First ride

skatefeet

My new skateboard came in the mail the other day. It’s an Enuff, a British brand that didn’t even exist when I quit skating 20 years ago. I did the easy thing and ordered a complete board because I couldn’t remember all the components or even be bothered to decide between all the available parts. On their website they have a message about using wood from renewable forests, their boards are considerably cheaper than well-known brands, and so far I can’t even tell the difference.

As soon as I unwrapped the board I began cruising around the kitchen. I was surprised that I didn’t fall immediately. Within hours I was downstairs carving in the parking lot and doing short manuals (riding on the back wheels, if you don’t know). I left work early that evening and hit a spot I’d been eyeing on the way home. Stop for a moment and think about what you just read: A 40 year old man stopped on his way home from work to skate, alone, in the dark after two decades of not having so much as rolled on a skateboard. And what do you think happened? I slammed. Twice.

Slamming is skateboard jargon for falling hard. I had found a nice smooth area to roll around in. As this is a rather pleasurable activity to do fast, I began to go faster. An unseen pebble sent my flying across the pavement: glasses on face, keys and phone in jacket pocket, button-down shirt and all. It was like a slap in the face from my mother. So what did I do? I swept the pebble away with my foot, muttered something about “goddamn pebbles” and got back on the board again.

It felt triumphant, although my elbow hurt. I imagined I might be able to ollie, and after a few tries I think I got off the ground slightly. A man about my age with a large German Shepherd walked up to me and asked if there was a ramp at the local church. I told him I didn’t know, but thought it unlikely. I added that today was my first day skating. “E sai già fare l’ollie!?” (“And you can already ollie!?”) Well, it’s been a while, I added. He mentioned that he had also recently begun skating again. Cool. “Ci vediamo.” “See you around.”

Skater language is always the same. No matter how much Shaksepeare you’ve internalized through years of reading, as soon as you step on a skateboard it’s back to monosyllables. Cool, yeah, right, wow, u-huh. I’m always pleasantly taken aback when I see a skater who can speak well, like Rodney Mullen in his recent TED talks. I guess I have an old prejudice (based in part in personal experience) of skaters as mainly an anti-intellectual crew. This, at least, was the image projected in the 1980s when skateboarding was synonymous with lawlessness, hardcore and Satanism. These Reagan-era memes must have contaminated my mindstream, despite minimal contact with teenage Satanists.

As I was heading towards the car there was a short drop from the sidewalk into the parking lot. Sweaty and self-confident, I ollied lightly off the curb – a routine move. But the parking lot was gravelly and the board stopped dead and sent me stumbling across the asphalt. My body contorted itself in an effort not to fall and scrape my hands, and as a result I got a bruise between my ribs which began to hurt immediately (and still does two days later.) This time I thought, you are a stupid forty year old oaf. Skateboarding is dangerous. You can kill yourself. Even the instructions that came with my new board spell it out clearly: if you are married and have children, choose a different sport.

Then I remembered what drew me to skateboarding in the first place as a restless tween: skateboarders are known for their independence, non-conformity and defiance of authority. Not unlike atheists. No wonder my feet feel so at home on the griptape.

Skateboarding

My friend Pat has started a blog about his return to skateboarding after a hiatus of over 20 years. I met Pat in 1989 when we began going to the same high school together in a suburb of Maryland. We were part of the same skate circle and together we followed all the fashions and developments of skateboarding through the early 90s. We were dedicated to and passionate about the sport. Neither of us were good enough to have imagined a future in skateboarding, though, and when we left for college we put our boards aside and moved on to other things. (I’ve written about my experience here.)

But skating never really left either of us, apparently. I can attest that I have always mentally skated my surroundings. The ex-skater is always silently scanning the landscape for skateable surfaces. There was a time I attempted to bury these tendencies, somewhat embarrassed about their unintellectual nature. But it wasn’t really up to me; the mind, as we know, has a life of its own. It’s not easy to tell yourself what to think about and what to block out. So when Pat began posting videos of himself re-learning to ollie, I took it as carte blanche to dust off the skateboard of my imagination once and for all.

A lot of this involves finding clips of old skate videos on You Tube, videos I used to watch on a daily basis on our VHS player. Trying to remember all the details is a challenge: what boards did I ride? I can only remember the first two: a Mark “Gator” Rogowski was my first board, in 1987. Sometime after that I got a bit more sophisticated and bought a Santa Cruz/SMA Natas Kaupas, the one with the black panther. I still remember the excitement of getting that one. I can’t for the life of me, however, recall any of the other boards I had between 1989 and 1992.

I do recall that the shape of the boards was changing constantly. In fact, the basic shape of a skateboard in 1992 is essentially the same as today: the nose and tail are indistinguishable from one another. There are minor variations, I suppose, but nothing like the variety of shapes one saw in the late 80s. I guess skateboard evolution selected the model which works the best for the most people. Here is a good breakdown of this evolution (via Pinterest)

Skateboard Shape Evolution

Suffice it to say that I have been getting more and more into watching and thinking about skateboarding. I’ve heard that this is a not uncommon phenomenon for those hitting forty, but so be it. Today I ordered a new skateboard online and a I really can’t wait to finally learn tre flips, a trick I could never get down even back when that was all I wanted out of life. Stay tuned for further updates!

I did a drawing today

I studied painting and sculpture in college and used to be rather passionate about (making) art. I’ve always been passionate about viewing and thinking about it, but it’s been a good long while since I bothered trying to make anything more than a cartoon character for my daughter.

This evening I got the urge to try something a bit different. So I found a painting more or less randomly and decided to make a copy of it. All I had handy were some magic markers and graph paper, but it felt good to swim in the warm waters of impresssionism for a while.

