Essay by Michael Kraft Edit by Ian Copp Best internet buddies: Michael & Ian
I‘m going on a road trip. But it‘s not any regular kind of road trip, it‘s one of those road trips. You know the kind. I have a one-way ticket to Florida where I will be picked up by someone I met on the internet. His name is Ian. We‘ll spend a few days with his rollerblader friends, some of whom happen to be a couple of the people I once idolized in rollerblading videos. In fact, this is undeniably a rollerblading road trip. We‘re going to travel to different cities in different states and film each other doing interesting maneuvers and set those sequences to music. We are making a rollerblading video. But like any trip, there‘s more to it than that. There has been since the beginning. Over the course of 14 days I‘ll have to confront a part of myself I pretend to be ashamed of but am secretly kind of proud. I will achieve something I had attempted for years but will feel no absolutely no satisfaction when I do. I will make far too many pancakes for breakfast and briefly entertain the ethics of infidelity. I will also visit Hooters. The trip will end in Nashville, TN where I‘ll see my ex-girlfriend for the first time in over 15 months and then attempt to make her fall back in love with me. On Dec. 22nd I will fly back to Austin to spend Christmas alone. It‘s one of those road trips. I am not prepared.
Wednesday, December 8th 2010
I am actively looking for black people in the Austin-Bergstrom Airport, which I didn‘t think was weird until I wrote it down, but there it is. I don‘t see any. Maybe there aren‘t any in this part of the airport. Maybe there aren‘t any in this airport at all. This is undeniably a race/class issue worth writing about, I think to myself. Then, almost as soon as I give up looking, a powerful looking black man with a shiny, hairless head and a Bluetooth in his left ear sits down next to me. I look at him for a while and wonder what exactly about race and class I would have written about. I would mention privilege and things. I don‘t really know. Nothing insightful, that‘s for sure. It‘s important to be aware of one‘s privileges, but I don‘t know if seeking out people of color is doing exactly that. I suppose it doesn‘t hurt. All I know for sure is that there are far too many white people in here for the terrorists to have won.
While waiting to board the plane I notice a pretty, brown-haired girl sitting on the other side of concord. She has a guitar case at her right side and looks suspiciously similar to a girl I had a crush on in middle school named Kelsey. When I pull out a „S‘mores“ flavored Luna Bar, because I live in Austin, I imagine everyone around me judging me harshly for buying something with a wrapper. No one in Austin actually does this, but I sometimes think it would be nice if they did.
„You‘re an asshole,“ says the facetious, brown-haired girl who I fantasize approaching me without her guitar and then sitting down to my left.
„You‘re an asshole.“ she says again.
„Why?“ I ask, even though I know exactly why she‘s saying it.
„That wrapper is such a waste. You know it‘s a waste. Why did you buy it?“
„Because I can‘t ever find the chai flavored bars and besides that I know it‘s bad, but individual consumption isn‘t the real problem here.“ I say.
„It doesn‘t help.“ she says.
„Sure, it doesn‘t help. And sure, we‘re all responsible for our contribution, but we need to shift blame from the consumer onto the people who are really responsible for the toxification of the planet. If everyone is focused on buying organic lettuce and eco-friendly soaps instead of focusing on the people who are committing a the equivalent of a scorched earth policy to the oceans and killing off the main source of this planet‘s oxygen or the industries that have a larger carbon output than the entire general public combined then problems are only going to get worse as people feel relieved to ‚do their part.‘ While they make small sacrifices that only put more money in the pockets of those responsible in the first place. This is a more complicated issue than I care to discuss right now. I just want to eat my S‘mores flavored Luna Bar. You‘re welcome to half but only if you tell me your name.“ I say.
She doesn‘t tell me her name. And in fact the imaginary conversation doesn‘t go anywhere after that. I‘m uninteresting and alienating even in my fantasies. I am, however, surprisingly articulate. In reality, I‘m pretty sure that conversation would have gone:
„You‘re an asshole.“
* * *
Before I left, my roommate Chelsea remarked something to me about the Orlando airport having „freaked her out,“ and about it being „one of the strangest places“ she‘s ever been, which is what she says when she really means „I‘ve seen it before.“ and „It was kind of colorful.“ Chelsea tends to exaggerate everything she talks about to a point where everyone who knows her longer than a month develops a special filter for when she speaks that automatically tones everything down to how it probably actually happened. I am not surprised when there is nothing that remarkable about the Orlando Airport. It IS slightly more colorful than other airports I‘ve been too. Perhaps even tropical looking. And it sort of reminds me of the Helsinki airport for about twenty seconds until my angle changes.
I am surprised, however, when I walk toward the baggage claim area and don‘t see Ian filming my arrival into the sunshine state. That is an essential shot for the kind of video we are going to make at the end of this road trip, and quite frankly I am disappointed at his lack of foresight when he tells me he forgot his camera. This will be the third time I can recall being disappointed by him.
