Craig Stecyk’s phone call to my house the other day wasanswered by my 22-year-old son, Colin, who at the time was holdinghis two-year-old nephew, Gavin, in his lap. Colin was sitting on oneof our benches and at his feet was his other nephew, Gavin’s eight-month-old brother, Liam. The family is expanding. In the midst ofbalancing his nephews, Colin was attempting to pass along to Stecykthat I was still in Europe, but as the story goes, Liam was squawking,Gavin was hungry, and Colin was up and into the kitchen as Stecyksuggested he’d call later.
Liam crawled it into the kitchen, Gavin took the phone asColin put him down to begin slicing fruit, which he then served atopthe bench where he had been sitting. For Gavin the bench’s sittingsurface often becomes a countertop, whereas for Liam it’ssomething he can grab onto after pulling himself up, and if all goeswell he can laterally move himself down to his brother’s food. Thena whole new cycle begins with Liam leaning one-handed on thebench looking incredulously at his brother walking away with thefood.
Twenty years ago the same bench provided this sameservice to Colin as his older sisters left him behind–the grandsonsare the second generation of kids to use these benches as tables,counters, and seating areas. The benches have also been used asbook shelves, ladders, platforms, and during one eventful evening,one of them became a battering ram that took out two doors. Imade these benches more than 30 years ago. At the time they weresomething that we needed. We didn’t have chairs, but we did have atable, and the benches seemed a simple solution.
“You should make some benches,” was the suggestion ofMichael Murphy, whom I was working for at the time. The table hadbeen my father’s work desk, and after his death I’d finished theproduction of his government film contracts by keeping Murphy onthe payroll. After those USIA films were completed, I was headed forWashington, D.C., but ended up in Hawai’i, instead, working onThe Hawaiians with Charlton Heston and Geraldine Chaplin.Frances and I got married there, the wrap party was our reception,and then we spent months traveling in Europe on movie money. Weeven crossed paths with Stecyk in Biarritz, evading INTERPOL in theprocess, and then returned to Hollywood, where Murphy returnedthe favor by hiring me to build some projects at his compound deepin the Malibu hills. “Build some benches,” he said.
I needed heavy lumber to make the benches I wanted, andbecause resources are always a hot commodity, I asked around. Myfriend Scott Halley had the answer, “POP.” The next morning there Iwas, on the beach, beneath the crumbling ruins of Venice,California’s Pacific Ocean Park (POP) pier, attempting to haulenormous planks across the sand. The whole project took weeks,because as it developed the project changed. The benches becamesomething else. They weren’t just benches anymore. It was work. Itwas hard time-consuming labor. The planks had been structuralpieces of the pier. Most of the ones I took had been beached on thesand for a while and were dry, but we ended up collecting some thatwere floaters, too. Four-by-twelves. Six-by-twelves. Eight-by-eights.Most of these rough-cut timbers were twelve to 24 feet long, andsome weighed more than 100 pounds. They were like trees. Theywere trees.
At the time, my only vehicle was a ’59 Volkswagen Bug thathad been offered up by Gary Weiss as a debt repayment afterFrances and I had returned from Europe. He was living in a studio onMain Street across from Star Liquor, behind a new surf shop thathad opened. Gary was about a year from leaving L.A. and venturingto New York where he would become involved with a new comedyshow that would be broadcast live on Saturday nights. We hadstayed with Gary in his studio for a week while our house at Topangawas being vacated, and the only problem at Gary’s was thetoilet/shower arrangement–it was shared with everyone else in thebuilding. Gary’s recommendation, “Get in there early, ’cause thoseZephyr guys get in there and they never leave!”
So, it took an entire morning to drag my first load of thePOP planks to the parking lot, and then getting them up on the roof-racks–it was a project. As it was, I had to off-load. They were soheavy I nearly crushed the VW’s suspension–those cantileveredwheels were splayed out. I remember actually worrying thatsomeone would take my planks as I drove away with only onestrapped atop the car. I made our benches, and I made a bed–afour-poster POP bed with the platform six feet off the ground. Thefirst time she saw it, Sharon Peckinpah said, “How in the hell do youget into bed?” Once we got up there we tended to stay. Good view.People would come over to our house and wander around trying tofind us.
POP furniture was the rage at Topanga Beach for a while.Scott Halley used POP timbers to build an entire house–theadvantage of having a truck. At one point I think he rented a four-wheel-drive flatbed and pulled up under the pier to stack his load.The benches are all that we have from that era–our bed ended up inSleepy Hollow, California when the new owner of the house saw it.”Oh, my gawd! I have to have that!” is what I think she said. Ishould’ve sold it to her for 100,000 dollars. I’d hauled the thingfrom Topanga to Hollywood to San Francisco to Venice, and then toSleepy Hollow. We built everything without nails, and by usingdriftwood and broom handles for dowels, I could take the thingapart and reassemble it in about ten minutes.
