Me, Myself, and this blog

Control

Control is an ever present topic as an artist. We’re taught the rules and then encouraged to discard them. We celebrate happy accidents, and endlessly tweak precision techniques. The craft vs the variables. As a photographer this is multiplied by the endless gear and negated by endless memory. Film is whispered to be more pure, but it’s really just adjusting when you make the important decisions, before or after. On camera or off. As a street photographer, observation is everything, and everything is anticipation. You can only control so much. All the planning in the world is pointless if nothing catches my eye. As a writer, I control the words but not what is inferred from them. At some point I have to let go. But even then, always holding onto something.

The struggle between controlling and controlled is only complicated when life gets all over it. 

Primarily, my work is directly eternally. I capture moments of things happening around me, not to me. I leave the interpretations up to others, and it doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong. It’s about the feeling, not the reality. Artistic license applied to real life. By intentionally giving up control, it can’t be taken from me. It’s defensive, and preemptive. I don’t know the story from my subject’s perspective, I only know how I perceive it. And in that way, I retain control.

It’s harder to let go when looking inward at my own life and experience, when that dynamic is turned on end. I know the story, but no matter how desperately I want to tell it I’ve moved from the place of observer to the observed. When looking at photos I’ve taken of my life or my family, I know what was happening, but also what was about to happen. And how I played into that. Willingly. Unwillingly. Inconsequentially. Despite the consequences. The viewer only has part of that story, and I wrestle with how important the other part is. Or isn’t.

At the same time, I’m deeply attracted to community powered projects, shared decision making and consensus within a group. Finding a way for these themes to connect is both exciting and scary.

Safecast: Live at 10

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the 3/11 triple disaster that struck the Tohoku region of Japan (and the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant) which abruptly changed the course of my life, not to mention millions of others. 10 years ago, over the following days and weeks we’d start pulling together the people for discussions that would eventually solidify into Safecast. If you are reading my personal website then I suspect I don’t need to tell you about how many ways that decision changed the direction. If nothing else, it’s unlikely I would have had the opportunity to live in Japan as long as I did. In early February 2020 I made this post about Safecast, detailing our future fundraising plans and discussing some of our next big steps. Obviously 2020 didn’t end up playing out as I, or anyone anticipated and a few months before year end we had to make the challenging decision to shift to 100% volunteer in favor of using the funding reserves we had left to keep the servers online. Over 90% of the Safecast team has been volunteer the entire time so at face value that’s a tiny change, but those 10% who weren’t (including myself) were more than full time, all day every day, positions. We’re all still involved, just unfortunately with less available time to put towards the project.

How that would play out was not clear. Would things keep going? Slow down? Come to a crashing halt? We didn’t know, but we kept our fingers crossed and forged ahead.

Later today, a 24 hour live stream celebration of Safecast’s 10 year anniversary begins and earlier this week we announced a new air quality device that we’re deploying in partnership with Blues Wireless. Things are still moving, perhaps differently than we would have guessed last year at this time, but moving none the less. And the steps feel natural and appropriate, and being able to focus more on the data and less on the hardware actually frees us up to explore many other things that we might not have been able to otherwise. One of those things also launches today, and is called Safecast.live.

If your first reaction is that this feels more like an art project, you aren’t wrong. Last year my friend Ray Ozzie came across Listen To Wikipedia and sent it my way. I fell in love with the this way to “visualize” data with sounds, and it reminded me a lot of the concept behind many of Brian Eno’s ambient works that have deep systems in place to create ever evolving soundscapes rather than simple repeating loops. We discussed how Safecast’s data stream might lend itself to a similar audio experience. But we were busy at the time and the idea, as ideas sometimes do, kinda faded away. A few months back Ray surprised me – in preparation of the new air sensors coming online he’d been playing with the data stream and had put together a feed that he pointed to some test samples and it kind of worked. He handed me the keys and wished me luck. My mind was racing and I immediately started working on new samples from my synthesizers and sample collections I had, and trying to think of what kind of visual front end would go with it?

My friend, designer Rob Sheridan, runs a pretty fantastic discord server filled with creative people from many disciplines. I posted there asking if any front end developers might have some spare time to help out with a little project. Almost immediately I was contacted by a developer in the Ukraine, Kether Cortex, and we started trading notes and ideas. Aesthetically we clicked right away, and when he reminded me that the Nine Inch Nails Ghosts I-IV album was Creative Commons licensed, I knew this was going to shape up to be even better than I’d imagined. Since then Kether Cortex and I have spoken every day, refining and reimagining the idea every step of the way. The production version which launches today is the culmination of those many hours. I don’t want to give away too many secrets as it’s intended to provide a space for exploration. I will say there are several different audio options, all of which are being driven by the data feed which is random and constantly evolving. As new sensors come online daily it will continue to change. In addition to the NIN sample, and ones I recorded myself, we’re using some samples provided by Hainbach and Samples From Mars. Find one you like, and you can listen to it forever and the pattern will never repeat. There’s no real purpose for this other than as a reminder that you can sometimes find some beauty in the chaos. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

So here we are, 10 years into Safecast – not where we expected to be, a little more beaten up than planned, but still here, and still moving.