Ian and I met for the first time at a rollerblading competition in Birmingham, AL. He said „Hello“ to me some time in the afternoon and I had no idea who he was but smiled and pretended I did. Later that night he offered me alcohol and then drunkenly kissed me. We‘ve been internet-friends ever since. Prior to two nights ago, Ian has spent the past seven months relatively secluded outside of the country at a medical school he‘d prefer I not name, studying to become a physiatrist. Ian is impressive, and sometimes I call him Iong (ee-ong). He‘s about six feet and two inches tall, lightly bearded with a nose that may have been broken at some point in his life, but now has the perfect amount of curvature. His hair is black, but is covered by a charcoal gray beanie that slims his head and sticks up a bit above his skull. He wears a reddish-brown leather jacket and slim fitting pants and probably a „The Smiths“ t-shirt. His voice is deep and he can sing a pretty good Morrissey. When I get in the car outside of the airport I casually ask him how school is going. By the time our trip is over, Ian will have answered this question roughly 35 times.
Thursday, December 9th 2010
I am about to meet Sean Santamaria. I‘m giddy like a school boy but trying to play it cool. It‘s important that I don‘t blow this.
Now, there‘s a reasonable chance that someone reading this don‘t know who Sean Santamaria is. The best way to describe him might be to say he‘s the Don McLean of rollerblading. Or maybe Tootles from Hook. In fact, there‘s a good chance that even if you know who he is, you probably wouldn‘t care about meeting him. This is a grave mistake. I suspect Sean Santamaria is one of the most important rollerbladers to emerge in the last five years.
Back story: In 2005, the wheel brand „4×4“ released a team video called „Leading The Blind“. LTB is almost inarguably the single best rollerblading video ever made. Which, to an outsider, is kind of like reading about the best underground noise album to come out of northern Ireland, or a „the fastest cup stacking ever caught on video“. There‘s definitely a level at which you can understand that what those people are doing is physically impressive, There‘s even a level of appreciation that comes from understanding that whatever this is, this is the best of it. Even if you‘re not sure why. What you can never see as an outsider, though, is the impact that those kinds of cultural paragons have on the people within that culture. And trust me, LTB was about as impactful as they come. But it was impactful in a different way than other videos such as „Words“ and „Brain_Fear_Gone“ were. Those videos showed rollerbladers new ways to rollerblade, whereas LTB showed everyone the extent to which that current model of rollerblading could be taken. And, of course, it was astounding.
Shortly after LTB came out, I would spend every morning before school eating cereal and staring transfixed at the most impressive rollerblading team the world had ever seen. I didn‘t realize it at the time, but as I was watching that video, I was subconsciously setting a course for my day. Sure I was going to school, but I wasn‘t really going to school… I was going to a big building full of people I didn‘t talk to where I would spend my time thinking about rollerblading. LTB became something to model my life after. I defined myself as a „rollerblader“ and as a „rollerblader“ that video represented of the goal I was supposed to reach. And because Chris Haffey, Pat Lennen, Brian Shima, and Alex Broskow were the best (and therefore figures for me and every other self-defined rollerblader to emulate), they dictated how everyone would skate from then after. Being a good rollerblader in 2005 meant being like the 4×4 team. They had redefined what ‚good‘ was. The bar had been raised. I for one found this completely depressing. I knew damn well that I would never be that good. It wasn‘t possible. I just don‘t have the body made for it. In fact, almost no one would ever be that good. As I write this in 2010 there has yet to be a video that comes close to LTB. But those realities didn‘t matter; we consciously ignored them and kept training. Everyone who watched LTB and unconcsiously thought „Alright. I guess this is it. This is what we‘re doing now.“ Suddenly everyone was doing truespin savannahs and training to become the next Chris Haffey. In order to be good, in order to be notable, in order to be in videos: one had to go big or don‘t go at all.
In 2006, Sean did a soul grind 360° out on a knee-high rail. It was tremendous.
About a year after LTB‘s release, an established videographer named Brandon Negrete released a video called „Road to Nowhere“. It featured some well known names along with some guys that most people hadn‘t heard of. Immediately RTN was labled a „tight pants video“ and written off by some XXL purists. But for those of us who were sick of the sloppiness and tents for clothes and bad music in videos, RTN was a godsend. But less than fifteen minutes into the video, something very important happened. Something that no one had really expected. A person from Florida that no one had ever heard of did a very simple trick on a very simple obstacle. You can probably imagine that people were very critical (read: jealous) about this. I mean, who the fuck was this guy in red pants doing soul grinds on knee high rails in a video with the likes of Micah Yeager and Alex Broskow? This guy isn‘t good enough to be famous. That trick wasn‘t even impressive enough to be in a video. Why is he in a skate video, but not me? I could do that.
It was almost Warholian.
Suddenly the rules were different. You didn‘t have to fakie 720° El Toro to be in a major video release. You didn’t need to raise the bar every time you went skating. You just needed to have fun and do tricks with style. Admittedly, the style vs. substance debate/movement did precede this video, but never before had it been epitomized the way it was in Sean Santamaria’s section. Rollerblading was changed forever.
Actually, I suppose it wasn’t Sean who was responsible as much as it was Negrete for putting that trick in his video. Forget everything I just said. But I’m still nervous about meeting him.
When Ian opens the door to Sean’s front porch I see him and a leather clad friend staring at a laptop screen.
„Hi, I’m Michael.“ I say to him.
„Hey, I’m Sean.“ he says before shaking my hand.
„Nice to meet you.“
It is not the most memorable introduction.
