Have you seen Bones Brigade: An Autobiography? Well if you’ve ever skateboarded, marveled at their abilities in a video, or want to see poetry in motion, watch this documentary.
The 2012 film is about the 1980s skateboarding team, Bones Brigade, assembled by Stacy Peralta and George Powell. This film is emotionally and physically powerful. The riders tell their stories and we watch footage showing how they went from the vertical verve of swimming pools to the big air of ramps and how freestyle evolved into street. We see Tony Hawk as a gangly and well-padded teenager riding, sliding and grinding in an empty pool while Rodney Mullen shows off his mastery of freestyle, riding not just wheels down, but using every side of the board for his tricks. Watching footage of Tony Hawk, I realized that we might have been in the same grade if we went to school together.
I made a diamond-plated steel deck skateboard in my fifth grade metal shop at Nauset Regional Middle School in Orleans, Massachusetts. Using the band saw, with the teacher standing beside me, I cut out the deck of my new skateboard. It had a surfboard shape, pointy at the nose, and a chopped rear end. I hit the toggle power switch on the grinder and it whirred to life. I pushed it into the spinning disk and it sounded like a machine gun, tat a tat tat a tat tat a tat, and the sparks came flying off that thing like sparklers on the fourth of July. I rested my board on the table in front of the grinder and pushed it gently at first into the spinning wheels. Ggggrrrrr. Crap! I just gouged a groove in the rail, forgetting that you have to move the deck side to side. I remember putting the deck in a large vice, and I bent the kicktail to my liking. I remember it was a big deal when the wheels came in. We had been staring at the trucks for what seemed like months. In fact, I think I made a lamp while we waited for the wheels to arrive. Those polyurethane wheels were gold! No, more like rays of sunshine because you could see into them, like a kaleidoscope. They were clear. That summer my sister Lynne and I practically rode the wheels off that board, but I remember one night the best. We had fireflies and firecrackers, like every summer. I can still see those kicktail flames lighting up the end of my summer night run down the driveway into Nanumet Drive.
In their video Animal Chin, these kids are on the road sharing a hotel room and sleeping with their boards. It reminded me of Hendrix lying horizontal with his guitar, or Gretzky sleeping with his hockey stick or me with my journal open on my chest, asleep, still gripping a pen. Most people who are passionate about something seem to have spent some time sleeping with their objects of affection.
“The objects we grow up with help form our sense of the world” Elizabeth Kostova writes in the current Poets & Writers magazine article “No Ideas but in Things: The importance of First Objects.” This is true not only for athletes, and musicians, and writers, but for amputees too. For leg amputees, I’d go a step further and say, our prosthesis forms our sense of self because without we have limited mobility without a prosthesis. That said, I can count the number of times I actually slept with my leg on. It’s probably less than my ten fingers and five toes.
Many of the men interviewed from the team weep openly at the memory of the time they spent in the Bones Brigade. With his head leaning to the side Lance Mountain sheds a tear at the power of the relationships, the memories, and the experience in the Bones Brigade, a team he never felt worthy of being a part of, now or then. Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk were called “freaks” not by their families or their teammates, but by other skateboarders. In part, they were doing things their peers didn’t understand. They weren’t just skating, they were creating and innovating. In the documentary, Mullen said we “create through controlled desperation.”
I miss my circa 1978 skateboard. It sat, mostly unused in the cellar for 20 years. Every once in a while I’d hop on it, goofy foots always, and tip back the tail, or do a 180 while looking out for the lally column to make sure if I fell I wouldn’t crack my skull open on the way to the cement floor. When we moved to Alabama, I donated it to the swap shop at the dump. I hope some kid got a few kicks, or learned a few tricks before she cut her ankle on the unforgiving steel rails.
In the film, Rodney Mullen talked about the community he had as part of the skateboarding team and how it had its own vocabulary, expression, and motion. He talks today about the importance of community, but I think they had more than community, it was a culture. Writers, Kostova says, “don’t outgrow the realm of childhood observation; in a way, we stay stuck in a sense of the vividness of things.” It is this vividness of prosthetics and the character of amputees, both in life and literature that I’ve been exploring and writing for about six years. Kostova reminds writers that” the first objects we really study in life teach us not only to see but to look.” Looking at Hawk, Mountain, and Mullen as individuals connected to the skateboarding scene, I see how my prosthesis connects me to an amputee culture. I call us The Leg Bones Brigade.