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Toast and teddy bears: creepy Crerar doodles

In the last couple weeks, there’s been a couple noteworthy doodles on the blackboards in the Crerar the study rooms that strike me as a bit creepier than anything I’ve seen in the corresponding A-level spaces of the Reg, or elsewhere on campus. The first was in one of the green rooms on the third floor, in green chalk, written over the erased suggestion that the reader Fuck Bitches ‘n Smoke Joints: an evil anthropomorphized piece of toast, with the words “The toast is watching you”. In the lower-right corner of the same board was the addition– in the same handwriting– “But who is watching the toast?“.

The uniquely odd thing about this doodle in particular was that five days later, there was a … follow-up? Remix? Pseudo-Engrish-style knock-off?… in one of the other rooms on the 3rd floor. Reasonably different handwriting, too. This toast looks much more benign– sympathetic, even– the kind of toast that can’t bring itself to smile at your misfortune, but wishes you well as you study. It’s also a little wonky, looking almost more like a bear than toast.

Speaking of bears, the same day Nice Toast showed up, a creepy oneappeared one floor down. In classic Doors style, this bear greets the observer, professes its love, and inquires about the observer’s name. In different handwriting, the bear also asks what the best thing about 29-year-olds is. (Answers are welcome in the comments.)

It’s not a follow-up in quite the same way, but another bear appeared in a Crerar study room about a week later, seemingly born out of a chemistry diagram. It’s a different style bear, and the handwriting (what little there is) seems different, but I wonder if the doodler saw the earlier bear and was (perhaps subconsciously?) inspired. As things to doodle go, bears are by no means the most common– that award would go to depictions of humans, and/or their body parts. In fact, the only previous bears in my collection date back to May 5, 2008: a smoking panda and a bear crawling on all fours.

The latest from the library

It’s 5th week, which means more students are heading to the Reg to study for midterms. (Or not study, as the case may be.) During the last few months, the Crescat Graffiti blog has ventured beyond the Regenstein Library to explore the graffiti in Harper (mostly-not-my-gender) bathrooms, in far-flung dorms, in other campus libraries, at UC Berkeley and at Mount Holyoke College. But what’s been going on in the stacks since the now-world-famous hieroglyphic sex graffiti?

I’ve been keeping up with it, and below are some trends. If you want to follow the latest UChicago graffiti, I’ve also put together a new combined RSS feed for all the photo sets.

Déjà vu

It was November 2007 when I last saw a quote from some douchebag. Lo and behold, it reoccurred on one of the concrete pillars. And remember the sad tale of love during finals week? I recently found it restated more generally as Academia vs. Love. The very end of last school year brought T.S. Eliot to the stacks; within this last week, Emily Dickinson arrived.

Color

There’s always been some color in the Reg graffiti, but recent graffiti writers have embraced the liberal application of highlighters and Sharpies. Consider this shadowing on Tang Dynasty poetry, a decorative star (or stars), as a replacement for italics in citation, or just to set off the center of a pretty flower.

Classic UofC

A wall covered in econ graphs and equations, with a translation for the rest of us: “Your stock went down“. A cantankerous reaction to love in the stacks, and a response reflecting on the purpose of library walls. A drawing of breasts and a penis, crossed out and “censored by sex“. Senatus Populusque Romanus made an appearance. One graffiti writer illustrated the value of drawing the line somewhere. The Reg stacks are full of people providing (un)solicited advice, but so rarely do the advice seekers provide feedback. And finally, have you ever considered what your choice of apple says about you?

A reminder

As I’ve stated elsewhere on this site, I don’t endorse writing graffiti, and I’d hate to be the cause of property damage. If I come across graffiti that’s clearly been written specifically for me, I won’t publish it.

The ritual graffiti of Burton-Judson

People who aren’t familiar with the Regenstein Library have asked me whether writing graffiti there is some sort of student ritual. I’ve assured them it isn’t– it’s just a manifestation of student stress and boredom, and/or perhaps a small creative outlet, that takes place in the building where a lot of students study. But these questions got me wondering whether there are places on campus with graffiti-based rituals. The answer: Burton-Judson.

