The instagram does not exist. In it, a patch of white-gray sidewalk frames a loose circle of dead leaves. In the top left corner, the curb of the road. At the center, yellow graffiti. The graffiti is a crooked arrow pointing into open space, and next to it the words FAG PARKING. You can tell from the way that FAG is scrawled the graffiti first marked something else, that when the text was painted it wasn’t graffiti at all. There are other signs nearby: a pink flag, some white tubing. But there it is, revised: FAG PARKING.
I came across the parking space on a run. On shorter runs, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, I perform the same loop. I run from my apartment on Ditmars Boulevard to the northernmost avenue in Astoria, then west to Astoria Park, around the park, back to the avenue, and home. I’ve run the avenue hundreds of times. And then this drab, fall day, as I near the top of the hill that marks its middle, I find the inscription. I must have been sensitive that day. The sky was clear and pale, the wind was calm; I’m full of pride, I’m well adjusted. And yet. FAG PARKING. I feel that hot and unmistakable pang: shame.
And then I think, let this be funny. I’ll capture the image and say, “If you’ve ever tried to find parking in Astoria, you know how considerate this is.” The day passes and I go for another run. As I crest the hill, I keep my eyes peeled for the graffiti. I must have missed it—I’ve passed the place I know it to be. I’m nearly in the park and there’s no sign. I make a small circle, run back up the hill, nothing. I stop at the top to catch my breath. Another sideways glance, then down.
Justin Sherwood's poems and essays have appeared in Women's Studies Quarterly (WSQ), New Criticals, H_NGM_N, and The Poetry Project Newsletter, among other places. He's also a contributor to Scout: Poetry in Review. He teaches at The New School, where he received his MFA in Creative Writing. Find him on Twitter @JustinSherwood.