Skate or Die: A Tale of Toxic Masculinity

It was the year 2001 and I was watching tv in my dorm. Really, it was married student housing at the University of Utah, because that is a thing there, and I was married. It isn’t BYU but Utah is still Utah.

So I get a knock on my door and it’s this guy, Brooks, who I knew, but we had never hung out. “Hey we were just wondering if you wanted to go longboard with us?” I didn’t quite understand the question. He must have seen this on my face because he quickly explained, “See we have two guys and two boards, but we need a third to drive so we can see.”

The extra explanation had a direct correlation to my confusion. I looked outside over his shoulder to some other guy, who I reeeally didn’t know. He nodded hello.

It was late January and late evening, maybe 7 or 8. I looked back inside at my sofa, at the tv, and still not having any real idea of what they were asking, I shrugged my shoulders and said “cool”.

Riding in the Volkswagen bus up into the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two people ride the longboards, which I confirmed were just long skateboards, down the canyon, with the bus following right behind to both block any traffic from coming up behind, as well as to light the way ahead with the high beams.

“Cool. So you want me to drive. Got it.”

“Well yeah, but we figured we could just take turns ya know. Like we just thought a third would help us all get in more runs.”

“Ah. Cool. Thanks man.”

This is where I finally realized what we were doing. These dudes had me at the top of a canyon, in winter, at night, with intentions of riding a skateboard down the mountain.

I was terrified. This was not, nor is it, the sort of thing I do. I hadn’t been on a skateboard since I was in elementary school and part of why I stopped back then, was that I have never been a physical risk taker. I don’t like falling down on hard surfaces or doing things for fun that involve risk, or really, any high level of skill, because I don’t have that.

But, I was, and I fear at times still am, a bit of a bro, and what this means is that while being mortally afraid, which I was, I also thought this sounded kinda cool, which by itself would have never been a good  enough reason to get me to consider a nighttime death ride. But you see, I didn’t really know Brooks that well. He was just this guy with Geek Sheik glasses who lived downstairs- but here he was acting all casual, asking me if I wanted to do something death defying like it was no big deal. Knocking on my door like the only concern was whether or not I had something else planned that evening.

Which I didn’t.

And like I said, the bro in me was more afraid of confessing to a dude I didn’t know well, that I was afraid, than I was of riding down a mountain on a plank with no brakes. That’s messed up. I hope I’ve grown since then, but at this point introspection is a tangent when the point is recollection, and retelling the action.

So when it became clear I would be riding a board, I just shrugged and said, “Cool.”

It wasn’t till I was standing outside in front of the headlights, with a board in my hands that I worked up the nerve to ask honest questions.

“So like, how do I slow down? Or, ya know, stop?”

“Well you just sort of carve back and forth across the lanes and that should keep your speed in check for the most part. Then, If you start to pick up too much speed you just sort of jump off. Like point the board off to the side of the road  so we don’t lose it and just hit the ground running.”

I dropped the board on the ground, gave it a small nudge, hopped on, then hopped right off to practice.

“Yeah man you got it!” they sort of stated, not quite a cheer but definitely an encouragement, and most definitely a “let’s get this show on the road.”

So we did.

I pointed the board down, and pushed off for real this time.

I wasn’t sure if the rumblings were vibrations from the blacktop, or me shaking, but I was moving.

I leaned left, then right, a couple turns, then afraid to even get to second gear,  I jumped off. It worked just like they said. The board sort of skipped and rolled into a snowbank and I just kinda bounce jogged right after it. Brooks did the same.

Alright alright alright… maybe this will work.

We pushed off again and I things started to change.

I started to feel it.

This was the moment, the time I began to enjoy the experience, when I also realized that I was at least twice Brooks size and we were playing with gravity. I had outpaced my wingman and consequentially the headlights, by about 50 yards and I was not slowing down.

I thought I should bail. I should do it now. But I was right there- just past my comfort level. Juuuust a bit too fast, so I started to think up a plan B.

I started eyeing the snowbanks on the side of the road. Falling into snow, even going fast, is no big deal, and here I was with huge snow banks, glowing in the night, on both sides, ready to catch and preserve my life.

Knowing I was going to crash, but I would live, I relaxed. I decided to do what I never do, and just sort of go for it.

I leaned in.

Looking up I could not just see into the void, but I could feel myself moving through it. I felt the road rumble up through my feet to my knees but there it melted into waves. By the time it hit my hips, then my shoulders, and finally face it was all just cool wind. It whipped through my hair and forced my cheeks up into a smile.

