I’ve spent a lot of time this summer watching the skateboarders practice at Oak Street Beach. These kids can spend hours honing and refining their skill, and it doesn’t take long to see that they constantly risk serious injury in pursuit of a perfect jump, flip, twist, or turn. Perhaps it was this show of unequivocal determination in the face of constant danger that first caught my attention.

Skaters are intriguing because they embody the youthful belief that human beings are invincible, but I think they are equally interesting as symbols of our popular culture. On the whole, the skaters at Oak Street reached their teens during what could be called the postpunk era, and they take their dress and body language from the now decade-old British punk scene. Their skateboards and T-shirts display the names of hard-core bands, and their postures and haircuts emulate these heroes.

Armed with a handful of questions concerning popular culture, politics, education, and other matters, I went to the beach and spoke with three boys I’ll call Mark, 18, Roberto, 17, and Sean, 17. All three are seasoned skaters. They’re not the best you’ll see, but they can perform some nice tricks, like flying off the sidewalk and landing square on the cement beach or gracefully maneuvering into a one-handed handstand while waving the skateboard in the air. It wasn’t long into our conversation when I realized that while I had been philosophizing about the predicament of today’s youth culture, these kids were deep in the midst of living it. And like youth in any generation they were mostly concerned with the really important things in life–like having fun.


Q: Why do you hang out at the beach?

Mark: To skate.

Sean: Be honest.

Mark: OK, we come down to look at chicks and skate.

Roberto: No, actually you just skate, and you don’t skate to pick up chicks. But it happens.

Mark and Sean: Yeah, it just happens.

Roberto: Yeah, you don’t skate to pick up chicks. You skate to have fun.

Sean: Yeah, but then that just goes along with it.

Roberto: So, it’s extra fun then, I guess.

Sean: Extracurricular.

Q: What do you do when you’re not at the beach?

Roberto: Our band practices.

Sean: Yeah, we have a band.

Roberto: It’s called Novocaine.

Sean: You know, we just play at parties for free and stuff. I guess it’s pretty fun.

Roberto: Yeah, it’s fun. Yeah, and we sing about skating. It’s everything. It’s like our whole life.


Q: Are you interested in politics?

Roberto: Yeah, totally. Like our band, you know. Like the music we listen to. Hard-core. Hard-core’s totally into politics and stuff. You know. Like punk rock and hard-core.

Q: Who do you listen to?

Roberto: Like the Bad Brains. Cro Mags.

Sean: Bang.

Roberto: Yeah, Bang. DRI.

Sean: Old Black Flag.

Q: What bands don’t you like?

Mark: Just like about any band you hear on the radio now, we hate.

Q: Do you go to clubs?

Sean: Yeah, the Metro.

Roberto: Yeah. Well, they closed down the Metro [to hard-core shows].

Sean: Now they just play shows at Medusa’s.

Roberto: Medusa’s is pretty neat.

Q: Have you followed the Iran-contra hearings at all?

Mark: Yeah. My dad makes me listen to it.

Q: What do you think about it?

Mark: I think it’s bullshit.

Sean: A bunch of bullshit. The United States is blowing things so out of proportion. It’s like with the Gary Hart thing where he was screwing around with what’s-her-name . . .

Roberto: Donna Rice.

Sean: Yeah. And America just took that in the palm of their hands and just played with that for like weeks.

Q: What do you think about the fact that these people messed around with the Constitution?

Sean: They’ve messed around with it since they made it.

Q: Who would you vote for in the next presidential election?

Mark: I had my chance to vote and I didn’t vote.

Sean: Hey, I don’t know who’s running in the next election.

Mark: Hey, like I don’t watch the news. I watch cartoons.

Sean: Jerry Falwell.

Mark: [Laughing.] Hey, my next president.


Q: Do you listen to the radio?

Sean: Never.

Mark: No.

Roberto: Not really.

Sean: Z Rock. We listen to Z Rock because it’s like the fastest music station around. Like they play the fastest music, you know?

Mark: Hah, but, ah, we don’t really like it. There’s nothing else to listen to, but it’s better than Z-95.

Sean: So we just pop it on Z Rock.

Q: Do you watch TV?

Mark: Yeah, 24 hours.

