Bombing hills was one of the last thrills of my life. What else was there to look forward to? I hated my job, I lived alone, had no girl, just me and my dog. Bailing on a hill bomb sucks, bloody palms filled with gravel, road rash up and down your legs, bounce your head or get whiplash. I went to Dolores Park by myself once a week during the summer when I only taught one class. English composition with freshmen. It was like teaching an oil painting, the way they sat there. Soft ass generation, I thought, sounding like my Dad. At the park I’d read on the grass and bomb a couple hills, skate through the Mission and burn a joint or two, sit with my back against a brick wall and eat a couple tacos, hop on BART and head back home. Eight miles to the city of dope.
It was late August, it’s always late August, it’s always the afternoon, it’s always having left somewhere and not yet arrived. The air was clear in the city, the breeze coming off the Pacific kept the smoke away but ash still sprinkled the cars and sidewalks. Bumps of meth out of the webbed divot of my thumb, head down and up to my neck in life. I thought about going to Twin Peaks and I almost shrugged about it.
It was simple, I wanted to go fast. I fell on my belly and slid for what felt like a fucking mile. The doctors had to use a wire brush to get the gravel out of my skin while I quietly cried. Which brought on shame and I cried harder. They wrapped me up and sent me home.
I walked to the train with my hands wrapped and ate some Percocet on a bench waiting for BART. The pain slowly ebbed away and warmth spread into my bones as I tried not to nod out. The injuries from skateboarding felt like meaning, like sacrifice, like martyrdom. Ultimately, skateboarding was play but we took it serious enough to elevate it through pilgrimages, documentation, ritual.
The first time I took BART out of Oakland and under the Bay to Embarcadero felt like what I imagine it’s like to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem or to walk the Camino de Santiago. My feet bled, something like salvation in the punishment. 3rd and Army was next, then the China Banks on Kearny. They each glowed with significance as I approached them with hesitation born of reverence. I wanted to pick one spot in the Bay and dedicate my life to perfecting my craft on it, to the ways the architecture directed my style.
I got home and Ozzy smelled the blood when he put his snout close to my hands and he whined like he was worried about me. I told him I was fine and took him outside. It was still warm out and I lit a joint up and sat on the concrete. I looked at my wrapped hands, the blood soaking through and imagined myself to be Simeon Stylites the Elder sitting atop his pillar for nearly forty years in Aleppo.
I modeled my life after the pillar-saints, the stylites, and at some level believed the mortification of my body in pursuit of what felt like communion with God would save my cursed soul, or at least provide penitence for my transgressions and hubris. I carried an old copy of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers around with me everywhere and consulted it in times of distress, which were often.
Abba Moses: sit in thy cell and thy cell will teach thee all
An unknown elder: a man who keeps death before his eyes will at all times overcome his cowardliness
Abba Arsenius: …let me now make a beginning of good
Abba Anthony: …we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labour in vain.
Ozzy was sniffing something in the yard and I watched him, I got sentimental about him. He was getting older and I loved him like nothing else in the world. I couldn’t stand the thought of living without him. I looked at the beautiful orange markings above his eyes and around his mouth. He was such a sweet and gentle boy, even though he was considered an aggressive breed. I called him inside and kissed the top of his head and told him, the path is narrow. He whined and licked my hand.
I took apart the skateboard I was using when I got hurt and put it back together. It’s a simple thing to unscrew eight bolts and toss the old deck into the closet. Like the Ship of Theseus—was it the same skateboard if the deck was different? In my mind it was part of a lineage and so equal parts the same and new object. I was after realignment. The skateboard is an object with tendrils dug into its body. I needed to see the parts of the whole disconnected and offer them each my undivided attention.
I got new bearings out of my steel tool box and popped the shields off. People said it made you skate faster but I did it for the noise. Even at 33 I found joy in being a loud nuisance. I opened a pack of fresh hardware and grabbed a 8.25” deck from my closet that my friend’s defunct skateboard company had made. The graphic showed an exchange of money and pills with BREAKFAST in all caps. I had grip left over for some reason and didn’t need to make a trip to the shop.
It’s meditative to put together a skateboard, but people are always using the word meditative to mean calming and I’ve never been calm while meditating. It’s an intense focus that creates an aura of the sacred. I like to pay attention to breathing, it feels better to me than eating or taking a shit. Slicing the griptape with a razor blade, laying it out with no air bubbles. I used an eyeglass screwdriver to poke holes where the bolts mount the trucks. Stuffing bearings into wheels is always frustrating. I skate loose trucks, leave a little play on the wheels and axle, a little space. Dialing took patience I could never afford and so it was suffering.
Four rotations left and an endless amount of time spent fiddling with the bushings, getting up to roll around and ollie and it was never quite right and I’d give up when it was time. I switched between a skate tool and regular tools because there aren’t any parts to a skateboard that can’t be adjusted with standard hand tools. A cop once asked if the skate tool I was holding was a crack pipe. I said, Anything can be a crack pipe.