by the Flight
There were times
when I was flying. And then there were times I was dying or so it seemed.
The sticks and stones that break one's bones are one thing, they say
that names can never hurt you. That may be so, but it sometimes proves
to be those very names that push you closer to harm from the sticks
and stones that break the bones. Names, innuendos, threatsthey
are like elements on the periodic table. They may not be solid matter
or radioactive entities. They are, instead, like gases, which, lacking
substance, have both effect and undeniable action. For each of these
actions there is an equal reaction. And, quite often, a hyper-equality
is the result. Whether that hyper-equality is at an opposite end of
the spectrum of actions that initiated it is subject to discussion within
the realm of hyper-physicsi.e., a physics that recognizes the
precise disciplines and dynamics of worlds seen and unseen, yet in collision.
My world was in
collision with worlds I didn't see, perhaps couldn't see. In the idyllic
world of the beach people's camelodeon, I made the mistake of failing
to see the manifest destiny of the surfer's domain. The surfer had rights
on land and water that no others had and, when wronged, he had the right
to claim his territory; his wave, dude; board shapes and leashes be
damned! If the Neanderthal mariner will push you off "my wave,
dude" it followed that he had every bit of right to corner you
in a doorway and, with a finger-jab to the chest, insist, "Stay
away from Jill or you're dead!" and then walk off, all the while
looking over one shoulder with a glare that would make a KKK member
Since it was one of those days when I had stayed awake through the night,
I guess the encounter just rolled over me the same way an episode of
cheap television would. This would be the antagonist's big menacing
speech just before commercial break: music hits minor etude under close-up;
then close-up of protagonists reaction while etude swells to tight
crescendo, fade to black, sell product. So I just walked on down the
Strand shrugging my shoulders and went to the corner café while
the commercials played on in someone else's head.
My second day awake
and there at the counter, over a cup of football juice (i.e., coffee),
it rudely dawned on me that it wasn't a Quinn-Martin apparition that
had just threatened me, it was a local bully. A very real bully whom
I had never had reason to consider or even take seriously until now.
I didn't even know his name. The irony and the anger of it all made
me feel incredulous that such a thing had just happened, and it made
me feel especially angry that I was involved in it. I slammed my hand
down on the counter and said "Goddamit!" to no one, to everyone,
Jim, the cook,
was standing by the waitress station. He heard me and remarked, "Dont
tell me the coffee's that bad."
I didn't say a
word. He then walked over to me and asked, "What's wrong?"
surfer guy just threatened me!" I answered.
Jim looked confused. "What big surfer guy? Where?"
big blond guy? Eats here all the time?"
mean big Bob?"
"Hell, I don't
know his name."
there near the door most of the time?"
"Yeah, I think
that's the one."
he do now?"
threatened me! Said he was gonna kill me if I didn't stay away from
Jim raised an eyebrow
and looked out the window.
"I was just
minding my own business when he comes up and tells me that clear outta
Jim looked back at me.
Just as I'm walking down the Strand to come here!"
guy's a wimp!" he picked up a greasy spatula and wiped it on his
apron. "I wouldn't worry about him. He ain't none too bright."
so, but he is bigger than me."
"But I bet
you can run faster."
I laughed at the
thought of it.
said Jim. "Kathy could tell you. He thinks he's a way better surfer
than he is. Brags all the time about nothing."
I mumbled, deciding to let it go at that. He was probably right. But
when a man's threats concerned jealousy over a woman he considered to
be his territory anything was possible. And it was just this type of
scumbag that could prove to be very dangerous if not watched with some
semblance of caution. Jill was a beautiful young beach nymph who was
as friendly as she was desirable. Any man with half a libido would want
to stand close to her, and look at her, and talk to her just for the
sheer pleasure of knowing that he had experienced such innocent beauty.
But innocent beauty can give a man thoughts that he shouldn't have,
especially thoughts that he takes out on other menmen he comes
to hate simply because he is not like them.
There were many
times I had talked to Jill. She worked at the Mexican restaurant next
door to the café so it was easy for us to cross friendly paths
on an almost daily basis. I had seen Bobby talk to Jill many times as
well. In fact, it was possible that I had once said "hello! how
goes it?" to her at exactly the moment that Bobby had been talking
to her. This may have happened very recently like maybe two days ago?
Could it be that I ruined something for the big guy? But Jill's a big
girl, right? She can make her own decisions on whatever and whoever,
"Me and Jason
were thinking about going to the skatepark tonight," Jim said,
interrupting my football-juiced thoughts. "We could give you gas
money and shit. Wanna go?"
