When I was 19 nothing could divide me except 1 and myself; I was a prime number: invincible, impractical, and energetic.
I “attended” DeAnza college in Cupertino, CA where I majored in skipping out on class to drive a few hours to Woodland to skate with my friend Troy, drinking coffee with girls who put scars on their faces from drunk driving, and eating poppy seed muffins full of chemicals that would make me fail a drug test.
Some nights, I drove myself to a chain-link fence. I used my tattered coat to cover the bared wire; behind the fence was a prime loading dock called “Memorex“. It featured a smooth asphalt embankment with a curb on top. I would grind the curb and catch air quarter pipe style on the bank. The huge bright, lamp above the bank made Memorex and excellent night spot.
Most of the time, the security guard on duty chased me away; unless the security guard was Johnny. Johnny didn’t care. And I always knew Johnny was on duty when I saw the orange glow of his cigarette at the end of the loading dock. He wasn’t supposed to smoke and I wasn’t supposed to skate. When I got tired of skating, we’d talk about our lives and occasionally about philosophy. Johnny was surprising well read, but miserable. He had a wife and a child to support. He felt locked into his job, but found a ways to bear it, like sneaking a smoke and letting some crazy 19 year old catch air on the bank.
One time, instead of skating Memorex, I made the three hour drive to Troy’s house in Woodland, CA. I didn’t care that my brake lights were broken and that I didn’t even bother to call Troy to let him know I was stopping by. We skated an empty pool in a slum apartment complex for a few hours, then I headed home. As soft magenta hues dwindled from the vibrant evening sky, my eyes drooped. A loud blasting horn and shriek of skidding tires jolted me awake. The person behind me narrowly missed my car. Luckily, both of us were OK and there was no damage to either car. I popped on my headlights and used my parking lights as substitute brake lights until I got safely home.
The next time I went to Memorex, Johnny wasn’t on duty, he wasn’t on duty the time after that, or time after that. It was annoying because the other guards were total a-holes. One of them even brought a German Shepard with him. I told my friend, Mike, how f-up it was that Johnny wasn’t on duty.
Mike lit up and said, “You don’t know!?” Then he told me that Johnny was smack addict and that he ODed. Johnny didn’t seem like the junkie type and Mike was the BS type.
It was difficult to picture Johnny sticking needles in his veins. But when I think back, Johnny did seem depressed the last few times I saw him and he did mention how it would be nice to just “fall asleep and never wake up.”
I’ve never fully trusted Mike; he was after all a drunk and liar. To this day, I hope he was lying about Johnny’s OD. Even though I never did see Johnny again, I still hope that it was because Johnny got promoted or found another job. But laced inside my hopes and in this memory is a deep residing sadness.
Yet a part of me, still imagines Johnny is out there somewhere in the crisp evening air letting some punk kid skate a well lit bank, smoking his cigarette and quoting Nietzsche: “The true man wants two things: danger and play.” I hope danger didn’t overtake Johnny–that somewhere he’s still out there, playing the way he did when he was 19.