in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kick, push, kick, push (mind the gap)

Nothing is ever quite how you imagined it would be. As a thirteen year old on the cusp of puberty, I feared my own pubic hair and hankered after a skateboard with equal intensity. I used to sit around at my friend Alex’s place, watching the Bonez Brigade videos (Future Primitive is still my favourite), first of all just eating hot cheese rolls and making cups of coffee, later adding ‘sneaking out for a cigarette’ to our repertoire. Around about the time I took up smoking (Camels Filters – blech), Alex and I started hanging around the local shopping mall, which was my area’s equivalent of Fountain Gate or Knifepoint. I dunno how we did it, but we really managed to eke a endless hours of entertainment out of that horrible place: we played Mortal Kombat, we stuck McDonald’s pickles to the roof, we racked pornos. Once, for no particular reason, I even lifted an enormous candle from the furniture department of David Jones, which I hid in my enormous Kepper jeans. What larks, what larks. And between all these activities, Alex and I would dream of skateboards, squirreling away a tenner here, a dollar there, until finally the day came when I asked mum if she’d help me pay (the remaining two hundred dollars) to get a deck.

I chose an Evol slick, with Venture Featherlites and teeny tiny Real wheels that were little more than a loincloth for the bearings hugging the axle. At that stage, kickflips were all the rage, and the argument with the pissant wheels was that it made pulling tricks (and maybe even girls) easier. Perhaps, but it also made riding the skateboard a real biznatch, especially when you hit the inevitable pebble and ended up arse over tit. I feel like the same thing is happening at the moment with the whole fixed-gear craze, where you have hipsters (who’ve never really ridden before) negotiating unpredictable traffic on track bikes with no brakes – and no, I think you’ll find that locking up the wheel does not count when it’s raining and you’re running slicks.

But I got my skateboard, and there I was, suddenly the proud owner of the friction-regulating object I’d been lustfully jonesing after for the past nine months. Now all I needed to do was learn to ride it. In six months or so, I thought, I’d be Ed Frickin’ Templeton.

Three days later and I’d already learnt one thing: riding a skateboard is difficult and dangerous. I kept thinking of the truism of L7’s album title: Bricks are Heavy. They really are. And conrete is hard. Really, really hard. Falling off… well, it really, really hurts. I was (and am) extremely unco, but with three months daily practice, I could jump puddles, I could ollie gutters, I could do shove-its, I could drop-in at the baby size quarter pipe. BUT! Something was rotten in the state of Denmark… it just wasn’t quite right… somewhere in all of this (even after I worked out how to drop a stair or two) there was this pesky sentiment that just wouldn’t stay silent, that kept buzzing around me like a mosquito in a sleepless bedroom. Skateboarding… it just wasn’t how I’d imagined it would be. It was good, yes, it was enjoyable, true, but it simply wasn’t exactly as I’d hoped, and, fundamentally, it wasn’t what I needed it to be. There was a nasty little gap there, and it wouldn’t budge.

Smoking, meanwhile, was all I’d hoped for (and more). Yes, in fact, smoking was exactly what I expected it to be, and I liked it, even though, if it becomes a drug you do every day, it doesn’t work (and if it does it only makes you feel bilious). But it was helping me to meet girls, who, as other smokers, tended to be… well, more advanced… or were trying to be… more fun, at least – you know what I mean. But within a year or two of pursuing my new hobby, the ‘gap’ returned, with a vengeance. I was listening to a copy of the Basquiat soundtrack that a girl friend had lent me, and I heard PJ Harvey singing that Peggy Lee song ‘Is that All there Is?’ You know the one? Her dad takes her to the circus, she sees the clowns and the elephants, BUT! Well, I’ll let Peggy and PJ tell you the rest: ‘And as I sat there watching/ I had the feeling that something was missing/ I don't know what/ But when it was all over/ I said to myself/ “Is that all there is to the circus ?”’

Is there something missing, or is it in your expectations? Is it the skateboard? Is it her? Is that all there is? Is it you? ‘NO, it’s not you, it’s ME!’ Well, whatever – in my experience nothing is ever quite how you imagined it would be. There is always a gap. So what’s the best thing to do? Deal. You’ve either got to persist, or accept. You’ve either got to just keep on with the kick, push, kick push (and keep an eye out for pebbles), or just learn to mind the gap. And maybe ride a fixie with no brakes and smoke a few cigarettes while you’re at it, so you make sure you reach your destination nice and early.

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PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.