Sean’s friend Nick Tary is helping him fill out his FASFA and I couldn’t be more pleased. Because of Facebook, I happen to know that Sean hasn’t been in the best of spirits lately. I’m sure he’d prefer that I not discuss his personal life in an essay he had no idea I’d be writing when he greeted me, so I won’t go into why. But as far as I can tell the past couple weeks, he’s been drunk and depressed and listening to a lot of old, sad songs. School will be good for Sean.
He doesn‘t come skating with us though, and I never get to tell him my thoughts about his RTN section, which in retrospect is probably a good thing. Don’t want to be a weirdo.
Friday, December 10th 2010
The Copp family and I are currently sitting at a table eating dinner together discussing Wikileaks and eating pasta. And much like everytime I eat dinner with a strange family, I feel extremely awkward. It‘s a hard feeling to describe. It‘s sort of like assuming that someone assumes you need special treatment, but really you‘re fully capable of feeding yourself and don‘t like to feel as if you‘re inconveniencing someone even though they say you‘re not, and really you never even brought it up in the first place. It‘s a feeling like that, but I feel it in my chest and part of my foot. They‘re considerate, his family, and prepare me a butterless pesto.
After dinner Ian and I are picked up by his friend whose name I forgot immediately after he told me to go see the Banksy documentary „Exit Through the Gift Shop.“ I am typically relieved when I meet people who forget my name because it makes me feel less guilty for generally not caring about theirs. Whatever his name, his beard is good and he listens to Wolf Parade as we drive downtown to the Tampa Theatre. I mention to him that Wolf Parade just went on hiatus and he tells me he knows this already. We talk about „The Octopus Project“ briefly and then decide to listen to „The National“.
Here‘s the thing: I‘m no longer a professional movie critic but let me take this opportunity to inform you that „Exit Through the Gift Shop“ is a worthwhile movie. It raises a lot of questions about… well, a lot of things. About the value of authenticity, both financially and aesthetically; about what it means to be a celebrity in a subculture that‘s built on shunning the mainstream; about how sensibly that kind of culture judges, and monetizes talent. It‘s interesting. And kind of amazing. It occurs to me as I‘m watching these people wheatpaste all over California that both rollerblading and street art exist almost entirely in the illegal realm of defacing private property for the sake of art. But perhaps the biggest and most important parallel that I learned while watching this movie is that Shepard Fairey and Jon Jon Bolino look strikingly similar. I suspect this is the main reason Jon Jon is on the Street Artist Urethane team. And if he‘s not on the team, then he should be. Solely for that reason.
Sunday, December 12th 2010
I can‘t see anything in front of me. There are no lights at the skatepark in Gainesville and I‘m beginning to doubt that it‘s even a skatepark after all. For all I know this could just be a very lumpy, surrealist parking lot. There is one certainty tonight, though. I am mere inches away from the mythical „Charlie Hustles.“
Charlie Hustles is hard to describe, only because I‘m not sure where to begin. He‘s wearing a black hoodie and has his hands tucked deep into his pockets. His hood is up and his head looks recently shaved. His jaw is very pronounced with faint stubble sprinkled throughout. One of his ears might be lower than the other, but it‘s hard to tell in the dark. He‘s much shorter than I am and when I look down at his shoes I realize that I‘ve seen him naked before. I‘ve seen pictures of him having sex with someone who I think was a pornstar and I am trying pretty hard to remember the context. But that‘s not why Charlie Hustles is mythical. Charlie is mythical because he‘s the kind of person who, after being short-changed $1.50 at a gas station, spitefully stole a 12-pack of Mountain Dew, had the police called on him, evaded arrest by swimming out to an island, burying himself up to his mouth, covering his face with branches, running through bushes back into the ocean, becoming a big enough hunt for approximately 100 police officers, one helicoptor and an unknown number attack dogs, was eventually surrounded and then was beaten by a cop inbetween dog bites. In jail he beat up his friend for snitching on him, was beaten again by cops, and then afterward still had the good spirits to raise an eyebrow and grin widely for his mugshot. After all the legal proceedings and jail time, Charlie was released with an ankle monitor. He then cut out part of his skate to fit his ankle monitor inside. Charlie Hustles is, if anything, dedicated to what he does.
I have no idea what to say to him. I think we have some things in common, but I‘m not exactly sure what they are. Neither of us care for the police, and we‘ve both probably read some CrimethInc. books, but I honestly have no idea what to expect from Charlie Hustles. And in fact over the next two days our conversation will not total more than three words.
* * *
Wednesday, December 15th 2010
More of my life than I should be comfortable with has been leading up to this moment, and yet I feel nothing. There was a time when I wanted little more than this, when I would think about how much better my life would be, but now that I have it I don‘t even care. What does it mean when your dreams aren‘t your dreams anymore? Have I grown up? Do I have new priorities? Why exactly did I want this? Have my desires actually changed or have I simply replaced the old dreams with new ones that are essentially the same? Whatever the case, as of December 15th, 2010, I officially have the highest post-count in Be-Mag Messageboard history: an impressive 43,649 posts.
This is truly embarrassing.