Before our first daughter, Aran, was born in San Francisco,I had lowered the bed’s platform–pregnancy didn?t lend itself toclimbing up into bed. Frances was pregnant with our seconddaughter, Allwyn, when we were readying to leave Sleepy Hollow andmove to La Jolla, and maybe I was tired of hauling the thing around,but I think it was more the enthusiasm of the lady moving into ourhouse. She wanted the bed. I told her about POP and some ofthe story, but she wanted all the details. The story was important toher because she saw the bed as something significant. I told herwhat I could.
Which is this story. Part of the story, anyway–“our story.”And every part of it is the story that skateboarding is. Being part ofskateboarding is our story, and by inclusion, by being involved withskateboarding, you are part of my story and I part of yours. It’s ourhistory. Its history. Skateboarding’s history. Our story is our history.
So, with Sony International’s release of Dogtown And ZBoys, the rest of the world may begin to realize thatskateboarding is a story, and for many it will be an introductoryexperience to one of the many stories that make up skateboarding’sstory. Stacy Peralta’s documentary provides audiences with aglimpse of the life and times of the Zephyr Team, and thesubsequent impact of what a ragtag collection of kids from SantaMonica, West L.A., Mar Vista, Venice–Dogtown–could pull off.
Standing in line to see the film when it was shown recentlyduring the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, I was attemptingto rendezvous with John Lytle and Jim Knight (they’ve sat on ourbenches) with hopes of securing tickets for all of us. Elaboratelyconvoluted film-festival procedures had eliminated the possibility ofbuying advance tickets, although as I waited in line, several othersshowed up with tickets in hand. Conspiracy theories were abundant.All of which become part of this story, because when the film beganfew people who had been in line made it into the theater. Where didthose other people come from? What’s their story?
Festival patrons, pass holders, the press? They wereadmitted. They made it into the theater, and the hundreds of skaterswaiting in line were left outside, in line, disappointed and confusedby what took place. Peralta graciously made the introductions to thefilm, the lights were still up, and just before he concluded I noticedJim Knight slipping into the last vacant seat in the house momentsbefore a security-type usher rushed in and surveyed the scene.
Concluding his remarks, Peralta suggest
ed that whateveranyone thought about the film, when all was said and done “it is afilm about skateboarding.” And as an afterthought he assuredeveryone it was okay to make as much noise as they wanted. Therewere some hoots from the packed group, a couple people shouting”Yeah, Stacy!” and the lights went down. And the rest, as they say, ishistory.
Well, almost, because before I got home that night and saton one of those benches and reflected on what had transpired, thestory took on a twist. Peralta had said, “Make some noise,” and JimKnight followed the director’s direction. There’s a point in the filmwhere Stecyk is standing in a wrecking yard and talking about thedynamics of what had taken place in the 70s, and Knight yelled out,”Yeah, Stecyk!” fairly loud. Knight certainly has his story ofexperiences with Stecyk and Peralta from the Bones Brigadedays–things lit on fire, things thrown from rooftops, things driventoo fast, things drunk too wicked. His shout was respectivelyreceived with a few chuckles and “Yeah, Jim!”
So encouraged, during the next several minutes of the film,Knight continued to “make some noise” by offering up exclamationsabout anything and anyone, “Yeah, Stacy!” “Yeah, Alva!” “Alva rules!”And he got louder. All of which seemed fine to everyone in thetheater except for the guy who appeared at Jim’s elbow and quicklyushered him out of the theater. Afterward, sitting on one of ourbenches, Frances asked, “They threw him out? They threw JimKnight out of the theater? He’s watching Dogtown, and theythrew him out because he’s making too much noise?”
Isn’t that our story? Confusion and misunderstandingblended with success and acceptance? Murphy, who made SkaterDater nearly 40 years ago, is well and working in the hills ofMalibu. My POP bed is allegedly still in Sleepy Hollow. POP is longgone. Star Liquor is open for business. Gary Weiss is back inHollywood and called last month while he was working with TomAdler. I’m going to call Stecyk right now and I’ll probably end upsitting on one of my benches while I talk to him. Gavin is in thebackyard. Liam is asleep. Colin has a baseball game in a few minutes.I think I’ll call Jim Knight, too, because I need “the rest of the story.”
It’s our story, this story of skateboarding, played out inour lives each and every day by each and every one of us. It’s a storyworth telling and living. It’s skateboarding.