It was a random summer night in 1996 that I happened to meet an older graffiti writer at Memorial Park. That writer was TRATOR. He was hanging out with a female from our neighborhood. There was no way to know then that after one night of drinking beer and hanging out and catching marker tags that years later he would be a part of the team, and become family.
I first observed hulking Trator tags along Horace Harding expressway. I remembered a rooftop I saw on my way to family court, with an extra large TR fill, with a one word Ice Cube reference inside it. You know the feeling when you become aware of something, and you start to see it more, it is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, with graffiti it isn’t any different. I started to see him up more and more around Queens, so when I met him there was already a bit of notoriety.
A few years later I attended Whitestone Academy, while some of my friends found themselves there after getting expelled from various high schools, I cut out the middle man and went straightaway. In tenth grade I met this tall lanky kid forever in a navy blue hooded sweatshirt named Denis.
Denis was already hanging out with my friends who were in twelfth grade. The Academy was incredibly small and had a reputation for lending a helping hand to troublesome youth. Kids who most likely wouldn’t graduate elsewhere. We bonded over Freddy’s Sicilian slices, parmigiana sandwiches from Corona Pork Store and signature heroes from Cherry Valley. At some point early in our friendship Denis casually told me that his older brother was Trator. Although Denis didn’t write graffiti we hooked him up as DNICE.
“I know Trator,” I said. You know Trator.
I invited Denis to hang out at the park and not before long his brother was hanging out there with us. Occasionally I headed out to Bayside and hung with their friends. I met people through Denis and Trator that would become lifelong friends.
It’s funny when you’re young the older dudes always just seem cooler, it could be about whatever, maybe it’s sports, which Trator crushed softballs, or maybe it’s graffiti, which he was a force to be reckoned with. You looked up to the older guys. You wanted to impress them or prove yourself to them. They were influential, good or bad, sometimes both. Then something happens, the age gap levels out and you become peers.
My friend Robert Carr was born on February 8th, 1977 in the Bronx. I know this because whenever we argued over baseball his first rebuttal was always, well, I was born in the Bronx. To which I would reply, “move back there.” Any time he bad mouthed the Mets, rubbing it in on a missed pennant or a blown game, I’d drop a picture in the chat of him in a Mets hat. If you don’t break each other’s balls are you even friends?
Rob loved graffiti. The irony is that he selected a moniker that was an antithesis to his personality. He was a loyal friend. The best part about his tag was his father’s initial reaction to it. Mr. Carr was a good man, a school teacher and while he was not happy about Rob’s obsession with vandalism, he was more peeved that his son misspelled the word.
Rob was smart and funny, had a contagious laugh and was down for anything. The stories are endless. TRATOR CASHING LARGE CHECKS. That story if you know it is incredibly ridiculous. We went to dozens of Met games but I only went to one baseball game in the bronx and annoyed you and Denis the entire game for rooting for the visiting team. We went to hundreds of shows together. We saw the Murder City Devils one year on your birthday, that jar full of mushrooms was a brilliant idea, and that show was the closest thing to a religious experience I have ever had.
Rob told me he had a ticket for me to see Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and The Gza. They would be performing albums in full: Ironman, OB4CL, and Liquid Swords. I wasn’t going to go because it was a school night, I’m up early for work, but I reconsidered and I’m happy that I did because it was epic. Me, you and FM had a great night. There was no way to know then that it would be the last show we’d ever see together.
We were present for the birth of Bobby Bourbon. Sal had a hook up for an RV. So we got one, and it might as well been Motley Crue’s fucking tour bus. Trator, Sal, FM, Yikes, Suds and I shoved off hitting up Myrtle Beach, Nashville, and Louisville. The trip was branded The Great Southern Roadkill. Our livers hated us after that one. Trator drove the RV as if it was his old RX-7 with the grim reaper airbrushed on the hood, a whip he would let Denis borrow and we’d go and do doughnuts in front of rival parks. Trator was not allowed to drive the RV anymore.
State troopers boarded the RV at a road block in North Carolina and we thought we were fucked, but the troopers were cool and asked us, “What is the name of your band?” It wasn’t until Nashville that Bobby Bourbon came to life, an alter ego comparable to Mr. Hyde, Bobby Bourbon was placed in a taxi and banished to the RV only to find us a few hours later in another bar further down the strip. The party continued for him after a little time out. A good time was always had.
We drank a million beers together. We cultivated so many unforgettable nights. The laughs. The conversations. The car chases. The car crashes. The brawls. The petty crimes. The bachelor parties. The weddings. The birthdays. I’ll never forget any of it. It feels unreal that we won’t be able to add to the list. I’m grateful for all of the memories and the great times we had.
Today is February 8th. It is an especially heavy day. The weeks since Christmas have not been easy. I will never forget you. We miss you and we love you, Rob. Happy Birthday, bro. Raise a glass for Bobby Bourbon.