I want you to imagine something: I want you to imagine having the highest score ever recorded at one thing. At anything. At Pac-Man or Scrabble or in a game of basketball. It doesn‘t matter what. This is hard to do, but try. Imagine how many hours and days and weeks and years of practice it takes to excel at that kind of level. Imagine the amount of physical energy you must devote to perform better at something than anyone else. Imagine how much brain power it involves. Think of all the opportunities you will miss out on because you spend all your time practicing or playing. Think of all the socializing you‘ll miss out on when you opt to stay home and practice instead of going out. Think of all the potentially meaningful relationships that could have been. Think of all the other activities you won‘t begin because you‘ve already devoted so much time to your current one. Whatever it is, it is your passion and has consumed your life. But, no matter the cost, you are the best at it and no one can easily take that from you. There is something to be said about that kind of dedication. There‘s a level at which anyone can respect someone who is the best at what they do; someone who has honed a skill into an artform.
Now, imagine that you have the highest score at something that involves no skill whatsoever. Imagine you have dedicated just as much time and brain power to doing something almost entirely inconsequential. Imagine that you‘ve spent the last six years of your life staring at a lightbulb and slowly pressing a button tens of thousands of times more than other people. Imagine that and you‘ll have a pretty good idea of how I feel right now.
Thursday, December 16th 2010
I‘m impressed at how casual David Dodge seems to be about his fiance traveling around with a car full of strange guys all day and night. Where I think most people would feel very iffy about that sort of thing, the man is surprisingly secure. In fact, David doesn‘t seem to have a problem with it at all. Which is awesome. Or if he does, he doesn‘t let it show. I feel few people could honestly say that about themselves. Or at least that‘s what I‘m thinking as Ian and I eat dinner at a restaurant with Lauren and two of her friends – one of whom I find extremely attractive.
„What is your favorite Disney soundtrack?“ I‘ll ask her.
„The Jungle Book.“ She‘ll respond after thinking about it for four seconds.
„What is your favorite Disney soundtrack?‘ is what I ask when I‘m trying to flirt with someone. Admittedly, I have no idea how to flirt. I know that male red-eared slider turtles sort of slap the female‘s head with his claws when he wants to initiate. But I‘m almost positive that won‘t work on this girl. She looks like an indie-rock goddess and has an allergy to gluten. She is electrifying.
Later tonight we‘ll all head back to Lauren‘s house where she will more or less petrify me when she whispers to me that her friends thinks I‘m cute. I will become hyper self-aware and say something like:
„UM, HELLO. YOU MAY REMEMBER ME FROM DINNER EARLIER. I ATE THE BLACK BEAN BURGER. ALLOW ME TO TALK IN GREAT LENGTH ABOUT THE LION KING.“
It does not go well.
* * *
Look, I have problems with monogamy. A lot of us do. And I‘m not trying to write „The Ethical Slut“ here so I won‘t spend any of your time going into them. But I also have a fair (read: unusual) amount of insecurities and can very easily understand the allure of monogamy. And honestly, I can even understand why someone would want to be married. What I do have trouble understanding is exactly why, in a typical cheating scenario, the third party is oft subject to demonization.
Example: There is a boy. We‘ll call him „Boy“. Also, there is a girl. Her name is „Girl“. One day, Boy and Girl meet unexpectedly. I guess it doesn‘t matter where they meet, but let‘s say it‘s a grocery store and they bump into each other while choosing between boxes of graham crackers. Let‘s also say that Girl works at this store and is generally friendly with all the cashiers. Feeling uncharacteristically outgoing, Boy strikes up a surprisingly intellectual conversation about s‘moores. They smile and laugh and exchange phone numbers. It seems like the only thing these two don‘t have in common is Boy‘s preference for cinnamon graham crackers. Girl hates cinnamon graham crackers. It‘s just a thing. Soon they‘re dating exclusively and having sex with each other because sex is awesome and their libidos are healthy. Things seem to be going smoothly for a while, but as time goes on they begin to get a bit bored with each other, because that is very likely to happen. Things get more complicated when Girl discovers Boy loves Sublime. Then, some evening weeks or months later, at the same grocery store, Boy meets „Secondary Girl“. Secondary Girl fucking loves cinnamon graham crackers. A few days later they run into each other again at a coffeehouse moments after Girl and Boy have had a huge fight. Secondary Girl consoles him and they later end up having exceptional sex in her bedroom even though she has a Tool poster on her wall. When Boy tells Girl about this, Girl is, of course, devastated. Boy and Girl are broken up. It‘s Facebook official. Weeks pass, but now when Secondary Girl comes into the grocery store to buy cinnamon graham crackers, the rumors of her affair with Boy have already circulated to all the cashiers and she‘s treated with an ever so subtle hint of contempt as she pays for her groceries. It‘s grocery store solidarity, but it‘s stupid. Poor Secondary Girl was just looking for a nice evening under a Tool poster and now she‘s scowled at by her local grocer. She‘s mocked as the Graham Cracker Slut.
This happens ALL THE TIME.
Because I‘m naming names in this essay, and because I want to stay friends with these people, it‘s very important that I make myself absolutely clear here so I‘m going to put it in bold: I do not have any intention of sleeping with Lauren. It‘s presumptuous and kind of assholeish to think that she would even want to sleep with me. In fact, in general, it‘s bullshit that a girl can‘t show any kind flirtatious behavior or express some semblance of sexuality without it being perceived as an invitation to hop into bed. But that‘s a personal issue and I‘ll deal with it later. Right now the issue is this: If Lauren and I were to have sex, absolutely hypothetically, I am almost certain I would be villainized not just by David Dodge, but by his entire circle of friends. Soon it would spread to the internet, and then eventually the entire rollerblading community (or at least the part that I care about). This is unfair. It‘s unfair because if I wasn‘t being applauded for it, I‘d almost undoubtedly (and more likely) be seen as an asshole for it. But I‘m not an asshole. Or at least not for hypothetically sleeping with someone‘s fiance. I‘m simply having sex with someone I wanted to have sex with. I‘m not breaching a contract or a verbal agreement. I‘m not abusing someone‘s trust. The complications would be between Lauren and and David, as she broke their monogamous agreement. And frankly that‘s their issue to work out. I‘m just the medium through which their agreement was broken.