I loved it.

“Twas bliss.

Then the snowbanks disappeared.

Replaced by a guardrail.

Travelling at an unholy speed down an ungodly canyon my only saving grace was replaced by a device meant to damn the progress of those in danger- but now promised to be my destruction.

The rail was on a curve. I tried to take it, leaning in and whatnot, but I could not.

The board went one way and I went the other. Suspended in the air I started my feet and legs running, proving my previous doubts of Wyle E Coyote’s experience wrong, and just like he, I did eventually fall. I touched down with one foot.

Then the other.

But my top half was faster and I tumbled.

It is natural, though not advisable, to put out one’s hands when falling. Especially on pavement.

I was picking said pavement out of my palms for the next two weeks and it was at least four months before I could bear a push-up.

When I returned home that night my wife informed me of a post mortal truth, that at the gates to heaven there are two lines. The first; is full of cancer patients, martyrs, those who died in righteous acts, and innocent children. The second, is full of stupid white people who died doing things like hang gliding.

She went on to explain that she would be in the first line and had no intentions of waiting for me if I wasn’t.

That was a long time ago and I have grown. I am not dead, we are still married, and I may still have hope.

How Safe Are “They” From “Our” Fear?

I’m in a Facebook group. It’s a sort of neighborhood watch for the development in which I live, and it has shown me more about where I live, than physically living here ever has.

When we first moved here we took home baked cookies to all the houses on the block with no observable consequences. People were friendly enough, but we haven’t had a follow up conversation with anyone since, at least not in person.

Our real introduction came last Thanksgiving. I saw a notice from Facebook that the group had new comments. I opened it up to see a long thread of mean-spirited notes about parking. It included a story about how multiple complaints had been previously made, there were accusations of inconsideration, and lots of rhetorical questions of how stupid someone must be to park such a way. There was absolute consensus that not only was this bad parking and bad form, but that something must be done. Yes, the abuse had gone on too long and gone too far.

The best part of the thread was the photo of my car.

There it was, plain to see, with passenger side tires on the sidewalk. I had indeed parked it that way- and did so on a regular basis. But there was also another car, my next-door neighbor’s, right in front of mine, parked the same way.

The day we took our initial tour of the property as potential tenants I noticed that this block parked on the walk. I thought it a bit odd, but funny enough, not new to me. I had previously lived 7 years on a narrow block where one had to park similarly in order for cars to have room enough to pass. That was back when I first learned that rear view mirrors folded in for reasons other than the car wash. But that was then and there, here, in my new suburban community with a gate out front, the road was wider, but I shrugged and followed suit. I did as the Romans without asking why.

And here were the Romans ready to turn me into pre-revolutionary Spartacus.

I posted an apologetic comment with a promise to reform, and a deferential request that if I offend in the future, that I would be happy to atone-especially if my errors were in fact brought to my attention.

The thread did a turn-about. There were apologies and discussions about actually getting to know each other in person. One of our neighbors even brought us over a Black Lives Matter yard flag and the moderator of the group even changed its name from a “watch” to a “community”. I appreciated that act. The online reform was sort of nice.

Sort of.

Since then, I have seen things.

Mostly complaints about the front gate not working. There was that one time someone posted a picture of a crane, like the long-necked bird, walking through the subdivision, and then the images of stray trash cans after a windstorm. But I also saw doorbell pictures of the neighbor’s children who I knew, with the heading “beware white car using children to steal packages.” I know those kids from church. They were delivering gifts to the homes of other members of our congregation. I saw a blurry image of a kid on a BMX bike with the text, “Does anyone know this person? He is suspiciously riding around the neighborhood.”

I didn’t know him nor could anyone from the image quality. Photos of cars are posted regularly being declared suspicious or unknown with the caution to beware. I have seen pictures of teenagers hanging out at the park with the caption “troublemakers hanging out at the park being disrespectful.”

And then there was that one time someone posted a video of what appeared to be a teenaged girl wearing a bikini and slippers standing, and sort of dancing, in the middle of the street.

The person taking the video was asking the girl to identify herself and repeatedly asked her if she lived in the community. She refused to answer. The person who posted the video, who I am guessing was the videographer, was asking the community if anyone knew her and insinuated the girl was on drugs.

