By Diverse Means We Arrive At The Same Enders

by Jeremy Klemin

Lisbon, Portugal: July 8th, 2010

I see my mother’s maiden name everywhere. There are firsts. First cousins and first times hearing another person call my own mother cousin, prima. Is it the first time that I realize she is not just a mother but also a cousin, albeit one diluted by a generation. We have no family aside from my grandfather in the US, and so the roles I see her in are limited. Her father, my avô, comes back into her life around the time she and my father break up—one role for the sake of another. I am seventeen years old, and I’ve just graduated from high school. It is my first time leaving the United States, and her first visit to the country in which her father was born. It is the only background she can claim. An only child—Mom was estranged from her mom, who was adopted. Jessica, her name is, was also estranged from her parents somewhere along her own thread. Gambling is genetic, and so why not estrangement, or more specifically, a proclivity towards estranging? In Portugal, more of the same: we are the estranged: The estrangeiros; the foreigners.

And so Mom is (we are) more than happy to sweat in Portugal’s summer because the heat bodes well for bones and her ligaments. Other aspects of Portugal give her problems. The bright-marbleish white calçada, Portuguese decorative pavement, renders her walker all but useless. She is (we are) forced to use a wheelchair in most situations, especially within the center of Lisbon. The wheelchair, too, is a struggle. Pieces of calçada are occasionally missing, and though this is not a problem for the bigger wheels in the back, the smaller wheels occasionally snag loose rubble and could potentially dethrone her. The family has insisted we see Bairro Alto, one of the older parts of the city, now primarily a party destination. Narrow, sloping streets, restaurants or bars on both sides. Occasional apartments higher up, occupied mostly by students who don’t mind the movement or bohemian retirees too old and too comfortable to move. I push her up into Bairro Alto and sweat while doing so because it rarely drops below 70 in the evenings. I do not know Celsius (yet). I sweat and avoid holes in the ground, coming to terms with the fact that I am all in, that a 2 a.m. ice-cold shower awaits me when we return back to her cousin’s house, where we’re staying. I push her up deeper into the bowels of Bairro Alto, Lisbon, Portugal, Old World. We’re bar-hopping, not as a family, but as family: Me and Mom and Gustavo and Marta and Manuel and Camila. I do not speak Portuguese (yet). She does not speak Portuguese. With the family members who don’t speak English, we exchange a slow, groping portuñol, or from their point of view, portunhol. Hours and drinks later, we leave Bairro Alto, going downhill on Largo da Anuncia, the same street we came up. I let gravity do what it does and pretend to let go and prop her up on the back two wheels primarily so the smaller wheels don’t catch anything, but also because it amuses me and it defuses the what are we doing here tension. It’s hard to be happy in Bairro Alto, hard to be happy when Portugal and the Portuguese seem not only apathetic but openly hostile toward Mom’s wheels. Kick, push, coast.

As we begin to flatten out, she thinks, momentarily, that I’ve lost control. I’ve had a few beers. I’m not old enough to drink in my country, but almost everything is permitted here. Mom even has a few drinks—the running joke, nobody will notice if she has had too much. Legend has it that the only time she ever had too much to drink was the day before she met my father’s parents for the first time. She goes over to their house for dinner, and is apparently hungover—I wonder how, hungover, she navigated those four steps into the house, going through the garage and past the old ’94 Cadillac with GRAMMASUE on the license plate. Mom is mortified, thinking that this is a terrible way to meet your boyfriend’s parents for the first time, but Dad comes from a proud, distinguished line of alcoholics. She makes the best possible impression.