I‘m familiar with the „You don‘t sleep with your friend‘s girlfriend, man. You just don‘t. That‘s fucked up.“ And I understand that. I can understand how that can ruin a friendship. And I suppose it‘s an ethical issue, knowingly sleeping with someone who‘s in a monogamous relationship. If you know someone will hurt by your actions, is it ethical to follow through with it? Is it acceptable for someone to knowingly cause unnecessary suffering for selfish reasons? Dodge‘s pain would come from places of insecurity and breach of trust, but it wouldn‘t be our trust that‘s broken, it‘s theirs‘. How responsible am I for her breaking his trust? It‘s complicated. And I guess if it really came down to it, even though I‘ve had sex once in the last two months, and even if she asked flat out asked me to, I probably wouldn‘t sleep with Lauren. But I wouldn‘t sleep with her for interesting reasons. What‘s strange to me is that I‘m not at all worried about hurting Dodge in this scenario, it‘s that I‘m worried about being ostracized in a city that I will in all likelyhood never visit again. And I‘m worried about the negative publicity on a rollerblading messageboard, which unfortunately speaks of both its deep involvement in my life and how big a dork I actually am. None of this is to objectify or offend anyone, but Lauren is pretty and I don‘t believe for a minute that I‘m the first traveling rollerblader to stay in their house and wonder what it would be like to sleep with her.
Again, for friendship‘s sake, I‘d like to make clear that Lauren never made any attempt to hit on me. This is absolutely hypothetical and was simply inspired by their relationship dynamic and is more a surface meditation about personal responsibility than anything. But what I want to know is at what point in my life did I begin to prefer abstract, anonymous, semi-meaningless internet-based relationships to actual, tangible, lust-driven, pleasureful ones? I think it‘s a bigger part of my life than I even realize. Little do I know that in about five hours this kind of hypothetical situation will actualize itself in a way that drastically alters the entire trip and subsequently my life.
* * *
I can suddenly feel only dread. What was I thinking? This is a mistake. I am about to make a huge mistake. I want to go home.
The reality that this may not end well at all for me has just set in. It‘s entirely likely that everyone was right and going to see Sylvia is not going to end well for me.
I haven‘t yet explained the significance of my going to see my ex-girlfriend in Nashville and really it‘s longer than I care to discuss right now, but this is the very concise version: I have been close to two people in my life. Both of them are female and Sylvia is one of them. We had a long, complicated, kind of ridiculous long-distance relationship. It ‚ended‘ on bad terms when I got back from a trip to Norway last summer and neither of us were willing to move to the other‘s respective cities. I say ‚ended‘ because in a relationship where you‘re almost never around the other person, and both parties still have feelings for each other, merely saying „we‘re breaking up“ doesn‘t mean much. I still thought about her every day. It still felt like we were ‚together‘ for months after I left. As time went on and I realized I wasn‘t doing anything in Austin that I couldn‘t be doing in Nashville, and when she began to date other people I realized how stupid I was for walking away from one of the few people who ever deeply cared about me. I could not live with the regret. Every weekend I considered buying a plane ticket and showing up in Nashville to see her. I had a large jar of coins labeled „Paradise Falls“ on my bookshelf that I would cash in when I finally couldn‘t take it anymore; when I had to see her – at least for a day. But I was always too afraid she didn‘t want me there. Or that she‘d moved on. But when I found out she felt similarly, my world was drastically different. She told me she broke up with her boyfriend and I gave my two weeks notice.
Going to see Sylvia is very important to me. It is without exaggeration the only thing I‘ve looked forward to in the past fifteen months.
* * *
I have a secret. I am not going back to Austin. I have a return flight to Texas on the 22nd of December, but I will not be on that flight. I am going to dramatically rip up my ticket and instead stay in Nashville to surprise Sylvia on Christmas morning. I suspect she will love this. At least I hope she will, because this is the plan.
* * *
Then it happened. At about 4:00AM, a mere 16 hours before I‘d arrive in Nashville, I heard the muffled buzz from my phone on the carpet. I don‘t have to get more than four words into the text message before I shut my eyes and my arm falls limp to my chest.
„Look. I have a boy. Who I adore. I want you to stay with me because I still consider you one of my best friends. You know more about me than most. But I can‘t betray him.“
I can do nothing but read it over and over again.
„Look. I have a boy. Who I adore. I want you to stay with me because I still consider you one of my best friends. You know more about me than most. But I can‘t betray him.“
„Look. I have a boy.“
„Look. I have a boy.“
„Look. I. Boy. Adore. You. Stay. Friends. Him. Him.“
My hairline feels like it‘s receding and my whole body is filled with cotton. I want to talk to someone, but there‘s no one. The only people I could call are the people who told me not to do this in the first place. Ian is asleep on the couch on the other side of the room, but even if he were awake, I wouldn‘t talk to him. We‘re buddies but we‘re not much more than that. I‘m not close to anyone. I don‘t really have any friends. And I don‘t really have family. Come January when my lease is up, I don‘t really have a home.
