When I was fifteen or so, I bought a cheap skateboard at the toystore at the mall. I’d gotten the idea someplace that skating was cool and punk and I figured it couldn’t be that hard. I didn’t know anybody who skated; it wasn’t a popular activity among the Mennonites and turkey farmers in Dayton, Virginia. After scooting clumsily back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the house a few times, I decided that the thing to do would be to go to the top of the biggest hill in town and zoom straight down. I made it a third of the way, almost, before the board went out from under me, I took a couple giant running strides and then a tumble/roll/slide. All the ball bearings had come out of one of the wheels, which is what happens when you buy cheap skateboards at toystores. I left the busted board in the ditch where it fetched up and went home to pick gravel out of my skin.
Fuck that game. I had a bike that worked fine and a ’64 Comet four-door with a four-banger carb in the backyard just waiting for me to be old enough to drive it, which I already was, when I could scrape together a few bucks for gas, sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, put it in N, push it out of the yard, down the hill, jump in and start it on the roll, using a spoon handle to turn the ignition because my dad, who didn’t know the ignition was worn out, had hidden the keys. Skateboarding was not worth the time, energy and flesh wounds.
Twenty-five years later, walking around downtown with the Spotted Opossum, then two, on my shoulders, I went into the local skateboards and used records store to put up a flier for a BDSR show.
“Daddy, what is this place?”
“This is a store where they sell skateboards and records. That guy over there is my friend…”
“I waaaaaaaaant one!” She wasn’t talking about used records. Christmas was coming up so I went back later and put in an order for a hot pink, plastic board. I told the guy I didn’t want to spend a whole lot, but I didn’t want to get a cheap piece of crap either. He hooked me up. The girl was delighted with it, then got distracted by something shiny and at some point we walked off and left the board on a playground. Every time we saw a kid skating after that, she started wanting to play with her board until I finally went back to the skateboards and used records store and ordered a replacement. The second one is even better than the first – same model, hot pink plastic deck, but the trux are purple instead of matte grey and the wheels are blue, not white. The Spotted Opossum was even delighteder and was much more interested in actually riding the thing.
She mostly sits with her feet splayed out so she can slow herself down if she starts getting nervous. Sometimes she lays on her tummy to ride. A helmet was always mandatory – she picked out a pink one with kitty-cat eyes on the front and soft rubber ears sticking up on top – and after she busted up her knees and elbows a few times, she took to the idea of kneepads, elbow pads and padded gloves pretty easily. Her pads are black with flaming skulls. No, of course not: they’re all pink, with Disney princesses.
The main reason I got my daughter a skateboard was that she wanted one. Beyond that, I knew it would vex both our mothers, which is always entertaining, and I want her to grow up bold and strong and fearless. At this point in her life, if she falls, she doesn’t fall far and nine times outta ten, she bounces back up and yells “I’m okay, Daddy.” On those occasions when she does have to sit and cry for a minute, I’m right there with her and a minute is about as long as she ever has to cry. She’ll wipe off the snot and tears, limb over to her board and be ready to keep going.
With the parenting, I try to sort out the things that my parents did that were positive, so I can do them; and the things they did that were negative, so I can avoid them. Encouraging kids to get up after they fall is positive; telling them to quit yer damn crying or I’ll give you something to cry about…not so much.
So, she’s got a skateboard. We’ve been getting out the bike lately, sledding will happen – if we get any snow this year. We went into the guitar shop today so I could look for a transducer and she pointed out the pink uke she wants for Christmas. She’ll get it. Eventually, I’ll teach her ride a horse and a motorcycle and drive a stickshift. I’ll show her how to handle knives, machetes, hatchets and axes. I’ll teach her to shoot using the same guns my dad used to teach me – they’re all still in the family. If she wants, I’ll take her to the county co-op and get her one of those child-sized, pink .22’s. They have wee little, pink compound bows there, too.
Of course, I play with her dolls with her. I help her dress her “babies” and feed them “cake” which is really playdough. I’ve even made some clothes for the babies. I can hand-sew and will probably start teaching her how to that soon – I got some big, blunt yarn needles just for sewing practice. I was a restaurant cook for years so my knife skills are more dicing onions than cutting motherfuckers, but it ain’t that much different. I take her to dance class and, if she keeps on about it, I’ll sign her up for ballet, but I think she’s more interested in T-ball.
Point is, I’m doing the best I can to model and teach all kinds of different skills, regardless of whether they’re traditionally “male” or “female”, but for reasons which I expect are obvious, the “male” stuff is a little easier for me. I’d rather kick a ball around the yard than dress dolls. And I think that even if she grows up to be a femmy-girly-girl, she’ll be better off for knowing how to shoot a gun, swing an axe and bounce right up after a fall. Those things build confidence. If you know how to load and shoot a Colt 1911, a powerdrill ain’t that scary. Furthermore, if some dude ever comes on strong with her, I want her to know how to crush a windpipe. No shit.
