Braille Street Art Blasts Off

Braille street art has blasted off. Two things happened last week. On thursday we made the front page of the City Paper. Then, on Saturday we won best visual artist at the Philly Geek Awards. Not only that, but we got to meet Joel Hodgson of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Sonia and I feel shocked and amazed, and have already begun discussing the future.

After getting the nomination, Sonia and I received an email from Paulina Reso of the Philly city paper. We have a fondness for this paper. They give it out for free, and their boxes make good targets for street art. Paulina asked if we wanted to do an interview and of course we said yes. We all met at my place and had a wonderful time. It made me think of how this project really requires a special partnership between a sighted and blind person both of whom can use their medium artistically. I also found it funny to answer serious questions about Discordianism. We even came up with a new sticker: Wikileaks, not Wikipedia.

We needed pictures for the article. We got our good friend Kara LaFleur to take them. She cooks a meal every wednesday for Indy Hall night owls, and also does photography. Sonia and I had a great time with her. It really turned into kind of a performance piece – balancing the braille writer on a city paper box while Kara scrambled around to get the best view. Photographers get crazy! The paper also sent a photographer named Neil Santos. He came to my place and we also had fun throwing around stickers.

Everything came together and they published the article. It had a wonderful reception. Lots of my friends, family, and neighbors saw it, and I got a lot of messages. Meanwhile we had to get ready for the awards two days later. When we learned that Joel Hodgson would present one of the awards, we went nuts. Meeting him would serve as an award in itself.

Saturday came and we felt nervous. We agree to meet at the event, and our friend Ahava would also join us and bring her goddess energy. We couldn’t eat. We just hung out and talked to some people. I got to pet a live alligator. Finally they announced that the ceremony would begin soon.

We gulped down some wine and toasted our nomination. We agreed that if we won we would just wing it. Sonia would thank some people. As she said: “When in doubt, thank Indy Hall.” I could not escape the irony of a blind person becoming jointly nominated for best visual artist. This gave me a good idea for a joke. We felt as prepared as possible.

We also kept an eye out for Joel. We had made him some custom stickers. Sonia’s said “We love MST3K!” Mine said “Torgo lives!” a reference to Manos: the Hands of Fate.

The ceremony started and we took our seats. I don’t think either of us really realized what we had gotten ourselves into until that moment. Two hundred people gathered in an auditorium. We watched the opening presentation with mounting excitement. Our award would come up fifth.

Kyle Cassidy gave a funny meandering speech about the visual artist’s role in society, referring to us as termites and criminals. We loved it, especially given the political bent of some of our stickers. He introduced the nominees. Of Hawk Krall he said: “If he doesn’t win I hope they make another award next year for coolest name.” He talked about Sean Martorana’s excellent work as an artist and at Indy Hall. We have birthdays a day apart. Then he introduced braille street art, and we felt glad they changed the nomination to reflect the partnership. “And the winner is…” (he struggled with the envelope) “Braille street art!” The crowd erupted in cheers.

We felt stunned I remember jumping to my feet. Sonia still sat. I grabbed her hand and said: “Come on. Let’s go.” We made our way to the stage and I found the microphone. The time had come to speak.

Sonia praised our fellow nominees. We really did think Sean would win. Then she turned it over to me. “I actually have a confession to make. I’m not actually a visual artist.” The crowd went nuts! The Philly Post named it the top highlight of the ceremony. When the laughter and applause died down Sonia and I thanked Indy Hall, Technically Philly, and some others who have supported us. Sonia told people to love our whistle blowers, love animals, and love your visual artist. We thanked everyone, and I ended with “All hail Discordia!” And thank you Chris Barrett for recording everything with Google Glass.

They presented us with a 3-D printed robot that lights up. The robot just has a flat feel like a stencil. It sits on top of a round base with a light and battery. It definitely fit the occasion. It will fit even more after Sonia finishes making some alterations, such as eye-liner, cat ears, and something representing my symbol.

We went back to our seats buzzing. I really had to go to the bathroom. We went out into the hall and I immediately texted my mom as a reporter we met documented. We also hadn’t forgotten about meeting Joel. He would present last.

I went into the bathroom and heard Sonia talking outside. Suddenly I realized that the other voice sounded a LOT like Joel. I came out of the bathroom and passed someone going in. “You’ll never guess who that was! That was Joel!” said Sonia. I knew it!

We waited for him then said hi. We told him how much we love MST3K. I said how my Mom wanted to tell him that our whole family enjoyed it. He thanked us. Sonia had left her purse in the auditorium so did not have the stickers. He promised he would catch up with us later.

We went back to finish the rest of the ceremony. We enjoyed watching the awards but our minds felt active. Finally Joel came on and gave a great performance. He made fun of the black tie event, saying he didn’t believe it and had to rent a tuxedo most likely used by a high school boy going to the prom. He also showed one of those virtual drinking apps and said “I know you’d like that because you’re geeks and you write apps and stuff.” He presented the award, the organizers gave a farewell speech, and finally it ended and we stepped out into the night air.

I smoked my pipe and got grounded. Suddenly Joel came up to us. We said hi again and this time Sonia had the stickers. It felt so awesome to give to him. We love MST3K! Torgo Lives! He asked if we would go to the after-party and we said yes. “Well, save me a dance.” We laughed.

Sonia’s boyfriend Ian came by with their van. We had joked about needing a getaway driver in case of any high weirdness. Now that joke almost came true in a good way. Everyone had started heading to the North Bowl Lounge, a combination bar and bowling alley, and we felt glad to have a ride. We excitedly discussed the future of braille street art. Clearly we had tapped into something. We felt too excited to discuss anything serious but we all understood.

We arrived and I felt hungry. Several people assured me they had good food. I planned to have some food and drink then maybe try my hand at bowling. Discordians consider bowling alleys as sacred. Unfortunately this did not happen. As we waited in line at the tater tot bar, word came down the line that they ran out of food and drinks. In other words they ran out of everything.

We got our tater-tots, and Ian snagged some beers. “I guess we can consider this our post-awards feast.” I said to Sonia. We didn’t stay for too long. Joel did congratulate us one last time, as did many other people.

It had gotten late and I had enough of crowds for a month or so. We drove back to my place and talked excitedly about the night and what it meant for the future. We have a lot of ideas. I have begun doing some tactile drawing. We’ve also talked about 3-D printers. And my recent work at the museum has opened up some possibilities. One thing seems clear: braille street art has blasted off!