Hail to the Thief


When I first met him, he was vandalizing the apartment building.

He was kneeling down – haphazardly and mostly without regard. One hand held a black spray can, the other a large white stencil. The black misted out from under him as he brought the can to the surface of the stone support adjacent to the entrance of our building.

Whatever. He was blocking the door.

“Excuse me.” I tried to get to the door. He was blocking most of it.

“Pay attention,” was the response. His voice registered at an incredibly low frequency.

“Please, I need to get in. If you would be so kind.”

It was at this point where he looked back up at me. His salt and pepper beard was made partly darker than it should have otherwise been, as black spray paint spotted his face all over like static on a TV screen. His lips were badly chapped. While both his eyes were open, only one was near squinting. This was not an expression. This was just what his face naturally did.

Regarding his expression – I do not wish to describe it.

I will, however, impart the details of his black creation upon the façade of the building:

Sign captured on Ludlow Street, NYC

Sign captured on Ludlow Street, NYC

My hollow, dark corridor in the lower east side of New York City in 1974 isn’t exactly lacking when it comes to the wild, and our buildings are no stranger to graffiti. But there is just something so clearly more defined in this. It’s more calculated. The rigidity of it gave it certain gravitas – like the words were carefully picked and scrutinized over.

“Are you paying attention?” he growled. He turned back to examine his work.

I turned my key and squeezed myself past.

This was the man who lived in apartment 2B. I had never seen him before, despite the fact that he had been living in the apartment for over 3 years.

This was something I learned later.


One week later, I smelled something that reminded me of that one particular stop on the subway. You know, one of the tracks on 59th street. I don’t recall which. The smell was coming from 2B.

I knocked once. It lacked that real solid give that doors using all their locks usually respond with.

I turned the doorknob to test my theory that the door was unlocked. Indeed, I opened it to give hardly an inch of space between the spots where the door ends and the frame begins. No light came out, but that 59th street smell did come at me a bit more strongly. I closed the door. It smelled like dog spit.

I won’t deny that my suspicions led me to believe that the present in 2B would not be alive. I’m also telling you what I saw not because I wish to surprise you. These are merely the facts. This is not an exercise in suspense.

But my hand was still on the handle. So, what the fuck, time to look.

I opened up and flipped the lights on. He was hanging by the neck by a thick black leather belt in the front of the room from a pipe running along the length of the ceiling of the studio apartment. This was the truth of the matter. This was his way of putting the reality of the discovery to the forefront. His way of saying, “hey, there’s a dead body in this room. You’ll find some other things, too. But seriously, look at me. I’m dead as shit.” His face had those same specks of black spray paint.

The apartment was a mess. Books everywhere…the only names I recognized were Orwell and Dostoevsky. I’m not that well read, so I can’t recall the other authors. The walls were covered with messages written with black spray paint. But all of them were written in that clear, sharp, definitive stencil style. The stencils themselves all lay neatly in the far corner of the studio – by the bed. Well, by the cot.

The messages themselves mostly seemed like lyrical phrases begging for a litany of explication.


“It is too late now”

“January has April’s showers”

Around the man’s neck was one unused stencil. It hung by a thin string in a somewhat antithetical fashion to the leather rope curving in the opposite direction.

“You have not been paying attention,” it read.

There was no more I wished to know of the matter, so I quietly exited. I threw up into a trashcan in the adjoining hallway. The police came to remove the body, but the 59th street smell lingered for a few days more. A new tenant moved in at the beginning of the next month. With freshly painted walls, of course.

Who knows if the new tenant of 2B knew the truth of what was behind his new white walls. I doubt the landlord told him of the 3 year long suicide note of a man driven by some terribly painful reality. He’s probably the only one that knows the core of whatever truth drove him to his self-ceasing conclusion.

For me, the truth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

###Writer’s Note: As the title may suggest, the short story draws much of its inspiration not only from the captured sign/graffiti itself, but also from some of the themes, lyrics, and allusions from Radiohead’s first song off the Hail to the Theif album, “2+2=5.”


2 Responses to “Hail to the Thief”

  1. Marty McSorely Says:

    Good story. You should so this for a living.

  2. I just loved your story, you should write more, you are extremely talented and provacative. I want more.

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