How do you say disability in Portuguese? Com deficiencia. With deficiencies. From a Portuguese cousin, in English: “You know…with your mother’s deficiency…”

Grandparents’ House, South Long Beach, California: 1996 – 2001

When my parents divorce, Dad lives with his mom and dad: Johnathon and Susan. John and Sue. Three or four stairs—four, if you count the final, slightly smaller lip leading into the house. The steps themselves are made of cement, which was fun, as a child, for skateboarding. Leading out of the garage, there is a sloping driveway, as if it were a less dramatic riverbank. Dad drags himself up those four steps every day after work; his commute is an hour and a half each way with traffic. I try to imagine him going down the steps, but am met with a blank. With black. How? Not a metaphysical question. Not, “Wow, how did you do it all those years?” Physically. How was it possible, step by step?

I am to be there every weekend, according to law. That is the case at grandparents’ house for the first few years. Microwaved French toast in the mornings, and Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo offshoots and potato chips and solo-handball and a rail and a two-stair in the local 7-Eleven strip mall. California State University, Long Beach is a straight shot down Anaheim Street from the 7-Eleven; it’s a twenty-minute walk to the Orange County border.

When I am young, I’ll ride up, ollie, ride back down in switch in my grandparents’ driveway. When I am less young, I will set up the rail my neighbor gives me and position it on the slope and 5-0 it in its entirety. I remember it well — seven feet long, supporting wings on either end to distribute weight equally, wood painted blue. The metal itself is nondescript and square (not circle, thank goodness) on top of a square block of wood. As I haul it back and forth from the driveway to its designated nook next to the trash cans past the side gate leading into the pool area, I must watch for splinters. As I get older, I visit the house only sporadically. One day, while visiting for Thanksgiving, I discover the rail has been scrapped. Or given away. Makes no difference to me. “By diverse means…

FIVE DISTINCT PHASES FOR DAD:

  1. Can get into house. Lives in house.
  2. Can no longer get into house. Has moved out. (Related? Chicken-or-egg scenario?)
  3. For gatherings, goes through back gate and hangs out in pool area. Pool area physically separated from rest of house by stairs leading up onto the deck, as well as a lip three to four inches high that separates the house from the deck. Must go around the corner of the house near the pool heater to piss—easy on the liquids.
  4. Custom-made ramp, eight by three feet, is laid over the stairs. Fifty pounds, maybe, but requires two people because of its unwieldiness. Metal handles on either side. Dad has to accelerate to make it up the ramp; rather steep. It makes him nervous. He is even more nervous coming down—feels better with two people on each side guiding him. If not David, Bruce. If not Bruce, Joe. I’m still not grown—I usually take the left side and wedge myself in between the ramp and GRAMMASUE’s aforementioned Cadillac. His bulky, electric chair grants him entrance into the house, but, unfortunately, is too large to fit into the hallway that leads to one or two bathrooms. Easy on the liquids, still.
  5. When grandmother’s Caddy is not there, ramp is great for skateboarding. Ride up, kickflip, ride down. Little Christine and Little Nathan will ride their scooters, laughing and kick-turning.
  6. Provisional sixth phase: John dead at ninety-three, Grandma Sue all but gone with dementia. House sold. Maybe new family will drain pool. Maybe someone will skate in it; lord knows I prayed they’d drain it and I’d have my own slice of paradise.

Somewhere between phases one and two, I see my father walking on crutches for the last time. I am in my room, which later becomes the guest room. I must have been, was likely eating potato chips and watching Scooby-Doo, or playing Pokémon Blue and training my Venusaur. I can’t recall for the life of me if he was coming in or just leaving. In dreams, I’ve seen him walk. I’ve seen him walking with Mr. Benoit, of all people—my old high school biology teacher, wheelchair-bound with spina bifida. Or rather I’ve seen them both standing in my dreams, like children imagine adults do, distinguished-looking, chatting, shooting the shit at what a child imagines casual adult cocktail parties look like. One hand in their pocket or holding a drink, the other being used to illustrate what they’re saying. Does Dad use his hands while speaking in real life? Maybe, when using a manual wheelchair, he stopped doing so because his hands were always so scraped up from trying to navigate through narrow door frames. Perhaps not doing so has become a habit.