Resident head, photographer, and Drupal guru Avi Schwab gave me a tour of B-J, which has its share of “normal” graffiti scattered around the bathrooms and brick walls*, but there were two places that were clearly being used for a sort of commemorative ritual: the Tower, and the Linn House lounge.

The Tower

At the top of Chamberlin House lies the Tower, where students have been signing their names since at least the 1970′s. Notably, the signatures commemorate Becky Burd and Patti Dickson’s gender-integration of the Tower, which apparently happened as recently as 1993-1994. (Strangely, the second women in the Tower didn’t arrive until three years later.)

Linn House

The Linn House ritual of residents signing their names in the lounge is of more recent origin; the first names date back to 1983. It seems that the original practice was for students of any year to write their names, but as I understand it, currently it’s a privilege reserved for fourth-years.

Unlike the Tower, the Linn House lounge is an organized and planned commemorative space: there’s a painted background, and while the student signatures are free-form (in terms of handwriting, phrasing of name/nickname, etc.) they’re more or less written along horizontal lines.

This alumni memorial is so large that it’s filled up one large wall, and now continues on the other side of the room. The background of the first two columns of names is a book; across the room, more recent students have to make do with a humble piece of notebook paper.

So where are they now?

One of the things that fascinates me about UChicago graffiti is the possibility that some of these pieces I’ve captured were probably written by people who will go on to do important, or at least interesting, things with their lives. Most graffiti is not signed; where names do appear, it’s usually just first names. Will the writer(s) of the hieroglyphic sex graffiti become world-renown Egyptologists someday? Will our lovesick student win a Nobel Prize someday?

Of all the varieties of graffiti, I find name-signing to be among the least interesting. The one upside is that it makes it easier to find out what happened to people. Thanks to the wonders of Google, I can tell you that:

  • Patti Dickson– one of the first women in the Tower– got her MD, and is now an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Medical Genetics at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute in California.
  • Marisa Westervelt– one of the second women in the Tower– is a lawyer in California, specializing in business litigation matters, particularly securities litigation.
  • Kerwin Olson, who was in the Tower in ’87-’88, is the Program Director for Citizens Action Coalition, “Indiana’s oldest and largest consumer and environmental rights organization.”
  • Zlatko Batistich was in the first class of Linn House students to write on the commemorative wall; today he’s a documentary and fine arts photographer in Bergen County, NJ.
  • Erica Adelberg, as of 1997 (14 years after leaving Linn House) lived in New York City, where she was a portfolio manager and vice president in asset management at Goldman Sachs.
  • Temby Caprio (Linn House 1987) is a Sector Advisor in the Division for Education, Health, and Population Policy in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, after winning an award for her dissertation on “Women’s Film Culture in the Federal Republic of Germany: Female Spectators, Politics and Pleasure from the Fifties to the Nineties” from the Coalition of Women in German.
  • Veena Reddy (Linn House, 1988) is a Regional Legal Advisor at USAID doing work in Kazakhstan.
  • Loukia Sarroub (Linn House, 1990) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln.
  • Megan Whalen Turner, (Linn House, 1983), writes fantasy novels for young adults, and is notable enough to merit her own Wikipedia page.

To find the names of more alumni, check out the full-resolution photographs: wall 1, wall 2, wall 3.

* You can find the full set of B-J graffiti on Flickr

Breckinridge: where men become legends

When listing off UofC dorms, Breckinridge Hall (closed, re-opened, located next to International House) is easy to overlook. From a graffiti perspective, however, it’s a stand-out. As far as I know, no other dorm has spawned a cryptic graffiti meme (Who is Davin Reed was all the rage in the Reg around 2007; here’s the photo set on Flickr).

The Breck connection to graffiti goes deeper than an outbreak of vandalism a few years ago. During winter quarter finals week, Louis Wasserman tipped me off to the graffiti in the Breck study room– packed tightly into the nook between the shelf and study desks, and quite possibly not painted over by facilities since the building re-opened in 2004.

The study room has more than a few gems, and a survey of the contents deserves its own blog post, but one aspect that had me intrigued was watching the possible birth of another legend.

