September 12, 2013
Last night, while at a skatepark, I got into a conversation about something I’d scribbled on my skateboard:
“READ JAMES BALDWIN”
And that led to a discussion of who Baldwin was and what he was about. In having to articulate it all to a handful of blunted, sweaty skaters, I realized the fundamental point where I connect with Baldwin.
I’m not saying this in an attempt to universalize and rob Baldwin’s words of their specific themes of Blackness, or of his love for men (words chosen carefully because I don’t know how he referred to himself in this regard), but rather to say that the fundamental understanding that underpinned Baldwin’s view of the world and its myriad problems was one of Humanity and the recognition or denial thereof.
There was a compassion in how Baldwin spoke about the system of white supremacy in the U.S. and its effects on the entirety of the society, words that I feel can help us see each other as individuals– humans, people with agency, whose joys and suffering are important– living within a system that perpetuates demonization and dehumanization, that tries to cloud our vision and prevent love.
So for me, specifically, Baldwin’s influence has toned and tempered my response to every manifestation of that system I’ve seen.
When I see the complexity of someone such as Nicki Minaj reduced to a cartoon to be kicked around on the internet, Baldwin is there reminding me that her complexity is a threat to a system that has taught people to fear it, that the reduction of Minaj is dehumanization. The system has prescribed a role and the means to enforce it.
When I see queer struggle diluted to gay pride (sponsored by Miller Lite and Ford), my anti-capitalist response includes a dash of Baldwin: By co-opting the struggle, they can homogenize and create a marketable demographic without the troubling political goals. They must reduce us and seduce us to make this happen; we must accept the loss of our complexity and fear those who retain it.
When I watch white friends and relatives, most of whom I regard as reasonable people, react to news about policies such as Stop and Frisk with quick, venomous words about those people and well if they weren’t causing so much crime they wouldn’t be targeted, I see the system at work and I see Baldwin’s words, writ large, Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity.
I am a private person when it comes to faith. My view of the Divine is complex, inclusive, and unable to fit within the confines of one text or tradition. Above all, it is personal; it serves as a guide solely for my life, answers my questions. I am not one to spread the faith.
But with regards to James Baldwin, I do not hesitate to sing hallelujah, to proselytize. I do this not to supplant existing views but rather to expose them to the light of compassion. May Baldwin’s words reach hearts and minds so that more are called to the mission: That we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.
June 15, 2013
Last night I came home early from work, feeling ill. I threw on pyjamas and climbed into bed with my cats, and fired up ye olde MacBooke Aire. I had been thinking all afternoon about wanting a lighter set-up for learning/re-learning tricks and had been shopping around during the week before for the most affordable complete set-up online from the various usual suspects: CCS, Skate Warehouse, etc. in a game of what if…
Being that I wasn’t feeling well I was especially eager to connect to something associated with physical movement and energy, and my eagerness turned to impulsiveness. And so it was that I found myself on CCS’s site at 10 pm building a complete when I really should have gone to sleep.
I ended up choosing the following: Girl Brandon Biebel “Real Big” (7.87″), Venture Superlight Lows, Ricta Naturals (51mm), and I’ll spare you details on hardware, griptape, and bearings. Free shipping promo code. Total: $96.99.
That’s about $30 less than what I spent on a complete at my local shop, and the complete I bought there was with a shop deck (i.e. ~$15 less than a pro model). Can’t beat that, right? But here’s the trade-off:
I was a first time customer at CCS. I didn’t have an account or payment info on file. I tried to pay with PayPal; despite repeated attempts, PayPal couldn’t process/confirm/handle my transaction. I paid from my checking account via a card and got a message saying they weren’t able to auto-process my transaction. Please wait up to 24 hours for a confirmation email. Did they get my email? Which one? Wait, what’s going on? I wrote down the order number and then created an account. My account order history showed nothing and the order number didn’t return any results. Are they going to process this over the weekend or is “24 hours” going to be “72 hours give or take”? After all is said and done and my order is confirmed and shipped, I’ll apparently be waiting 7-9 business days for my package.
