Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Vampire of Doom City

From the pages of

Originally published
April, 2013

Part 3

As I’m told, Swayze took Oxycodone, covered his body in nicotine patches and went out for coffee. His roommate found him cold in bed a few hours later. He was a brilliant writer, and I still have some of the DIY punk rock zines he published on photocopies stolen from Staples. Issue 6 described his exact method in detail, ordering copies at the back of the store, but requesting to pay at the front, then stuffing the sheaf in his shirt and running out the door. That was the issue he was copying when he was arrested. A short story of mine is in that issue, so it must be some kind of collector’s item. A few Swayze tags remained for years in faded yellow spray paint in forgotten corners of parking lots. Swayze was not alive to be the Vampire, but I was convinced Geraldo Rivera and the Vampire were one-in-the-same.

Bambi Madden’s investigation focused first on her husband, as it does in any good crime procedural. He faced down three lie detector tests, and a tip that her body was buried in his basement. Binghamton Police searched with cadaver dogs, but could find nothing to back up the claim. Bambi’s family now believes him to be innocent.

Winter became Spring, and as dawn grew earlier I’d be out of the house by 6am to capture ghostly images of Binghamton occupied by no living being but myself and the artist I called “The Preacher.” The tattered remains of his posters cling to telephone poles and traffic signs all across the Triple Cities. Most are misspelled Bible verse in multiple layers of colored highlighter. On many concrete walls, the glue remains like the mark of Zorro, especially near the bus stops. I still see new posters every month, but in 2008 the Preacher was out every morning spreading his message deeper and deeper into neighborhoods that were sure to be perturbed by the Preacher’s racist slander.

Before special events he would plaster Downtown, and Parade Day was like a crusade that was shredded without consideration by throngs of revelers. Normal days favored State and Court Street for the drunken college students that needed saving, but the Preacher also left his mark at every bus stop in Binghamton. He clearly spent at least a day each month on the 35 bus down Main Street as far as the Oakdale Mall. With transfer slips and inattentive bus drivers, he could blanket the West Side and Johnson City for a single fare.  As a promoter, I had to respect him.

Scripture was misquoted, but verse numbers adorned each for reference. Over time the Preacher arranged his words into crosses and symbols. They were written on plan paper, lined paper, tiny pages from schedule notebooks, even the backs of unopened mail. I found one with a complete address, but it was destroyed when I tried peeling the message off the wall.

The voice is dim-witted racist, written with a good heart and no clue of the offensive nature of the work. Most posters hang in tatters after only a few days. When one poster is torn down, another is stacked in its place, some many layers thick. If a poster remained long without significant damage, the Preacher placed another, and continued to do so, spreading out like wallpaper. Readable words were like Cut-Up poems across town with city walls as the blank page.

SpoolMFG hung a collection of the Preacher’s artwork, using posters painstakingly peeled from signs and walls while wet. Also included was a cardboard box panel that had been nailed outside a store. Each had his signature scripture, ridiculously written and traced repeatedly in blue, pink, yellow, and green. To the best of my knowledge, the Preacher did not attend.

I found him, and like most real-life supervillians, the truth was disappointing. He was in Rolando’s Diner one morning, Bible poking from his back pocket. He was pockmarked and pear-shaped with wisps of white hair poking from beneath his hat. His book was gilded in highlighter of many colors identical to the papers folded inside. The Preacher’s mission was to save his readers, but his quest made him blind to his own ignorance. He was trying to good, but came off as a self-righteous prick instead. I lost interest in the Preacher as his messages repeated. “You steal rainbows from children when you sell drugs.” The Preacher was another cranky old racist with no other mode of transportation but the bus line.

The Vampire was in a creative burst in the winter when I was wandering the lonely city streets as the sun rose above Binghamton, and his messages disappeared fast. If I didn’t get a photo on my first pass, the graffiti was likely to be gone when I returned a few days later. He wrote in giant black script, naming murder victims and attributing them to Police Chief Joseph Zikuski, and followed each with a phone number that could either confirm, or needed to know about the conspiracy. The story was brilliant. The police chief of a small city was murdering prostitutes to end love affairs and silencing witnesses. The Vampire was telling his tale in secret corners of the city. He wrote on the backs of trailers at an abandoned gas station in black spray paint, and in black marker on the electrical box on the Washington Street walking bridge. The story was about to grow even more strange. 

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