Red Hook, Brooklyn
Most everyone of a certain age who grew up around Chicago has an apocryphal Mr. T story. He not only played the meanest mutha ever seen on nightly NBC television, he was also our most famous neighbor. While I never ran into the fella myself, a friend from college liked to tell the story of the time she and Mr. T got into an elevator in a high-rise building and were thwarted by some kids who pressed all the buttons between 2 and 14 before dashing off. "Oooh, you kids," Mr. T was rumored to have said before shaking his fist good-naturedly at the brats. Even though I wasn't there, I find myself cadging that line every time I'm in an elevator that's making a whole bunch of unplanned stops.
Draped in gold chains with a mohawk clipped clean as a Bonsai, Mr. T was the icon of my youth. I can recall a year when not a day on the playground went by without someone pityin' some other fool. I suppose he fell off the radar for me once I moved on to junior high, but imagine my delight when, through the magic of the internet, his pro-momma song, "Treat Your Mother Right" came out. ("When you put down one mother, you put down mothers all over the world.")
After seeing the Banksy movie last week, "Exit Through the Gift Shop", I've had my antennae out for the aerosol-ed faces I see on the streets around me. Shepard Fairey -- the street artist also responsible for the iconic red-white-and-blue Obama "Hope" poster -- has spray-painted so many Andre the Giant OBEY faces in cities from coast to coast that it seems there's hardly a billboard, street lamp, or wall that hasn't seen Andre's stern command from on high. But given the choice between the two, I like to think that this shabby Mr. T on a shorted-out electrical box in Red Hook is the one I'm going to listen to.