Stage 1: Childhood Victories

This was shockingly difficult. When I look back over my childhood, there are just not that many things I can really be proud of. No serious victories. I was kind of a crap kid, honestly.

I did win the election for school president in fifth grade, but I remember next to nothing about that. I recall writing a very weird and egotistical speech about how you should vote for me because I was awesome.

I’m kind of still giving that speech today; I feel very strange saying “I promise I will do this and that,” because honestly most of those promises don’t work. My two opponents in the race were a girl who promised to get teachers to stop giving pop quizzes, and a boy who promised to make sure we don’t get sour milk in the cafeteria.

And even at that age, I was sitting there thinking “what the hell can they do about either of those things?” – because seriously, the school president has absolutely no power. It’s a figurehead position where you don’t really get to do anything meaningful.

Plus, it was just a couple of weeks before the administration decided I was setting a bad example and should be removed from office. You know, to remind everyone that student government is – in the end – a complete sham under the total control of the administration.

Which I guess is a sort of victory. Kind of a pyrrhic victory, though.

My parents were less than helpful when I mentioned this assignment to them. Both my father and my mother essentially suggested that I should talk about victories they think I achieved… which I never did.

My father told this extensive story about how proud he was that I taught myself to ride a bike without any help from anyone when I was six. And I scratched my head, then said “Keith Lee taught me how to ride a bike in Italy by pushing me down a hill.”

So he said “you were eight in Italy!” and I said “I know,” and he said “you rode a bike when you were six,” and I said “no, I rode a skateboard when I was six, because we couldn’t afford to buy another bike after the kid down the street stole my Free Spirit that we bought from Sears – so you got me a fluorescent blue plastic Free-Former skateboard instead.”

At which point my mom chimed in and said that happened years later in Ohio when I didn’t lock up my bike outside the Outback steakhouse. So I pointed out that the bike which was stolen outside the steakhouse years later was a Huffy Pro Thunder III, and that we didn’t have an Outback steakhouse in Dayton – it was the Ponderosa next door to the Arby’s.

And then my dad jumped in to complain that he knows we got me the skateboard in Ohio because he remembers wanting to buy me one of the big fat boards and I insisted on the skinny one, which I reminded him was because I was a downhill skater, not a ramp skater. So he said “Then you didn’t have one when you were six!” and I said “but don’t you remember we went to skateboard parks in Italy and Germany?” and then he was confused.

Which ultimately led me to the one real victory of my childhood: I placed 12th for speed downhill in the Free-Former Midwest regionals in 1981. It’s the only real athletic accomplishment I ever earned in my life, earned on an open field among competitors from multiple states.

Had I placed 10th or better, I would have been qualified to compete in the nationals… not that it would have mattered, because there’s no way in hell my parents would have taken or sent me to California for some stupid skateboard competition. It is very nearly the best I could have done – I could have placed eleventh, but tenth or better would have just made it a big suck-bucket.

And I remember absolutely nothing about it.

I don’t even remember competing. All I remember is checking the board when the times got posted, and finding myself second from the top on the little pages. The top ten were printed in large, bold letters, five to a page, and those two pages were posted up on the top.

Underneath it were all the little people, two pages which were really more like a page and a third. About forty or fity people, all told. The top ten from Ohio, Indiana, and two or three other states. I started at the bottom because I was just sure I wasn’t at the top.

I don’t remember the local and state competitions, either. I just liked to go fast. It was the end of the seventies, and I was a day late and a dollar short – while the freestyle and trick skating movement was just getting started, I was still stuck in the “speed is king” mindset.

Almost a decade later, I would be given a motorised vehicle summons for going 48 in a 45 zone, to which I would respond in court by holding up my skateboard and proclaiming that it was most certainly not a motorised vehicle.

Skateboarding is not a crime, after all.

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