Skateboarding in Fiction: A Brief History of Failure
On Accuracy and Authenticity in Art
Michael Cunningham’s strange and elegiac Walt Whitman-hued novel Specimen Days is prefaced with an author’s note in which Cunningham succinctly articulates the dilemma historical fiction forces on a writer: “Novelists must usually decide what degree of slavish accuracy would make their stories more alive, and what degree would make them less.” Still, he writes, there are some novelists, “who wouldn’t think of tampering with recorded fact, and I know—and greatly admire—a certain writer who invents everything… When questioned about it, he simply says, ‘It’s fiction.’”
For much of my life as a reader, I tended to side with the “certain writer,” insofar as I didn’t much care about hyper-accurate details—about details in general, to be honest. I tire easily of lengthy description and rigorous itemizing. My inner imagination doesn’t really incorporate them into its narrative vision, anyway. And since I only possess a selective knowledge of history, precise allegiance to recorded facts or exact procedures has always been less important to me than dramatic artistry. Story was all—it didn’t matter what the structure was built out of, only that the whole functioned as the design intended.
One of the two things I really know and love is literature. So in a way I was sort of demanding a certain kind of accuracy, or commitment—to the art of fiction. When other concerns intrude unnecessarily—e.g., a writer spends too much time contextualizing and historicizing—the setting in my mind can shift from an evoked past to the page in front of me. It’s ok to see the strings, but only if the work is more compelling than, and thus distracting from, the strings themselves.
The other thing I love in life, besides literature, is skateboarding. I’ve skated since I was nine and I still keep up with all the new shit—video parts, contests, the hubbub around Thrasher’s Skater of the Year (SOTY), and all the crazy super-tech Instagram rippers (who are mostly like 14 years old). I’m a total skate nerd. And it was this deep, life-long passion—the kind I can enjoy with uncomplicated enthusiasm and child-like zest—that indirectly challenged my assumptions about literature, about accuracy, authenticity, and the dizzying dynamics of art.
The story begins, as so few things do, in the desert.
Alone in Sedona with Tom Perrotta
In early summer 2004 I was in a hotel in Sedona, Arizona while my girlfriend at the time attended Ice Cream University, which is not—as I’m sure you can guess—an accredited academic institution. It was, rather, a confusing attempt by the company she worked for (who was funding this trip) to make their unbearably long training seminar seem capable of self-aware humor but only wound up being a mean joke at the expense of the poor early-twenties store managers forced to fly out to dry-ass Sedona for 14 days.
Anyway it sucked. While my girlfriend was off training every day (a predictably long and boring routine which had her in a crap mood upon return), I skated, I read, I wrote, I went to the bookstore. Oh, yes. Definitely went to the bookstore; it’s always where I go when I’m upset or depressed. And it was there I picked up Tom Perrotta’s Little Children.
Perrotta’s whole thing is white, upper-middle-class suburbia and its stifling conventions. Here were a group of characters trapped in various relationships, roles, identities, and routines that suppressed desire and spontaneity and impulse—basically, suppressed any chance of happiness. Surrounded as I was by bland strip malls, gaudy megastores, and sprawling suburbs, Perrotta’s satirical swipes at conformist hypocrisy appealed to my thirst for something real, authentic. And, as I read, Perrotta delivered. Dude certainly knows his milieu.
Until this one moment. Todd, a former high school football star, sets out everyday to study for the bar exam at the library, but instead sits outside to watch the local skateboarders. Todd cannot relate to them, being a jock, but he senses a kinship between them and his younger self, a self-assuredness he currently longs for. As character development, this is perfectly fine, but here are a few samples of Perrotta’s description of the skaters through Todd:
There were four of them tonight, boys between the ages of ten and thirteen, dressed in knee-length shorts, baggy T-shirts, and fashionably retro sneakers. They work helmets, but left the chin straps unbuckled or loosely dangling, rendering them more or less useless as protective gear.
If you’ve never skated I’m sure this passage would work effectively—you’ve seen kids pushing around on boards—but to a skater there are loads of problems here. First of all, skaters don’t wear helmets. I’m sure in Perrotta’s Greater Boston suburbs there’s a parental push for them, but unless their parents were present and watching them, there’s no fucking way those kids kept those bulky, distracting foam-and-plastic monstrosities atop their heads. No way. Also skaters tend to avoid shorts, since shins are so vulnerable (and so sensitive to pain). Perrotta wrote Little Children in the early 2000s, so I’ll give him a small pass on the “baggy T-shirt” bit, though I must note that style went out slightly before then.
