In Skater's Time

by Rick Beck

Chapter 15

My life didn't suddenly turn good, but it was better, when I got up and skated to work the next day. I'd been in California for nearly a year, and I'd managed to find love, lose love, and I still hadn't gotten close to a surfboard. That urge, to follow the Beach Boys to the surf, and become a surfer, was once more something I decided I needed to do.

I had a job. I'd saved money. I could afford a surfboard. After leaving Hitchcock's market, the day after my birthday, I stopped at the Surf Shack on Broadway, in El Cajon. The short boards had become the rage, or so said the clerk who waited on me.

"The nice thing about the short board, they're much easier to take with you. The longer boards require a lot of planning. Having a car is almost a must, if you're going long board. There's always someone in the crowd with a ride, but then, you're on their schedule, if you want to get to the ocean, which you want to do, if you're in search of the surf," he said.

"What's your name," I asked, after listening to the kid talk about surfboards for fifteen or twenty minutes.

"I'm Richie," he said with a smile.

"I'm Z," I said.

"Nice to meet you, Z. Cool name," Richie said.

"How old are you, Richie?" I asked, before I realized the question was rude..

"I turned nineteen last month. Preacher wouldn't hire me, until I was nineteen. Said he needed a man with some maturity, you know," Richie said.

"Cool," I said. "I eighteen yesterday. I'm here to spend my birthday money. I've been in California for a year, and I haven't been surfing yet."

"Hey, Preach! We got ourselves a birthday boy here. Can I give him a birthday discount?"

A man polishing a surfboard at a bench a few feet away, looked up.

"How old are you," Preacher asked.

"Eighteen," I said.

"Good age," he said, "When I was eighteen, I joined the marines. Wanted to go kill me some gooks, don't you know. When I got to Vietnam, I found out that gooks were the Vietnamese. I wasn't going to kill no people. I asked where the gooks were, and they told me, 'that's them. They're the gooks.' I took the next bus home, don't you know," he said. "15% on anything over a hundred bucks. Best I can do, but I have some free advice for you. Don't join the marines. If you join the marines, don't kill anyone they call disgusting name. The Vietnamese are people, just like you, just like me, and just like every marine. The Lord tells us, "Thou shalt not kill." You may think he doesn't really means it, but he does."

Richie laughed. I laughed.

Preacher, with a long ponytail and a face full of hair, went back to work. It wasn't hard to picture Preacher at an anti-war rally.

"Fifteen percent on anything over a hundred bucks." Richie said. "Oh, by the way, happy birthday,"

"It was actually my birthday yesterday," I said," I decided it was time to look for a surfboard."

"He only gets ten percent on anything over a hundred bucks. Keep your mouth shut, when you're ahead of the game, kid," Preacher said.

"I'll keep that in mind. I like telling the truth," I said. "I wasn't expecting any discount."

"What's your name, kid?"

"I'm Z," I said.

"How do you spell that?" Preacher asked, laughing. "Give him the fifteen percent. I like Z, I found me an honest man. Rare as hens teeth those are."

I could afford to pay full price, but the discount did get me into a board sooner than I liked. I had no way to get to the surf, but I was ready, once I did. I picked out a short board that had some specks of color in it.

"You are a beginner, Z? Just getting your first board?" Preacher asked, bringing the pretty blue and white board he was polishing.

"Yes, sir. I've been wanting to learn. I decided it's time," I said.

"$195, and I put an extra coat of wax on it with God's blessing. This board will never let you down," Preacher said, handing it to me.

"Yes, sir," I said, taking the board. "It's beautiful. Thank you."

"Boss, that guy paid $250 for that board. He's coming in for it tonight," Richie said.

"Don't talk so much, kid. I'm doing business with Z. I'll have Henry's board ready for him, and I've got time to but another coat of wax on it. Sometimes a board is meant for a particular person. This one is meant for z. That's why I was polishing it when e came in. I knew right off, this is that's boy's board, and I didn't even know he wanted a board," Preacher said.

