Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Making of a Skate Punk, Part 7: The Off Years

The Off Years

I just spent 6 posts covering 13 years (1981-1994). I am now about to cover 15 years (1995-2010) in a single post. While a lot of ancillary stuff has been included in the last 6 posts, it has all been directly related to skating in some form or another. While I never completely quit skating, it greatly diminished between 1995 and 2010. As this whole series has been about my relationship to skateboarding and skate culture, there isn’t as much to cover during the “dark” years. In this post I will include some relevant info to contextualize this period, and to set the stage for the latter reemergence of skating as major life force. That said, I will obviously skim over a lot that happened between 1995 and 2010, as it is not related to skating.

In 1994, a year after high school graduation, I started taking a few night courses at Northeastern University, just to get a taste of college. Before jumping in with both feet, I wanted to see if college was even something I was interested in doing. Eventually I ended up as philosophy major, with a main focus on German continental philosophy. I was still working at the skate shop, and skating a lot, but I was starting to withdraw from the skate scene. Oddly, getting sponsored helped drive me out of the skate world (see previous post). Videos were starting to come out every month. Short ones. Long ones. Medium ones. More and more companies were producing them. It was too much to stay on top of everything (and it’s so much worse in 2016!). I had utterly stopped caring about who was doing what. I stopped even trying to stay current with videos. Moreover, I had some larger life issues to be worried about than the most recent schism in Rocco’s empire. I can’t remember when but at some point in the mid/late 90s another skate shop appeared in the Boston area: Coliseum. They eventually put out a video called PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life. You may have heard of it (dripping with sarcasm). For over a decade, Beacon Hill Skate had been the skate shop in Boston. Now there was something to really give Beacon Hill a challenge. Since Beacon Hill was not owed by a skater, it would never be as tapped into the skate world as other shops that came later. Moreover, Beacon Hill was not a pure skate shop. It also sold roller skate and ice skate stuff. Beacon Hill would never regain its status as Boston’s premiere skate shop. It is still in business today, and they still sell skate stuff, but it is a mere shadow of what it once was. No one in the Boston skate scene really goes there. Beacon Hill had helped put Boston on the map as a good skate city. It helped get Jahmal Williams and other Boston skaters first noticed. That said, all empires fall. Due to decreased business, and changes in my schedule/priorities, I stopped working there sometime around 1995/1996. For five years I never paid anything but wholesale cost for any skate related goods I needed. It was a good run. I remain friends with the owner to this day.

The time period that my skate crew started to disappear coincided with the period of starting to really come to terms with the whole gay thing. I started going to this group called BAGLY (Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth), and my name changed in the process. I was given the birth-name “Christopher.” However, my parents thought I looked like a chipmunk when I ate baby food. Hence, they started calling me “Chip.” They introduced me as “Chip” to everyone when we moved and I switch schools. It was the only name I really knew growing up. I knew my real name was Chris, but no one called me that. I hated the name “Chip,” but it was so ingrained with all my friends, that it would be too weird to just be like, “Ok, so everyone needs to now start calling me Chris.” It had just followed me since I was 2-years-old, and there was no chance of organically shedding it, until all my skate friends were gone, and as I started to form totally new social circles via BAGLY. It was the first chance I ever had to revert to my real name. It also symbolized the death of the old me, who constantly lived in fear and shame about being in the closet and/or being found out. That dude was dead. Good fuckin’ riddance.     

With college, and a totally new group of non-skater friends, the time between skate sessions started to become further and further apart. My first so-called boyfriend was actually a skater. (SIDE NOTE: Skaters make shitty boyfriends. The world would probably be way better off if no one dated skaters, ever. They are all turbo-freaks. Stay away.). Towards the end of college I ended up in my first long-term relationship (4-years). Between that, college, and my post-college job, I had less and less time for skating.

After college, circa 2001, I got a job working at Waltham House, with GLBT kids (14-18 years old) in state custody, who had been removed from their parents due to abuse or neglect. Most of them had been abandoned (in worst cases, even physically tortured) by their parents when it was found out their kids were GLBT (or whatever they identified as). It was pretty grim. They all lived a group home, with 24/7/365 staff supervision. I was one of the staff members. The program was in town that had a skate park. One of the kids in the program wanted to learn how to skate. I would take him over to the skate park help him with some of the basics. This gave me a renewed interest, and I started skating a bit more than I had been.