Here’s another one, about the “king” skater of the group: “He jumped stairs and curbs, surfed metal railings and retaining walls, and almost always landed on his feet.” Now, because this is from Todd’s point of view, the word choices here are acceptable—they belong to Todd, an outsider looking in. But these phrases don’t really get to the heart of the skating’s gnarly grace. In Perrotta’s rendering, skating is more of a stunt than a dance. A bit later, Todd considers how the skaters interact with one another:
They had a walled-off, wholly self-contained attitude toward the world, as if nothing of importance existed outside their own severely limited circle of activity. They kept their eyes low and communicated in grunts and monosyllables, barely looking up when one of their number nailed a difficult landing or took a particularly nasty spill, or even when some cute girls their own age stopped to watch them for a while, whispering and giggling among themselves.
Oh, man. Where to start? First off, skaters are cool and everything, but they notice “cute girls,” especially 13 year olds. But the biggest thing is that Perrotta is describing the way skaters act at skate parks or public spots filled with tons of kids, in which case everyone’s super conscious of their skill-level and of the rippers, who tend to dominate parks and spots. Perrotta’s skaters are friends, and they’re alone. One of the my absolute favorite aspects of skateboarding is the way in which skaters support each other’s ambitions, no matter where you are in terms of talent. So if a skater tries repeatedly to land what for the rest of the group is a standard trick, they’ll still go fucking nuts when they finally stick it. We are not indifferent to our friends’ development; rather, skating is one of the most audibly supportive activities, with applause and cheers and board-pounding and yeahs abounding.
I know these objections may seem trifling, and I also understand that Perrotta here is more after characterizing Todd than accurately portraying skaters, so it’s not as if I fault Little Children completely as a result. But it is a bummer to see skateboarding stripped of its many encouraging and inspiring qualities. Here I was in Sedona, all alone, skating around the hotel and its environs and yearning for this very camaraderie. Surrounded by the peculiarly menacing red rocks and the equally ominous tourist industry organized around them, in a bad relationship, stuck in dry heat so intense that it doesn’t fucking matter that there’s no humidity, I would have killed to have some of my skater dudes with me. Solo sessions, which can be rad, can also emphasize the fact that skating is, at its best, a group activity, and that a trick landed with no cheers is like a comedian telling jokes with the mic off.
Skaters are tenacious creatures and that determination can often lead to obsession, so Perrotta isn’t even entirely wrong about that. But he missed the affirming and supportive qualities that push you on, the friends who encourage you on your 50th goddamn try and you just want to land the shit and go home, who sit and wait with a fully charged camera while you contemplate a set of stairs, and who, no matter how fucking long it took, get so stoked and go nuts when you finally stick it.
One day after a couple of disappointing hours skating in Sedona’s heat, my girlfriend still in class at Ice Cream U, I returned to the stale chill of the hotel room—as bland in its way as the desert, though smaller, more manageable—and in my gloom I recalled a shitty commercial from—I don’t know—10, 15 years ago, in which some corporation’s version of a skater stands on an enormous sand dune and yells, “Have you ever tried to skateboard on sand? It’s very impossible!”
Hornby’s Talk and Tony Hawk in Boston
Cut to three years later, now in Perrotta’s neck of the woods: Boston. I ventured out of my neighborhood to go see Nick Hornby read at one of Boston’s literary institutions, Brookline Booksmith. I enjoy Hornby novels of course, but also really liked his Believer column on books that turned into a series of books and a compendium volume Ten Years in the Tub. At the time I saw him in 2007, he was promoting Slam, a YA novel about a skateboarder.
The rest of the audience was—how should I say this?—definitely not into skating. They were, instead, Brookline literary types, well-dressed, with money and an interest in cultural events. Whatever. I didn’t care, Nick Hornby should be a lot of fun, was my thinking. And besides, I was about to hear a wonderful writer read a story about a skateboarder.
And then he began to read. It turns out the protagonist Sam is a Tony Hawk superfan and has even memorized verbatim Hawk’s memoir Hawk—Operation: Skateboarder and regularly incorporates quotes from the book in order to create imaginary conversations with his hero, like this:
…when I told him about the rock-n-rolls, he said, “They aren’t too hard. But they’re a foundation for learning balance and control of your board on a ramp. Well done, man!”