"It is and I do, Mr. Preacher. Thanks," I said, taking out my wallet.

"Hear that, kid. I'm Mr. Preacher to you, from now on," Preacher said with a laugh. "Kids got style."

I laughed. How did I know that buying a surfboard was going to be so much fun. I should have bought it a long time ago.

"Hey, Z. Check with me, and if I'm going to San Onofre, I'll take you along, and I throw in a free lesson or two on that new board of yours," Preacher said.

"Your on. I'll be back," I said, having no way to get to the ocean on my own.

I felt good about owning a surfboard, even if I didn't know how to surf, or have a way to get my board to the beach. My time would come, and I wanted to be ready, when it did.

I left work one afternoon, when it was closing in on dinner time. I decided I needed to be home to get dinner while it was hot. Life had begun to reset itself, and my mind wasn't on Free, or the absence of Free, all the time.

I didn't feel good, or even as well as I felt, before I met Gordo, but time was passing, and my life had to be about more than work, and going home to hold Free's pillow. I hadn't told him I went to get it, and I probably wouldn't. I was holding out for the real deal, after boot camp, when he would get leave for the first time. The idea he'd come home to me was on my mind.

I was skating over one of the halfpipes, between Santee and El Cajon, when I remember which bridge that was. I stopped to look at the halfpipe, and I noticed someone skating down the middle of the pipe, heading for me. I watched as the figure grew larger.

The skater was propelling his board as fast as he could, and as I got a clear view of him, the first thing I noticed was his dark Auburn hair. I honed in on his face and I was looking at the man, who I'd watched give an exhibition of grace and skill on a skateboard the year before.

As he closed in on the bridge, moving at high speed, I decided that I could get to the other side of the bridge, around the abutment, and down into the halfpipe, before he scooted under it, and out the other side.

I turned in a flash, to cross the bridge, and I walked into the side of a passing van. It stood me up, and I fell backward on my butt, stunned, and not to sure where I was, or why.

"I saw you. I knew just what you were going to do. I tried to slow down. What in the world is wrong with you," a red faced man was talking to me, as I sat looking up at him.

"What happened," I said, not sure yet.

"You turned to cross the bridge, and you stepped right into my van," he said.

"I didn't hurt it, did I?" I asked.

"Hurt it? Hurt it? Are you OK. I'm not worried about the van, son. Are you OK?" he asked.

"I think so," I said.

I felt my teeth, to be sure I hadn't lost any. I felt my forehead, and it had a lump at the hairline. My butt hurt, but my butt never got close to the van.

"Yeah, I'm OK," I said.

"Here's my card. You don't look OK to me. If you feel like you need to have a doctor check you out, I'll take you. I have good insurance. Tell me that you're sure you don't want me to take you to the hospital," the man said.

"He needs a psych ward. That boy walked right into your van. What were you thinking, kid,"" another irrate man wanted to know.

"I don't suppose much thought went into it," I said. "I just didn't look."

"If that ain't the truth," the other man said. "He's OK. Here's my phone number, if you need a witness. Dumb kid."

The witness handed the driver of the van his information.

I stood up, brushed off my butt, and looked over my skateboard, which was none the worse for wear.

"I'll be OK. I'm sorry for causing you trouble," I said, feeling sorry.

"As long as you're OK, son. You have my information. If you feel like you need to go to see a doctor, I'll take care of it," he said, walking away.

I watched the driver of the van go to where he'd pulled over. He got in and drove away. The other guy walked back to his car, he turned to look at me, shook his head, and he got in and drove the car away, giving me one more dirty look for good measure.

I walked back to where I was watch the red headed boys approach. I walked across the now empty bridge, and I looked in the direction he was heading, but the halfpipe was empty. There was no sign of anyone.

It took me a year to catch up with that man a second time, and I had no better luck this time than I did the last time. You couldn't say I didn't try.

