Urban Archeology – The Syringe Piece

This is my all-time favorite piece by my brother. I love it. It’s hanging in my office/dining room. It’s a process piece – total meta hipster shit (DID YOU HEAR THAT, BROTHER?!) It feels like being in his head, in his contemplation, in his cool methodical treatment of emotionally charged items.

The first time Zeke showed me his Urban Archeology series I got chills down my spine and almost cried. His attention to the cruel minutiae of so many ordinary and sometimes hostile lives was as sensitive as it was honest. The artifacts he collected (used syringes, spent bullets, empty dime bags, child barrettes, pacifiers, and stripper cards, etc) were painfully intimate and seeing them presented without oration or commentary was telling in itself. The care with which Zeke collected each item, dating them, labeling them, and preserving them was exquisite.

The narration that emerges is not judgemental of the people whose lost artifacts he collected but definitely makes a statement about a society in which these are the common detritus of city lives. Neighborhoods riddled with drive-byes are also full of children of all ages but all mature beyond their years. The drugs being trafficked are as common as to be no different than an exchange of advil – except for the body count.

I believe there are any number of ways people can interpret Zeke’s intention with his Urban Archeology series. There’s no wrong way, really, except for the ones lacking nuance and depth. My brother wasn’t always articulate with words (he really was, actually) but his greatest subtlety of observation and commentary are in his artwork and photographs. He speaks loudly through them. Loudly but not necessarily obviously.

Everything my brother ever did or said is obviously colored for me by the fact that I grew up with him, that I had a vantage point from which to understand him in ways only a sister can. This vantage point is extremely biased by my personal perceptions of things. Our sister Tara also knows Zeke intimately in ways that others will never know, including me. She has her own experiences with him colored by her unique perceptions.

The amazing thing, though, is that there really is a universal Ezekiel that Tara, me, our mom, his closest friends, acquaintances, and new friends all see – an unchanging truth about him. This is reflected in everything he’s left behind him for us to hang onto. We are deeply fortunate in how much he’s left for us to hang onto.

Today is the first anniversary of his death and I know this is going to get softer as time passes, but it fucking sucks today. For trivia freaks (<— clown spectrum shit right there) he died on August 29th, 2016 but his official date of death according to the Los Angeles coroner is August 30th, 2016 because that’s when she was called to the apartment and pronounced.

Now when I think about Zeke I wonder how much of the work I hoped to accomplish will get done before I die. I wonder if I’ll ever finish the projects that are most important to me but which are the hardest to sit down and work on. I wonder if what I’ve finished so far is enough for my family and loved ones to hang onto, to derive comfort from. I started writing Suicide for Beginners just before Zeke died and I’ve been in too dark a place to face it this whole year. It’s so important to me, if I die before I write it – who’s going to pick up the gauntlet on mine and all of my tribe’s behalf?

Those aren’t productive thoughts. Those are questions with no answers.

For so many years Zeke didn’t find his voice in his art and when he did it was powerful – IS powerful. His photographs and his Urban Archeology pieces are poignant, current, and charged. He found himself in his art through his employment and I never would have seen it coming but he developed a passionate focus he never had before putting up advertising in liquor stores across the country. He was evolving his work into photographs of city-scapes he frequented for work and playing with putting photographs onto wood pieces.

I’m still grappling with some dark feelings going back into the annals of time in which I believed it was my fault I couldn’t keep him safe from abuse and harm when we were kids. I don’t know how long I’ll feel that. It feels atom-deep. I’ve felt my whole life like I let him down. It’s shaped who I’ve become today in a good way, but when it mattered to his scrappy little thug self – I was scared shitless of everything including my own reflection.

Today I’m not afraid to face abuse, bullies, or anyone preying on those weaker than themselves. I’m scared of some kinds of conflict, like returning shoes,  but when it comes to helping someone else, when it comes to standing up for someone vulnerable I’m no longer scared and it’s because I couldn’t stand up for my brother when he was most vulnerable.

There’s no way my brother was universally loved, because no one is, but I’ll tell you something I know for damn sure – Zeke could charm the pants off Satan and get him to pour a cold Foster’s beer. It also gives me great comfort knowing how deeply loved he was by so many people, what wonderfully long and solid friendships he forged in his life. He struggled so hard with so many things but he had no shortage of loyal and loving friends. Friends so wonderful they’ve embraced us too – so much fucking love.

I want to hug my brother more than anything else I want in the world right now.

Instead I’ll keep looking up at his syringe piece and remember how excited he was to be working on this series. I’ll remember how his eyes lit up like they did over art, avocado toast, and music.

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