There are hardly any photos of me skating from the 90s. There was a handrail in my hometown that I wanted to get a photo on. Since all my skate friends were gone, I asked my dad to take it for me one day when I was out visiting them. I always hated skating around my parents. For some reason it always made me feel too self-conscious. From the time I was about 14, and on-ward, my parents had never really seen me skate. After my dad took this handrail photo, he was shocked. He said, “I had absolutely no idea you could do things like that.” The building the background is Norwood High School, the place that had so tormented several years before. By the turn of the century, the town that once banned skating, and hated me because I was a skater…now had a skate park. Irony always wins the end. Skateboarding was cool again, for the moment (park was later town down. Skating is no longer cool in Norwood, even in 2016). I skated the park when I visited my parents. By now I was a much, much, better skater than when I had lived there during high school, and had become more of a small-town local legend than ever before. A number of jock kids were at the high school when this pic was taken. They all crowded around to watch (off camera). There is tremendous personal symbolism in this photo. Namely, victory over the Town of Norwood.    

Circa 2004
Same day as the above handrail photo. Backside 180 over the trash, at the now defunct Norwood skate park.
My relationship ended. I was sad, but about a year later I ended up in another one that one lasted 7.5 years. Skating took a backseat during this period. While I never fully quit, and there was always a board within 20 feet of my bed at night, I was skating far less frequently, and hardly at all during the winters. During those years, I totally withdrew from skate culture, didn’t follow any skate media, and mostly skated alone when I did skate. Oddly, and despite this, whenever asked to describe myself, or whenever I thought about who I was, the answer was always came instantaneously, and with acute conviction: I am a skateboarder. No matter what changes life had brought to me, and how infrequent I was skating, there appeared to be an unshakeable, irreducible, unchanging core to my identity. I am a skateboarder.

There were other skate shops that popped up in Boston [most notably Orchard (in 2006), but it was in its infancy then], they were skater-owned, and had a much better selection than Beacon Hill Skate. Yet, I felt obligated to still get stuff from Beacon Hill. The owner had hooked me up me (and others) up for so long, that I felt loyalty to him. I would occasionally swing by the more “core” shops to give them some business (I also felt bad not giving them all my bid’ness…it was a no-win situation). Part of me also wanted to remain completely underground in the Boston skate scene, and I knew that going to Beacon Hill would certainly keep me off anyone’s radar. In early 2005 I got in a bad motorcycle wreck (been riding them since I was 12-years-old). My arm was sticking out of my shoulder (compound fracture). This knocked me out of both skating and karate until for quite awhile. I had taken Shotokan Karate at JKA Boston for a numbers of years, and was just a few weeks out from my Black Belt test when I got in the wreck.

Day I got my brown belt. Sensi Toryu had just made me laugh. Hence the goofy face. 

My right arm. Metal rod to fix the compound fracture. Rod is still in my arm.
 In the fall of 2005 I started law school. For the next 3 years I barely had time to eat, let along skate. I certainly did take some skating breaks from studying, but I didn’t skate much at all during school. (I just have to say this…I went to law school with the intention of doing public interest law. No chance in HELL that I would have ever practiced anything like corporate tax law, personal injury, divorce, etc. Fuck that shit. Lawyers suck, and I don’t want anyone to think I was/am one of “those” types). I graduated in 2008, took the Bar exam that summer, and was admitted to the Bar on December 12, 2008. Then the bottom fell out of everything.

Everyone knows what happened to the economy in late 2008/early 2009. It became very apparent, very quickly, that there was no chance I was going to get a job practicing law, especially in the public interest field, any time soon. Or for that matter, pretty much any job. To make matters worse, on Dec 31, 2008 my boyfriend pulled the plug on our 7.5 year relationship. I was devastated. We were living in his condo, I didn’t have a job, had no sign of getting one, relationship ended, and now I had to move out. Rock. Fucking. Bottom. I went into major depression, and hadn’t felt that bad since those black years of early high school (No hard feelings towards him. We are good friends today. We had simply grown apart with time, he more so than I.). I was very sad, and felt like a total failure.

I was 35-years-old, and thought I was on the verge of new dawn in life; I had just become an attorney, and had just moved into a new place with my long-term boyfriend (we had lived together for several years, but he had just purchased a condo). Life was going good. Instead of a new dawn on life, I was now faced with total calamity and despair.  My identity, and everything that I had expected/counted on, and almost everything that had given my life meaning, had totally collapsed. I was utterly lost. My hopes and dreams, gone. Ashes. A friend had an extra bedroom in his house. I moved in, and tried to figure out how to put my life back together. When you are shaken to the very core of your being, and everything is taken away, you start to figure out who you really are, and what things really matter the most.

In the corner of my room…was my skateboard.

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