Skateboard Showoff

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / Pre-Draft Limbo /
@ K. 2002 11 07

Early Mid-’60s

Again: I graduated. I skulked around waiting to be drafted. I met Hilary. I was drafted. Phil & I decided to become college teachers. I started grad school while in the army. The army let me go and I fell into NYU full time. My suffering still wasn’t enough for this masochist, so I married Hilary.

I’d met Hil the day she’d moved into the Riverside Drive apartment she was to share with her sixteen year old sister for the next several years. Our first apartment together once married was Riverside and the corner of 97th. Her sister remained on Riverside and 116th. If you know Manhattan you know that north of 95th Street, the island west of Broadway slopes steeply toward the Hudson River. The point of this mapping is to tell you that that part of New York is more like San Francisco than is the rest of New York. Some parts of Riverside are only a degree short of cliff dwelling.

Taking up with Hilary shortly after her mother had bought a country place, coincidentally in ski country, turned out to mean that this perpetual student, rich as a paper boy but without income ever since, was able to discover skiing even on a private’s $99 a month. I bought the skis: everything else including transportation came with Hilary: herself never impoverished (until she married me). With the skiing came frequent visits to Herman’s sporting goods store on 42nd Street. (Hilary and I were shopping there for skiing stuff when Kennedy was shot.) Lo and behold, one day early in 1965, in another section of Herman’s, we brushed past a display of skateboards. Never seen them before: never heard of them. I instantly loved the idea, saw it’s relationship to my beloved skiing, and bought a pair: his and hers.

Our 97th Street emptied directly into Riverside Drive a skipped stone from where Riverside Drive connects with the West Side Parkway. Braking the skateboard, like controlling it, comes with skills that must be learned and mastered. No brakes come installed on the simple toy. Hilary and I began to learn what we’d need to know on the next block north. 98th Street emptied into a utility side road that snakes sideways “in parallel” with Riverside. I applied my life-time bicycler-and-runner’s legs, my dancer’s strength, balance, and rhythm, my male-skier’s daring … and got the knack in no time. Indeed, it was on only my second day aboard the skateboard that a car zipped by below, turned around, found its way onto 98thStreet, stopped, and hailed me as I came abreast. The guy had just invested in skateboards. He wanted to hire me to demonstrate them. “Oh, no thanks.” I was going to be a college professor. Or so I believed.

I practice never to second guess myself. If I’m late for class and am therefore expelled since it’s for the 110th time, I don’t waste time or emotion wishing I’d been on time. Who knows? If I’d been “on time,” maybe I’d have been hit by a bus. Maybe I’d have met the one drug pusher in history skillful enough to hook me. Maybe I’d be “damned” rather than “saved.” Graduate school, the whole appeal of the academic life, was a disaster (not just for me: for everyone, for everything). Had I paused to ask the guy, “What do you plan on paying me? What future might it have,” would I ever have invented Macroinformation or seen the Meta-Oxymoron in Shakespeare’s Sonnets? Would I have met Ivan Illich and founded the Free Learning Exchange?

There: I’m indulging in second guessing right there; but I don’t think I’m wasting time or emotion since I’m doing it openly in front of the reader (assuming I have such a thing as a reader). The above mentioned things should have benefited the public (and, thereby, me). They didn’t. I’ve just starved, been despised. Ah, but what will be our respective status at “Judgment Day”? See? I say my choices were right after all.

Back to my narrative: As in all things from learning the recorder together to learning to ski together, Hilary was precocious for two days: then reached a level above which she never rose. I soon figured that the key to this thing was the flexibility of the wheel base. The skateboard had come from the store fairly stiff in the axel: they’d roll forward just fine, but were very stiff to turn. I tinkered with them and learned to increase the flexibility dramatically. Next thing I knew, I could stand on the thing and swivel my ankles the way I did when dancing the Charleston or the jitterbug. If I stuck my ass out to the side, the thing carved the other way.

2016 03 08 I was imitating Stein Eriksen! RIP.

Stein Eriksen
thanx thelittlenell

Successfully! Without having yet heard of him: but I would, as I skied.

Before too long Hilary’s sister Alison abandoned the 116th Street digs. We escaped our lease on 97th Street and took over the great little place at the bottom edge of Morningside Heights: my old college neighborhood. Now: 116th Street dumps steeply right into Riverside Drive: but it’s wide, so wide: and it has a traffic light. Furthermore, there’s a spacious area of it where Claremont Avenue juts north that’s painted to be off limits to the internal-combustion-engine traffic. I’d found my skateboard heaven.

I didn’t stay in the painted area for long. And I knew all along, really knew it, that one time I could screw up and come into violently unsympathetic contact with the front grill of a speeding car turning up onto the street from the Drive. I could mis-coordinate my entrance to the Drive with the changing light or the clumping into platoons of traffic. The meat could meet the metal. I knew that. I also knew that I could catch an edge on the mountain and find some other skier’s tip with my eyeball. [note] I could crash into a tree: or the lodge. I could bowl over a whole family-worth of children. And once I climbed aboard my motorcycle and cranked the revs as high as I could as fast as I could, I could have mingled my molecules with a lot of asphalt.

So. All the more reason to try hard not to. It’s no reason not to try: for a young male. It’s women who must be cautious; it’s men who must not be. [note]
So that whole hill became mine. I’d slalom skillfully among the cars. Soon I ignored the traffic light altogether, just keeping my eyes open and my knees flexible instead.

