The scratchy, grindy, whiny spinning of hard wheels on asphalt gives way to a pause, then a jarring slam as wood hits the ground — hard.
I can usually hear them coming when I’m walking around urban areas, typically when I get off the subway, or behind me when I’m crossing the street. Hanging around my car in the parking lot at work.
I don’t need to look because I can picture what’s happening; the wheels on the pavement as the skater pushes off, attempts an ollie, and his board flips over and comes crashing down. Sad face. Try again. Try hard to look cool and disconnected. He doesn’t care what you think. I don’t care what you think either, not of me or this story or any of it. I don’t care because I am Punk Rock. At least I am while I write this. You should be too.
There is a naiveté present that we’ll envy for the rest of our lives. Fuck, man, I miss it.
I remember my own board under my old Vans, what it took to maneuver it, the harshness of grinding the wheels on pavement during a powerslide, devouring curbs no matter the cost, the wild and rich satisfaction of destruction. The taste of blood as you pick the pebbles out of your flesh with your own teeth. The depth of the relationship between boy and board, and the things that happen as fears retreat — overcome with the confidence of skate. Do you possess it too?
Punch yourself in the side of the head and join me in that moment. It’s the early ‘80s. Breakdancing is already on its way out, and skateboarding is full on. So embrace the now. And for me, it’s my last summer without a car. I can drive back and forth to work at the local supermarket in dad’s spare El Camino, but the rest of the time I’m on my Hutch BMX or my board.
“That’s not a skateboard.”
Stacy Peralta is pissed. The nerdy reporter is droning on about this “phenomena” called skateboarding and shows us this lame, outdated ‘70s board. Stacy can’t believe it. He grabs an axe and smashes the television. He reaches in through the broken CRT glass and pulls a proper skateboard right out of it. This skateboard is wide, smooth, scary, and all-around badass. It is one of his, a Powell Peralta. Because Stacy is the Steve Jobs of Skateboarding.
It’s the harmless prankster charm that makes every boy test his blooming manhood and every man wish he was still a boy.
This is the Bones Brigade Video Show. We’re watching it for the first of many times, and nothing will ever be the same again.
I’ve got no school and a part-time job. Three days a week for a few hours means some money in my pocket. It’s the official summer of fun. Probably the most fun ever. I love hanging out with all my friends, with our boards and our confidence, jumping into my buddy’s parents’ station wagon and going on all sorts of adventures. It’s sticky-ass hot. If you’re lucky it might rain and cool things down, just for a second. It’s New England, July 1985, and as I skate through the thick air I can smell the sweat coming off of the land. There is a whole group of us kids, and it’s like that movie you want to be in, except this is your life. I look back on the camaraderie, all these years later, and wonder why it is so hard to maintain.
But back then it was simpler: we’ve got the skateshop at the beach down in Narragansett, we’ve got the one up on the east side of Providence. We’ve got D’Angelos subs and Excellent Pizza. We’ve got access to cheap beer and weak pot and kids can still buy cigarettes. We’ve got it all. We have our whole lives in front of us and no responsibilities for maybe the last time ever. We’re young and free and in love with the buzz, the sound, the motion, and our perceived immortality. Our days are rich and our nights cool and breezy. Sure, we’re on the cusp of having actual responsibilities, concerns, and real shit to deal with. But this summer, there is none of that. There is a naiveté present that we’ll envy for the rest of our lives. Fuck, man, I miss it.
We gather together in the morning at my friend Al’s house, and we watch.
Words on the screen tell us that pro skater Lance Mountain’s departure time is 9 am. The sound of wheels on the roof of his house as he launches and lands on the street below give me chills. Hearing that sound now is no different than all those years ago. I can feel it in my soul. Lance is old, but he isn’t a pussy.
