The book, like the demimondes of skateboarding and New York City, thrives by a balance of exclusion and indoctrination. Note the illustrated glossary of such useful terms as “bodied” (hurt), “kit” (an outfit), “struggle face” (an expression that demonstrates frustration or a hangover) and “mad bodied” (very hurt). Flipping through these two hundred pages feels a bit like watching one of those photo montages that people play at their weddings; you’re the plus-one, but not knowing these people feels weirdly okay. Inside the front and back covers we find a pair of illustration collages with seventy or so nicknames: there’s Sketch Sketch, Drippy Kevin and Squirrel Master. There’s also Russian Steve, the Irish Potato and John the Mexican, which highlights another characteristic of Quartersnacks: their frank treatment of race and ethnicity, or “multi-cultural skate life,” as Andrew Brown calls it in his brief essay. The few short pieces of introductory writing tell stories of local characters and friendships that have floated into the purview of the TF’s famous green benches, an “ever-critical front row of a fashion show with little semblance of a show.”
For anyone remotely familiar with skateboarding, the pleasures of the book are many. When I came across a photo of the backhoe parked to demolish the small section of the Brooklyn Banks, I was thrown into a spiral of memory—I skated the famous Banks exactly once, deeply hungover, with my pal, the Denim Czar, and a very well-known and polarizing professional named Jason Dill, who was wearing chrome shoes, thigh-high yellow socks and bright white shorts. I landed a nollie flip on the little bank and Dill gave me passing props and, for a moment, I was privy to a world I’d previously known only from a distance.
The ethos of Quartersnacks is shaped by a 27-year-old named Konstantin Satchek. Roughly 170 times per annum Kosta posts one hundred to two thousand words on his website. There are occasional guest posts, but any writing that is unsigned bears, in its anonymity, Kosta’s signature. His language is clear and declarative, charged by a few-fucks-given pragmatism that is un-theorized but not uncritical. He is funny, and happy to point out where an idea has been trodden into cliché—including the popular armchair ontology that celebrates the way “skaters see the world differently.” Kosta once conducted an extensive oral history of the nickname “white rapper” for a trick that, by the technical language of the activity, is classed as a “switch varial heelflip.” Compiling the “Chillest Lines in Skateboarding History: 1993-1999, 2011-2012,” he excluded the entirety of the 2000s because “people spent the decade thinking the most important thing in skateboarding was being good at it.”
Kosta’s 2011 post “TOSQ-1001: Intro to Tompkins Square Park” welcomes students to “the most legendary skate spot of modern time” including what he calls in a 2013 update the “ever-so-critical green bench,” from which onlookers issue judgments nonstop. But these judgments, he makes clear, should ideally be like Kosta’s own, betraying no fidelity to any higher-order standards beyond taste and style. In the 2013 update Kosta writes, “The T.F. is no longer for people who are good. Go to the skatepark if you are good at skateboarding.”
He’s joking, but the command exemplifies Kosta’s rejection of the model that would judge skateboarding like gymnastics or diving, with official standards for difficulty and execution. The joke of the TF, short for “training facility,” is that the courts replace obstacles with an audience of assholes laughing on a green bench—a protest against the activity’s inevitable slide toward the Olympics. I share Kosta’s resistance, which makes it all the more difficult to figure out how to voice my criticism of TF at 1: Ten Years of Quartersnacks. Perhaps I should start by saying, as subjectively as possible, that I found the book disappointing.
Satchek may not want skateboarding to become a sport, but he does seem to share with pro athletes the enthusiasm for profit. In TF at 1, this means sacrificing voice and style in favor of brand building, mostly by way of authenticity. Heritage is not, as a rule, fun. But heritage is this book’s indisputable currency. After his straight-faced and informative introductory essay, Kosta’s voice recedes. From others we hear echoes of that exhausting refrain about New York City today no longer being the New York City people once loved. Isak Baun is happy to frame “New York skateboarding” with scare quotes, but only until genuine nostalgia overcomes the risks of cliché (as only nostalgia can, it seems). “This is a child-proofed version of the city I knew,” he laments. The photos are more or less compelling, but in the end they prove little more than that a series of moments has indeed elapsed. The camera phones go from flip to Blackberry to iPhone. Finally all that we’re offered is time and setting. Ten years, New York City.
“Looking cool as fuck really does overcome all,” Kosta wrote in a Quartersnacks post last February. Style, as Kosta knows, is an irreducible quality, but this is exactly why skateboarding, an activity with no complicating meaning of its own, can be so difficult to write about. For all that the verb denotes an activity of a wooden plank mounted upon four wheels, skateboarding is largely a matter of perception. Here I speak from my other world, as an academic. What I saw then, and still see now every time I look, is a strange and mysterious object. And how difficult it is to speak of mystery without reducing or imposing on that mystery.
Last year, my wife and I traveled to Paris and spent four days—well, our honeymoon, in fact—avoiding taxis and exploring the city by foot. We packed into the cable car and climbed to the Eiffel Tower’s second-floor observation deck. Crossing the Seine on the Passerelle Debilly, we held hands and strolled beneath a clearing sky onto Avenue du New York. We approached the Palais de Tokyo from the south, through the open marble courtyard with large fountains, gradual steps and reclining statues. At which point something changed, and not symmetrically. It was an experience I’d had a couple of times before: once in San Francisco in 1996, and again in Philadelphia in 2005. Though I’d never been to the Palais de Tokyo courtyard, I had seen it more times than I could count. Here, as Nina Simone sang her final “the way that I love you,” JJ Rousseau popped a nollie heel frontside noseslide on the out-ledge of the three-flat-three doubleset (please forgive my language). On top of the ledge is a marble statue of a woman, nude, in repose.Its name to me was “Le Dôme.” Standing there with the person I loved, I was overcome by a kind of dream logic, as if, like DeLillo’s Karen, I’d been drawn to the place without realizing it. Like Delany’s poet, Arnold, I had stepped through a portal. Is it melodramatic or cliché, even necessarily metaphorical, to say that, at that moment, I was standing in a place that my wife was not?
Art credit: Jennifer Diamond; Eden, Janine & Jim (CC BY/Flickr)
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This essay appears in issue 12 of The Point.
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