It was so beautiful. I plant myself on the board. I had it tuned so I could plunge the board steeply either way. Oh, nothing like the boards made since then. Now the kids have fiberglass. Light, strong, flexible where it needs to be, stiff where it needs to be, fine ball bearing wheels, sophisticated jointed axels … Mine were really primitive in comparison; but were space-age compared to the soapbox scooters kids used to be limited to.

OK. All of that is background to support this point: the momentum in carving a turn kept me securely on the board no matter how far overboard I’d cantilevered my ass. I love it. This is what I love about “balanced” sports. The sailor hikes himself and crew far off the weather-side. The stronger the wind, the greater your velocity, the further out you not only can but must go in order to try to stabilize the boat. Extreme eccentricity can be a key part of stability. On my motorcycle I loved to lay the bike over on its side as I carved it through a hard curve. I used to say that my ear would catch pavement, but of course that was an overstatement: the foot pegs would scrape before my noggin would bang: but I would on occasion scratch sparks from a foot peg! People in cars can’t believe what you’re doing. Cars are not designed to hold on the side of the tire; motorcycles are. People think that if you’re canted sideways, you’re about to fall. No. Not at all. At the sideshow the motorcycler rides around inside a barrel: perpendicular to the ground. Ah ha, but not perpendicular to the forces; he’s perfectly in line with the forces: and doesn’t fall. A large part of magic is based on audience ignorance. But it’s magical to me too, because I experience it macroinformationally: I experience it as my sophisticated self, but imagine it also as my (formerly) naïve self. I used to love to dance so that it looked like I couldn’t possibly remain upright. I wasn’t upright! But I was balanced! That’s how I tried to ski. And that’s how I taught myself to skateboard. People ski and they ski straight: rigid with fear. Straight is what’s dangerous. Turn, turn, turn. Control is in altering velocity, alternating directions. It’s cybernetic: “too far” this way is balanced by an immediate “too far” that way. Besides, the more practice you get changing edges, the more reliable your control of your edges. The schusser falls; the wedelner is safe.

My hill plunged from the back door of our apartment building. I bet traffic volume is higher through the Claremont Avenue exit of 440 Riverside Drive than through it’s Empire-State-scale “front” entrance on the river-side. Hilary’s hairdresser was located right at the crest of the hill. I’d never noticed (having no reason to) till Hilary told me that the clients there watched me while their hair got set or dried or whatever they do. “Your husband seems to be very cute and all,” they’d tell Hilary, but didn’t you kind of rob the cradle?” I was twenty-seven, going on twenty-eight. (Hilary was maybe twenty-four.) Apparently they thought I was sixteen!

Hilary’s solution was to beg me to grow a beard. I did. And my face wore a pelt of auburn for the next decade or two. (When the auburn turned salt-&-peppery, I reduced it to a mustache. When the mustache got gray spikes below my nostrils, making me feel like an off-kilter walrus, I got rid of that too. I recently tried the beard again, now that it’s uniform gray, even “silver,” but Catherine said it makes me look older than her (and she’s 94!).) [Dead at 96, dear girl. RIP.]

So one day I’m in my glory. Carve south, carve north; circle, meander where it’s widest; carve south. Here comes a car: carve north, south, north … Cut your track in half, to a third: slalom just the right side traffic lane. A girl comes walking up the hill. A young woman. Pretty enough. Plenty pretty enough. She was quite possibly a Barnard student, or at least probably associated with Columbia in some way.

pk has a feminine side. Especially in the sense of how women don’t meet your eye. If a woman meets your eye, then she’ll see you staring at her. If she doesn’t meet your eye, then you can stare at her all you want without her catching you at it! Women aren’t nearly as stuck up as they seem; they’re actually Narcissists. pk has a Narcissist streak. pk adores being admired. pk skateboards past this chick, sticking his ass out impossibly to starboard, impossibly to port …

“You look very good doing that,” she said, “But don’t you feel like a ridiculous showoff?”

The trouble with not meeting someone’s eye is that it can have a kind of inertia of its own. I stuck to my guns. I played deaf as well as blind. I stuck my ass out to the side, to the other …


Ski Crash: I’d soon be teaching in New England: and skiing with a student who’d left the trail during a practice run for the downhill race in his Maine high school. A pine tree had impaled him, going in his chest and puncturing his back as well on its exit, taking his spleen with it. A different student (a student of the college not of mine), had left the trail during the practice run for a downhill and had sheared an evergreen off at its base. I’m sure the tree died; he still had gunk running from his eyes many years later. The experience didn’t slow him down one bit. He was undefeated at Colby and he one of the best ski racers in New England.

“Male” Daring: The above mentioned student had a mother who had not only been an Olympic skier, she had skied Tuckerman’s head wall, including the famous Lip! So you don’t have to be male to be daring: but it helps. Daring is more common among males, caution more common among females: and a good thing.

Violently Unsympathetic Contact
Why am I echoing Professor Buckler? I didn’t like him much, didn’t respect him.

Couldn’t Possibly Remain Upright
I posted this in 2002. Then I hadn’t danced since junior high. But I started again in 2008. And now I regularly dance the non-pareilel funky Amos Moses, wowing people that I don’t fall, age 77! The next step is what holds you in balance, the way out of balance next step!

pk Stories Social, Hierarchical
by Age by Theme by Others Institutional Stories

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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