A piece of factual fiction is a day in the life of a skateboarding hack.
Joel Rice is a skateboarder and journalist who writes FLIP, a skate-related column for McSweeney's featuring in-depth interviews with everyone from Thrasher editor Michael Burnett and that video-game guy Tony Hawk to professional colourer-inner Ed Templeton. This short story is an experimental piece of factual fiction, inspired by events that may or may not have happened, about a day in the life of a skateboarding hack.
I. You Are Here
“Don’t wear a tie,” your ultra-conservative college roommate seethes. “Jesus. What’s the matter with you? Are you stupid?”
You’re just about to go down to the lobby, board the shuttle and be conveyed with other members of the media to the contest. But, restless in your hotel room, you called the ultra-conservative college roommate* for some last-minute sartorial** counsel.
“You know what they’re going to think don’t you? They’re going to think you’re a narc,” he says. “That’s one thing skateboarders like. They like the pot.”
When even the ultra-conservative college roommate (a product of prep school) thinks you’re being too dressy, at risk of being seen as too starchy, you should probably listen.
But you don’t listen, do you? No. You never listen.
II. Setting and Atmosphere
You certainly don’t listen the day the shuttle processes through empty office parks — past palm trees, mirage-hologram-haze-mountains pressing against hollow blue skies — the day “the industry” descends upon the arena en masse. To watch and be watched.
To see and be seen.
Indeed, from the second you step off the shuttle into the cliché blazing sunlight, there are eyes everywhere.
You notice the little black kid with the bright orange Krooked hat with the two googly eyes and the matching orange Mardis Gras necklace sauntering into the VIP entrance with his dad. You notice professional skateboarder Dylan Rieder perched picturesquely on the steps — white tank top, surgically precise profile — sulkily smoking a cigarette like an actor bored between takes. Twentieth Century Fox-Paramount Pictures-androgynous-CGI-alien in high def-blu-ray. You notice the newish tattoo on his clavicle — an eye etched with rays of light.
You go through security.
There’s a Jumbotron hovering over the arena’s sparsely populated seats. It too is like an all-seeing eye.
Q: How you do you feel under its gaze?
A: random impulsive self-doubting disoriented incoherent elevated unstable lonely even in a crowd alone
There are a few skaters and a few filmers on the course. Moms, managers and girlfriends dot the perimeter. A green claw scratches across a screen.
You’re definitely the only guy there in a tie.
A heavy-set dude from MTV is walking around. He’s technically wearing a blazer, but it’s artfully distressed denim. With his mutton-chop sideburns it makes him look like, well, a producer for MTV.
A SKATER OF THE YEAR comes up to you and asks you to help get his friend in the VIP entrance. A SKATER OF THE YEAR has no idea who you are. (You’re no one.) But A SKATER OF THE YEAR just assumes you work there, wield some authority.
It’s the tie.
III. Other Aspects of Self-Presentation
5 1 0 9 7 7 8 5 0 9 77 7 8 57 8 5 0 9 77 7 8 5 0 97 8 5 0 9 7 7 8 1 9 7
87 98 5 0 9 77 1 0 9 9.5 1 0 9 7 7 8 5 0 9 77 7 Oh right. 8 57 8 5 0 9 77 7 8 5 0 9 7 7 8 1 9 9 The contest. 7 10 9 10 10 7 8 8 87 9.5 0 9.5 1 0 9 7 7 8 5 0 9 77 88 9 9 9 9 88 5 0 5 5 9999 78963 67 90 89090 9 90 77 7 8 57 8 5 0 9 77 7 8 5 56 They say there are three kinds of people in this world; those who are good at math and those who aren’t.*** 0 9 7 7 8 1 9 9 7 7 5 8 1 9 9 7 7 7 5 Yet you try to, you must, stay afloat in the sea of numbers even as it continues to rapidly rise. 5 0 9 77 7 8 5 0 9 7 7 8 Let’s see here… 1 80 989898913718098989 18098989 8913718098989 89137180989898 91371809898989137 8989138 57 8 5 0 9 77 7 8989138 57 8 5 0 9 8989138 57 8 5 0 9 77 7 8 5 0 9 7 7 8 1 9 9 The average score is dropped and then the lowest score is after the overall score for the run is what?
“Nine!” exalts the announcer.
The crowd goes wild.
It’s all a lot to take in. After some qualifying rounds you go outside to the parking lot to try and get some fresh air/get a grip. You take out the notepad. Chicken scratch about who landed which trick when. It will be next to impossible to decipher it that evening when you have to file your story, so you cross out and rewrite those words that are particularly illegible.