The choice to pull lines directly from Hawk’s autobiography is a clever one, for Hornby, as it frees him of having to provide skater-ly dialogue for the man who invented a good chuck of vert tricks. Also, it gives Sam a degree of childishness and naivety that he otherwise tries, like many teenagers, to shy away from. But it also means Slam’s primary source for characterizing skateboarding is Hawk—Operation: Skateboarder, which was published in 2000 as a result of the previous year’s 900 at the X-Games when Hawk became the international symbol for all thing’s skate-related.
Trouble is, as soon as Hawk became mega-popular in the real world he ceased to be relevant to the skate world—or at least the one that existed pre-900. Even Sam refers to Hawk as “the Big Mac, the iPod, the Xbox” of skating. Back then, Hawk represented the woeful but perfectly predictable corporatization of skateboarding, and all self-respecting skaters quickly disavowed Hawk and the X-Games and pretty much anything in the culture subsequently labeled “extreme” (or, more accurately, EXTREME!!!). The laziness and ineptitude of the profiteering cash-grab typified by most references to skating or skaters in the mainstream was hilariously obvious (but a little scary in its effectiveness) to the older generation for whom skating was seen as a fringe activity for druggies and losers (see Larry Clark’s 1995 cheer-fest Kids), and who, more importantly, had already witnessed Tony Hawk and his clean-cut image dominate the few media outlets covering skateboarding in the 80s, and who hated him then too.
Hawk and the Bones Brigade, a team of innovative young kids who would all become legends—like Rodney Mullen, inventor of most if not all of the flatground tricks you’ve probably heard of; Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerra, et al. They won all the contests, they appeared in all the magazines, they sold the most product, they made all the money, and they didn’t piss it away on drugs and booze. The Bones Brigade was just the catchy moniker for all the riders on Powell-Peralta, a pioneering skate brand co-founded by Stacy Peralta, who in his youth with Jay Adams and Tony Alva became known as the Z-Boys of Dogtown, and who, like Peralta’s young protégées, became suddenly famous and rich and successful but for whom drugs and money and fame destroyed everything. Tony Alva took to fame rapaciously and quickly became a self-styled (and self-declared) superstar, which of course meant he soon tired of sharing the spotlight, went off to form his own company, named (shocker) Alva Skates (which went on to make numerous important contributions to skateboarding in its own right, but still: dick move). Jay Adams, the more naturally gifted of the bunch, struggled with drugs and alcohol and a broken home, and then of course struggled with the resultant self-destructive descent into full-on suicidal behavior. In 2005, the same year that saw the release of Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown, a Hollywood adaptation of Stacy Peralta’s own edifying (but totally self-serving) 2002 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys—Adams was arrested on a crystal meth deal. Peralta, now mentoring and coaching and employing this new generation of skaters, clearly had experiential motivation for keeping the Bones Brigade clean.
The point is that Hawk was perfectly prepped to once again step into the limelight as soon as skateboarding recovered from its early-90s unpopularity. Add to this the totally marketable trick that put Hawk back on the map—the 900, a term that even if you don’t understand it connotes difficulty and accomplishment and hard work yet still (and this is where the advertising people saw gold) carries the distinct character of youth culture: hip, slangy, in-the-know brevity—and you get a veritable marketing machine. Thus Hawk ended up in ads for everything from candy to McDonald’s. So much was he the corporate face of the new skateboarding industry that he effectively became, for skaters, the exact opposite: a symbol of what skating is not. So Hornby’s decision to choose Hawk as his protagonist’s hero seems about as creative as those executives, an easy stand-in guaranteed to be understood by the maximum number of people. Now, a populist writer like Hornby could easily defend himself by arguing that he was less interested in skateboarding as a real-world culture but as an aspect of this character, so rather than uselessly fill pages articulating nuances that a) aren’t relevant to the main plot (which is that Sam, a teen, impregnates his also-teenaged girlfriend—have I not mentioned that?), and b) are super complicated to explain. And Hornby would be exactly right, craft-wise. After all, he’s allowed to imagine how his own character would interpret skateboarding, regardless of how close or far away that interpretation is from reality. Surely Hornby doesn’t have to expertly know the cultures and subcultures relating to all of his characters’ interests? Even I, just as a reader, see the foolishness of such extrapolation.