When I am in high school, Dad and I go watch Mr. Benoit’s wheelchair basketball games. Years later, while visiting home, I will run into Mr. Benoit at a café. Unclear if he really remembers me, or just pretends to. I don’t blame him—the years and the faces fold into themselves. That my father was also disabled was probably the only reason he’d remember me; otherwise I was unremarkable in every sense of the word. I see him leaning against his SUV, loading his wheelchair into the trunk. So he can stand, like my mom, for short periods of time if he is supported by something. I imagine, sooner or later, that this image will supersede the one I have of him in my dreams talking with Dad.

Lourdes, Portugal: July 2010

We’re staying outside of Lisbon—in the suburbs, I suppose? “Suburb” means something different in Europe; the cities are structured differently. I could say that we’re in a different municipalidade, then, but this, too, is imperfect—municipalidades don’t work the same as counties do, not really. In front of the house there is a gate, red-brick, and then eight, nine feet maybe until the porch, which is split-pea green. Light colors, always—for the summers, for heat, for now. We’ve both done the math—three steps into the house, followed by another eight or so to get into the room she is staying in. Going up is easier than going down—she is still young enough to navigate stairs, but being watched aggravates her spasticity and makes everything harder. The back right wheel of her walker often snags the doormat as she enters the house, and the mat is reluctantly brought along.

I am lucky. There is, inexplicably, a skateboard in the house. It is old and damaged by water; the board makes a tired, waterlogged thump as opposed to a sharp crack if you tap it against the concrete. The trucks are far too tight and the wheels too big, a combination which all but promises wheelbite, mas ele serve. I ride down the sloping residential street, walk up, and do it over and over again. One of the benefits of being in Lisbon’s arredores: calçada’s absence. On my trips up and down, I meet the eyes of a large, rather apathetic dog in the neighbor’s yard. I notice him because it’s rare for a dog to seem so utterly disinterested in a skateboarder. Maybe it’s the fact that these wheels are bigger and, in this case, quieter. Maybe Portuguese dogs work according to machinations I don’t understand. A year and a half later, I learn that the owner of the house kills himself because of the financial crisis. A bitter irony—Portugal’s economy is to improve dramatically in the coming years. What becomes of the dog?

Millikan High School, Long Beach, California: 1973/2006

Fun little three-stair stage. Some of it leads into grass, which, for inexperienced skateboarders, is useful for practicing tricks. The real value of the school comes from the benches—the Millikan Benches, as they’re known, are uniform, and maybe two feet high for a stretch of 200–300 feet. They’re made of durable, wood-like plastic, which makes for easy sliding. The Millikan Benches are perfect for lines, and it is for this reason that pros often film here—one can even see the Benches in early videos of Chris Joslin. (The reflexive is so much smoother in Portuguese. Vê-se: one sees.)

Millikan High School, the school where these benches are, is also my father’s alma mater. He attends from 1969–1973. His older siblings go to Wilson High School, also in Long Beach. Dad cannot go to school with his siblings, as not even the ground-floor rooms at Wilson are wheelchair accessible. The school is named after President Woodrow Wilson, who, ironically, had a stroke and was subsequently disabled for the tail end of his time in office. Had dyslexia as well.

And so the universe generally and the indifference of people in power specifically see to it that Dad goes to Millikan instead. Millikan wants to send him to Jordan, a high school much farther away, but Dad is in luck. The Board of Education member in charge of special ed affairs happens to be my father’s former elementary school principal. Dad is able to convince his old principal to let him stay at the school. For my mother, the process is altogether less agreeable. Her district also insists she go to a special education school. Mom’s mom, the estranged one, is severely bipolar and prone to outbursts, but somewhere in her rage there is a damaged, fierce love for Mom. She threatens to sue the school if they don’t let Mom attend. She would have done it, too—this is the same woman who attacked the IRS after they made a mistake on her taxes and received a formal letter of apology. Unsurprisingly, Mom is allowed to stay in the school district. Otherwise, she would have gone to a school for people with learning disabilities. I wonder, often, who these adults with advanced degrees are that, upon meeting my parents face-to-face, insist that they should be in classes with learning-impaired students. I wonder, too, whether these adults with advanced degrees are more ignorant than the adults who ask me if I inherited my parents’ respective birth defects. It’s a crowded field.

