Part 2: Flaming Baseball Cards, The Forgotten Year, and an Imposter that Refused to be Forgotten
Getting our dog shot-up in Tennessee like a Guy Ritchie movie, and being a 7-year-old exiled “Yankee” living south of the Mason-Dixon Line had caused me to start putting up defensive walls. They grew thicker once we landed in Norwood. I quickly learned that the vast majority kids my age were already playing organized team sports. We moved to Norwood in late December. It was good ole hockey season in New England. I had no fucking idea what hockey was. Yet, all my peers were asking how good I was at hockey, and when I would be signing up for both the local floor, and ice, pee-wee youth hockey leagues. I am serious when I say I had no idea what hockey was. None. Zero. Zilch. Empty set. Hockey isn’t really a sport they play in Knoxville. The South taught me about fireworks, the Dukes of Hazard, BB guns, BBQ, grits, Waffle House, and something my dad liked called “Moonshine.” But Hockey? Icing? Face-offs? Power plays? Da’ fuck you talkin’ ‘bout, white boy? How about instead we go violently explode some matchbox cars with an M-80? Sounds like way more fun than falling down on ice. Prior to Knoxville, I was too young to really know much about anything, let alone sports. I had my cool toy trucks, my Big-Wheels, and my sandbox. I was good to go. Moreover, since my dad had Polio, and walked on crutches, he was never able to play any sports himself, let alone play/teach them with/to me. Norwood, MA is quite a sports town. Look at that link. Look how many pro athletes have come from there. It’s uncanny. One of the things that makes it such a good sports town, is that that kids all start sports leagues very, very young. Everything was centered on youth sports. If you didn’t play, you were a nobody. Someone to ridicule. A turbo-power-freak. During the winter, I tried playing street hockey with kids on my street. I had no idea what I was doing. It didn’t even seem remotely enjoyable, sort of like taking the claw side of a hammer to your own face, in the dark winter, outside, in the freezing cold. I forced myself to play street hockey several times over the next few months. The other kids just made fun of me. I never wanted to play that sport again.
Summer of 1984 came, and with it, baseball/little league season. The same pattern repeated. I had no idea what baseball was. All the local kids were into baseball cards. I couldn’t understand why they even cared. It was just some dumb card. I mean, they were cool to set on fire with a magnifying glass, but that was the only use I could see for them. We played whiffle ball and stickball on our street (a dead end street, with little traffic), but I was never any good. The others had been playing for years at this point. Me, I was just learning what a “ghost man on 1st” meant. I remember asking if I could just play the “ghost man” position. They often had to go to “practice.” It’s not a word I ever associated with “fun.” Practice was for things like penmanship, multiplication tables, or stupid school “musicals” we had to do at Christmas. Moreover, they had to go to “practice” even if they weren’t in the mood to play Sport X at the given moment time. All of this sounded like a horrific, soul-crushing, nightmare. Yet, aside from being the “new Sothern kid from below Mason-Dixon line” (the irony was not lost on me), I felt inadequate because I had no idea what all these team sports were about, or how to play any of them. Moreover, I was too young to really express what impact all of this was having on me. I just new that I didn’t fit in. At all.
Autumn came. Football with it. Repeat story line, yet again. However, by this time I had discovered playing “war” in the local woods. A few other obtuse, aspiring social loners were also into playing war. It was something I could get into, and enjoy, and not be viewed as totally inept. I was good at hiding, and I had the patients to wait people out. My “team” always did well in childhood war games. That started a life-long interest in military history (esp. WWII), which continues to this day. Winter returned, and like a scorching case of The Syphilis, so did hockey/basketball with it. I drank the Kool Aid. I actually joined the town’s youth basketball league. I quit not long after. Hated it. And I sucked at it, too. I still think it is one of the dumbest sports. Soccer, for socially awkward tall people.