I feel alone.
Friday, December 17th 2010
Do you remember all those old clips of Chris Farmer getting mad and throwing his skates and screaming? Do you remember for a brief period deciding that that must be what cool people do and that you‘ve obviously been living your life wrong? Then you get a little bit older and you realize it‘s not actually that cool, it’s just loud? You realize that it‘s just kind of embarrassing and makes all your friends feel uncomfortable and ruins everyone‘s good time?
Today I am that guy. Today I am going miss basic tricks and then (for some reason) I‘m going to try tricks that aren‘t within my skill level and then become increasingly frustrated when I can‘t do them. I am going to look at my surroundings and think to myself „I have no idea where I am. I have no friends here. Why am I even on this trip? This video is going to be a disaster. I can‘t even rollerblade. This isn‘t fun. I hate this. Fuck you, everything.“ Then I am going to think more about Sylvia suddenly and abruptly dating someone else and I‘m going to become so frustrated and angry and sad that when I merely 180° out of a soul grind instead of a 540°, I scream and break the skatepark fence when I kick it.
Rollerblading can be very cathartic – dare I say aggressive? When you have a lot of stress that needs to be released, what better way than to throw your body blindly over a flight of stairs or charge toward a slab of cement? It‘s really comforting to be in your own world and kind of live in the moment. To take a break from the everyday realities known as reality. To live as your animal self. To cease all abstract thought exist only in the now. Rollerblading is a fun, convenient, and semi-productive release. But the problem comes when rollerblading itself is the reason for your stress. Or at least part of it. Not being able to vent just increases the need to vent. What then? Something has to give. I don‘t think people could live otherwise. The kinds of people who don‘t vent are the kind who keep houseguests in their freezer. This, naturally, is why screaming is awesome.
Never underestimate the power of a good scream. I don‘t know if it can get anymore more primal than screaming. Sometimes there‘s simply nothing left to do but focus all your energy into one volcanic, cathartic explosion of sound and fury and four-letter words. No one but you will appreciate it, of course. In fact, you might not even help you that much. Mine certainly didn‘t. You‘ll probably just get looks from everyone in the vicinity who think you‘re a big, dramatic baby. And sometimes they‘ll be right. And maybe they were right about me. Who knows. But my point is this: a break up song can seem pretty trivial unless you‘ve just been broken up with. If you have been broken up with, then you know there‘s a little more to it than that. Next time you watch a video of Chris Farmer and think he‘s being completely childish, or if you see some nerdy looking dude at the skatepark screaming and breaking fences, try to keep all this in mind.
* * *
I‘m not sure whose idea it was to take Taylor Popham to a Christian karaoke bar in some alley in downtown Nashville, but I am exceptionally excited. Tonight I will walk into a bar crowded with blue jeans and cowboy hats, sing ABBA, and hope to fall in love. It is an unlikely place to fall in love, but nothing is impossible when ABBA‘s involved.
All the local Nashville rollerbladers seem to surprised and impressed by my willingness to sing karaoke, even more so when I tell them that I‘ll be singing one of the best songs in the history of music. It could be that they haven‘t yet had the chance to experience ABBA the way I have. It could be that they‘re just in the cave looking at shadows on wall while I‘m out in the sun embracing the Swedish pop quartet. Or maybe they‘re just drunk. (They are.) Either way, everyone is enthused that I‘m getting up on stage.
There‘s a girl running the karaoke machine behind the bar who has the look in her eye of someone who has learned how to only physically be in the room. She acts and functions as if she were there in a bar full of drunk people, but you can tell that in her head she‘s back at home with her dog watching „America‘s Top Model“. She chews gum constantly and I can literally watch her chew speed change depending on the how good and bad the performances are. I want to interview her and ask her what motivates her to come back here every night. Frankly, this place looks completely miserable. Who could stand to hear people who can‘t sing seriously try to sing every night? I don‘t get a chance to, though. She is never without a crowd of people around her yelling about who was first in line.
After six people are thrown out of the bar and one hour of waiting patiently, „Michael“ is finally called to the stage. This is my time to shine. It is time to sing one of the world‘s best love songs: „Take a Chance on Me“-time to fulfill a fantasy I‘ve had for months.
On stage there are six lights above me shining into my eyes, making it hard to see if my soulmate is rushing up to the stage to sing with me. There are at least forty people in the bar and any one of them could at any moment appear beside me with a microphone. „This is one of the best songs ever written,“ I tell the bar. „I wrote it.“
And you know what? Turns out I don‘t know as many of the lyrics as I thought I did. But that doesn‘t stop me. Nothing can stop me. I jump around and dance and sing the chorus like no one‘s ever sung it before. Soon the stage can‘t contain me. I leap off and begin strutting back and forth, staring male bargoers in the eyes. I sing to them, they look away. This repeats without fail as I move down the bar.