Dad finishes high school in 1973, the same year that the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 passes. It is one of the first comprehensive bills to address disability and educational access. Though limited at the time, it is seen as a precursor to the larger, more substantive Americans with Disabilities Act of 1989.

Should the Senate Approve the “Americans with Disabilities Act of 1989”?

For: Kennedy, American Telephone and Telegraph, Barrier Free Environments, Inc., Berkowitz and Dean, Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities.

Against: Assoc. of Christian Schools International, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Greyhound Lines, Inc., National Federation of Independent Business, National Assoc. of Theatre Owners.

“When Congress first debated the ADA, the Association of Christian Schools International successfully led the charge to exempt religious groups from provisions that required private entities to remove any barriers that hindered access for the disabled (otherwise known as Title III).” — Pamela Tatz, Ed Excellence

“I wanted to leaf through court documents and cut myself off from the world.” Antonio Di Benedetto, Zama (tr. Esther Allen)

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A BRIEF ESSAY IN QUOTATIONS REGARDING THE NON-WALKER’S DISTANCE FROM GOD

  • “My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.” —Bruce Chatwin 
(Safe to assume he means walkers as in those who walk, and not the walker Mom uses? If so, what a shame. If not, what brand?)
  • “Today we go into the Gospel according to Matthew and look at a verse related to yesterday’s subject mentioning we should walk uprightly according to the Truth of the Gospel of Christ Jesus our Lord. Today we are reminded of the two paths in life, the straight and narrow which leads to life, and the wide, broad gate which leads to destruction.” —Workmen for Christ
  • “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” —Matthew 18:8
  • Ambulare pro Deo”—To walk for God, to wander for God. 
(Bipedal, necessarily? What is the Latinate for two legs and four wheels?)
  • “The wanderer uses his own legs to walk around the road to Eden, if he walks strenuously enough, he arrives before time.” —Bruce Chatwin, The Nomadic Alternative (unpublished)
  • “As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” —John 9:2

A BRIEF ESSAY, THIS TIME, REGARDING THE SKATEBOARDER’S DISTANCE FROM GOD

  • Thrasher: Most famous skateboarding brand. Insignia? Goat with horns; 666 on forehead. Pentagram between a pair of skateboarding trucks
  • Natas Kaupas, professional skateboarder in early 80s. Name spelled backwards, sataN. Any shirt bearing his name, when in front of a mirror, consequently, reads sataN. His brand, unsurprisingly, banned in schools. Natas and co. lean into it—instead of a problem, a selling point

Untitled, JennyD, Honorary True Christian™

If he is not using the skating
as a means to witness to others or to otherwise glorify God
then he is sinning

Anything which distracts us from glorifying God is a sin
A sport played for the sole purpose of glorifying God is not a sin
The same sport played for fun is for personal amusement and
Therefore
a sin

Untitled, James Hutchins, True Christian™

History has proven
time and time again
skateboarding leads to trouble

You skate punks rob the elderly
and harass decent folks
and ride on your devil boards at the strip mall

Untitled, Pastor Billy-Reuben, On FIRE For Jesus

If you’re out tooling around on your skateboard
Doing ollies and whatnot
Then that’s taking time away from doing God’s work
1 Thessalonians 5:22

“Let’s face it. Skulls and pentagrams just look fucking cool. A white dude with a beard and sandals just ain’t gonna get the kiddies hot to drop their money on him.” —Sean Cliver, Cashing in on God, Transworld Skateboarding

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Lisbon, Portugal: Any Day from March to November 2017

I am older now—in my twenties. Done with school, done with graduate school. I live in Lisbon. I work remotely and I want Portuguese citizenship and I want to learn Portuguese, and so I decide I’m going to live here. I’ve lived in the quiet, beachside town of Sesimbra for the past five months, doing little else but working and learning Portuguese. I speak my family’s language now. Board (as in skateboard) in Portuguese is tabua. “Do you skate, man?” Andas de skate, meu? Andar? Andar literally means to walk, but is used in many contexts as a transitive verb.