But there was still the fundamental problem that the skateboarding experiences I’d had in my life had never been accurately represented (or even semi-accurately) in fiction. And I was beginning to see there was something about skating that resisted narrative description, something so seemingly complex that it overshadows the simpler, visceral aspects that make skating such a unique passion. I mean, even Tony Hawk’s book doesn’t hit the right notes. Although of course Hawk isn’t exactly a literary dazzler, Hawk—Operation: Skateboarder is a fun and charming memoir, partly because Hawk is so damn likable. And it’s not a front, some affected sincerity for the fans; he’s really a nice guy. Also, he’s pretty funny and self-deprecating. When he graduated from high school—which, because of his burgeoning fame, had become questionable—he attended the ceremony only because his “mom was hyped on the idea.” But once he arrives, he sees how silly it all is: “Some students performed songs during the ceremony, and it was brutal. I didn’t know who they were, but I felt myself getting itchy and ready to bolt after the second senior started singing some weird song about children in the world.” Despite the lameness, when it’s his turn to walk, he’s proud anyway:
I was a big fan of The Breakfast Club, and when I received my diploma I jammed my fist into the air like Judd Nelson does at the end of the movie. It probably didn’t look as cool as I had hoped.
Hawk effectively captures the attitude of a skater, but when it comes to the actual act itself even the definitive skateboarding expert (Hawk did, after all, invent many of its tricks) can’t make it sing. This is because, as someone who knows skating in and out, Hawk explains the logistics of tricks, as he does when discussing the runs he’d plan for contests in the late 70s:
I usually saved a trick I’d invented for the end of my run—the backside varial. (It’s a basic backside air, in which you do an air turning inwards but rotate your board 180 degrees and land with it facing backwards.)
This is unclear even to me, and I’ve landed a backside varial. Elucidating tricks by explaining their literal movements strips skating of its unconscious wonder, its strange, dance-like beauty. But as Perrotta showed, too much lyricism veers too far away from a skater’s vocabulary and their perspective. In life, a skater doesn’t see a 360-degree rotation of the board with a simultaneous flip of the deck—nor do we see a floating vessel of poetic movement and grace. We see a 360 flip, a tre flip, and that’s it—yet somehow we never lose sight of its profound difficulty or its quintessential beauty, which both matter a great deal yet still can’t be used exclusively to define it. Maybe skating and literature just don’t belong together.
Paine and Gain at New College, Oxford, 2010
In preparation for my study abroad trip to England, I came across a passage in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense—which is, suitably enough, one of the most American of texts. In it Paine describes the phenomenon of travel’s effect on one’s identity:
A man born in any town in England divided into parishes, will naturally associate most with his fellow parishioners (because their interests in many cases will be common) and distinguish him by name of neighbor; if he meet him but a few miles from home, he drops the narrow idea of a street, and salutes him by the name of townsman; if he travel our of the county and meet him in any other, he forgets the minor divisions of street and town, and calls him countryman, i.e. countyman: but if in their foreign excursions they should associate in France, or any other part of Europe, their local remembrance would be enlarged into that of an Englishman. And by a just parity of reasoning, all Europeans meeting in America, or any other quarter of the globe, are countryman; for England, Holland, Germany, or Sweden, when compared with the whole, stand in the same places on the larger scale, which the divisions of street, town, and county do on small ones; distinctions too limited for continental minds.
Paine reminded me that during this trip I would be, for the first time, an American, and I didn’t want to wholly defined by that (not only because I, like most Americans, consider myself an exception to broad generalizations of U.S. citizens but also because as a budding intellectual I didn’t want any obstacles in the way of my progressing education). This, obviously, couldn’t be avoided. At my first fancy-dress bop at New College, I began dancing with an English woman, who smiled and moved her body with mine. That is until she asked, “Are you American?” When I said yes, she quickly danced away from me.
But the really shocking revelation didn’t have anything to do with my Americanness, though it did relate to a similar inner conflict. It had to do with being a skateboarder and a writer, with being a Midwesterner and a wannabe intellectual, with being low- and high-brow. The shitty skater from Ohio often felt like the truest me, but then my real interests—e.g., literature, criticism—and those interests’ subsequent effects on my personality—e.g., esoteric vocabulary words like esoteric—made connecting with another shitty-skater type in a way that included those interests virtually impossible. This is not to suggest, of course, that there aren’t any skaters who are similarly stoked about Samuel Johnson and Edmund Wilson and Susan Sontag—of course there are. It’s just that the best kinds of skaters to skate with are the kinds for whom skating is their primary passion, because that kind of unadulterated dedication is necessary: not only is skating really fucking difficult, but it requires a mix of extreme patience and stupid courage. You can’t do it half-assed. Or, you can, but won’t be the kind of skater who’s super fun to skate with.