Roberto: Yeah, when we’re not skating. We watch TV and loaf around.

Mark: That’s why my eyes are so small.

Roberto: No, I only watch when it’s absolutely bad outside.

Mark: I skate and watch TV.

Sean: Yeah, I hardly watch TV. When it’s raining we watch TV.

Q: What do you watch?

Mark: Cartoons. Seriously. Cartoons, The Price Is Right, and Wheel of Fortune.

Sean: Yeah, Wheel of Fortune.

Mark: Wheel of Fortune with Vanna White!

Roberto: Naw, Eight Is Enough is the best.

Mark: Aww, I hate Eight Is Enough.

Sean: Oh, I watch it every night.

Roberto: Me too. So do I. I get into that.

Mark: I hate it.

Q: Do you watch The People’s Court?

Mark: Naw, I hate that. I don’t get into political stuff.


Q: What do you think about war?

Mark: Big talk. Big talk.

Roberto: We can talk about that.

Mark: We can take up the rest of the tape. I think it’s stupid. I’m 18. I could be drafted.

Q: Do you think about nuclear war?

Roberto: Yeah, a lot.

Sean: Yeah. It kinda sucks.

Mark: Yeah, and they made it so you can’t run away to Canada anymore, either.

Roberto: I mean, why would they even bother to have a draft? I mean like the people who control the Army and stuff. Why don’t the big people just duke it out themselves or something? I don’t know.

Mark: No shit.

Roberto: Don’t involve the whole world with it.

Sean: They’re the ones who are fighting. It’s real stupid.


Q: Do you work?

Sean: I work at a shoe store. It’s like . . . it’s money, you know. It’s an easy job. I gotta dress up.

Q: What do you have to do?

Sean: It’s not like I have to try people’s shoes on and stuff. I just have to like help them out, you know?

Q: Do you get a commission?

Sean: Yeah, not for shoes, though. For everything else in the store, like socks and stuff. Because it’s like a self-serve.

Q: Where do you work?

Mark: Downtown. In an office. I just do office work. Like filing. It’s an electrical firm. They do buildings and stuff.

Q: What’s it like?

Mark: It’s money.

Q: What do you want to do in a couple years?

Mark: Man, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I guess get a place of my own. Live life . . . live life as a bum. [Everyone laughs.] Live one day at a time. Let’s see, I’ll pull out my daily planner. Well, what am I gonna do tomorrow? Same thing that I’m doing today. [Laughs.]


Q: What do you think of drugs?

Roberto: If people want to take them, that’s their problem. If they want to waste their brain and stuff, they can if they want.

Sean: Some people put people down for taking drugs, and then some people put people down for not taking drugs, but if they’re cool it doesn’t make a difference.

Mark: Yeah.

Sean: Yeah, if they don’t like talk about it and stuff.

Mark: Yeah.

Roberto: Actually, skating’s like a drug. You get addicted to it.

Mark: Yeah, you can get really addicted. But it’s a natural drug.

Roberto: It’s like you lay in bed at night and think about skating.

Mark: It’s like at four in the morning you just get up and skate.

Sean: It’s like a pretty big drug, skating.


Q: What do you do at parties?

Mark: Play pool.

Roberto: When we go to parties . . .

Mark: Tell her what you really do, man.

Roberto: Hush. When we go to parties we talk about skating.

Sean: No, actually we liven up the parties too. ‘Cause we aren’t boring people.

Roberto: We talk to girls.

Mark: Yeah. We pick up girls.

Roberto: Yeah.

Sean: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah. That’s the truth.

Q: Are you popular?

Sean: With people or with girls?

Q: With girls?

Roberto: Yeah. I guess.

Mark: We’re as popular as most people.

Sean: Yeah. If they like skaters.

Mark: Because then there’s, like, skate chicks.

Roberto: Yeah. ‘Cause then there are like all these girls who go, “Oh, he’s a skater. He’s so cute.”

Sean: And then you’ve got the people that say, “Ah skaters, you suck.”

Mark: Yeah, you see ’em laying on a couch at a party all fucked saying, “Oh man, you skaters suck.”

Q: Why don’t some people like skaters?

Roberto: A lot of people hate skaters.