Then it finally happens! My fantasy comes true, sort of. I‘m approached by a girl who is willing to shed all inhibition and get down the way I like to get down: in public to seventies pop music. Only she‘s a sixty year old waitress and after dancing with me for a bit she tells me to get back on stage. I am slightly disappointed at how the whole experience turns out, but to my surprise I receive a generous amount of applause when the song ends. Ian tells me that the vacant looking karaoke girl, for the first half of my performance, had the biggest smile on her face. „That was unbelievable.“ she said as I walked away from the stage. The next singer remarks about not knowing how to follow that, but does anyway.
When I walk back to the crowd of people I came with, someone tells me that I simultaneously pissed off exactly one half of the bar and made the other half really, really happy. I could not describe ABBA‘s music any better than that.
Tuesday, December 21th 2010
I am not going to include in this article what happened with Sylvia; it will take far more of your time than I wish to devote. I will say that I am leaving Nashville with some sort of closure. I didn‘t throw away my chance to be with her. I now know that we‘re not together simply because we can‘t be together. I‘m still bitter, but I can live with this.
I will not be following through with the Christmas plan.
Notable advice: It‘s easy to say that no one can stop you until someone actually stops you.
* * *
I arrive at the BNA exactly eleven hours before my flight. What follows is my experience in the airport as it unfolds:
7:03PM, Dec. 21st: a woman named Kathy at the Southwest Airlines desk informs me that I can‘t check my luggage until 5:00AM. I ask her where she would sleep if she had to sleep in the airport. She recommends the couches near the Starbucks because „they are soft.“
7:08PM, Dec. 21st: I spot a family/handicap restroom.
7:52PM, Dec. 21st: after pooping, listening to half of a Smiths album, ignoring knocks at the door and wondering if Sylvia and I really will wed when we‘re thirty, I exit the family/handicap restroom and discover four people waiting in line.
8:13PM, Dec. 21st: I have counted 26 black people in the BNA. This airport does not have Wi-Fi, which is probably good, because I (and probably everyone else my age) am much more productive without it. I‘m sitting on a „soft“ couch under a bunch of bland, Starbucks paintings. To my left sits a child who looks like he‘s wearing lipstick. He has black hair, jersey material pants, a brown, canvas messenger bag, large, piercing eyes and a glossy, black paper bag at his side that reads „Funeral“ in white text. He has been staring at me for so long that it has transcended creepy into something actually kind of amusing. I have no idea how long he can stare at me, but I feel too creepy to stare back at him. I consider making conversation, but a father or someone returns before I get a chance.
9:14PM, Dec. 21st: those pancakes I left on Sylvia‘s dresser sure sound good right now. Hell, the $20 vending-machine flower bouquets are starting to sound good. I‘ve made the mistake of not eating all day and now every overpriced airport store I can find has closed for the evening. I‘ve begun nibbling on vitamins but am kind of worried about I‘ll overdose. That would be an appropriate way to die. Today is Terror Alert: Orange. My vitamins are orange flavored. Coincidence? What my essay presupposes is: what if it isn‘t?
9:36PM, Dec. 21st: why aren‘t there any vending machines in this airport? Nothing but a bunch of white people and freaky little bug-eyed children wearing lipstick.
10:18PM, Dec. 21st: I have a confession. I haven‘t actually looked for any vending machines beyond my immediate line of sight. But when a girl sits down next to me with an unopened Mountain Dew in her left hand, you can believe that I interrogated her hard about it‘s origin.
10:20PM, Dec. 21st: I‘ve located the vending machine. „Go downstairs and then all the way to the left.“ she told me. When I walk downstairs, the machines are to my immediate right.
I purchase one of the following:
Brother Kane Potato Chips: Cracked Pepper with Salt – Fresh From Our Family Farm.
Kraft Nabisco Wheat Thins Toasted Veggie Chips (Made with Real Vegetables)
Lance Fresh Real Peanut Butter Toasty Crackers
Frito Lay Munchos Brand Potato Crisps – A Light Tasting Crispy Snack
10:25PM, Dec. 21st: the problem with vending machine purchases with dietary restriction is that it can be difficult to determine which items are vegan without having to first purchase them.
The Brother Kane bag thanks me for purchasing their product and mistakenly assumes I smile while I eat its contents. They taste exactly like you would expect. The Brother Kane company motto is „THERE‘S NOTHING LIKE A CHIP, UNLESS IT‘S ON YOUR SHOULDER.“ I can‘t even begin to understand what this is supposed to mean. Vegan: Yes
The „Kraft Nabisco Wheat Thins Toasted Veggie Chips Made with Real Vegetables“ start out pleasant, but taste progressively worse with every chip. I suspect that they initially only tasted good because almost anything tastes good when your stomach is on the verge of eating itself. They eventually taste so bad I can‘t bring myself to finish them. But, redeemably, they do have an interesting, jagged-edged shape. The bag is yellow but does not offer me any presumptuous bullshit message about being a family business. The word „Kraft“ is printed on the bag five times. Vegan: No
I more or less inhale these „Lance Fresh Real Peanut Butter“ crackers. There are six of them in a translucent wrapper and they all taste the same: salty and crunchy and kind of like peanut butter. I suspect that these will be the staple of my airport diet for the next couple of hours. Vegan: Yes
The „Frito Lay Munchos Brand Potato Crisps“ are indeed crispy. I think they‘re deep-fried longer than other potato chips, because they have a bubbled, insulated texture to them as if they‘d began to boil. They taste like what one might imagine salty, deep-fried paper to taste like. Again, this bag offers no origin story and I find myself offended for not even being given the chance to be lied to, which is almost interesting. Vegan: No
10:44PM, Dec. 21st: I am sad and angry. The reality that Sylvia began dating someone named Michael mere hours before I arrived has just set in. I am sitting alone in an airport eating „Munchos“ wondering what is my life.