I wondered to myself why the avenue of the filmer’s inquiry was bikini girl’s address. She was being asked to prove where she lived, insinuating she didn’t live here, which in tun insinuated that the acceptability of her behavior hinged on her residence as well as the assumption that people who own these homes are incapable of acting that way.

Curious. The nature of poster’s question disturbed me much more than the girl’s exposed stomach and legs.

The video was quickly taken down.

Just yesterday there was a complaint about illegal fireworks that inspired the moderator requesting decorum.

The resulting comments included a man who insisted this online group exist as a watch, because people are too dangerous these days to speak with in person. I, not exactly naïvely but with misplaced hope, offered that in order for community to exist, we must be willing to engage each other directly. He did not agree.

He aggressively countered with “Have you ever had your life threatened?” because he of course had. “Had I ever had someone threaten to kill me just because I asked their children to get off my property?” Because of course he had, and he will never talk to anyone with whom he doesn’t already have a relationship, because people will shoot you for no reason these days.

I withdrew from participation on that thread without pointing out that no one had in fact shot him for no reason in his anecdote. Nor did I post the local crime data I Googled.

Our little city does indeed have incidents of crime; packages are stolen from porches, houses get burgled, and someone painted a penis on the picnic table at the park. Last year, 2 people were murdered. That gave us a 2.2% murder rate, compared to a national average of 6. We have an assault score of 194 compared to a national 282, robbery at 60 compared to 135 nation-wide, and burglaries come in at 329! The national average is 500.

All of these scores have declined since 2017.

I am having trouble understanding my neighbor’s fear.

In fairness, part of this, or even most of this, lack of understanding comes from me not actually knowing my neighbor.

Another part is fed by where I lived before.

My previous neighborhood’s murder rate was 22%. Not 2.2, that is where I live now, but rather “twenty-two”. Assault scored 486, robbery 331, but then burglaries were closer, coming in at 409 (note, Philadelphia is below the national average in burglaries!!!). I was there for almost 8 years, experienced several conflicts with neighbors, and yet, unlike my suburban neighbor, no one threatened to kill me.

I am not relating this to win, danger is not a contest, but more because I worry about fear. People make poor choices when they are afraid, or rather, we are willing to go to extremes when danger is perceived. And fear is a feeling, a perception, not an analysis of data.

I experience danger and fear differently than some. I am just over six feet tall and a bit more than “just” over 200 pounds. I am an adult white man who appears middle class. I walk the world, both corporate corridors and back alleys, knowing that I am physically more imposing than average people and that if cops are called, they will likely see me as an ally or at least they will listen when I speak.

Not everyone has these privileges.

But my fearful neighbor does. Unless he is using a misleading avatar, he is a grown white man just like me. But he is afraid – of me. I don’t think he is anomalous.

I have never hurt anyone, nor even attempted to hurt anyone (sports don’t count) in my life, and yet my Facebook neighbors feel fear. The data show that the things to be feared, are not likely. I do not know what has happened to all those who live nearby, but I can calculate the likelihood. But that isn’t the issue as much as their impressions are.

Now, as I go outside for some COVID fresh air, and ride my bike, or cruise on my long board, or walk with my kids, I know that behind those doors are people who see me first with suspicion and possibly as a threat. Me, and I don’t feel welcomed or safe.

And then I imagine what it must be like for those who aren’t large middle class white men.

How welcome are Black women or brown men? How safe do those who aren’t physically imposing, or whom the police don’t assume are safe, feel? If you are so afraid of me that we cannot speak, how do you react to them?

How safe are they from your fear?

If I don’t know you, or if we won’t get to know each other, how can we fix this? And also, most disappointingly, because of who is afraid and how fearful people act, it looks like it is completely up to those who are feared to attempt building bridges.

We can be better.

Now is the Time for We Who Have, To Give.

It rained this week for the first time in 7 months.

I took the time to go walking in the foothills so I could smell the sage brush’s sweetness thick in the air. These days I spend most of my time at home. We all do. Or should.

I commute down the stairs, shop in the kitchen, dine-out on the patio. I work on a screen with a keyboard and camera. The kids are at school upstairs. I can hear one running in place for gym while the other discusses a book with a teacher she has never really met. I talk and I type. I toggle from one platform to another, meeting after meeting, spreadsheets and PowerPoints.