So, we were over at the playground recently. She was all padded up, but saw some dirt she wanted to dig in. I was standing there with my foot on the board, watching, and then I looked at the paved, oval track I was standing on and pushed off. Just like that, I realized that I could ride a skateboard and I did. I managed to get a few laps around before the girl suddenly had to go potty “reeeeeeeeeeeeally bayad!” and we had to head home. I’ve been skating almost every day since. Usually, I sneak in a few zips around the playground while she’s on the slides, or I get ten or fifteen minutes when I’m killing time someplace. I’m not doing half-pipes or grinding stair rails – I’ve seen footage of guys doing that shite and, while I don’t intend to have any more kids, I’m not interested in those injuries – just having a little fun with it. I’ll probably get a grown-up-sized board soon, though I should get a new amp first.
I learned to ride a skateboard without trying. I had a skateboard in my life. I carried it around playgrounds, helped a little girl get on and off, tried to explain to her what I knew was the way to ride even though I couldn’t do it myself. I kept stepping over the thing when she left it in the middle of the kitchen floor and occasionally I stepped on and rode into the livingroom. I never tried and never intended and it just soaked in.
Playing guitar is slightly more complicated that standing on a board with wheels, and I did have some desire to learn to play, but I mostly taught myself to play by sitting on the sofa with a guitar on my lap, moving my fingers around, while watching Samurai movies. I was interested, so I read some stuff about music theory and I memorized the basic chords, but I don’t like practicing so I didn’t. Practicing is boring; messing around and seeing what kinds of sounds come out is fun. It wasn’t hard to apply the same approach to the tenor banjo, mandolin, uke, baritone uke and bass. I used the same approach to learn the poetic code that myths are written in and discovered the hidden meaning in all the worlds’ religions. Seriously, I sat around reading myths because they’re great stories, watching documentaries like N/um Tchai and Dream Wanderers Of Borneo because they’re awesome and weird, and participating in various activities associated with various religions because I wanted to see what that was like (and, in some cases, because women would be naked), and it all soaked in. One day, I realized I was a guitar player. One day, I realized I was a saved, enlightened shaman.
I believe everything is that easy. A guy I know wants to be able to draw. He keeps asking me about it and I keep telling him to get a cheap sketchbook and doodle in it. Look at your boots and doodle. Think about clouds and doodle. A community college drawing class might help him learn to draw quicker, but he ain’t taking a class, he’s asking me and I’m in no hurry for him to be able to draw. He needs to get a job and move out of the Salvation Army shelter more than he needs to be able to draw. And it’s supposed to be pleasurable, for fuck’s sake, or why do it? Drawing, playing guitar, knowing the sound of one hand clapping, realizing – making real – that Brahman and Atman are the same, riding a skateboard, whatever. Anything that you or I or the Spotted Opossum want to do, we can do and all we have to do is put ourselves in a position to learn. Hold a guitar for a few hours every day. Talk to somebody who knows how to knit. Talk to a Zen teacher. Hang out in the right places, pay attention, be teachable. It really is that easy.
Not long ago, I attended a meditation session. Some guy with a bit of knowledge had set up his livingroom as a meditation space and formed a group. He got in touch with some Buddhist monks from over the mountain and somebody agreed to come over and do a dharma talk every couple weeks. I went to a beginner’s session because it was at a convenient time and because, though I have some experience with meditation, I was a beginner to that group. After the preliminary readings and ritual, we sat for twenty minutes. The guy asked if there were any questions or comments and the girl next to me asked the standard beginner’s question, “What do I do when thoughts come into my mind during meditation?”
My answer would’ve been “Ignore them. They’ll go away”, because that’s it. That’s all there is to that. But she wasn’t asking me. The guy who was running the show gave a little chuckle, nodded sagely and then launched into a ten-minute monologue, quoting various Bodhisattvas and sages, extrapolating on the Flower Sermon and Christ knows what else, I tuned him out and watched a stinkbug crawling around on his autographed copy of The Diamond Sutra until he shut up and we did another twenty. I never went back. No one is going to get saved by listening to a guy talk who loves to hear himself talk.
You want to meditate? Cool. It’s easier with a group and you might meet some good folks. It isn’t hard. You sit there. When thoughts come into your mind, ignore them. Do that long enough and one day you’ll realize that you were enlightened a long time ago.
If you meditate or ride a skateboard in a parking lot, some cranky old business owner is going to come out and yell at you. That’s cool, too.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.