For me, though, skating is a second-tier passion. That skating comes behind literature and writing doesn’t disqualify it as a primary component of my identity. I started skating at nine years old, and I’ve continued to skate and to follow its development over two subsequent decades—it’s a part of me forever.
But as we’ve seen in my fruitless encounters with skateboarding in novels, the two don’t go together so well. Most of the writers I revere weren’t even alive to witness the birth of the skateboard, but I’m certain a good chunk of them would probably disregard it as a pointlessly silly and idiotically dangerous activity. And then many of the ones who are alive for it wouldn’t deign to write about such matters, or, if they did, it would be used for their own fictional conveniences rather than inspired by skateboarding’s many fascinating qualities. I couldn’t find me in literature—not the full me, anyway.
Nothing emphasized this inner conflict more than being in Oxford, England, with it’s cobblestone streets and castle-like colleges and the fucking endless supply of chapels and churches and cathedrals, epitomizing the enormity of literary history and tradition, providing constant reminders of my uncouth Midwestern sensibilities. It wasn’t that I cared about looking like a miscreant or even like a skater to the academics of Oxford, it was that I worried that those fundamental differences signified a larger, more insurmountable bridge between me and them—not one of appearance or attitude but of essence. I literally couldn’t ride my board on many of the streets—is there any better (or more obvious) metaphor?
I arrived in England in January during one of the worst UK snowstorms in recent memory. The very first newspaper headline I saw when I actually arrived was “Brrrrrrrrittain.” Consequently, I didn’t get to skate much my first month there, and when I did it was in the relatively remote parking lot of my apartment complex. But when a woman in our program headed into town to get a tattoo and a bunch of people joined her in support, I went along and, because it was such a beautiful day, decided to bring my board.
Here’s the thing about skateboards: they’re fucking loud. But everyone in America is so used to them, just how loud they are had been, I think, a bit obscured to me. As our caravan paraded toward Cornmarket and the centre of town, I jumped on my board and the denizens of Oxford looked at me like they’d never seen a skateboard before in their lives. Their leers, to be sure, contained traces of curiosity, maybe even admiration, but mostly it was disdain, disdain that I would so rudely play with my toy around so many people. The eyes of dozens of strangers remained locked on me, like a celebrity—no, like a town pariah, known but notorious. Compounding the contempt of the adults was the undisguised fascination of their children: as much as the parents wanted me vanished, their kids wanted me to put on a show.
Cornmarket teemed with shoppers, the streets overrun with pedestrians but rarely cars. Skaters, by nature, are show-offs, so a part of me enjoyed being the center of attention at a place that so far had been indifferent to me at best. So as a couple of our members went into one of the shops, I stayed outside on the sidewalk and did a little routine. The crowd that formed was both interested and frightened. Now I get how a skater blowing past you on a sidewalk can be scary, that there’s always a possibility of the skater fucking up and launching the board wildly toward you—this was not that. This was the fear of the alien, an inexplicable intrusion into normality.
Near me, on the curb, sat a busking guitar player. He watched me as the surrounding throng expanded. After I’d landed something, I caught him smiling at me sort of conspiratorially. A few moments later, he gave me a little summoning nod from his perch on the curb. Since he didn’t get up I ambled over to him and leaned down. “What’s up?” I asked. “Get lost,” he said in garbled Northern England accent. “You’re ruining my spot.”
In one sense, skating around Oxford and freaking out the locals had been fun, a gesture of screw-your-formalities. But I’d also felt—or, I imagined via all the stares—that once the fun was over, to them I remained a skater, a stunt performer, amusing to watch for a few moments but nothing to be taken creatively or intellectually serious. As soon as one identity seemed truer, the other would rear its head and ruin the temporary unity.