Mark: We’re just annoying.

Sean: Yeah. We are pretty annoying. But we don’t try to hurt people or anything.

Mark: Yeah. We just can’t help it.

Sean: I know. It’s like they take it too personally.

Mark: Yeah. They do.

Q: What happens when you’re skating down Michigan Avenue through a crowd of pedestrians?

Mark: Well, some people are really cool about that and they say, “Yeah, all right.”

Sean: And some are like, “Oh yeah, what do you think this is, California?”

Roberto: And then they say things to us. Yeah. And we just tell them to fuck off.

Mark: It’s like, hey you said something to us first.

Roberto: If they provoke you into a fight . . . Actually, if we did want to get into a fight, we could kill ’em with the boards. Because what are they going to do?

Q: Would you want to do that?

Roberto: Well, if they start up with you and you have nothing else to do and they’re a lot bigger than you.

Q: So, is this a form of self-protection?

Mark: Yeah. I’d take my board and swing it straight at them.


Q: Do you read?

Mark: Yeah. Hey man, want to see this book we’ve got? [Walks over to pick up a book lying on the cement.]

Sean: Yeah.

Roberto: Yeah. There we go.

Mark: Yeah, we read books. Here we go. [Hands over book with mystical-looking cover.]

Sean: Aw, some lady gave it to us.

Mark: That lady was into spiritual stuff. We’re really spiritual.

Sean: Yeah, we got it from some chick on the street.

Q: Do you read anything else?

Mark: Magazines.

Sean: Yeah. Thrasher.

Roberto: Thrasher.

Mark: Transworld.

Sean: Transworld. And some zines. Hot Rod.

Mark: Flip Side.

Roberto: I read Hot Rod.

Mark: Yeah, Hot Rod.

Roberto: And Surfing.

Sean: Auto Week. Yeah, cars, music, and skating.

Mark: Yeah. The Reader. I read the Reader.

Sean: Oh, the Reader, yeah.

Q: Do you read literature?

Sean: Yeah, I read this book called Baby Grant.

Q: Who wrote it?

Sean: Ah, I don’t know. These two guys. I don’t care who writes it just as long as it’s good.

Q: Do you ever read classics?

Mark: Yeah. Romeo and Juliet.

Roberto: Yeah. That was a pretty good book.


Q: Does anything make you angry?

Mark: Stuck-up people.

Roberto: Yeah. That makes us really mad.

Mark: People that aren’t themselves.

Sean: People that go to parties and that don’t mingle with other people.

Mark: Yes. They just sit in the corner and drink.

Roberto: Preppy people.

Sean: Yeah. Not preppy people in general, but just preppy people the way they act. Which just happens to be that most of them are preppy.

Mark: That’s how they were raised.


Q: What do you think isn’t fun?

Roberto: Ah, I don’t know. We don’t do anything that’s not fun.

Mark: I’m really bored with sleeping. I think it sucks. It’s so boring.

Roberto: You’re just sitting there and wasting your time.

Mark: Like, “Are you waiting for someone?” That sucks.

Sean: Talking on the phone’s boring. Because then when you see them, like what are you gonna say?

Mark: When you don’t have your skates.

Sean: Or when it’s raining outside.

Mark: Bikes. I don’t like bikes at all.

Roberto: Walking around in a mall isn’t fun. That’s not fun.

Sean: It’s boring. Unless you’re gonna go with a girl.

Q: Why is it fun to go with a girl?

Mark: ‘Cause then you can watch her change. Go in the dressing rooms with her.

Roberto: ‘Cause then you can pick out her clothes.

Sean: Buy her bikinis.

Q: Do you go into the dressing rooms with girls?

Roberto: He was just kidding.

Sean: Yeah, and while she’s changing you can pick up the saleslady. [Everyone laughs.]

Mark: Yeah.

Q: What do you think of malls?

Sean: They’re OK. If you need to go and buy something.

Mark: They’re hopeless.

Roberto: Yeah.

Mark: They’re just hopeless.


Q: What do you like to eat?

Mark: Hey, guys, what do we like to eat?

Sean: Taco Bell.

Mark: Taco Bell! All right.

Sean: And our only drink is Slurps, Slurpies.

