When they ripped out the bridge in our neighborhood, it cut us off from the shops and cafes. Felt like they'd put up the Berlin Wall -- without the secret police and midnight detentions, of course. (As far as anyone could tell.) Everyone adapted and watched the reconstruction with pride and awe.

Pride, because this is how we do public works around here: on time and without a huge scandal that sends half the Bridge Department to jail for rigging the lucrative handrail contract bidding; awe, because no one ever seemed to be working on the project. (It was built by elves between 2 and 4 a.m.)

When it was done, we beheld a structure of crisp, economical beauty: The old gray walls had been replaced by a facade that achieved a pleasant, historical appearance at a small cost. We sighed, smiled and wondered:

How long would it take before the vandal-kiddies spray-painted ugly scribblings?

Answer: about a week. The underpass was the first to be defaced. One tag pays homage to local weed enthusiasts, with a stick figure enjoying the benefits of stupefying chemicals; there's an enormous name of someone whose contribution to civil society will be so minimal his primary lifetime achievement will be "early parole."

Then there's the big VOTE NO in two colors. That one perplexes. What did the author intend to achieve? Possible reactions:

1. "This bold, multi-hued assertion of a political stance has caused me to re-evaluate my rationales for supporting my own beliefs. Rocked to the very center of my being by the stark command, I must now concede the error of my position. I only hope no one writes 'God is Dead' because then I will have to stop attending church."

2. "As a taxpaying citizen who voted No, I am proud that someone expressed my stance in paint form, and look forward to the day when people anoint the more visible portions of the bridge with a variety of passionate arguments that confirm my world-view, and associate them with idiots."

Neither seems likely. It was defacement.

The proper punishment should be simple: Tattoo the image on the offender's forehead with a slow-fading ink. Something he'll see in the mirror every day for a year. He might say: Hey, I don't want to look at this.

Welcome to the club, pal.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858