I thought about it a second and said, "Yeah, why not?" The
idea of getting some sleep beforehand was appealing but not important.
Nor was it likely. And after the day's events I wasn't feeling very
tired, either. "What time you wanna go?"
No, I wasn't tired
at all, right? I had just upgraded my skates from the standard Sure-Grip
setup to wider Oak Street trucks and 65mm Kryptonics wheels and that
was a perfect excuse to tackle some untried vertical surfaces. This
was a new park so I was ready to ride and try to shake away the feeling
that someone looked at me as a threat and wasn't afraid to make me feel
bad about it. And I wasn't afraid to exorcise those feelings through
sweat and a different type of aggression than that which had earlier
been forced upon me. Ha! Big surfer dude thinks I'm a threat to his
manhood and I'm just gonna cower? Uh uh. What's the point? And what's
the point in having something to prove because of a growing rage in
the very absurdity of it all? Concrete waves vs. ocean waves, and it
would be "my wave tonight, dude!" so get outta my way! Eight
wheels gotta be better than four and I'd keep falling down until I got
it right, dude! I don't care if I'd be hurting myself! I'll save you
the damn trouble of taking on someone half your size!
Bricks are heavy.
Concrete is hard. A man's stubbornness is more durable than his skin.
My car, a 1969 Toyota station wagon, was just as tenacious. It had once
collided with an immovable object at just the right angle to leave the
metal of the left front fender resembling an old-fashioned kitchen can
opener. Other drivers bewared its belligerent look, as if ready to lock
horns over which vehicle would occupy a specific space on the road.
I gave it the name and The Great White Can Opener carried us inland
and into a night cool enough to inspire a physical confidence that belied
A new skatepark
indeed, nicely named The Runway. In my mind it was The Jetway. Once
there, I flew and continued flying into the proverbial jaws of Chance
while laughing maniacally, getting vertical, landing horizontally and
emerging with injuries which were all too real. I started with the snake
run and I wouldn't stop until I was able to get all the way down the
length of its serpentine contours and into the bowl at the end. One
or two young skateboarders suggested that it might be a good idea if
I were to stop for awhile. No, I couldn't do that. When I had finally
conquered this windmill I went looking for others and there was no lacking
There was a second,
more difficult snake run; the big bowl; the freestyle moguls and the
aptly named Vermont Drop. The first snake run had given me my legs and
a sense of the philosophical shape of the rest of the park. I did better
from then on but, still, I flew. I fell. A lot. My knees, elbows, shoulders,
arms and legs had become aching testimonies of having been awake for
two days. In a seizure of the angry aggression that drove me, I tried
to conquer this vast concrete sculpture and, for the most part, I did.
The Vermont Drop
was a fast ramp that dropped into a long, equally fast, banked channel
that emulated a wide drainage ditch. I rode it four times, each run
faster than the last, with no mishaps. I was victorious! My drop, dude!
I came, I rolled, I conquered, dude! But the concrete had yet to teach
me a lesson in no uncertain terms of its magnificent hardness. Oh, pain,
wherefore comes thy sting?
It was getting
toward the end of the night and, safety gear notwithstanding, I had
one more trick up my sleeve. I attempted the supreme sacrifice of splitting
my skull wide open. Plowing out of the V-Drop, I charged over to the
moguls. Powering down a short section of the freestyle wall
Waterloo. Its just a theory, but I've an inclination that those
new Kryptonics wheels (on those too tightly adjusted wider trucks) ran
interference with each other dispatching me forward into a hard percussion
symphony, my head a solid kick drum beat against the ground.
I lost my vision
for a few brief seconds, or for what could have been a few minutes.
I wasnt sure; it was such a hard cloud I was floating on. The
drums panned deeply from right to left and back again through the echo
return, and a voice from above asked something like, "Are you all
right down there?" Hell, how would I know? Did someone say something?
Willing myself into coherency I may have answered, "I think I'm
gonna lay here for awhile." The voice again asked, "Do you
want us to call the paramedics?" Immediately I answered, "No,
I think I'm OK."
The initial shock
wave began to subside like the decay of a close miked cymbal crash.
Staring straight up, my sight began returning, compressing back to normal.