I felt my butt, one last time, and I worked my jaw from side to side. Everything seemed to be in place, but I felt a little dizzy.

I wondered if that's how Gordo felt, when he was skating like some mad possessed skateboarder.

I hadn't been hurt, but I was soar the day after I walked into the side of the van. It reminded me that nothing in life was easy, and If I was going to meet the boy with the auburn hair, it probably wouldn't be while he was skating in a halfpipe. Giving the idea of tracking him down, while he was on a skateboard, lost its appeal, once I did the face plant in the side of a van.

I'd just as soon catch him, while he was at a full stop. Since it had taken me a year to rediscover the redhead, I wasn't going to hold my breath. He obviously lived somewhere near El Cajon and Santee. I doubted he skated in the halfpipe for fun, but, then again, you never knew what a skater might do.

It was more likely I'd run into him at the mall, or maybe he'd show up, where skaters went to gather. One thing was for certain, we hadn't been traveling in the same circles for the last year. There was always hope that when it was time for us to meet, we'd meet, and that thought didn't hurt my feelings.

With Free never far from my thoughts, I began coming to life again. I stopped at the mall, talked to skaters I knew and didn't know. Z was on the prowl again, but this time I was more cautious with what I thought I was looking for. I wanted to be with people, and to do the things other skaters were doing.

The idea of having a boyfriend, had come and gone with Free. Yes, I wanted friends, companions, and a tryst now and again would be OK. Anything more serious than that could wait. I'd lost the passion that drove me to find someone like Free. I would be more cautious, but not to the extreme. I didn't plan to walk into the side of any more vans. I did think of my red-headed boy.

I watched Gordo on another Kamikaze run, as he swung out in front of a car, to miss a parked car in his way. The driver of the car hit his horn to express his displeasure with the skateboarder skating in his lane. Gordo offered a one fingered salute, and a gesture indicating how he thought about the encounter.

Gordo cut back to the curb, the car passed him without hesitation, and another parked car got a similar reaction from Gordo. This time the road was clear, and he didn't force anyone to hit the breaks or swerve, and Gordo didn't slow down, as he came closer to where I stood with my board at my side.

Gordo came to a stop beside me, ending up with his board in his hand, and a smile on his face. I immediately knew, my feelings for him had changed. He was no longer the adventurous daring daredevil who took me on my most ambitious sexual outing. Gordo was mainly absent from my life, and I wasn't certain he wasn't absent from his own life.

"What sup, Z?"

"You've been gone for some time, Gordo. You decided to show yourself today? I asked.

"Yes, I'm out testing the street to see if I've lost any of my skills on a board are unchanged after a few months of being off my game," he said.

"You've been ill?" I asked.

"You might say that. Sick of jailhouse food, and sick of jailhouse games. It confirms what I've believed all along. Freedom is being on a board and taking control of your own life. I want to do what I want to do and when I want to do it."

"You've been in jail?"

"I heard that rumor too. As you can see, I'm a free man," he said. "I'm here to tell all that will listen, don't fuck with the man. He wins every time, you know. All the cards are stacked against you. Even the judge looked down his nose at me. No, the system isn't fair, when it comes to skaters."

"What happened?" I asked. "Nothing. Nothing at all. I was riding my board. I do remember being in some conflict with the automobiles around me, and next thing you know there is this bodacious cop with a big hat, and he isn't interested in all those drivers of deadly automobiles, no siree. He picks on the poor helpless skater. The system isn't fair, and I told him so. He said I took a punch at him," Gordo explained.

"That doesn't sound like you, I mean the swinging on him part. I can believe the rest of it. What were you thinking, Gordo?"

"Me, thinking? I don't believe I thought anything. He accused me of being drunk. Can you imagine that. Me, drunk?"

"Were you drunk?" I asked.