In what must have been the summer of 1985, what I vaguely remember, is that at some point (see note below), I rediscovered my old, blue, plastic skateboard. It was something to do that wasn’t “sports.” I started riding it around my street. It was a novelty. No one else on my street had one. The other kids tried it, but they weren’t that good. Suddenly, I had an athletic edge on all these dumb jock kids. Not only was skating fun, but now I had discovered something I was proficient at. It was the first time that had ever happened. And I wasn’t just proficient at it, I was better than all the kids on my street. I think it was the first time in my life I ever felt a sense of “self-worth.” This pushed me further, and increased my drive to skate more, and to become a better skater. It gave me an edge. But more importantly, it even gave me a smidge of respect from my peers. I could do something they could not. Then Joe Carlton skated by my house one afternoon. In the span of 5 minutes, my entire identity forever shifted. It was the “shot that was heard ‘round the world,” or at least, all the way into 2016, even as I am typing this very period.
Joe was older. Like 16. A high-schooler. Almost a fuckin’ adult. He looked dodgy. Almost dangerous. Definitely not a jock. A rebel. I had never seen a punk rocker before, so I wasn’t really sure what I was seeing. I just knew he was most badass motherfucker I had ever laid eyes on. He had this really big, wooden, board. Metal trucks. Real wheels and bearings. He did a frontside180 boneless. My world melted. It was a moment of clarity, unlike anything I had ever experienced before, or since. I instantly knew that this was what I was meant to do. Everything clicked. I had found a purpose. I had found an identity.
I went running over to ask him what his name was, and what the hell the trick was he had just done. My jaw was on floor. Drool cascaded down the side of my mouth. My eyes were burned open. He told me it was a “180 Boneless.” I had no idea what that meant, but it sure as hell sounded way cooler than a “touch down.” I asked if I could see his board. I had never seen anything like it before, but I knew I was looking at a real skateboard. It had this awesome splatter graphic on the bottom. With the word LESTER across the middle. Indy 169s. City Street wheels. German bearings. He did a few more tricks, and then skated away. I went running into my house screaming. My mom though I had broken a bone or something. I told her I needed a new “Lester skateboard” with “City Street Trucks” and “German Independent wheels.” She had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t either. Exasperated, I explained her what had just happened. What I had seen. And how I now knew just how stupid/sub-standard my little blue plastic skateboard really was. It was now embarrassing to even ride that mere…toy. I wanted a real skateboard more than anything else I had ever wanted before.
Joe lived in the apartment complex near the duplex I lived in. I would often sit, and watch, and just wait for him to occasionally skate by. I wanted to see him do more tricks. I wanted to see his board. I wanted to ask him all kinds of dumb questions. He taught me a few things, but I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of him. Then one afternoon, the next major life change happened; He gave me a few back issues of Thrasher Magazine. Total system reload. The Buddha turned the Lotus Flower, and the world was enlightened. I don’t have to explain what this means to fellow skaters. They know. They once all had the same experience of seeing a skate magazine for the very first time. For non-skaters reading this, all I can say is that seeing Thrasher for the first time, would sort of be like both discovering that cars existed, and at the same time, getting your driver’s license. Suddenly the world opens up, and there is more possibility than ever before.
I had no idea there were such things as skateboard magazines, let alone everything that was contained within them. Not long after, I also found a copy of Transworld Skateboarding at the local newsstand. The first one I had ever seen. I devoured it. I cut every photo out, and hung them on my bedroom walls. Some kid on my street mentioned that the local bike shop also sold some skate stuff. I had my mom take me to look. On the wall, way in the back, they had about 8-12 decks. They all had mind-bending graphics. Gator. Roskopp. Town & Country. Jeff Phillips. G&S. Trucks. Wheels. Rails. Stickers. I drooled. We quickly found out how expensive a complete was. They did, however, have this one pre-built deck that was their “intro” skateboard. The graphics on the bottom said “IMPOSTER.” I thought it was pretty cool. My mom bought it for me. Not long after, July 1985, Back to the Future hit the movie theaters. Skateboarding started to become popular again. I was slightly ahead of the social curve. For brief stint, I became a “cool kid.” It didn’t last long, and violence was not far off. The backlash was coming.
