The phone booth shone like a beacon from the top of the hill, illuminating the street in a fluorescent glow. We always stopped to check it for coins on our way to the shops. Then we rolled back, salt and vinegars and one point two five litre cokes in hand, the lines in the pavement massaging our feet as we gained momentum: de-dump, de-dump, dedump dedumpdedump down the hill to Shannon’s house, where I stayed nearly every weekend.
Shannon’s parents spoke Dutch, so I never knew what they were yelling about. Sometimes when we were skating the motley assortment of obstacles in his driveway – a wooden pallet, a waxed parking block and any other bits of rubbish we had found to ollie over – his dad would get dropped off from work and stride past us, ignoring me and nodding towards Shannon. With his handlebar moustache and long greasy hair he reminded me of Lemmy from Motorhead.
Shannon’s mum was always in the kitchen worrying. Occasionally she would bring us in some toast spread with what I first thought was rancid butter, but later discovered was actually cheese spread. She would ask Shannon to bring back his dishes and he would tell her to fuck off. Shannon’s older brother Jamie was lying on a hospital bed in the next room, hooked up to a machine. He had a degenerative illness.
One night I walked into Jamie’s room by accident and found him there with his head lolling sideways, eyes blinking furiously. He started shrieking and I backed out of the room, apologising. I said sorry again to his mum as she rushed past me, then I retreated to Shannon’s bedroom. “I freaked out Jamie,” I said. Shannon shrugged and turned up the death metal so the screaming just sounded like part of the song.
“Want to go visit your mate Robbie, do ya? Robbie bobbie gee?”
That was Shannon’s nickname for Rob Gleisner, the best skater in Mount Gambier. Rob lived around the corner from Shannon, on the other side of the hill. He was sponsored by Wooz Skates in Bendigo and although we were all jealous of Rob and his endless stream of new products, no one could dispute his superiority. He was a thousand times better than all of us. It was like he was just playing with his board while the rest of us struggled to tame ours. When he appeared at a session, most of us would sit down and watch. He would make amazing tricks as if by mistake, laughing as he rolled away in his huge Stussy beanie. Usually I would sit down with the others, but I had just learned noseslide nosegrinds on the Video Ezy ledge, so I stayed put.
He was a thousand times better than all of us. It was like he was just playing with his board while the rest of us struggled to tame ours.
“They’re easy once you get ’em, eh? Noseslide nosegrind, sick trick,” said Rob as we stood together in the Video Ezy carpark.
“I’ve only managed to land two of them.”
“Get this one and they’re yours for life. Three times’ the charm!”
I nodded and rolled across the rough asphalt towards the ledge. “Do it, Max!” he called after me. I didn’t know he knew my name. I executed the trick perfectly, as if blessed by Rob’s magic. Shannon and the others clapped and whistled. As I returned, Rob slapped me five with his hand held low, like in the videos.
“Nice one Maxi. Three times’ the charm!”
He pushed off and popped to manual halfway across the block, then slid a shove-it to nose manual for the second half, and cheekily hooked his front truck into a little grind along the last metre of the ledge. It was the most impressive trick I’d ever seen in real life, and he did it first try. Holding up his hand without looking back, he disappeared around the corner. I tried a manual across the block next try, and landed it easily, the magic still warm in my legs.
“You’ll be wanting His Highness I suppose?” Rob’s mum opened the front door, a breeze of casserole and warmth wafting out behind her, along with the sounds of Hey Hey it’s Saturday.
“Ro-bert! Your friend… sorry, what’s your name, love?”
“Max and Shannon.”
“Oh yes, there’s another one of you there. Max is here to see you! And Shannon!”
She looked me up and down.
“So you’re another skater, are you, Max?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Do you manage to go to school as well?”
“I do, yes. In Millicent.”
“Oh, an out of towner. I hope you don’t get too carried away with the skating like our Robert. And what about you, Shannon? Where do you go to school?”
The only parts of Shannon that were visible in the shadows of the verandah were the bright white pentagrams running up and down the sleeves of his jumper.
Rob pushed past his mum, in tracksuit pants and a sweet Gabriel Rodriguez shirt.
“G’day boys, out for a skate are yas?”
I suddenly felt how inappropriate our visit was. Any normal person would be at home with their family watching Red Faces, not skating around town with a strange guy in a death metal jumper and a hat he never took off, even to sleep.
“G’day Rob. Yeah, just going for a roll, want to come out?”
“Nah, I’m in my trackies! You guys are keen!”
I imagined how nice it would be to sit down with Rob’s family and watch TV for a while. Maybe they would give me some casserole.
“You don’t have any videos we could borrow, do you?” Shannon piped up. His voice was serious, like he was doing business.
“Ah, not really, I lent most of them to Damian. What ones are you after?”
“Just that Birdhouse one.”
“‘Oh, Feasters? It’s gold. Have you seen Questionable?”
Of course we had seen Questionable. We lived for Questionable. Four of us had pitched in $20 each to get the videotape mail ordered from Snake Pit in Melbourne, then Shannon dubbed copies for us all to pause, rewind and study in extreme detail.
“Oh yeah, Mike Carroll is sooo sick,” I gushed.
“What about D Way?”
“And Sheffey!” Rob and I said at the same time. He smiled and looked at me, sizing me up.
“Wait here a sec.”
Rob disappeared back into the warmth. Shannon glared at me silently, raising his eyebrows in mock excitement as the door opened again.
“You can have this if you want, Maxi.”
It was his old board, the one he was riding the week before at Video Ezy. A Sean Sheffey Plan B with the troll doll graphic.
“The Sheffey! Are you sure?”
“Ah yeah, I got a new one anyway. Such a good shape. You can have this too.”
He handed me a t-shirt, a Transworld magazine, and a stack of Wooz Skates stickers.
“Wow, thanks! How much do you want for it?”
“Make it thirty for the lot. If you want it, that is.”
I had $30 in my wallet. This meant I would have just $2 to eat the next day, but that was fine.
As we walked back up the hill, Shannon dissected the interaction.
“Oh, here’s an old, cracked board I got for free. Now give me thirty bucks ‘cos I’m a greedy fucker!”
“As if he didn’t have any videos. What a cunt!”
“What about his trackies? I bet you’d like to get down them, Maxxxi. Oooh, Robbie bobbie gee, give it to me baby!”
I wasn’t listening to him. I was examining my bounty. The wood of the deck felt superior somehow, like it held special energy. The magazine was a new issue from the States that wasn’t out in the newsagent yet. When we came to the light of the phone booth, I held up the T-shirt to read the screen-printed graphic on the front.
“Susie Switchblade, pimpball wizard. How sick is this?”
I turned around to show Shannon, but he was checking the phone booth for coins.
This piece was published in The Blackmail Offline Issue 2, 2013