"I'm afraid I had too much to drink to tell, but there were two of those big cops with the big hats, and if I swung at him, I missed him by a mile. I ended up on the ground, where he promptly handcuffed me. He took me to the pokey. Did I mention I just got out?"

"Gordo! You aren't doing yourself any good. You aren't old enough to buy alcohol in California. How'd you get alcohol?" I asked, knowing how it was done back east.

"I do have friends, you know. Did you know there was a war on drugs, Z?" Gordo asked with all the sobriety of a judge.

"Of course I know it. It's been going on for most of my life, I think," I said.

"Yes, and how successful have they been at keeping folks who want drugs from getting drugs?" Gordo asked with all the efficiency as a prosecutor.

"Well, they've put a couple of million people in jail, but I hear they have less trouble getting drugs in jail than they do on the street, and no one is looking to arrest them in jail," I said.

"I rest my case. There is a law against most drugs that aren't advertised on TV, and there are laws against someone my age from getting alcohol. I have about as much trouble getting alcohol as people have getting their drug of choice," Gordo said. "I stopped a guy outside a liquor store and gave him ten bucks to get me a pint of bourbon."

"That's what I thought. Your friends would know better than giving a human guided missile alcohol. You obviously shouldn't drink," I said.

"You too, Z. The whole world is against me. I want to have fun," he said.

"How much fun was jail?" I asked. "Sleep on your back?"

"That's not funny," he said.

"Neither is being locked up," I said. "You won't be able to get a job if you keep it up, Gordo. Sooner or later, you'll need to go to work," I said.

"I work. I'm a one man entertainment bureau for my older friends. They know when I show up, they're going to make out," he said.

"That's why they don't answer the door, when they see you coming," I said.

"I wondered about that," he said.

"No, I skipped breakfast. It's not real food, anyway. I think it's donated from the artificial food companies to give to inmates and homeless people," he said.

"It's after eleven. We'll go get some egg MacMuffins. You can buy the coffee," he said. "On account I'm broke."

"I thought they gave you a suit of clothes and ten bucks, when you got out," I said.

"That's prison. I was locked up in county. Half the dudes in there haven't been convicted of anything. They are waiting to go to trial and they don't have enough money to bail out. They sit in jail for months, waiting to go to trial," he said.

"That sounds bad," I said.

"Try being a dude with a wife and a kid, and no way to support them, and you're looking at years in jail. I felt sorry for those guys," Gordo said. "Lots of Spanish guys, black guys. I was one of the only white dudes for most of the time, while I was inside, but I was serving time for disorderly conduct. The Judge told me, I was lucky. If I'd hit that cop I swung at at, he'd have given me 3 to 5, as in years."

"I thought you had better sense, Gordo," I said.

"I do. I was drunk. I don't know what I'm doing when I'm drunk. You'd think a judge would know that. I'm a handful when I drink, Z," he said.

"I can believe it," I said.

I realized that I hadn't seen Gordo in months. I'd been with Free, and then I'd been dealing with not being with Free. I hadn't circulated much until recently, and I hadn't seen Gordo, but even when I was seeing him, I didn't see him often.

My attraction to him was gone. He was too insane for anyone to want to get close to him. His life was a train wreck, and I didn't want to be on board, when it left the tracks. Even knowing him, made me fear for a time when I heard Gordo had met a tragic end. The end was already written, he just hadn't reached the end of the line yet.

We sat eating our muffins and drinking coffee on the lawn beside MacDonald's. It was a pleasant day. Mr. Hitchcock had given me the day off, on account I already had my forty hours in, and he couldn't afford to pay overtime. I hadn't had a day off since I started school last year, and now I was graduating. I think Mr. Hitchcock worried I might quit, after I graduated, but my work was my life, and I liked my job. I also loved having a weekday off.

As spring set in, the weather was perfect every day. It was warm, but not hot, and it never rained in Southern California, except when it did.

A 1970s era Chevrolet, turned into the parking lot, stopping at the side of MacDonald's directly across from where we sat, and on the roof of the Chevy was a long board.

