Friday, April 25, 2014

Ramblings and Disjointed Memories about Johnny, the Fishcamp, Skates and Skateboards

Johnny Justice was my best friend growing up.  He used to live upstairs in the Dolphin Fish Camp.  Roy and I used to go spend the night as often as we could get permission.  It was great fun.  We played all kinds of different games, pretended we were Kung-fu or Karate masters, or just tried to learn something about them by reading the exercises and moves in a book Johnny had.  We had big ideas about getting black belts and whooping people’s butts, but in reality we learned very little.

We could stay up as late as we wanted and we watched TV, sometimes until the color test pattern came on way, way up in the wee hours.  If you are of a certain age, you will remember the color pattern. If not, don't worry about it. It really wasn't that entertaining. We watched the late show, the late, late show, and the way-too-late-for-young-boys-show.  All the old horror movies would play in those late night programs.  Sometimes we watch the Twilight Zone and Outer Limits on a show called Those Were the Years, hosted by Mike McKay.

One of the best parts of staying over at Johnny’s house was the food.  When we got hungry, whatever time that may be in the evening, Johnny would call someone downstairs in the Fish Camp kitchen and before long up the steps would come a tray with plates of food.  The only thing I can remember clearly was the cheeseburger and fries.  The burger was fantastic to me and I loved it with slaw and mustard.  It came with a pile of french-fries that buried the plate.  I always ate every bite of mine. 

Downstairs was mostly a mystery and I can only remember going into the kitchen area once or twice.  I think we were told not to go down there, and now that I’m aware of all the health regulations involved in a restaurant, I understand that perfectly.  That was fine with me, Johnny had plenty of toys and games and we had lots of room up there to play.

If you went outside and around to the back, there was a small yard and then a road.  Just a few yards away with its own parking lot, was another fish camp called the River Breeze Fish Camp.  I can’t recall having ever eaten there or any of the food from there.  I guess we didn't want to support the competition of the Dolphin, since we were friends with and went to church with the owners. 

Turn left toward the main road and about one hundred yards out was the Catawba Swimming Pool.  Johnny’s brother owned that.  Often in the summer we would go swimming there.  Roy once fell asleep on the concrete there and got the worst sunburn I ever saw him have.  It was bad.  He was as red as a boiled lobster and blistered badly.  All on one side.  No one ever flipped him over to let the other side get done, I guess.  I felt sorry for him because the burn was very painful over the next several days.  I got sunburned a few times growing up but I never was bad to burn.  I spent so much time outside that from early spring until cold weather in the fall; I stayed tanned brown as an Indian.  I don’t recall anything, other than the tops of my feet a few years ago, ever getting burned as badly as Roy came home that day.

The juke box at the pool stayed current with all the hits every summer that we lived on Garden Creek.  I knew most of the songs because in the summer from the time the pool opened until it closed in the evening, all the hits were rolling out on the breeze at max volume.  And since my house was only two or three hundred yards away as the crow would fly, I heard them loud and clear.  Not every day, but very regularly.  I could sing along with most of the hit parade back then without ever buying a record of my own.  The music of the seventies is still the best, even up as far as the mid eighties, but that’s another topic. 

It cost a dollar to go in at the pool.  It was shaped like an L and was around three and a half feet at the shallow end and a deep twelve feet at the deep end.  The deep end had two diving boards.  One was about three or four feet above the water and the other was way up there.  It was ten or twelve feet above the splash down.  I belly flopped from up there once.  It was ugly.  It was painful.  It was hilarious…to everyone except me.  I came out almost as red as Roy’s sunburn. 

Later in life I found out it was a lot of fun to deliberately belly flop from the low dive and splash water all over sunbathers around the edge of the pool.  I got a lot of mileage out of that trick before it got old.  I got so good at it that in summer camp at Elks Camp for Boys I came in second place for the big splash competition.  The winner weighed three times what I did at the time. 

It took Johnny a lot of talking to get me to go off the high dive the first time ever, and I was nervous about it every time for a long time.  Diving head first was out of the question but I could knife the water pretty sharp going toes first.  I was the bomb doing cannon balls…pun intended.  We had a dive called the can opener I think that was popular for a little while.  I never really got the form down.  But we didn't get to go over there as often as you would think from reading this.

Across the road from the swimming pool was a skating rink.  I got my one and only adventure in skating there.

