What About Bob?
The Puleo Interview
Words: Alex Klein Photos: Frankie
Unlike many pros, you won't find Bobby Puleo in a Southern California schoolyard. You won't find him in a parking lot, straining to learn the newest, hottest trick. You won't find Bobby at the X Games and you certainly won't find him as a pixilated video game character.
If you want to find Bobby, start in New York City. Don't look in any of the trendy spots look in the outer boroughs, down an alley, in an abandoned warehouse or behind a dumpster. Perhaps he'll be skating; perhaps he'll be discovering discarded treasures. You might think this is strange but, in all likelihood, Bobby Puleo doesn't care what you think.
Bobby Puleo is not your ordinary professional.
What's the most valuable thing you ever found on the street?
As far as monetary value? I've found plenty of money. I found a $20 bill the other day. I found a $100 bill one time in a midtown parking garage. Not that it's a goldmine, but… My eyes are constantly scanning the ground. It was weird, too, because it was just sitting out next to a bunch of people. I was waiting for this guy to pay for the garage fee, and he was standing right over it. It could have been his, I'm not even sure. It probably wasn't his money; he had his back to it.
How did you pick it up? Were you casual about it?
I just put my foot over it. I thought it was a $5 bill at first.
How did you get into the habit of scanning the ground?
I don't know. My dad used to always bring home all this crazy shit from work. He's kind of a pack rat in a weird way. I also used to go to my uncle's house when I was a kid. He had tons of crap and would prepare these boxes of stuff for me and my brother to go through, and we could take whatever we wanted. We were always so excited. It was serious junk. The Italian side of my family has this affinity for knick-knack things. There's so much shit on the ground in New York, and from skating I always look at the ground. At first it was photos. I started finding a lot of photos when I lived uptown. I started picking up photos and thinking, "What the hell?" In the suburbs you never find photos.
What have you found that you were personally psyched on?
There's been so much stuff. I have so much shit that I've collected off the street. Countless photographs that are truly amazing. I have my own ideas about what art is. To me, my Post-it collection is so valuable. To me, value isn't necessary monetary value; it's what I find fun. It's just like with skating. I'd rather have my time than my money. If it's about working a job all the time to have money, then I'd rather be poor and have my time to myself. I just enjoy having time to myself to explore what I find interesting.
What kind of stuff have you found scribbled on the notes?
Well, I don't just pick up anything. I find plenty of things just scribbled, but that doesn't mean I collect them. I have a collection of directions, which is pretty rad to me. That's something I value. It's so random to me that I've found so many pieces of paper with directions on them, to wherever, like a house or something. I think that's a really strange thing. I'll have this strange attraction to a certain piece of paper and it will have directions on it.
What other art have you been doing?
I've been taking a lot of photos lately. I kind of have categories of what I take photos of. It's all based on things that are in the city. I take a lot of photos of things I see on the ground, like patterns and stuff. Also, in a really dense city such as New York, I like to isolate buildings so that the building is the only thing in the frame. I have a fun time doing that. Wait a second. Hold on! My laundry just got stolen out of my car! And my radio got stolen, too! That's intense. Yeah, my car just got broken into. All my laundry got stolen. Holy shit! It was my girlfriend's laundry. Hey, let me call you back.
Author's note: Bobby hangs up and the conversation resumes eight days later.
Last time we spoke we were talking about art. Do you think you'll ever pursue a career in art?
I'm not sure what I'll do. In order for art to be your career, you have to be selling artwork and making a living off of it. You can't decide that you're going to sell your art, because who knows if anyone's gonna buy it. Sure, you could do commercial art. I already do one of my board graphics for Enjoi per run. I'm starting to do that.
Have you had success selling some of your fine art stuff?
I've sold things, but mostly photographs or drawings. I don't sell any of my collections because I'm really attached to them. I'm always adding to them; they grow from day to day. It's hard to sell a growing body of work because it's not a completed thing. Part of the enjoyment of the art comes from amassing the collection and watching it expand.
Are you obsessive-compulsive?
No, I don't think it's that. I don't have to pick up things. There's plenty of stuff I walk by that I could pick up but don't. I guess one thing I might be a little obsessive about is filing. I like to organize things, but it's definitely not OCD. I've seen people with OCD, and it's not that. I just like to create some sort of order out of chaos.
Have you ever heard the term "Puleo Spot" thrown around?
Yeah. I went to Boston one time, and these kids took me to a "Puleo Spot." It was a cellar door. They call them "bulkheads" there. It's pretty crazy.
What is the archetypal "Puleo Spot?"
I don't know. I guess the cellar door. I guess the stuff that I skate here. It might also be something that's hard to get to.
I had it defined as "a quirky, hard-to-skate spot."
Yeah. I mean, that's just what's available to me. You come to New York and there are a lot of good spots, but most of them you can't skate all the time. It's not like Barcelona where you can sit at an amazing plaza all day and skate the ledges. Here, a lot of the good ledge spots are in midtown, and you get kicked out. It's good in one sense, because it keeps you moving around. A lot of the spots I skate are out-of-the-way nooks and crannies.
What makes a spot interesting to you?
Sometimes I like backgrounds. Sometimes I like pieces of cement that have a certain graffiti writer's name on it. I get inspired by different things. Mostly it's the way you can use things that are already there.
What's it like hanging out with the Enjoi guys?
It's fun. I don't get to hang out with them too often because they're all in San Jose. I get to hang out with Jerry Hsu because he comes to New York a lot. When Marc Johnson was around he was really fun to hang out with, too. He was so spontaneous. They're all rad people. I wish they would come out here a lot more.
What's Victim about?
It kind of started with the idea of being a fashion victim, like I was going to make some clothes or something. I made some T-shirts and stuff. It's not really anything right now. It's like my fake company, this little foundation I'm building.
What projects are you working on?
I really want to re-release my La Luz part and my Infamous part. Every time I go somewhere, people tell me they liked the part but could never get a hold of the videos because of poor distribution. With Static 2, I had enough footage for two parts, but I had to leave a bunch of footage out. I was gonna call my video Greatest Misses and put it out as a Victim video. The website is www.areyouavictim.com. I guess it will just be another outlet for photos, video and other stuff.
What's going on with that skate spot you're building?
It's called Mount Weather.
Where'd the name come from?
Supposedly, Mount Weather is this secret underground bunker in Virginia that the secret government operates out of. I got a bunch of people in my neighborhood together and we rented a warehouse space. We got a good deal with a short-term lease. Once springtime comes around, if we don't want it, we can terminate our lease. But, yeah, we got the space, took out some insurance and built a little multi-faceted skatepark.
What kind of stuff do you have?
We made two bank ramps with a set of stairs in the middle that disassemble to a manual pad and a ledge. There's a quarterpipe, a hip and some recycled benches. It's just a private little skatepark. It all worked out good. I was thinking about moving to Spain for a while, but I'm having so much fun with this place. I never grew up skating parks, so it's fun to have free reign over one. I can feel my skating getting so much better. We just need our heat on. I don't know if he's a slumlord, but the landlord's not really keeping his part of the deal. It'd be amazing if we had the heat on in there, but it's bearable. You just gotta keep moving.