A red headed boy jumped out of the car, with all the grace of a gazelle. He had on black spandex shorts with a yellow tank top. The getup left little to the imagination, and I wanted to go over and tackle him. For the first time since Free left, my heart pounded loud enough for me to hear.

Gordo, sensing my attention had moved off him, looked at the boy who was about to enter MacDonald's.

"Down boy," Gordo said. "You want to meet him?"

"I want to meet him,' I said, without taking my eyes off him.

"Hey, Skippy," Gordo said in a casual speaking voice. "You too stuck up to say hello to your best bud?" Gordo asked.

Skip stopped, looking back through the door that was closing. Swing open a second later, Skip came back out, walking across the parking lot.

"As I live and breathe," he said. "I'm totally surprised that you are still living and breathing, Gordo. You haven't killed yourself yet. I was sure you were dead by now. I guess you aren't, are you?"

"How's it hanging, Skip. Hard to tell if it's hard or soft in those shorts," Gordo said.

"As always, on the left, and it's hanging a little low today. I haven't had a date in a month. Who is this fine looking gentleman doing with a scallywag like you? I'm Skip, and you are?" He asked.

I was trying to remember my name, and he looked me right in the eye.

"This is Z, Skip. Z, this is Skip," Gordo said, finding a way to be useful.

"Hello!" Skip said, accepting my hand, and forgetting to let it go.

"Z's from back east, Skippy. He's new. A bit up tight, but I'm trying to help the boy," Gordo said.

"Yes, I bet you are, Gordo. Back east, huh. East is one of my favorite directions. I'll ask again, what are you doing with this lunatic?"

"Gordo was my first love," I said. "Before I knew what love was. Now, he's someone I know," I said. "This is the first time I've seen him in months."

"On account, yours truly, has been in the lockup downtown for a couple of months," Gordo said.

"Does not surprise me a bit. I wonder how they're still letting you walk around, as crazy as you are, Gordo," Skip said.

"I love you too. What brings you back to the wilds of El Cajon. Is the big time college boy homesick for his old stomping grounds?" Gordo asked.

"You aren't far off the track, Gordo. I've been looking for Chet. I heard he'd returned here, from where ever it was he went," Skip said. "I lost track of him, when I went away to college. We'd been close at one time," Skip said.

Skip was about my size. His hair was bright red. He did remind me of the guy in the halfpipe, but he was smaller, redder, and maybe slightly better looking. His surfboard had my attention. His surfboard and the car. Skip could obviously get to where the surf was, and me with a brand new board in my bedroom.

"Chet! Chet! Came back a year ago, maybe more. He's working at some restaurant. That's what I heard. I haven't caught sight of him, just heard the rumor. Where Chet shows up, the stars begin realigning themselves," Gordo said.

"Damn if you ain't a poet, Gordo. Didn't Shakespeare write that first, before you got around to mangling it?" Skip asked.

"Bill. No, I don't recall Bill saying that to me. Could be. I heard it somewhere or other. What little I've seen of Chet, I believe it might be true about him. I heard he went to Hollywood. He was doing his thing up there. He was on his way to being a star. You know, he created his own surf, and everyone wanted to know him," Gordo said. "Nice guy. Yeah, I heard he came back."

"That would be Chet," Skip said. "I heard he was back. I graduate next month, and I have no where to go. I thought I'd come back home, and see what I could see. Run into Chet if I could. He slept with me at my house for almost the entire year, when I was a senior. He was two years older. I was eighteen and he was twenty the last time I saw him. Four years go by fast," Skip said. "If he's back, I want to know it."

"You surf?" I asked.

"I do. What gave me away?" Skip asked. "I bet you saw the surfboard."

"I did," I said. "Maybe we'll go sometime. Surfing."

"Come, go, I do it all," Skip quipped.

"My God, just kiss him for Christ sake," Gordo said.

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