Praça do Rossio, Praça do Comércio, Fonte Luminosa. Three of a limited number of places in Lisbon that definitively lack calçada. In reasonable weather, at a reasonable hour, skateboarders can almost always be found at the first two locations. If I want to avoid the metro from my apartment near the Arroios stop, I can take Almirante Reis all the way down, though traffic is usually heavy and I run the risk of my wheels getting caught in the track of the electrico, which is dangerous, because only a foot or two separates the electrico tracking from the traffic going by on my left. On summer solstice, Go Skateboarding Day, we gather at the Fonte Luminosa and take Almirante Reis all the way down. We are twenty-five, thirty, maybe, and between us, there are a few falls. We’re met with more than a few angry looks from police, but they can’t give us all multas. Besides these places, one must get outside of the center to find ground sympathetic to our aims. Any time calçada is replaced with pavement, someone files a complaint. “Calçada faz parte da nossa cultura,” they argue. “Calçada is our culture.” Calçada and azulejos—those vibrant, ocean-blue tiles that are so distinctly Portuguese.

That culture is the be-all-end-all of any dispute is a rhetorical move I find both idiotic and emotionally draining. I remember Disability Awareness Consultant Andrew Gurza’s joke about a Marie Kondo–type show where disabled experts ask if something is accessible, and if not, they get rid of it. I want all of Europe to be uniform, nondescript blacktop. I want accessible brutalism declared in vogue again; I want cobblestone declared illegal tomorrow. If old UNESCO-protected buildings lack an elevator, gut these heritage sites and put elevators in. There is no history in calçada for me and mine, however Portuguese we might be. My wheels benefit from calçada’s absence, and so do my mother’s, and so would my father’s, were he able to travel.

What is culture in the face of being in the world?

Upon visiting London for the first time, I make it a point to visit Abbey Road. It is something that I’d rather not do, but I know that it is the first thing on Dad’s bucket list—he’s a lifelong Beatles fan. I notice that both sides of Abbey Road have curb cuts, but if you look at on-set supplementary photos of when the iconic photo was taken, you’ll notice that both sides of Abbey Road, at the time, were inaccessible.

Após de chegar em Portugal, percebe-se que, em vez de legendas, há, normalmente, uma pessoa no canto da ecrã da televisão a fazer linguagem gestual. Aprendi que as notícias fazem isto porque, infelizmente, ainda existem surdos que são analfabetos. Ainda não percebo porquê exatamente, mas, pelo menos em Portugal, é principalmente os evangélicos que trabalham em nome dos surdos.

“I’m the best faller you’ve ever seen. I’ll never break a hip. I fall a lot, but I’ll get back up again.” —Mom, often

“I have no regrets in life. The process I went through took me where I am today. Everything happens for a reason. I’ve grown and I’m moving on.” —professional skateboarder Christian Hosoi, Christian Hosoi Talks on Rise, Fall, and Rise, ESPN Playbook

“But how could I expect that the platonist books would ever teach me charity? I believe that it was by your will that I came across those books before I studied the Scriptures, because you wished me always to remember the impression they had made on me, so that later on, when I had been chastened by your Holy Writ and my wounds had been touched by your healing hand, I should be able to see and understand the difference between presumption and confession.” —St. Augustine, Confessions

“I don’t think everything happens for a reason.” —Mom, 2016

Portuguese does not have a specific word for “born-again”—they use renascido, which translates as rebirth. In Portugal, I buy a translation of Susan Sontag’s diaries. The title is “Rebirth” in English, and “Renascer” in Portuguese. Because of this, Susan Sontag could be mistaken for a born-again Christian in Portugal, given the lack of a specific “born-again” term.

