Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

For over twenty years I have been impressed (although that is not quite the word I'm looking for) by the graffiti in the men's rooms at New York County Supreme Court, 60 Center Street. It isn't just the hateful quality of it, or its puerile filth-- although, to be sure, both of these aspects are notable-- it is the consistency of it; the fact that it seems like the work of the same person or persons. It is almost like it has been produced by a sort of school, in the manner of the schools of the Dutch Old Masters.

The pictorial arts are become rare in lavatory art, but they are not neglected at 60 Center. If it is not the same artist, it is and has been mostly in the same style. The walls of the stalls are cleaned infrequently, but they are cleaned sometimes, and when they are, the homoerotic Bic pen frescos promptly re-appear, with accompanying crass commentary. I have never known the stalls there to be devoid of ornament, although I have come upon them when the new work is more or less freshly in progress.

Although the artwork is surprisingly deft, the writing is pretty witless: commentary on the sexual preferences of well-known public figures and obscure private persons, most of the latter identified by first name only, or initials; outhouse limericks which were antique when clay tablets were bathroom reading material; the occasional racial or ethnic slur. It all seems very out of character for a courthouse like New York Supreme, which is noted for its liberal, cosmopolitan sophistication. It has been the same stuff for years, though, and that has to mean something.

Over the years I have used the wash rooms on every floor, in just about every nook and cranny of a building that has more nooks and crannies than an English Muffin. Throughout the graffiti is the same, and I have often wondered who the prolific artist (or artists) could be. I suppose it might be a lawyer, but it would have to be a lawyer of uncommon industry. We can rule out, I think, the judges. They have their own bathrooms. (I haven't seen them-- they might be full of the same stuff, but I doubt it.) Jurors are too transient to be likely candidates, which seems to leave the clerks and court offices, I suppose. I'd have to venture that it is not the cleaning staff. It's jarring stuff, and it makes the 60 Center experience more than a little wierd.

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