Graffiti artist and all purpose vandal Ashlyn Brax pulls his hoodie up and looks both ways before exiting his dorm room. "Shit's not right," he mutters straddling a rickety cruiser and turning its front wheel towards a derelict industrial neighborhood. "The whole point of a rock is it's an anonymous message," he complains. "It's Fist-sized and perfect for knocking out windows in buildings that need to be fixed or knocked down. But it's so much easier to identify the thrower if the rocks have Yodas and shit painted all over them."
Brax's complaint doesn't yield much in the way of public sympathy. Most sources interviewed agreed that curtailing the destruction of property is a good thing, but his is only one of numerous problems Memphians face resulting from a recent mania for painting cute, colorful, family-friendly images on rocks and hiding them in plain sight like so many tooth-breaking easter eggs. The craze has resulted in what some experts are describing as a, "severe unpainted rock crisis."
It's 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning and 87-year-old Tony Lancilunghi would normally be roaming the city with his rolling shopping cart in search of the city's flattest, roundest stones. Lancilunghi is a competitive stone skipper, who hadn't missed a day's practice since he was seven years old. Until last week, anyway, when the old timer says he took up whittling.
"I didn't know there was some rule about taking more than one," he spits defiantly. "I saw some of them were painted up to look like the California Raisins, but I don't give two hoots about any of that hippity-hop mess." So Lancilunghi, who's won several regional titles, and is ranked in the top 500 stone skippers worldwide took a bucket of painted stones to the lake at Shelby Farms where he swears they "skipped even better than an unpainted rock." Shortly thereafter the internet shaming campaign began.
"People shouldn't take more than one painted rock per person," one commenter said while someone else complained, "That old man drowned my babies," and another responded, "#rocklivesmatter."
A rock painter using the handle Thanksy is furious: "It's bad enough that artists are expected to practically give our work away for free as it is, now we put so much time and effort into making common gravel look like the live action cast of Scooby Doo and some jackass just comes along and dumps them in the river? Sad."
Noted regional geologist Bif Berman says he's all about civic pride, unity, and getting outside and looking at rocks, but he's not a fan of the latest fad. "To paint the rock suggests there was something wrong or incomplete about this beautiful piece of sculpture Mother Nature made without spending a dime at Hobby Lobby.
"Imagine the public outcry," Berman concludes, "If some group started painting Sponge Bob on stray dogs or shaving the local squirrel population. Rocks have dignity too. Only they express it over eons, in a language most Americans don't speak."