Avô’s House, San Diego Mountains: 2007

Avô means grandfather in his language. Not mine (not yet). For a long time, avô is the thread that connects me to Portuguese, to his world. During a visit to his house in the mountains he, in his mid 80s, plays with the skateboard that is in his garage. He has no idea who it belongs to; it’s definitely not mine. The second time I have gotten lucky in this way. It’s a cruiser board, roughly a size nine with large, hard wheels meant for speed. His stance is regular, and he pushes the right way: with his left foot near the top of the board, just like me. He has surprisingly good motor coordination for someone who is eighty-five, eighty-six, and is able to kick, push better than even most young people who step on a board for the first time. Nevertheless, or perhaps consequently, he scares Mom and me half to death.

While leaving, Mom gets turned around on the property and accidentally drives into a section undergoing some landscaping. Not a ravine, not quite, but the car is stuck at a strange, awkward angle—fifteen feet away, at most, from the rock where the ashes of a grandmother I never met are buried (is “grandmother” a biological designation, or one based on kinship?). Mom cannot get out safely; there’s a five-, maybe six-foot gap separating the higher pavement from the lower, main parking of the house. If the pavement on the higher ground were smoother, it would make a perfect gap for skateboarding—still a possibility. We call Roadside Assistance to tow the car back to safe ground (with my mother in it). Until I am old enough to drive, return trips make me nervous. I am less afraid of the road on my skateboard, even with its gaping holes, than in the car. I am more than anything afraid of not being in control, of not being the one driving.

“You can find walkers (folding, height-adjustable) that have wheels on each of the front legs. The purpose of the wheels is to help you maneuver over difficult terrain. Most designs have five-inch wheels.”  —Verywell

“I think everything happens for a reason.” —Mom, 2007

Sunset Beach, California: 2013

Twenty years old. Dad says he wants to take me out to my favorite restaurant for my birthday. We go to a little spot in Sunset Beach, mostly vegetarian, but with a few chicken and turkey options. Old enough now to understand what good driving is (or perhaps just what bad driving is), I gather that Dad is, in every sense of the word, a horrible driver, a nervous driver in the same way that he is a nervous wheelchair navigator. In moments where my fear abates sufficiently to think straight, I can’t help but wonder if the place I’ve chosen is wheelchair accessible.

We get there, it isn’t—there is a curb cut, but along the row of six or so shops before the restaurant I have in mind, the thin walkway is blocked by outside seating arrangements and obnoxiously large technicolor umbrellas. Dad suggests we go somewhere else—I am angry, angrier than usual, mostly at the utter carelessness of the restaurants, but also at Dad for being so quick to acquiesce. I move chairs and umbrellas out of the way; the shops are mostly apologetic but sometimes being apologetic is not enough, sometimes sentiment only counts for so much. Today is the day I make a point.

When they were younger, it was Mom, apparently, who would take a stand and be a nuisance and park their car behind people without placards and call the police and Dad was scared because he was the man and those on the other side were always angry men, always angry men who thought that they were being done a disservice, that they were in justice’s blind spot. They might as well have taken his keys. They might as well have taken his keys and quickly moved his car, figuring out the modified hand controls on the fly—whether the violence is physical or symbolic is, for Dad’s sake, semantics. Regardless, we arrive at the same ends.