One of my elementary school field trips was to the skating rink.  I am unsure now of the educational connection to that trip, but we didn't complain at the time.  Well, I had never put a pair of them suicide suede shoes on my feet before that day, so I spent more time down than up.  I didn't know my legs could actually go in so many directions in such a short time, immediately followed by a loud “THUMP!” as some body part or another hit the hardwood floor.  There was a trick to this, and I wasn't getting it.

Finally after an hour or so of struggling, I managed to stay upright, though a bit wobbly.  After several minutes teetering around the edge of the floor I got enough confidence to stray out into traffic.  This proved to be a poor decision. 

In my class was a group of girls who no doubt went on to become Olympic Roller-skaters.  One of them was an exceptionally mean girl whom got great delight from tormenting boys whom she knew couldn't fight back.  Every time one did, he ended up in the Principal’s office explaining why HE was picking on HER.  She had a way of turning things around on you.

Well this girl spied my feeble attempts at skating and began to devise an evil plan to crush my budding talent out of existence. She got about four friends and they all began to skate side-by-side with arms locked.  They swept around and around the rink like a giant scimitar slicing through the air seeking flesh to chop into minced meat. 

By this time I was actually moving along steadily, though slowly, in the same direction as the galaxy of more talented stars on roller skates.

Suddenly something grabbed my left arm and held on.  It was HER. 

“I’ll help you.” She said.  Her friends all heard her.

“I’m doing ok. Just leave me alone.”  I said as I realized they were speeding up.

I was being accelerated also.  In seconds they were a five-girl-wide catapult with a projectile named James locked and loaded.

They took me all the way around the rink, growing faster by the second. I was hanging on for dear life, and somehow managing to stay on my feet.  I don’t know how.

Then in an instant of time, forever burned into my brain; she turned loose. 

Now at first thought, that might seem like a good thing.  Well, let’s examine the facts: 1. I was a brand new skater, with no, none, zip, zilch, nada skills.  2. I was on a hardwood floor surrounded by railings and barriers on all sides, plus other skaters. 3.  I was at that instant travelling slightly faster than warp factor six.  4. I had no clue how to stop.

In a blink there was a series of loud noises that I thought must be sonic booms as I obliterated the sound barrier.  Those noises were me hitting the railing, bouncing off, hitting another skater, bouncing off, and hitting the floor, and bouncing. The need for speed was replaced by a need for body casts.  I lay there and groaned for a minute as I inventoried body parts.  Legs…check. Arms…check.  Head…well, it’s spinning but it’s still there…check.  Multiple bruises and abrasions and pains…check, check, check.   But on the brighter side I was still alive…or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

My manly pride was demolished.  I rolled over, took off the skates and limped to a seat somewhere.  I was ready to go back to school.  My teacher wasn't interested in what happened.  In fact it seemed like no one noticed it at all.  Little Miss Mean-and-Evil got off free as a bird.  I hatched a series of plans for vengeance that never came to pass.  I am not sure what ever became of that budding young serial killer.  She is probably selling used brooms at Hogwarts or something.

I never took an interest in skating again.  That was for other people: People who were magically gifted with multiple axes of coordination; People who had grace and style.  I could climb any tree on either side of the Catawba River, but couldn't stay upright with a set of wheels strapped to my feet.  It was a curse I could live with.

Skateboards were a different story.  I took an interest in them.  Which led to an intense interest in a thing called Road Rash.  My cousin Bobby, who was a few years older than I, was a wizard on a skate board.  When we visited my aunt and uncle in Bent Creek, there were several times I saw him do some amazing tricks on his skate board.  Naturally, when I got one I had to push the limits to ride that thing.  Near my house was a road named Airport Road, which, amazingly enough, goes out to the Marion Airport.  There is one long, curvy hill that is not too steep, but it’s long…and curvy…and had some wear and tear. 

Skateboards have the most amazing wheels on them.  You can spin one and it goes on and on and on and on, before it slowly winds to a stop.  The bearings in the wheels are smooth and have very little friction.  They are also noticeably short on brakes.  It doesn't take much of a slope for a person on a skateboard to build up some impressive speed.  One method of controlling your speed is to swing back and forth in a wide zigzag to burn off speed in the curves.  It kept your speed down and made the ride last longer too.  

There were only two sources of energy to move a skateboard; one being push with one leg while riding with the other, the other is simply gravity.  So once you went down a hill the only way to recharge that thing was to ride and push, or to pick it up and carry it back up the hill.  I always started pushing but switched to carrying and walking before long.