Let’s return for a moment to Davin Reed. Louis recounted to me the story explaining the origin of the name:

Davin Reed was a Breckinridge first-year, a long time ago, save that after Orientation Week, he decided that the UofC wasn’t right for him. He disappeared shortly thereafter, but mail kept showing up for him. Eventually, the front desk people who take the mail began asking, “Who is Davin Reed?” Thus, Breckinridge legend was born. Our Scav team was named after Davin Reed ['Sophonisba1 Does Gary: The Davin Reed Experience2'] all the way back in 2004.

 

I knew that the Davin Reed meme was related to Scav Hunt, but only because I was in college at UofC “all the way back in 2004″. Still, I had no idea about what the story was with the namesake. Walking into the Breck study room as an outsider– much as any first-year might– I came across a number of pieces of graffiti that called to mind the Davin Reed meme.

It’s common enough to refer to people by name in graffiti (“Good morning, Nate sucks“, “Allen R. Sanderson = genius“, “I spanked Sonia on her bottom“), but coming across four pieces about the same individual in the same study room leaves a different impression– particularly when they’re pretty positive, as graffiti goes.

I asked Leann Pace, the Resident Head who kindly showed me to the study room, if this “Bruno” character was, in fact, a real person. I figured there was maybe a 33% chance “Bruno” was someone totally imaginary (maybe the students gave a name to a favorite gargoyle on a nearby parapet), a 33% chance “Bruno” was a real, familiar, but non-human figure (a Resident Head pet cat, perhaps?), and a 33% chance that a human “Bruno” existed, most likely at some vague, distant time in the past. Maybe he was Davin Reed’s roommate? In fact, Leann assured me that not only is “Bruno” a real human, he’s also a current resident.

If the Chicago Maroon correctly identifies him as a third year, it’ll be Scav Hunt 2015 before the actual presence of “the Bruno” in Breckinridge is attested only through the graffiti record– assuming Facilities doesn’t paint it over between now and then, causing this budding legendary figure to vanish from the collective dorm memory.

I’ll have to check back in spring 2015 to see if Breck is fielding a “Sophonsiba <3 Bruno" Scav Hunt team.

1 Sophonsiba Breckinridge, namesake of the dorm/house, is a fascinating character. Check out this essay about her life and work.

2 The 2009 Scav Hunt also included the Breck team “Davin Reed is People!” For more past team names, check out the increasingly-outdated official Scav Hunt results page. Blast-from-the-past highlights include the Salisbury House “Mad Cows” in 1996, and Burton-Judson’s “Viagra Falls” in 1998.

Iconographies of the UChicago-student relationship

If you asked the admissions office how to represent the relationship between UChicago and its students, you’d probably hear some beautiful and poetic cliches involving drinking from fountains of knowledge, breathing in the sweet scent of wisdom, basking in the glow of collegiality among some of the greatest minds in the country.

If you look at the graffiti, however, there are two repeated iconographies of the UChicago-student relationship: being eaten, and anal sex.

Two of the three representations of the UofC eating students portray the school as a fish, one with rows of sharp teeth going after a brain, and another toothlessly devouring circles. A third shows UofC as Pacman, juxtaposed with a panicked cloud labeled “soul” in the first frame, and considerably expanded after eating the soul in the second frame.

I’ve only seen the being eaten iconography on the A-level (all-night study space) of the Reg. But the examples of the anal sex iconography come from two different places: the blackboard in one of the Crerar study rooms, and the study room in the Breckinridge dorm (“at least Harvard uses lubricant“).

I can’t date the Breckinridge piece more specifically than sometime before last Thursday*, but all of the other pieces come from early spring quarter– around the time procrastinating fourth-years are sweating over their BA papers while other undergrads are out enjoying the sun. Perhaps, then, the choice of imagery should come as no surprise.

* The piece probably dates from well before that, given the number of replies. That said, the graffiti there goes back a number of years, so it could still conceivably be from early spring quarter. The Breck study room is amazingly thick with graffiti, and will be the subject of an upcoming blog post. For a preview, check out the set on Flickr.

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