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-Note from the editor:
In the Summer of 2012, I took a job working in Philadelphia, a city I hadn't visited for over 20 years and a place I never imagined myself living in for more than a few days, let alone four months.
Needless to say, after two weeks the novelty of a new city faded, and the reality of spending the entirety of my time with only a few acquaintances in what I would soon lovingly call Philthy-delphia, faded.
I soon found myself spending my spare time walking the streets of Old City and City Center, walking to from river to river, listening to Baroque Obscura or Radiohead, or whatever else Pandora in its wisdom deigned me worthy to listen, and wondered to what Hell I had once again navigated.
It soon became evident that the Hell I found myself in was once again of my own creation. I would wander from hotel to work to hotel to restaurant to bar only to repeat again the next day, with weekends spent wandering the city streets, struggling to put some semblance of value to my life and my decisions to sacrifice time spent with my wife and children.
That is when I saw it:
"He paused when he Realized she Held his HEART In her hand. ©2012 SLAM-O."
It was painted on watercolor paper in a crude black scroll with apparently random use of capitalization, and was posted on the side of an entranceway to a restaurant near my hotel. I started to see them posted all over the city, on windows, taxi cabs, ATM machines, mail boxes. When one would get torn down or removed, slam-o would replace it with another.
Some sort of story was being told by slam-o, meticulously drawn and yet hasty, poems and thoughts about life, and love and death. Some irreverent and odd, even whimsical. Others were deeply profound and intense. Quite often the poems would play with words, allowing multiple interpretations depending on how it was read, sometimes creating contradictory or abstract meanings.
All of them finished with a crude, almost childish rendering of either a stick figure waving, or of a chair drawn on the backside of the poster.
I didn't know what I was looking at, but I was hooked. Who was this slam-o, what did these poems mean, why was he doing them?
I began taking pictures of them with my phone, and posting them on Facebook, and soon I began to find myself obsessed with these aphorisms, these poetic aphorisms, and with the slam-o who created them. Friends on Facebook raved, and while never taking credit for them, I took a certain satisfaction in being the only one posting them, and I have to admit my obfuscation consciously created the impression that I was the true author.
A few weeks after that first sighting, however, I would by coincidence meet slam-o. As I exited the coffee shop just off Walnut, there he was: grey hoodie, black Docs, and a backpack. He was taping up a post.
I approached him, and while wary at first, he warmed quickly. I told him I had been posting his poems on Facebook, to which he only replied, "cool." He seemed disappointed that I had not taken any to keep, and it was only later that I realized that he believed he was making art, and making it for someone in particular. I wanted to know who.
For slam-o, a person who connected enough with the poem would take the paper home, perhaps put it on her fridge or in a drawer. Several times over drinks he would tell thoughtful stories of the people he imagined he was writing for, but would never meet.
"Everybody deserves some art of their own," he said, "even if it is found taped to some dirty wall."
For several months slam-o would tweet with me, and agree to let me follow him, photograph his postings, and interview him on his views of art, life, love.
I met him in Hawaii, Los Angeles, and twice in New Orleans, but our meetings were usually brief. We would meet at some bar, have a drink or two, usually in silence. My questions about his life, his past, how he survived were met with noncommittal silence or musings about the death of photography because of the cell phone, or the irrelevance of painting in the 21st Century.
I'd noticed in Philadelphia that he wore a wedding ring. After I mentioned it, in the hopes of learning a bit about him, he took it off, and never wore it again.
In December of 2012 slam-o agreed to let me join him in Chicago. we arranged to meet by Wrigley Field, where he had implied he had something new he was going to be exploring, something no one had ever seen.
He never showed up, and never again responded to my tweets. After three days, I went home.
Although I had what I felt was a deep connection to the man, I really had no idea who he really was.
I suppose my original intention in taking these pictures was to find something about myself, to give myself some sense of purpose, of value; I would be able to say I was the guy who discovered slam-o, they way Warhol would say the same about Basquiat (and whom I rightly assumed was the inspiration for his odd monicker). I imagined a book, a movie, some sort of collaboration.
But just as quickly as he came into my life, he was gone. No more returned texts, no more tweets, and as far as I can tell, no more posts. The nondescript man in the Grey Hoodie, slam-o, was gone.
And so it has occurred to me that my initial questions about slam-o: who he was, what did his posts mean, why was he doing it, were irrelevant. What matters is the work, which I post here, and which stands on its own.
If, for whatever reason, this work connects with you, take it, post it on your fridge. It was written for you, and you deserve it.
-Alan Caudillo, Los Angeles
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