The hill on Airport Road was often call roller coaster hill by Roy, Johnny and I.  It didn't go up and down, but on a bicycle or skateboard it made for some pretty impressive speed and the curves were smooth enough to glide through without braking, until you flattened out for a short distance before dropping off a short steep hill to Garden Creek Road.

On a skateboard we would start at the top and quickly start building speed.  I generally would start swinging side to side pretty soon so as to control my speed.  If my speed got to climbing too much I would jump off while I was still slow enough to stay on my feet, and run to a stop, hop back on and start over. 

Sometimes it just didn't work out.  One such occasion was a nice sunny summer day when I was heading down the road, keeping it under control.  Then I met some traffic.  I straightened up and stayed in my lane until the traffic passed.  That’s when I realized I was too fast to jump off and run it out.  I was also too fast to attempt to start swinging to burn off speed.  I was smokin’ it down that hill straight down the center of my lane gaining speed by the second.  I kept my knees bent and kept my balance terrifically as I zoomed by driveways and mailboxes.  At first I was terrified, but I was doing so good and going so fast I started getting comfortable.  “Wait till I tell everyone about this”, I thought.  “I’m probably the fastest person to ever ride this hill on a skateboard.” 

A little wobble brought me back to reality.  It would be bad to lose control now.  So, on I went; down and around the last curve and out into the flat.  I had this ride in the bag and would soon have it to brag about.  Thank goodness I was beginning to lose some of that speed.

There’s a remarkable property of those amazing skateboard wheels I spoke of earlier.  They can spin with very little friction and incredible speed, but they will stop dead for a piece of gravel the size of a pea.

As I flew by one of the driveways down near the bottom of the hill, I discovered that cars exiting the drive had carried some small gravel into the road.  When I say discovered, what I mean is that at one instant I was cruising along on a screaming red acrylic skateboard, and one microsecond later I was flying four inches above the pavement with nothing under me but air and raw pavement.  The board was sitting in the road behind me like it had been there all day. 

They say when you are about to die, your whole life flashes before your eyes.  I don’t know about that, but I am quite sure time slowed to a crawl so I could take note of the things that were about to attempt to kill me.  The pavement was growing closer and clearer at a remarkable rate, the gritty, rough surface reaching up to try to shred me like cheese on a taco.  The green weeds and grass were just to my right promising a softer, gentler landing.  It was a promise that proved to be just out of reach before the first bounce. 

Slam! “Left elbow, left knee are reporting major damage sir.”  Slam!  “Right knee has taken a hit, sir.” TumbleTumbleTumbleTumbleTumble  Tumble   Tumble    Tumble Slide Slide Slide….Stop. 

When I opened my eyes, There was a clear blue sky above with only a couple of cotton-ball clouds.  There were deep green trees waving in a soft breeze.  There were birds singing from the branches and shrubs.  Wow, I must have made it to heaven.  

Then the pain hit.  Nope, I reckon not. 

I heard through the roar in my head a car coming down the hill.  My skateboard was still in the road.  I jumped up and hobbled out and grabbed it and stumbled back into the ditch.  I gave the driver a feeble wave and a weak smile as the car went past.  Then I looked at my knees.

I had some solid battle wounds.  I had road rash on both knees, the left worse than the right.  It was skinned about half the size of a dollar bill pretty good, with more scrapes around the edges that fanned out into a fair-sized area.  The right knee was about half that, and my left elbow was missing enough skin to cover with a silver dollar.  I had several smaller scratches form tumbling and landing in the weeds. 

All in all I fared pretty well.  I didn't even have to go to the doctor for that one. There were several accidents that took me for stitches at the doctor’s office.  The skateboard wreck I washed off in the river and tried to keep it hidden, but Mom saw it pretty quick that night when I came in.  When she asked all I told her was I fell down when I was going down a hill.  She cleaned it up with that most dreaded of solutions:  Rubbing Alcohol.  That was worse than the original pain, but I eventually got over the agony.

Sometime later I was playing with that skate board and attempted to “walk” it by standing on the front tip and the back edge.  I would shift my weight from right to left and back alternately lifting the front and back off the ground and shifting it forward.  When my weight came down on one step on both ends at once, Bam! The skateboard broke clear in two, right in the center.  I was fairly upset, that was one of my favorite toys at the time, but I think maybe it worked out in my best interest.

I never owned another skateboard.  My interest drifted to other things and I never got around to getting another one. 

James Lee Frady (c) 4/25/2014