Mark: Yeah, Slurpies.

Q: Slurps? Where do you buy them?

Sean: 7-Eleven. They’re the best.

Q: What flavor?

Roberto: We just mix ’em all up.

Sean: Yeah. We just mix them all together.

Roberto: We like chips.

Mark: Chips. Big chips.

Sean: Chocolate chip cookies. Hot barbecued potato chips.

Mark: Actually, Dunkin’ Donuts rule.

Sean: Anything that tastes good.

Roberto: Actually, we can grub on anything.

Sean: Junk food. Health food.

Roberto: Anything, man.

Mark: Could you go for ribs right now?

Roberto: Yeah, no shit.

Mark: Let’s go to Carson’s.

Q: If you could eat out for the next few days, where would you go?

Mark: Vie de France. Just to make fun of ’em.

Sean: Little Caesar’s.

Roberto: Yeah, a lot of pizza. A lot of pizza.

Mark: There’s some decent hot dog places.

Roberto: Oh, Mongolian House.

Sean: Mama Desta’s Red Sea. Ethiopian food.

Roberto: Red Lobster.

Sean: Eck.

Mark: I love Red Lobster. Yeah.

Roberto: Yes.

Sean: No, it’s fake. Ponderosa.

Roberto: Ponderosa’s cool.

Mark: Yeah, Ponderosa’s pretty cool.

Roberto: Yeah, I like those fake mashed potatoes with the gravy. Yeah, like the kind you get in school.

Mark: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s pretty good.


Q: What do you look for in girls?

Sean: Anything, if they’re cute.

Mark: [Laughing.] Shut up, Sean. Not anything.

Sean: If they’re cute, they’re cute. You know?

Mark: Ahh.

Sean: They don’t have to be blond. They don’t have to be . . .

Mark: Yeah, they do. [Laughing.] Yeah, they do.

Roberto: Naw. No, I mean, she’s pretty cute right there [pointing to girl on the beach].

Sean: Actually, if they’re real pretty and stuff but . . .

Roberto: But if they’re stuck-up, that’s the worst.

Sean: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah. You gotta be open-minded.

Roberto: They’ve gotta be cool. They can’t just be good-looking.

Q: What happens when you go out with a girl who is real pretty, but you later think she’s stuck-up?

Sean: Then we don’t talk to her.

Mark: We blow her away.

Roberto: Yeah, see you later, man.

Q: What happens when you meet a girl who isn’t very good-looking, but she’s a great person?

Sean: Then we talk to her.

Mark: Then she’s our friend.

Sean: Yeah, we talk to ’em.

Roberto: We’re not like, “get away.”

Q: But to go out with a girl, she has to be attractive?

Mark: Basically.

Roberto: Yeah, basically.

Sean: Well, we don’t go out with anybody, really.

Roberto: Yeah, we just hop from people to people.

Sean: We just see girls.

Mark: Yeah, ’cause relationships don’t work.

Q: Why don’t relationships work?

Mark: They don’t work. See these scrapes? I got punched by my last girlfriend.

Q: Why did she punch you?

Mark: I have no idea.

Q: What do you think about sex?

Mark: We like to have sex. Sex is natural. Sex is cool. It’s better than skating. You lose more weight. How do you think I got so thin? Yeah, like sex is natural. Like, how do you think everyone on the earth got there? Not everyone was adopted. Someone had to have kids.

Sean: Just as long as you don’t.


Roberto: We try to have as much fun as we can.

Sean: ‘Cause you may as well.

Roberto: Yeah, you might as well, because you’re never gonna have a second chance to do it.

Sean: You could just like die tomorrow.

Mark: It’s like no shit.

Roberto: People think like . . . ah, what’s that thing? Work comes before fun.

Mark: Yeah, work before play. Yeah, business before pleasure.

Roberto: Yeah, ours is pleasure before anything.

Mark: Yeah, because I go out skating before I go to work in the morning. Five in the morning ’cause I have to leave at six.

Roberto: Skate and enjoy. Skate and enjoy.

Mark: Thrash and bash. That’s my line.

Sean: He’s got a lot of ’em. [Everyone laughs.]

Mark: Yeah. Ride till you die.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Marc PoKempner.