Dad’s Old Apartment, Long Beach: 2006

If you’re facing the apartment complex, to the right, a block eastward, is a church. I know it is east because the opposite direction is a straight shot to the beach, maybe six miles. Near the church’s northern entrance, there is a set: five up, five down. The run-up is not fantastic, but it’s serviceable. I remember ollieing it for the first time in my favorite Tensor Trucks jacket—the company’s logo is something between a cross and a T. The ground is fine, the landing is a gravelly and painful but ultimately viable blacktop. The church will, on Saturdays, open up a makeshift skate park to the public. Better to spend a bit of money and have them on the property, the rationale goes. The church is surrounded by schools—Bancroft Middle School is just a street or two over; Lakewood High School is maybe ten minutes on foot. Northeast from here is Cerritos, and then La Palma, and then Whittier, all of which, depending on who you ask, are either suburbs of Long Beach or Los Angeles proper.

When Dad moves into the apartment just down the street from the church, I am older. Old enough to kickflip more often than not. Old enough to make wearing a helmet socially unacceptable according to the unwritten rules of skateboarding. Every weekend, technically. Every other weekend in the beginning; later on, less. To drive, Dad must haul his rusted and battered analog wheelchair over him, into the back seat. I will help when I’m with him and I will not when I am not.

Or rather I cannot when I am not. Diverse means, same ends. One day, sitting behind his reclined seat in the car while he loads his wheelchair up and over his shoulder and places it beside me, I realize I get claustrophobic when I can’t move my legs. A bitter, cosmic irony. I skateboard in the parking lot while waiting. His parking row faces an alley that is a dead end, and the echoing of my skateboard against the wall is obnoxious—I must go to the next lot over while I wait. I ollie the stairs that separate the two lots. More spacious, fewer cars: it would make more sense for my dad to park there, but the two stairs might as well be the famous El Toro twenty stair at El Toro High School. There is nuance in my topographic worldview; there is a world of difference between two and twenty. So, too, this difference is meaningful for Mom, who, on a good day, might still shimmy herself up a few stairs with a rail and a spotter. For Dad, the difference is academic: either an impediment impedes or it does not.

Eventually, Dad switches from push-wheelchair to motor-powered chair. Consequently, he also buys a new van to accommodate this new life, and, thank God, is no longer falling asleep after work in that old beat-up emerald Toyota Corolla. His new-used van, a 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan, is custom-fitted with a ramp so he can drive his wheelchair into the car. The ramp is roughly three by two feet, made of polycarbonate, and flexible, but strong—I can see it bend under the combined weight of my dad and his new chair.

The catch: his new, larger chair makes transferring to bed more difficult. Instead of falling asleep in his car, he falls asleep in the new chair in his apartment. Upon entering his apartment, the first few feet of the carpet is stained purple by the viscous, sticky sap that falls from the trees outside during the fall. I see it on his wheels and notice it on both my griptape and the wheels of my skateboard when I go back to my mom’s. The sap is an elegant, translucent lavender, but I can’t dissociate its beauty from Dad’s struggle. To this day, the smell of ketchup provokes a burst of irrational anger because of how often, as a kid, I accidentally rolled over ketchup packets while skating in the nearby Wienerschnitzel parking lot.

“Smaller wheels are slower; bigger wheels are faster. 50–53 mm: Small slower wheels, stable for trick riding and smaller riders skating street, skate parks and bowls. 54–59 mm: Average wheel size for beginners and bigger riders skating street, skate parks, bowls and vert ramps.”  — warehouseskateboards.com

Mom’s Apartment, Long Beach, California: 2006

When I’m at my mom’s apartment for the week, I attend a Wednesday youth group at the local megachurch. I go because I feel I ought to, but in the beginning, at least, I genuinely enjoy going. I likely enjoy church because of everything that surrounds attending—arriving early means flirting with girls or skateboarding with friends. For almost all skill levels, the megachurch is a skateboarding mecca. There is a myriad of stair sets, manual pads, and ledges, but my favorite is the eight-stair set. For a skate video my friends and I are putting together, I want my final, best trick for my part—my “ender”—to be a switch back heelflip over the eight-set.

