Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Attempt

The school is closed on this early Sunday morning. The imposing shapes of the administration buildings stand silent in the background, and just a vague sense of silenced authority finds its way to the parking lot. On this weekend, as with all weekends, there are no cars in the lot, and the recently paved black asphalt is the perfect floor for an education without curriculum and standardization. This is the self-created flat-land of trial and error. The place where there is only will and peer pressure and broken bones and the decision to try it again.

Two dozen teenagers are gathered on the periphery of the asphalt, close to the sidewalk that wraps around it like a thick barrier. They stand there, patient and attentive, but with their hands on their own skateboards, ready in an instant to step into the sacred space.

In the center of the lot are metal rails and obstacles meant to be jumped onto or over, or coasted against. They have brought them here, carried in backpacks and bicycles, easily assembled and built for the moment. These are self-imposed obstacles, and they’re here to be used. To hit, to land, to wail against.

In the center is a young man. His slim-fitting black pants do nothing to prevent him from attempting another trick. He has tried it over and over, weekend after weekend. Sometimes he gets it. Sometimes he pushes himself with his right leg and rolls over the asphalt gaining speed until he is just a few feet from the metal bar. Then he puts a little more weight on the back tail of the board and uses his right foot to push the wooden board up just a little higher. Sometimes he gets it. Sometimes he makes it to the rail and then falls off. Sometimes he makes it to the rail and grinds the bottom of his board against it till it ends. Sometimes he even lands on the ground with both feet on the board. Sometimes he falls off halfway through. After all the attempts, he has still not got it quite right, not enough to be consistent. So he tries it again.

His loose black T-shirt billows with the force of the wind. This is the moment. The gathered on-lookers watch him, and though he has made it to the rail, nearly to the end, he looses his balance. His arms are still out to the sides for balance, his right foot tilts awkwardly on the board, just about to fall off the platform completely. His right foot is bent and raised slightly towards his chest. He knows what’s coming, and he smiles.

The trick has failed. There will be a fall, he will have to roll as he always does and duck his head, and just as he feels his entire body shifting with gravity, he smiles. Another attempt that has failed. But after the fall, he will try again. There will be a line of guys, they’ll attempt the same trick. And he’ll be standing there, watching them, as they watch him now. As he waits for another turn, he’ll watch their footing, the speed with which they approach the rail, the timing and pressure on the nose of the board. He’ll watch it all, looking for another subtle movement to use and push him along. It’s balance, timing. Above all, it is will. There is so much to remember and execute, he has to do it within seconds. If they are watching him from the sidelines, they’re learning from his mistake, just as he learns from them. He smiles. It was a good attempt, another jump into the unknown, taking all the knowledge he could remember and use. And though he jumped, though he ground the wheels for a few feet, it just wasn’t right. When he falls, the sun will still be shining. The clouds will still be scattered. He will be one jump wiser. If he can just remember it all, he can try it again.

For the brief moment, he is suspended, not quite the victor, not quite the fallen. He knows his mistake. He smiles and waits for the crash.

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