In the jangling double vision I saw Eileen, the magical lady who normally
was seen doing impossible handstands on her skateboard, standing above
me. She was warmly smiling down at me, asking about my condition. My
vision returned to normal and she extended her hand. As I grabbed it,
I weakly implored, "I think I need someone to take care of me.
How's your bedside manner?" She laughed quietly, put her arm around
my waist and, hefting me up, said, "Here. Take it slow." I
was limping. The lady deposited me out of the freestyle area then tossed
her board down in front of her and rode away. As I watched her go, my
mind was still out of control. Maybe more so. It was urging, "One
more ride! Go for the big bowl!" But I was in severe pain and my
body loudly screamed "Shut the fuck up!" Luckily the park
was closing. So I rolled into the parking lot and found Jim, Jason,
and another skater who I didn't know waiting for me at the Can Opener.
Jim said, "Man, you were really getting radical in there tonight!"
"Yeah, man, really. We thought we were gonna have to carry you
outta there. Whew!"
We got into the
car and, the park's sound system still blasting music, drove off to
the sound of Manfred Mann's "Blinded By The Light." At the
lot's exit I stopped and, feeling suddenly very weak, I put my head
on the steering wheel. I heard Jim ask, "Hey, do you want me to
drive? I will if you can't." Falling back into the seat, my hands
tightly on the wheel, I took a deep breath and cleared my head. The
song's signature keyboard riff bounced rapidly through my skull and
I heard myself decline the offer. We drove away.
At Jim's house
he discovered that he had forgotten to bring his keys along but it didn't
matter since his sister Kathy was still awake and she let us in. Jim
offered us some good pot, which we accepted. He then offered the shower
to anyone who wished to use it. Kathy looked at me with an expression
that could have been alarm. She bounced up and disappeared into the
hallway saying, "Hold on. Let me get some things out of your way."
She bustled about for a minute and then called, "OK, coast is clear."
As I entered the bathroom she was digging through a cabinet and pulled
forth a towel. "Here's a clean one. Thank god I did laundry yesterday."
I thanked her. She then reached into the medicine cabinet, grabbed a
brown bottle and handed it to me. "Here, I think you can use some
of this," she said knowingly. It was hydrogen peroxide. She gave
me a stern look and said, "I really don't understand why you guys
do this to yourselves. Just leave the towel on the floor." She
I shut the door,
sat down on the side of the tub, and slowly began drawing the water
and taking off my clothes. For the first time that night I had a chance
to lick my wounds and discover the ones I hadn't yet seen. As the steam
rose behind me, I eyed myself in the mirror. I was a messa mass
of scrapes and bruises and a formidable split of epidermis gaping on
The hydrogen peroxide
fizzed and bubbled, and in the shower, as the warm water rolled down
my battered skin, I almost couldn't suppress the screaming agony of
the physical misery that almost did me in. I began thinking I was too
literal in describing myself as a kamikaze skater.
When I emerged
I thoroughly knew the meaning of fatigue. Jason and the other kid had
left. Jim had apparently gone to his room and passed out, snoring issuing
forth from down the hallway. Kathy was sitting alone on the couch in
the living room sewing a patch onto a pair of faded jeans. The smell
of pot still hung in the air. She offered me a cup of tea. I accepted.
We chatted for a while. She asked me, "Do you live anywhere?"
I answered, "Uh,
yeah. I pretty much live up in the studio."
studio up on Pier Ave."
"Ah ha! I
knew you were involved in that. I didn't know you lived there, though."
much. There's a secret back room up there."
As I drank the
tea she yawned, "I have to hit the sack in a few minutes. Opening
shift, yknow. You can stay here if you're really tired. The couch
is all yours."
I yawned back,
"No, I might have to run a session in the morning. I better get
out of here."
dont need to leave on my account."
appreciate the offer."
I finished my cup,
she continued sewing in silence, I pulled on my shoes.
"See you at
the restaurant tomorrow?" she inquired.
I don't have to work too long."
"Have a good
Back at the studio
I dragged myself through the secret doorway, into bed and felt my head
pound dizzily. I hoped that I wouldn't have to work in the morning.
It was obvious that I would really be feeling it then. Lying there aching
in the dark, I did remember having a vision earlier, however. As I lay
on the ground at Eileen's feet, I did imagine seeing the Goodyear blimp
taking off directly above us as if it were spiriting away my soul to
the great skatepark in the clouds. It was unnerving but, luckily, I
wasn't dead and, thankfully, I didn't have to resort to violence by
grabbing someone's shotgun and shooting the goddam blimp down.