10:57PM, Dec. 21st: I just re-read one of the previous sentences about wanting to eat a $20 vending-machine bouquet and am seriously considering doing it.
11:26PM, Dec. 21st: he BNA Wi-Fi password is not „password“
11:28PM, Dec. 21st: there are two girls in this airport with the same black and white houndstooth pattern coats. They also both have ponytails. And purses.
11:57PM, Dec. 21st: I am considering purchasing Gatorade.
12:28AM, Dec. 22nd: I am in the BNA Meditation Room wondering why there is a large, tiled wall. I can count nineteen bibles and and a box for prayer requests. On the carpet is a round dark parachute shape that points cardinal north. I assume that the tiled wall has something to do with prayer, but I feel kind of dumb for not knowing which religion or why. The varying sizes and the pattern of the tiles are pretty.
12:38AM, Dec. 22nd: this meditation/prayer room is probably safe enough to sleep in without having to worry about my stuff being stolen. But it‘s not nearly as „soft“ as those „soft“ couches I was at earlier. I need guidance now more than ever.
12:44AM, Dec. 22nd: I spent 10 quarters on a bottle of red Powerade. I used to love this when I was twelve. I don‘t know why. I hate airports.
12:49AM, Dec. 22nd: this meditation room is boring and I‘m afraid that if there is a god, it‘ll send a power surge my way and ruin my laptop.
12:54AM, Dec. 22nd: someone is sitting on MY „soft“ couch!
1:16AM, Dec. 22nd: I fall asleep on a puffy, booth style bench.
3:33AM, Dec. 22nd: I wake up.
3:35AM, Dec. 22nd: I fall asleep.
4:02AM, Dec. 22nd: I wake up.
4:04AM, Dec. 22nd: I fall asleep.
4:23AM, Dec. 22nd: I wake up.
4:45AM, Dec. 22nd: holy shit, where did all these people come from? I‘m not waiting in that line. Yeah fucking right, I‘m waiting in that line. Why am I sneezing so much? Yeah fucking right I‘m sneezing this much. Why is my nose so runny?
4:48AM, Dec. 22nd: I see a third person in a black and white houndstooth pattern coat. Was there are sale or something?
5:58AM, Dec. 22nd: I sit alone at gate C8, grumpy that my flight to Austin was delayed two and a half hours and no one bothered to tell me. Why is no one else at this gate?
5:59AM, Dec. 22nd: I am supposed to be on the plane to Houston, not Austin.
5:59AM, Dec. 22nd: OH SHIT!
6:00AM, Dec. 22nd: breathless at gate C23. I have never moved so fast before in an airport.
Wednesday, December 22nd 2010
I used to get this same feeling when I listened to Interpol songs early in the morning after waking up from 2 hours of sleep to go roll newspapers: everything is faster than I ever realize. I think it has something to do with sleep deprivation and my inability to perceive things at the normal speed. But it occurs to me right now as we take off that this airplane is moving really, really fast. Like, dangerously fast. This airplane is extremely dangerous. It is a giant explosive machine that disgruntled persons use to blow up buildings. If something were to malfunction inside this airplane, I would in almost all probability die. Now, I understand this isn‘t exactly revelatory information, but it‘s my ability to prevent myself from doing what average Americans do when their lives are in danger that catches my attention. My initial reaction is to pray to some higher being for safety, but I‘m sitting here in 15A, telling myself „Don‘t do it. Prayer is stupid. That‘s what Obama supporters do.“ The plane is shaking and moments away from ascending when I come to understand that if this plane is going to crash, it is going to crash. I can‘t do anything about it. No matter how hard I try or wish or plan or fantasize, ultimately things aren‘t in my control. Pilots will have strokes, or wheels won‘t descend, or boyfriends will appear out of nowhere with the same name as you. I have no control over anything. Hardly even myself. This is life. That‘s just the way it is.
When I get home I‘ll probably give away all my things and move to a different state. I‘ll write an impressively long essay about rollerblading and the internet and my obsession with someone very dear. Then with hopeful eyes I will look toward the horizon and at the new year ahead of me. In all likelihood I still won‘t be prepared.
-Michael Kraft, 2010
 There‘s debate over the proper name of this maneuvre. The descriptivist rollerbladers who mostly all learned the trick names wrong (which are, upon learning, admittedly confusing and unabashedly stupid) argue that, like any language, the meaning of words change over time and that changing trick names to make them easier to understand is simply a natural progression. Prescriptivists of the rollerblading world tend to argue that the names of tricks are The Names Of Tricks, and that people only resist labling them correctly to be contrarian and generally so they‘re not wrong and don‘t look stupid. I will note, though, that I don‘t think that whole thing is necessarily dichotomic, because both the names „Truespin Savannah“ and „Backside Savannah“ are equally dumb. But it does raise some interesting questions about who decides what words mean.
 The significance of pants in rollerblading is both deep-seeded and embarrassing.