The Penis Graffiti of San Marin
On Apparitions and Male Members in Suburbia


After she died, my mother frequently visited my father in their South Orange County home. She lost her war of attrition with cancer during the 55th year of their marriage —the last fifteen of which they lived in a 3,500 square foot two-story located on a corner in, what real estate professionals call, an upscale neighborhood — a mile from the Saint Regis with ocean views and plenty of home owner’s association covenants, conditions and restrictions. 

In life, Mom lived by those covenants.  And so, in death her visits did not violate the HOACCRs.  By community standards, her manifestations were not so much hauntings as tasteful drop bys.  Once, she fixed a Mickey Mouse alarm clock that had been broken for years. On another visit she found a misplaced watch.  Occasionally, she trimmed her roses or put out my Dad’s clothes out for him. Most of the time, however, she had conversations with my father.

On a summer morning soon after her death, Dad was up early having not gotten much sleep the night before.  So, by the time the sun rose, he was sitting in the living room staring outside feeling sorry for himself.  It was then he heard my mom’s voice from beyond the grave. 

“There’s someone painting our garage door,” she said.

Dad listened, but didn’t respond.  Instead, he fixed himself a cup of coffee.  An hour later, the doorbell rang.  Two women neighbors in their jogging gear — white Nikes, white shorts, white visors and pony tails (you know the look) — were there to inform my father, in serious tones, that someone had sprayed graffiti on his garage door. 

“I already knew that,” he replied and began crying.

Tears and fond memories aside, the three of them walked down the home’s brick path entry to the driveway where, sure ‘nuf, there on the garage door was graffiti — or more specifically, a spray painted penis… pointing in their direction.

“There,” the women said pointing back.

My Dad looked at the door and started to sob.  He didn’t so much mind the penis, as he missed my mom.  Yet, the effect was striking.  There was my father in front of his San Marin home, tears streaming from his eyes emotionally responding to a simulacrum of a upright male member.

You should know this about my Dad.  He’s a smartass.  In the midst of his crying, he couldn’t help but attempt to break the somber pornographic mood of the moment by pointing at the garage door penis and saying to the women,  “That’s an advertisement for me.”  As if on cue, the women didn’t laugh.

“You should really call the authorities,” they said.  “It might be a gang.”

As the women talked about the spread of hooliganism in the high dig burbs, my Dad tried to imagine a gang called the Dipsticks, or the Shafts, or the Pocket Rockets, or the Pork Swords.

“We’ll tell our husbands to help you clean it off,” the women said leaving — as if the removal of a spray painted trouser snake was a gender specific ritual — a kind of male bonding experience.

But the scrubbing off would have to wait.  It was 8:30 and Dad needed to get to the senior center to deliver some Meals on Wheels.  The husbands could help him later.  However, to spare the neighbors from a clear violation of covenants, conditions and restrictions while he was gone, Dad duct-taped his US flag over the graffiti.  As he pulled out the driveway my father, always in character, was softly singing, The Star Spangled Banner.

Mr. Smartass returned home that afternoon with a can of liquid sandpaper.  The flag was still there, but extra reinforcements had been added to hold it up.  Apparently, while Dad was gone, a gust of wind had revealed the helmet of the midnight warrior inspiring some upstanding neighborhood boys to add more tape to the drooping Star and Stripes.

Dad began work. Down went the flag. The door was hosed and dried thoroughly. The liquid sandpaper was applied and a few hours later, the job was done. The penis was rubbed out.  The husbands never showed.  Until the next day, when Dick, of all people, dropped by to ask my Dad “What happened to your (censored)?”  Male bonding ensued.

The penis incident of San Marin was nearly forgotten until the community newsletter arrived.  In it was a brief article about vandalism in the neighborhood. The date and time of the garage door crime were noted.  The possibility of gang activity was introduced.  And a reprimand to people with a lax sense of neighborhood security, not to mention a smartass attitude was issued.  “We need to take graffiti more seriously,” it said.  My mother would have agreed.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast July 1, 2011

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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