But hey, I saved $30, right?
In contrast, my local shop experience went like this: I came in, introduced myself, and explained what I was looking for. The shop guy suggested a few things– 4 decks instead of 200– and once I had picked out a deck he showed me truck and wheel options tailored to my needs. He offered experience-based suggestions– replace the stock bushings with some Bones bushings, it’s worth it– and had me test things like truck tightness along the way. All the while we chatted about what sort of skating we liked and other light shop talk that fosters a sense of community. My total bill was a bit more than I had hoped to spend– I hadn’t bought a complete in 18 years and prices have risen since I was in high school– but I felt good paying it, supporting the shop and the community. Bonus: I had a ready-to-go setup,; I walked out the door, got on it, and rolled away.
I’m not trying to say there’s never, ever a reason to shop online. For someone whose budget is tight– and mine isn’t loose, but it isn’t without a little wiggle room now and then– the discount an online retailer offers might mean the different between being on wheels or being on foot. My reasons are my own, and what I found last night is that I felt that the impersonal and confusing experience of shopping a site like CCS wasn’t worth savings a few Hamiltons.
I know which shopping experience I’ll choose from now on.
Update: A little over 12 hours later and after a chat with an online rep, I’ve discovered my order didn’t go through correctly (or at all) in CCS’s system. What a nice coincidence! After finding out CCS wasn’t happening I happily headed over to my local shop’s facebook page and sent a message asking for what I needed and why. I trust their advice and look forward to working with them to get another board set up.
I also figured out that CCS is owned by– get this– Foot Locker. Leaves a sort of gross feeling in my mouth. I might as well have been shopping at Zumiez or another mall retailer.
May 31, 2013
I used to be a skater.
From 3rd-5th grade (1986-88) as I idolized the Bones Brigade, from 6th-7th grade (88-89) as I slowly fell away from it (but kept reading the magazines; the subscriptions didn’t stop even though my board collected dust), and from 10th-12th grade (93-95) as I made new friends and the smaller popsicle boards finally gave me a chance to do the tricks my pre-pubescent body couldn’t manage with clunky slabs of wood.
I used to skate.
And then in 2001, at age 23, I bought a complete set-up from the shop in my hometown, went down to the skatepark (free! public!) that had been built since I was last home, and stepped back on for the first time in years.
I couldn’t skate.
I had forgotten how to ride. My muscles rebelled, told me very quickly that they didn’t remember as well as my mind did. I pushed around the empty park. I didn’t fall, but I didn’t feel comfortable. My legs felt wobbly and my feet flexed and searched for a sense of balance. Then, though it was 8 AM on a Tuesday in October– I chose that time and day to avoid the park regulars, who were most likely in school– a teen on a bike shot down the hill and into the park. No pause, no concern, just tricks on anything and everything the park had to offer. I picked up my new board and began to walk home.
I want to skate.
I’m 36 now, twice as old as the last time I stood on a skateboard and made it do something worthwhile. The boards are about the same as when I quit: 7.5-8.5 inches wide, popsicle-shaped, lightweight. The wheels are better, larger than the tiny nuggets of urethane we rode in the early 90s.
As for me, I’m older, very much out of shape, and have a sense of disconnect between my body’s abilities and mind’s desires. I need to be physical for my emotional health and for the sake of my body’s upkeep or I’m going to end up detached and fragile in my 40s.
So I have a new board. I picked up a complete yesterday at my local skateshop, savoring the assembly and hoping that it was worth the money and effort I was about to invest.
I spent twenty minutes pushing back and forth on the driveway, letting my feet feel the rumble and giving them time to flex and find balance. I tried to ollie, failed. Failed again. Even on the grass.
This is going to require a lot of work on my part. It will require patience and humility. It will be deeply rewarding even if I don’t end up skating worth a damn. Learning to skate again is going to be a rare instance of me challenging myself and pushing myself to grow. I’m ready.
I’m going to skate again.