(1) The Forgotten. The 1985-1986 timeline is fuzzy. This strikes me as so unbelievable freakish, because this is the period when, as Kyle DuVall stated so perfectly in his own brilliant skate life story, that the “gauntlet was thrown down,” and I, metaphysically, became a skateboarder. It bewilders me that I remember so much about everything else, aside from this one period, this one, critical, life-defining period, where it all came crashing together. Without a doubt, it was one of the most transformative periods of my life, and I don’t remember much of it. The truth is I don’t recall when I first again started riding that blue plastic board, or when I got my first “real” set-up. I know the Imposter deck was my first “wide” deck. I know it came from the local bike shop. I honestly don’t remember getting it, or when. I don’t remember what my first “pro” deck was. How is that possible? Everyone remembers that. What I do know, for fact, is that by 1986, I was totally entrench in skateboarding, and I was riding the “new” Tony Hawk. This 1986 dated photo is a keystone in the time line. It is one of the first photos ever taken of me on a skateboard.
I’m not sure if this was my first pro board or not. I think I had a Sims Lester before the Hawk, but I am not 100% certain. Maybe I just wanted one so badly (because of Joe’s), that I think I must have had one? I really don’t know. I assume the Imposter arrived in the summer of 1985, but it might have been early 1986. I might have had a Lester between the Imposter and the Hawk. I really just don’t know. I am shocked that don’t vividly remember my first pro deck, or the sequence of a few other iconic decks I had thereafter (1986 Cab dragon issue, 1986 Tommy G. flame/dagger, Mullen, and a Brand-X Dogma III. I had all of these over a pretty short period of time, but I don’t know what happened to them, or the sequence that I had them in. Why, and how, I don’t remember these details is among my life’s biggest mysteries.).
(2) The Imposter. I have tried, for years, to research more information about the “IMPOSTER” board I had. It is an enigma. A true ghost of my childhood. There is nothing on the Art of Skateboarding about it. I have asked around, on forums and in person, and no one remembers ever even seeing one. It was about the equivalent of a Nash quality deck. I never saw one at any other shop. I never saw anyone else who ever had one. I have never seen any reference, or photo, of one anywhere on the Internet. eBay. Collectors’ pages. Nothing. No sign. In adult life, I actually started to doubt my own memory. Did this board ever even exist? Did I just make it up in my head? In early 2015 I was going through very old Thrasher back issues. I realized I still had the few issues that Joe Carlton had given me. While flipping through one of them, I stopped dead in my tracks. There it was. The Imposter. In an Orange Cycles add. Sold as complete for $55.00. I just recently (Jan 2016) looked through all the scanned back issues of Thrasher on their web site. The Imposter deck first appears in Orange Cycle as in September 1985. It last appears in one of their ads in 1986. Orange was the only place that ever advertised that deck. Here is a photo of the ad. The Imposter actually existed.
When the Imposter was dead (or so I thought), and I eventually got my first “pro” deck, I gave the Imposter away to some local kid who wanted to start skating. About 10 years later I was skating somewhere around town. I had gone back to visit my parents, and went skating for a bit. I must have been about 21 or 22 years old. This kid skated up to me with a tattered, very old board. He must have been about 11 or 12 years old. I had never seen him before. He said to me, “You are Chip, aren’t you?” I laughed, and said that I was (I was known as “Chip” when I was younger. More on that later.).
By this time I was somewhat of a “small town star” in Norwood. Everyone knew who I was, even if they hated me (and plenty did). People whom I had never met me knew my name. My mom would often stop and talk to/encourage younger kids she saw skating (she is rad like that). She frequently said that kids said to her, in disbelief, “YOU are Chip Sterling’s mother!?! I’ve only heard stories about him. Did he really do the big handrail at the Civic Center???”
So this little kid, who asked if I was indeed “Chip,” then asks me, “Did this used to be your board? It was given to me by someone, and someone had given it to them. They said it used to belong to Chip Sterling.” I looked at his board. The graphics were almost gone. The wood was horrifically delaminated. Chunks were missing from the sides. There was almost no grip tape. Both trucks were cracked. The wheels were mismatched in brand, and size. Two wheels were worn down almost to the bearings. The tail was GONE. It was the worst condition skateboard that I have ever seen, in use, to this day. That said, it was blatantly obvious what I was looking at. I could not believe my eyes. This kid was riding my Imposter. I was speechless.