece and a throw-up. A masterpiece has more than three colors. A throw-up usually means bubble letters but makes it sound like some boy vomited the colors from his mouth. On a downtown wall, you see a painted face vomiting rainbows. Across the street, you see what looks like a polar bear illuminated by sunset. “Look at that throw-up,” you tell your friend. “Masterpiece,” he corrects, pointing out five colors. You realize that three-story MTA would’ve been a Masterpiece too. You learn that every graffiti act in the state of California is a felony. You learn that painted hot-chick skulls are called Sugar Skulls. You learn that three dots tattooed under the eye means, la vida loca, as in: I plan to keep living the. The dots look like tears suspended against gravity. You don’t know whether they signal commitment or renunciation or something in between — resignation, perhaps lament. Tiny’s teenage son asks Alfred, eager: “Were you much of a tagger?” He asks Capricorn if his family still lives in Watts, and — if so — if we’ll get to see them on the tour.
Leslie Jamison in the LA Review of Books on the exoticism and exploitation and discomfort and merit of gang tours.