Arriving back at my flat, I bumbled around my room digging through piles of books like I do whenever I’m depressed. I picked up Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace, a copy of which I owned back in the states but that I bought again in England because I wanted to read Wallace that much. Flipping through the book (which just by sight always inspires me to write) I thought about why Wallace was such an important writer to me. He grew up in the Midwest, too, and carried into adulthood many of those sensibilities—his bandanas, his sense (or lack thereof) of style, his love of television and sweets, his tobacco dipping, but most of all his language. Here was a writer who not only acknowledged his background but embraced it. He’d managed to find a way to incorporate the folksy colloquialisms of his youth into highly cerebral prose—and somehow this made his writing more authoritative, not less. It’s funny: when I initially read Wallace I found his narrative voice to be a satire of someone like me. A mind as elaborately brilliant as Wallace’s couldn’t be straight-facedly beginning sentences with constructions like “And but so…” I wish I’d known sooner just how authentic Wallace was being.
When I read Infinite Jest I was 21 and working as a pizza delivery driver in Pickerington, Ohio. I had no degree, no real plans except for the ambition to write, and worried I would get stuck in the town I grew up in. I carted Wallace’s 1,000+ page novel around with me everywhere, even to my job at the pizza shop. Between deliveries, I’d sit on the curb outside and read. Once a customer passed me, a man, who looked at me quizzically. “Big book,” he said. “Yeah,” I said. “You work here?” he asked. I nodded and told him that I was a delivery driver. “That’s funny,” he said. I squinted in confusion. “What do you mean?” “Oh, nothing,” he said, quickly. “It’s just—it’s a big book, is all.” Then he dashed inside.
But of course I knew what he meant: how funny to see a lowly pizza boy reading a thick book. The customer’s slight coupled with Wallace’s brilliance (which, recall, I still thought was sort of making fun of me) seemed to seal my fate as a wannabe intellectual more suited to pizza than to profundity. I would never, I concluded, be a serious writer.
It was partly due to this deep feeling of inadequacy that led me to study abroad at Oxford. I yearned for some kind of external validation of my academic ambitions. But here I was again, being looked at by Oxfordians the same way that customer had. Leafing through Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, I hit on the prologue-ish opening story—a flash piece called “A Radically Condensed History of Post-Industrial Life”:
When they were introduced, he made a witticism, hoping to be liked. She laughed extremely hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces.
The man who’d introduced them didn’t much like either of them, though he acted as if he did, anxious as he was to preserve good relations at all times. One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one.
Wallace wrote a lot about fraudulence, the incessant feeling that you’ll inevitably get called out by someone smarter and more attuned to your bullshit, and here, he concisely defines the ramifications: one never really knew. Was the skater the real me? And if so, were people’s reactions to me real? Or did I merely assume they thought the worst of what I worried others would think? Did I take the strangers at Oxford more seriously because it was, well, Oxford? Did I think that because they responded critically to me that this was a truer reflection than if they’d been courteous? Or encouraging? Or admiring?
I thought of the guitar player who’d asked me to move away from his spot, how he viewed me as competition for the attention of passersby. That meant he considered my skating as a type of performance, a performance that drew crowds. And it suddenly struck me as curious that I’d spent so much time looking for myself in the fiction of established writers. I had needed to believe that skating and literature could go together, so I sought it out in the writers I knew—Perrotta, Hornby, et al—but that was a fool’s errand. Better to do what I did at Oxford: perform skating to a growing crowd. Instead of looking for myself in the work of others, I needed to add myself to the world of literature. If there weren’t any great novels or stories that featured the kind of skaters I knew, and that captured skateboarding in all its wondrous complexity, well then I was going to create them. I’d never written about skaters, since as we’ve established I foolishly believed it wasn’t a suitable literary subject, but now I saw it as my mission.
Immediately, I got up from my bed, in my flat at the University of Oxford, one of the best colleges in the world, where the wealthy and the genius dominate the corridors, where skateboarding is an unfamiliar nuisance—and I pulled out my computer and began to write.
The stories I wrote were shit, it turned out. I hate to spoil the ending, but it’s true: skateboarding really is super fucking difficult to write about. How am I supposed to fix that?
Just this month, Back Bay Books published a 20th-anniversary edition of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, the book I was reading on the curb at the pizza shop. A quote of mine from The Millions, and my name, appear on the back cover. I am now attached to Wallace’s legacy (albeit in the smallest, most tenuous way possible) for as long as that edition lasts. So to that guy who said, “That’s funny”: What’s funny now, asshole?