Art is a habit, like writing. If you make time for it regularly, it becomes like second nature. Let it drift for too long and there it goes. You’re lucky if you ever get it back again, too.

The original artist is Elmer Bischoff. I don’t know what this painting is called.

IMG_0127.JPG

What I’ve been reading

First, a lot of articles about reading: e-reading versus paper reading, are people losing their ability to read long, involved texts? is reading dead? That kind of thing. Also, books. E-books, paper books, whatever. I’ve finally opened my four-volume Montaigne from the Limited Editions Club (1946) and begun The Satanic Verses to see what all the hoopla was about firsthand. Montaigne is sobering and delightful; Rushdie is funny and surreal. I recommend both to anyone looking for a cure to monotony or ennui. I also read a lot of Dr. Seuss with my daughter. She loves Horton the Elephant.

I’m also trying to write again. As anyone can see, I’ve only written six posts in the last year. Now that I’m no longer writing my monthly column, I have no writing obligations. That means no writing. Say what you will about obligations, they do keep you doing things. So I’m trying to revive this blog which has spent two years gathering dust. (I think I’ve said this before.)

I’ve changed the look and feel of the blog. I’ve gotten rid of all the sidebar links (half of them linked to dead pages anyway) and images. There is a search bar and an archive for those who wish to go back and read what I’ve written since March 2009, when I started this blog. Gone, too, is the header. Now it’s just good old-fashioned text. That’s what writing has always been about, right?

Lost In Migration

lost_in_migration-Recently I’ve been getting addicted to Lumosity’s brain-training games. They’re a lot of fun and some of them are positively maddening. I find I don’t score very well on math-based games or games that test memory. At least, I don’t score as well as I do on other games like pattern-recognition or concentration exercises. One game I really like is called Lost In Migration, in which you have to swipe the screen (I use my phone) in the direction the middle bird is facing. This sounds simple, but the faster you try to go the more difficult it becomes.

I feel a lot like that middle bird, always flying in a different direction than its flock members, which is perhaps why this game appeals to me. I’ve been lost in migration many times. And so, apparently, have most of my friends.

Championship-Vinyl-la-boutique-de-disques-du-h-ros-de-High-Fidelity-
A certain kind of friendship.

It took me eight years in New York to begin to feel like I had a social network (to use a term that didn’t really exist then) of people called – loosely, then as now – friends. They were often people I worked with who more or less shared my interests and drank with me. That was the definition of “friend” in the late ’90s NYC I inhabited. There wasn’t much in the way of emotional support or secret-sharing, and social contact was pretty much limited to heated debates on the merits of Richard Hell’s post-Voidoids work or which Dylan bootlegs to even bother listening to. We were exactly like the record store guys in High Fidelity. But, hey, we were in our twenties!

When I left NY, I somehow thought it would stay the way I left it forever. But year after year all of my friends left, too. They moved to places like Amherst, Massachussetts; Cleveland, Ohio; Tampa, Florida and who knows where else. The only people I still know in NY are friends who came there after I left. The world I inhabited is gone.

Now the same thing is happening with my friends from Rome. It’s been 2 1/2 years since I moved  to Umbria and my social world has already been atomized. The birds have migrated once again to places like Dakar, Senegal; Brooklyn, NY; Los Angeles, California; Washington, D.C. A common mistake is to assume the migration process began with me and radiated outward. I just began noticing things in relation to myself, as most people tend to do. Now when I go back to Rome there are fewer and fewer people to see.

We’re all flying in different directions.

Shelley Segal – “Saved”

I just heard this song on a Freethought Radio podcast from a few weeks ago (I’m behind on my listening) and liked it immediately. I even like the lyrics, which remind me so much of the debates I have with theists.

Money quote:

You think it’s any of your business / what goes on between my thighs?

I look forward to hearing the rest of Shelley’s “An Atheist Album.”

The Christian Life

I love this song despite – or perhaps because of – its boozy Christian sentiment. It makes me feel like I just stumbled into an Oklahoma leather bar full of Jehovah’s Witnesses (or something). Here’s a lyric that makes me giggle every time:

Others find pleasure in things I despise / I like the Christian life.

The whole album is wonderful. Enjoy!

How to drive psychiatrists insane

This is a Super-8 film of the Velvet Underground’s first public appearance – at a psychiatrists’ convention in NYC, circa 1966. It’s also the best version of “I’ll Be Your Mirror” I’ve ever heard: fuzzed-out and ear-splitting.

Here’s what happened:

On January 13 1966, Warhol was invited to be the evening’s entertainment at the NY society for Clinical Psychiatry’s forty thir- annual dinner, held at Delmonico’s Hotel. Bursting into the room with a camera, as the Velvet Underground acoustically tortured the guests and Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick performed the ‘whip dance’ in the background, Rubin taunted the attending psychiatrists. Casting blinding lights in their faces, Rubin hurled derogatory questions at the esteemed members of the medical profession, including: ‘What does her vagina feel like? Is his penis big enough? Do you eat her out? As the horrified guests began to leave Rubin continued her interrogation: ‘Why are you getting embarrassed? You’re a psychiatrist; you’re not supposed to get embarrassed. The following day the NY Times reported on the event; their chosen headline, ‘Shock treatment for psychiatrists’, reveals the extent to which Rubin’s guerrilla tactics had inverted the sanctioned relationship between patient and doctor expert and amateur.

Best rock and roll band, ever.

Warning: this will hurt your eyes

This is an optical illusion – via Michael Shermer. Don’t stare at it for too long or you might begin to feel dizzy.

This radial sunburst illusion is known as the Asahi figure, and the researchers analyzed people’s eyes while they stared at it, and a number of other similar optical illusions. And just as if they were staring at an actual light source, their pupils contracted.