Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Cheap Skateboard Betrayal


We were runts. We were the squirts at the bottom of the campus totem pole. As eighth graders, we were the lowest grade at our five year high school, the junior high schools having been shut down in the late 70's, due to budget cuts in the city of La Mirada. At 13-years-old, it would be months, even years before some of us reached our growth spurts. The juniors and seniors at the high school seemed to tower over us.

Some days I rode my skateboard to school, if I wasn't carrying my trumpet case to 'zero period' jazz band. It was a cheap skateboard but it worked. It was salmon pink in color, just reddish enough not to look like a girl's skateboard, so the color never bothered me.

It may have been made of compressed fiber glass, I'm not sure. But it looked like it was made of thick plastic, which looked more like candle wax when it got scuffed. My Aunt Pat had given it to me for our first Christmas back in the U.S., after we had moved back from Japan. I was 10-years-old when I received it. I hadn't seen any skateboards as a kid in Japan, so I was happy to have such a very American toy.

But it wasn't a cool skateboard, not for a junior high school student, and especially not at a high school campus. The cool skateboards were much bigger and more expensive. They looked like mini surfboards, almost, made of flat, sturdy wood and lined with black strips of non-skid material. They were true status symbols.

I didn't care that my skateboard was smaller, something that should have been left behind with the other toys from elementary school days. As a runty eighth grader, I had already found acceptance among the other social misfits in the school's marching band. I didn't have to worry about anyone making fun of me for my cheap skateboard, not around the band room, at least. Hanging outside the band room with the other band geeks, during the mid morning snack break and at lunch, was always a safe haven.

Shawn was one of the other eighth graders in band. He played percussion, mostly bass drum which was funny because he was shorter and punier than me. He practically looked like a sixth grader with the giant coin of a bass drum strapped to him for halftime practices in the mornings.

During snack break one morning, Shawn asked to borrow my skateboard. He rode it up and down, short distances, past the band room and theater department, and back again to the gated entrance by the one of the side streets.

"I'm going to the snack bar to get something to eat," Shawn told me. "I'll be right back."

I panicked a little. "Leave the skateboard here. Don't take it with you!"

Shawn must have thought I was worried about not getting it back. "Don't worry! I'll bring it right back!" He rolled away, past the theater department and toward the main quad area in front of the gym.

I'm not sure why I ended up at the snack bar, too, a few minutes later. I almost never went, mostly because there was never enough extra money for a daily Hostess fruit pie or a bag of potato chips. I must have agreed to walk over with one of the other band geeks.

I saw Shawn waiting in line among a crowd of students, most of them taller than us. And most of them cooler than us, if only for the fact that they weren't in band. Some of them had the cooler, bigger wooden skateboards.

I'll never forget the look of embarrassment and slight fear in Shawn's eyes, behind his glasses. Without a word, he kicked the skateboard to me as I approached the snack bar lines. My face heated up with embarrassment as I picked up the salmon pink skateboard. This was exactly what I had wanted to avoid - having people see my stupid, baby toy among all of the more sophisticated skateboards.

Shawn never said a word about it to me later, back in the band room, or any time after that.

One of the reasons I remember this event is that I wrote about it in my journal. For some reason, I wrote that Shawn had run up to me later to apologize, and to thank me for taking on the embarrassment of the situation.

He never did that. But even in my own private journal I felt the need to tweak as much of a happy ending as possible for that entry. I guess I also felt the need to protect Shawn, even if I was upset with him.

This was more than thirty years ago. I am reconnected with Shawn on facebook, now. I have never brought this memory up to him. I'm sure he doesn't remember it.

2 comments:

The Expat Wife said...

My skateboard was the same! It was yellow :) Thankfully I lived in a country town small enough that all the other 10 year olds didn't think anything of my cheap plastic skateboard.

I really loved this entry, it was a bit sad but reminded me so much of me except I was a library geek (they didn't really do school band in Australia)

Happy to be a new follower to your blog

Peter Varvel said...

Thank you so much, Expat Wife!