Nollie noseblunt b/s
Hallelujah Blowin’ Money
You try and collect yourself and call your ultra-conservative college roommate but he doesn’t pick up.
Q: How do you feel now?
A: Happy, sad, confused
They probably don’t want you to incorporate some half-remembered Hume into your copy — due an hour after the contest ends. No causation. Just constant conjunction. Sensory flux.
You who doesn’t know what you’re going to write, you who are on deadline, you who hasn’t “found the thread”.
It’s in the midst of this malaise that you espy, taking a solitary cigarette break on the steps outside the VIP entrance, pro skater Jason Dill. Even in an industry unparalleled in its ability to attract “characters” Mr. Dill is in a class by himself. A fixture on the scene since he was fourteen years old, he has truly been there and done that — from starring in the reality television show The Osbournes, to running in the most rarefied of Manhattan art-world circles and, as a broad principle, flouting those arbitrary and capricious social strictures that confine lesser souls to lives of quiet desperation.
He’s wearing aviator sunglasses and a black v-neck t-shirt fused to his slight frame with tiny white letters that say ’Supreme’.
You explain that you’re covering the event, ask to join him, and mention a bygone picture in Slap.
“Oh, uh, sorry about the tie,” you say.
“No. No. No. Love the tie,” he, no enemy to eccentricity, says with a world-dismissing wave.
“I have to say, it’s a little surprising to see you here, sir,” you wonder aloud. “Do you like contests like this? Do you miss the way it was?”
“People always interview me and are like, ‘Those were the golden days.’” Mr. Dill says in his signature staccato bursts. “And, I’m like, ‘Not for me. Not really.’ I was on acid and I was really paranoid. If anything, I really like skateboarding now. Grant Taylor is one of the greatest skateboarders since Mark Gonzales. He wouldn’t have thrived back then…”
A MEMBER OF THE INDUSTRY approaches Mr. Dill. A MEMBER OF THE INDUSTRY is wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase ’Nothing is too gnarly’. A MEMBER OF THE INDUSTRY looks at Mr. Dill. A MEMBER OF THE INDUSTRY looks at an individual sitting beside Mr. Dill in khakis, a contrast collared shirt and, inexplicably, a tie.
“Is this, like, an important meeting?” he asks.
“No, not at all,” Mr. Dill says.
He presents Mr. Dill with a poster that says ’IGNORE THIS POSTER GO SKATEBOARDING’; takes a picture of him holding it.
“We always knew what we were doing was fleeting,” A MEMBER OF THE INDUSTRY says.
Another MEMBER OF THE INDUSTRY approaches.
They talk shop.
“Why are you dressed like a fucking professional?” MEMBER OF THE INDUSTRY asks**** you.
“He’s a reporter,” says Mr. Dill.
Dill finishes his cigarette and heads back towards the VIP entrance but not before turning, stately, at the top of the stairs.
“Don’t be nervous,” he says. “No one is cool. All the cool people are dead. Miles Davis and John Coltrane were the last cool people. We live in a Hannah Montana society.”
“Yeah,” he says. “You kill it.”
With that, he alights for the looming arena.
*Though it’s been awhile since graduation, time has hardly softened this avid tennis player’s disdain for skateboarding.
**John T. Molloy’s Dress for Success (New York: Warner Books, 1975) makes this germane point, “Like everything else in California, its dress code is distinctly its own. In the Southern areas of the state informality prevails and extends deep into the business world. Much of California business, particularly industries that have never been noted for being conservative, has adopted dress codes best described as bizarre.”
***Skaters grappling with new technology. It’s a motif that weekend. Guests at the hotel are given magnetic cards in lieu of keys. But they’re finicky. Take a certain touch. It’s unclear if you’re supposed to leave the card in longer or shorter to get the blankety blank door to open. Surely a reporter is not the only one who calls the front desk thinking he’s been locked out. The skaters staying across the hall are all encircling their own door, earnestly debating the best technique. “Here, watch me kill it,” says the one in the backwards red-ball cap.
****However, Molloy goes onto argue, “The biggest mistake made by professionals in California is not that they ignore California dress codes, but that they go along too far with them. Professionals coming from other parts of the country think they can dress the same. This is not true. If you are selling your services as an accountant to a California firm that maintains very liberal dress codes, you should still dress as accountants do everywhere, because people in certain professions are expected to dress in certain ways and will encounter negative reactions if they dress in ways that run counter to expectation.”