The run-up to the set is a bit difficult, though it would be considerably less skateable if there weren’t a curb cut twenty feet or so before the stairs. The curb cut is accompanied by tactile pavement, though—those square, yellow sets of bumps meant for the visually impaired. I can say then, correctly I think, that the wheelchair-bound community has helped this skateboarding spot, while the blind community, because of the tactile pavement, has rendered it a little bit less skateable. Tactile pavement often serves to deter skateboarders as an unintended consequence, but I cannot shake the sneaking suspicion that, in some instances, bumps are placed for the sole purpose of deterring skateboarders. Slightly bigger wheels, in this case, are helpful for navigating over these bumps or other similar obstacles.

I skateboard at the church until I’m seventeen, maybe—until the age that I stop trying to make it in skateboarding. I stop attending the church for service at fourteen or so. Hearing the pastor habitually trying to attach religious narrative to tragedy marks a formal breakup between the church and me. There is no narrative in perpetual, senseless struggle; no narrative in having to wear painful, locked leg braces to bed every night for the first twenty years of your life.

*             *             *

A BRIEF ESSAY IN QUOTATIONS AND BULLET POINTS REGARDING THE PROXIMITY OF SKATEBOARDERS TO GOD

  • Christian Hosoi: skateboarding pioneer in the late 70s/80s, credited with creating vert skateboarding trick CHRIST AIR, trick where skateboarder grabs board and extends it away from his chest, as if on cross; becomes new-money rich; becomes junkie/trafficker; in jail four years; while locked up, becomes born-again (is born-again?) in jail; writes God book upon his release; instead of making money slanging dope, makes money slanging Jesus instead
  • Jamie Thomas: professional skateboarder and founder of skateboard brand Fallen; also very religious, outspoken Christian; early claim to fame: attempted eighteen foot, eight inch sheer drop called LEAP OF FAITH at Point Loma High School, San Diego; next guy who tried broke both legs (Evidence of System???)
  • “Each stand had four bronze wheels with bronze axles, and each had a basin resting on four supports, cast with wreaths on each side.” —1 Kings 7:30
  • How does one make a skateboarding deck? Let us refer to Ezekiel 27:6: “Pine trees from Cyprus were cut for your deck, which was then decorated with strips of ivory.”
  • See entire Biblical book Duderonomy

Untitled, Juniorsrs2, Unsaved Trash

LET ME TELL YOU ‘TRUE CHRISTIANS’ HYPOCRITES SOMETHING
JESUS LOVES THEM!!
HE LOVES COMMUNISTS, KOREANS, AFRICANS, SKATEBOARDERS
Jesus loves EVERYONE!!

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Curitiba, Brazil: March 3rd, 2018

It is my second day in the city, my first full day. I am to be here ten months for a job, or a fellowship, to be precise. Brazilians continually ask me if I am a missionary after hearing this word fellowship, and so I soon find other ways of conveying what I’m doing here. After Brazil, I have no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll do. In the center of Curitiba and in certain neighborhoods like the more affluent Batel, I see traces of Portugal, I see calçada. Later on, I see calçada in both Rio and São Paulo.

In Curitiba’s city center, I see a man with a skateboard sitting down next to a fountain. Ele fala do seu jeito, e eu do meu. Hey man, sorry to bug you. Is there a skate park around here? I’m new to the city.

He explains that the nearest skate park, mostly filled with transition and vert, lies just north of the city center just before the cemetery. His accent is northeastern, and he’s explaining and I realize his right leg from the kneecap down is prosthetic and I should have realized this earlier, because it is the only part of him that isn’t tattooed. I thank the man and stumble back toward my friends. I am far from home, and yet this man brings me back to it.

Untitled, Dog Gone, Unsaved Trash

Each item for
What it was meant
For

Jeremy Klemin has written for publications such as New York Times Book Review, Literary Hub, and F(r)iction. He was a 2018 Fulbright 
Fellow in Curitiba, Brazil, and has also lived in Portugal, Scotland, and 
the United States. He can be reached on Twitter @JeremyKlemin.