I have ordered 23 bottles of non-alcoholic spirits online. I have learned to mix zero proof martinis, Manhattans, even a gin fizz. Seven months ago I had never mixed a thing. My hair is long. I have cut it once since we all came inside, I paid a private person to cut it in their kitchen. I think I like my hair long and my professional world doesn’t seem to mind, so it stays. It is like the young me is trying to peek through the wear, tear, and weight of the me sitting here now. He is welcome as long as he behaves and doesn’t try to crowd out the better me I have become.

I have oft complained about suburban life and its anti-social construction. Out here we put up walls and fences, gates to our neighborhood, rules about lawn height and house paint. We move about in isolated metal boxes only coming within ten feet of another person in the grocery store or the mall. No one comes into our personal space unless we invite them in to see our new granite counter tops or we need them to fix the air conditioner.

I find it incredibly uncooperative and over protective and now I have to admit it may be saving my life. I am relatively safe from COVID-19 and I am absolutely living in comfort.

A lot of people are not.

Many have jobs and homes but work in those grocery stores or hospitals. Some have lost their jobs and worry they will now lose their homes. Some are staying home with unpleasant people while others are locked down all alone. Some, too many, have moved from homes into hospitals. Others even worse. I should be, and am, grateful.

But gratitude feels a little like gloating if it isn’t accompanied by something other than taking and keeping. I feel there should be a next step. A more. But maybe not just giving back. Giving back to others who have given turns those gifts into transactions. Those are fine, if that is what they are, but in closing that loop we remain closed in- or off. These circles don’t help anyone outside a preexisting loop, and most of us that are doing fine, are doing so in large part because we are lopped in.

So I need to open up. We need to give out. Gratitude for what I have is best expressed by sharing with those without.

And how do I do that while locked inside my safe suburban home? COVID safe behind closed doors and community safe within my gated community? I have to do it. Me. I have to think, try, and follow through. If I can spend on mixed mocktails I can also spend on a shelter. If I can Zoom and click for what I want I could find ways to do the same for others, and I should. If I have comfort than I can surely give more. If others are without, I should help. I could give more. I could give almost all. I really could.

I know I could and should give more because in this time of turmoil, where I have a new couch and armchairs, where payroll automatically deposits checks into my bank every month, where the temperature outside doesn’t influence my clothing choices at all, where I click a button and people bring me things right to my door, the things that have made me happiest, are first:

the people in my home, but second- is the dusty smell of the sage brush wafting above the damp ground.

Now is the time for me to help those who don’t have those things.

I will be fine.

I Wasn’t Exactly Born Tough, but I’m surprisingly sold

In general, I am not big on large logos. Nor am I one to conflate casual wear with gym clothes. Nike and polo are great, but both would be better if they just let the clothes be clothes and not billboards. Also, a track suit isn’t meant for the movies.

Unless you are in the movie playing an athlete.IMG_1053

A long time ago I stopped really worrying about how I looked while working out. This was mostly a function of me realizing I would never get back in to any kind of shape if I wasn’t willing to sacrifice some pride- or dignity. It doesn’t matter which as they both hurt the same when sliced. But this lack of worry was also in part caused by my complete disillusionment with most athletic gear. IMG_1048

I do not like flashy gaudy colors and slogans, this is not my house it is a stadium, I am at best giving it 73%, and there is no way in the world that my level of performance needs the latest NASA technology infused compression top.IMG_1063

With all this in mind, about 15 years ago, I discovered small brand designers, hipsters, and people with taste, who make exactly the type of gym clothes I desired. Streamlined cuts. Functional. Simple solid colors- but with a NASA pricetag.

Enter Elite Sports, and Born Tough.

Same company. Two brands. different purposes.

These are now my go-to shorts for all things athletic. Granted, for me, getting up out of a chair is exercise, and the only thing I’m competing against is cardiac arrest, but this pair is the best thing I have found that moves, covers, and lets me jog without worrying my car key is going to fall out of the pocket. They hit that sweet spot in between John Stockton and Shawn Kemp, and they skip the logo. I’m a grown man and unless I once played for, or now own, a franchise, I generally don’t wear their logo. These are perfect.DA4F26AB-9FFA-4C09-B314-A1E799950F2E

The hoodie is heavy duty, simple, and my favorite- it cuts lower in the back, preventing the normal riding up when bending over. This stooping could be done while deadlifting, crossfitting, or in my case, trying to find that chocolate covered almond that just rolled under the coffee table.Whatever the case, it works for me.

And of course, because this is the world I inhabit, these are regular person priced rather than artisanal handcrafted alpaca wool from the Andean high country priced.