The four or six of my 10 to 15 regular readers who may have tuned in last week may even recall that we left off with Yours Truly and my fellow reprobate childhood buddy Ricky Scott and a couple of homemade skateboards and a serious case of road rash.
This was on account of our strictly amateur home-built sidewalk surfers being cobbled together by a couple of energetic kids (us) with some scrap plywood and my sister’s stolen roller skates.
That is to say, it was me who did the stealing (um, borrowing) not my sister, and — get this — those strap-on skates had wheels made of stone, of all things. Which when “rolled” on, say, a cement sidewalk would have a measurable scientific level of friction roughly equivalent to that of a 10-year-old kid attempting to push a fully-loaded CN locomotive (with a caboose) up a steep hill.
If a modern skateboard with “thane” wheels (polyurethane, or polypropylene, or something like that) had a glide factor of roughly 9.5 out of 10, then the boards Rick and I had so carefully created (threw together) would come it at about minus 200.
But as every kid in those summer days knew, a splat of Singer sewing machine oil would fix just about anything.
A small flat tin of Singer sewing machine oil borrowed (OK, stolen) from your Mom’s sewing bench for fixing non-human things was just about as miraculous and universal as something called “Mercurochrome” was to fixing human surface problems. Like road rash.
A healthy swab of that weird voodoo Mercurochrome concoction on a cut, scrape or protruding bone fracture would instantly stain your skin a strange and sickly bright shade of red/orange that would stay stained at least until the end of summer.
Skateboard dudes and dudettes these days have never heard of this Mercurochrome stuff — heck most of their parents probably don’t know what I’m talking about.
Suffice to say that this popular topical antiseptic, which was found in pretty well every medicine cabinet in every home in the modern world, contained mercury — as the name clearly suggests. And we all know now that mercury is a very bad idea in terms of human contact and consumption.
This because it is a very odd and mysterious substance derived from the planet Mercury, which, as everybody knows, is a dangerous place because it’s too close to the sun. Still, it was all the rage to pass around a small pool of liquid mercury in the palm of your hand in elementary school, and marvel at how heavy it was and how the shiny metallic liquid would form separate pools and then slide together like puddle of silver that had a life of its own. It tasted kind of funny, too.
Just kidding about that last part, but mercury exposure at school may explain some of the subsequent wacked out behaviour of the entire baby boomer generation.
The original Mercurochrome was apparently taken off the market in most countries in 1998, which was exactly 10 years before the NASA space craft called Messenger orbited the planet Mercury taking pictures. Coincidence?
But I digress. Back to the top of Spruce Drive hill.
Rick and I look like the cast from the Walking Dead — Mercurochrome-stained, road rash humanoid zombies in shorts and T-shirts, huffing and puffing from the dreary walk up the long and winding sidewalk carrying our homemade skateboard facsimiles, dripping tell-tale sewing machine oil as we went.
Finally we summit in the long shadow of the humongous green mushroom water tower.
“I dunno …” I mumble, more to myself than to Rick.
Both of us staring at what seems like about five miles (42 km) of curved sidewalk more or less straight down. That’s what it looks like — that’s what it feels like — when you’re a kid and you’re standing at the top of a big hill with a skateboard under your arm.
But of course, I know and Rick knows and we both know each other knows that we are going to go for it, precisely because you are a kid, a boy kid, and you made your very own skateboard for this exact reason and you know the city made this exact sidewalk so you could give it a go on a skateboard.
And so we did.
Off we rattle more or less together, weaving uncertainly on granite wheels but much slower than my imagination had imagined. The boards under our feet grinding like cement mixers.
By the time we reach the big right turn down the hill, if I try really hard I can almost feel the wind on my face but I realize we’re actually going about the speed of a tired senior citizen with a walker.
We try crouching on the board, stealth-like. Kicking a free foot on the sidewalk. Weaving back and forth.
A kid zooms by us on a small bicycle, arms crossed, riding no-hands. I notice he isn’t even pedalling and he’s going about 100 times faster than we are. I notice he’s laughing at us.
We are at the steepest part now but we seem to be going nowhere, and not very fast indeed. Thing is though, the board is vibrating so much that my legs are turning to jelly. It’s like standing on a jackhammer at full power.
Apparently Singer sewing machine oil isn’t a particularly long-lasting miracle because by the time we (finally) reach the bottom of the hill, all four wheels on both skateboards have pretty much seized to a complete stop.
And even more humiliating, when we step off our custom slowboards, we can barely walk. Have you ever had pins and needles in your feet and legs so bad you fall over?
So I’m sitting in the grass beside the sidewalk at the bottom of the hill, trying to get the feeling back into my legs and my pride back into wherever pride comes from. Rick is mournfully doing the same.
But we were kids with the whole summer ahead of us and the Unfortunate Skateboard Experiment behind us.
“So,” he says, rubbing his Mercurochromed knees. “You wanna build a go-kart?”
But that’s another story.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.