Friday, May 17, 2013

The Skater Dude

The Skater Dude
Drawn by Ben's close friend
I was wandering around in the mall the other day. I had no interest in shopping, but the temperature here in Arizona was already in the 90s and it was only 10:30 in the morning. Where else could a guy wander without getting heat stroke? The stores were unappealing to this 65 year old. Persons of my demographic are definitely not the target population of the mall entrepreneurs. I came upon a Zumiez store and went in. Immediately I realized, I was in familiar territory, enveloped in the skater’s world of hats, shirts, pants and jewelry, each item with a graffiti influenced graphic design. The young male clerk was alone. He greeted me, and probably out of boredom, began asking me a lot of questions concerning my interest in the skateboarding world and its merchandise. I saw a surprised look on his face, when he discovered that an old guy like me could hold his own when talking about the sport and its history. Before long I told him about our son, Ben, and his untimely death. He apologized profusely for hitting a sensitive nerve, but I had been cruising through life lately, not feeling Ben’s loss too much, so I welcomed the opportunity to feel and remember and told him not to worry. Strangely the store didn’t appear all that different from the ones Katie and I had shopped in all those years ago. Zumiez is originally a Washington store, the state where we lived while Ben was growing up. Throughout the 80s & 90s, for birthdays, Christmases or anytime we needed a present for him, we could always find something at Zumiez.               
Dropping inThe clerk and I talked about some of the skateboarding pioneers and I really impressed him with my knowledge. These guys had been Ben’s idols all through his childhood and he loved telling his mom, his Auntie Karen and me all about them in great detail. Even though he was a self professed non-reader, he voraciously read the skateboarding magazines, like Thrasher, from cover to cover.
Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Mike McGill, Tommy Guerrero and Rodney Mullen of the “Bones Brigade” sponsored by Powell-Peralta, Stacy Peralta, and Steve Caballero (man could that guy get major air on a half-pipe), all were familiar household names to me. Ben and I watched a video tape of Rodney Mullen doing incredible original tricks with his skateboard on an empty street or sidewalk. Ben was impressed that Rodney was such a creative purest. He didn’t need ramps, stairs, rails or half-pipes, just a board and a flat surface to perform his magic.
Practicing the slideSkateboarding was the first activity that Ben put hours and hours of time into. It took him weeks of frustrating practice to finally master the initial trick that was the essential key to his mobility and all subsequent tricks to follow. I liken it to when I first learned to ride a bike in the 50s and with that one skill, my world was expanded exponentially. And so did Ben’s, when he mastered the Ollie. Being able to make the board leave the ground and then land it confidently, meant that he forever left behind the realm of kids, who when coming upon a curb, had to step off their boards, pick them up and place them on the sidewalk before resuming their ride. Now he was free to travel around town, hopping curbs and set to develop ever more impressive tricks like kick flips, shove its, 180s, 360s and so many other tricks that I could never quite understand or remember. From that time on and for the rest of his life, Ben was kind, patient and empathetic whenever he came upon a kid who was trying to learn the basics of skateboarding and they all loved him for it. On first skateboardHaving the right board was essential. The first one we bought him was a ready made board from Toys ‘R’ Us(a stupid name for a store and the R is supposed to be backwards). He quickly grew out of that one and wanted a custom board with hand picked deck, trucks (the front and rear axle assemblies) and wheels. One year we planned a week long family vacation to California that included buying him a custom board.
In a gnarly little shop on the boardwalk in Hermosa Beach,  he painstakingly chose a Freddy Smith deck from a plethora of super cool decks. Then we stood by and watched as the young salesman meticulously applied the grip tape to the deck and compWith new Freddy Smith board in Hermosa Beachleted the assembly by bolting on the special trucks and wheels Ben had chosen. 
Skateboarding was not just a sport, but a sub-culture and this was the identity Ben chose. At a young age he identified with and dressed like a skater dude. It all seemed so innocent at the time. He wore special kinds of shoes, baggy tee shirts, huge pants sagged halfway down his butt, silver necklaces and hats that looked too big and were worn crooked. His friends were nice and polite and came from loving families.
The dark side of this sub-culture emerged as he got older. At age 28 the drugs took him and we’ll never get a chance to know him as a mature adult. He’s frozen in time as an aging skater dude.
Christmas skateboardI didn’t tell all this to the sales clerk at Zumiez. In fact right in the middle of our conversation about the film “Dogtown and the Z-boys”, he received a call on his cell phone and excused himself. Katie and I watched that documentary shortly after Ben died, probably in an attempt to feel some sort of closeness or understanding or something. It was a great documentary, but it made us feel worse. The call must have been of utmost importance, because the clerk started whispering into the phone and quickly retreated into the back of the shop and didn’t return. I left the store and wandered over to the food court to get some lunch.
Ben loved skateboarding his entire short life and I can’t help but love it too. I like to think of him up there flying, getting some major air.

Skateboarding on friendly st.

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