I don’t know how many times we watched that video. I can only imagine how many other teens all across the country were watching as well. All of us, with our boards and our poorly bleached Sun-In hair, strips of leather around our necks or ankles, we all felt it that summer. Writing this right now I can smell it in the air. It smells like unlimited potential. It’s like taking a dump on some car’s hood because you have to, because you’ve got this ache inside, and sometimes it’s a dump and sometimes it’s riding your skateboard and sometimes it’s just standing there as some adult asks you over and over again the same fucking question but you don’t answer. You just stare stupidly back into those old sad eyes as they get angrier and angrier. Because that’s the power of youth. It’s the power of not giving a shit because you don’t know shit.
Punch yourself in the side of the head and join me in that moment.
I remember watching Repo Man for the first time. Emilio Estevez’s Otto spoke to me, to my friends, to my whole generation, in a language that we understood. He’s a boiling anger built up in all of us. He’s Punk Rock.
In fact, let me take it a step further because now I’m actually pissing myself off. Otto’s not some cocktail-drinking, Saab-driving, wannabe intellectual from a Douglas Coupland novel. He’s not Dag or Claire or Tobias or fucking Elvissa or whatever pompous character name you can think of. He’s Otto, straight up, living in a world that is bland and generic that fuels his desire to break through to the other side and find out what is in the goddamn trunk.
This is what our parents didn’t understand.
That all of these bored children just want to do something. We want to level up. It could be videogames, a sport, a musical instrument, art… In our case it was skating. These things are our real homework. Our obsession. Our life force. I swear that young people can feel it in the air, they can hear this high pitch slightly above the deafening hum of florescent lighting. We’re all drawn to it, but as we get older we somehow forget the power it has over us. Or we just stop hearing it. Boredom equals death, Otto might say. Otto would kick me in the teeth if he could see me today. Just for fun.
That same boredom festers in the pit of my stomach even now. It’s a moment in time that part of me is trapped in, and no amount of maturity can ease the silent scream. There is something about being with a bunch of friends, stupid high, punching each other like lab rats injected with too much cocaine while your soberish friend in the driver’s seat yells at everyone to stop before jumping into the backseat with you, punching you in the leg as hard as he can as the car continues down the road at 50 miles an hour.
It’s the power of not giving a shit because you don’t know shit.
It is getting into an appropriate amount of mischief: skating where you shouldn’t be; sneaking into a construction site and stealing wood that you would later construct a rad quarter pipe with; or jumping out of a moving car in beach traffic to go ask some girls if they want to meet up later. It’s the harmless prankster charm that makes every boy test his blooming manhood and every man wish he was still a boy. No one wanted to get old. No one wanted to become their parents. And yet here we all are. FUCK.
And my skateboard is just sitting there in the corner of my office wearing its battle scars, begging me to remember who I am inside. To pick it up and slam it down on the ground in a way that only raging hormones can make you slam something. To push the limits.
Remember — today you just want scrapes, not broken bones. You want just enough damage to impress but not so much as to disgust.
And just like that, I’m watching both videos. The Bones Brigade (it’s on YouTube). Repo Man (so is it, as of this writing). I’m watching, wondering where all the time has gone and what happened to turn me into this. I should get on that skateboard and ride it down the massive hill that leads up to my house overlooking Los Angeles. But I won’t. I won’t because I actually bought this old skateboard on eBay to remind me of what I used to be. To remind me that sometimes I’m just a soft, scared version of myself who is glad he doesn’t have to face the younger man and explain how all of this came to be.
Even just writing these thoughts is teasing the mid-life crisis around the corner. I ask my wife if she thinks I should dye my hair blond.
She doesn’t approve.
And the old me, the young me, the punk me, the me who likes to break shit, and hates rules — he just stares at me from across the room.
“What?” I ask him.
But he doesn’t respond, he just stares back with the stupidest of expressions, and slowly begins to drip a massive loogie out of his mouth, until it’s about a foot long, then sucks it back up before shaking his head, turning away, and pitying the old man who won’t dye his hair.
My hair… Our hair.
“That’s not a skateboard!” Stacy Peralta says. And I’m back in 1985, with a bottle of peroxide, sticking a pin through my ear, ready for wherever the day takes me as I jet down the street, challenging myself with each new curb, hill, step, or car that I launch off of. I don’t fucking care.