Proof of Life / Station Ident

Apparently I haven’t blogged since May, which might be the longest stretch of non-blogging since I started blogging before blogging was called blogging. In my defense, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I moved around the world from Tokyo to Vancouver. That’s not to say I haven’t been active, I just haven’t been active here. Which I regret. So I thought I’d quickly drop an update for the few of you that still read blogs.

Just after moving to Canada from Japan we at Safecast had to face the cold reality that our funding efforts this year have failed miserably in no small part due to COVID and that was unlikely to change anytime soon. We made the hard decision to shift the entire paid staff to volunteer so that we have reserves to keep the servers online hopefully long enough to get through this. That includes me, and means that for the first time in 20 years or so I find myself without gainful employment. Did I mention that I just moved around the world and we’re in the middle of a pandemic? Right, so that’s fun. The interesting thing about being self employed for most of your adult life is that it makes you essentially unemployable.

To that end I’ve been staying up late working on various side hustles any number of which might, with just the right combination of time and place, grow to at least fill some of these new gaps.

I redid my photography portfolio site seanbonner.photos top to bottom to try and give a better view of what I do, what I’m trying to do, and where I think that might lead and why it’s useful. At shop.seanbonner.photos you can buy prints and books and merch. I’m especially excited about my new subscription offer where I send subscribers a limited edition mystery miniprint each month – a few spots are still remaining if you are interested.

Speaking of photos and merch, streetsheets.tokyo has been updated with some new pacific northwest influenced designs on housewares and clothing.

Tara and I have finished writing The Interest Driven Life book and are in the final production steps before it goes off to the publisher. If you’d like to get more info about that as the release date gets closer, please do sign up for our mailing list on the site.

Speaking of mailing lists, I’m still actively writing my newsletter The Crowd, though like this blog the updates are not as frequent as they once were. This is in part due to the fact that I’m taking a break from Twitter because it’s a garbage fire of depressive bullshit, and that’s where I used to get a lot of the news I’d write about. Perhaps ironically I’m spending more time on Instagram. I would like to explore how best to merge the blog and the mailing list, so that I could write something and it would go to both places.

Perhaps most exciting, I’ve revived my old record label Toybox Records and have begun announcing plans and releasing things. The roadmap at the moment includes a mix of older yet previously unreleased material, reissues of favorites, and new stuff by new bands. As before, genre-wise, expect it to be all over the place. For now music can be found here and brand spanking new merch is over here.

Writing that all out does make it feel like a lot, but I’d be lying if I told you that from the place I’m sitting at the moment it felt like a lot. I think because so much of that is in the “about to happen” or tentative stages it feels like none of them are actually real. But they are, and at this point I’m just trying to get them in front of people who may appreciate them. If you know someone who might be interested in something I’ve mentioned here, I’d be in your debt if you felt like passing the link on to them to check out.

Party Mode

Bradenton, Florida. A shit-hole ghetto town about an hour south of Tampa. I think it was the summer of 1990. I remember it being really, really hot. I was in high school and my friend Chris suggested starting a band. He played guitar already and told me I should get a bass. I took that week’s paycheck from the grocery store I worked at and went to a local used music equipment shop and asked what that could get me, I bought whatever it was they suggested. In my memory it was a sunburst Fender but I honestly can’t remember. I didn’t know I needed an amplifier for it to work, and had trouble figuring out how to play it at home. The following week we got together in another friends garage for “band practice” which was a serious lesson in humility. I showed up without an amp, but luckily (or unluckily) someone there had a guitar amp I could plug into. This was the first time I’d ever heard what the bass even sounded like.

Chris proposed that we start off playing “New Direction.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Chris pointed out that I was wearing a Gorilla Biscuits t-shirt at the time, New Direction of course was the first song on their recently released album Start Today. I didn’t actually have the album yet, I had a dubbed cassette copy that my neighbor Max had made for me which I listened to all the time – so once Chris started playing it I knew what he was talking about, but Max hadn’t written the names of any of the songs so didn’t know what any of them were called. Max would later sell me his blue and white swirled vinyl copy of that album, which has remained one of my prized possessions even to this day. Anyway, I knew the song but I had no idea how to play it, given that I had no idea how to play bass. I stood there in the garage all afternoon while my friends jammed one song after another that I knew but I had no idea how to play. That was the only band practice I ever went to, and I wasn’t ever invited to be any of their bands ever again, rightly so.

I kept that bass and every once and a while I’d pick it up and hope I’d magically learned how to play something. I never did. When I’d fantasize about being in a band I always pictured myself singing, so just never got motivated enough to try and learn it. Besides, my favorite band in town at the time, Tired From Now On, already had a bass player and a singer and I wasn’t going to even try to start a Tired From Now On copycat band. I think I sold it to my friend from Canada Kyle for $50 when one of his bands was passing through Gainesville a few years later. At least I’d spray painted it black so it looked much cooler than that crappy sunburst. I wonder if he still has it?

A few years later when I was working at Victory Records my co-worker Chuck told me he wanted to start a band and asked if I’d be interested in singing. Of course I said yes, instantly. He said he was getting the rest of the band together and we’d have a proper rehearsal in a few weeks. At that time I was often the last person to leave the office, which was in a 3 story condo in an industrial part of Chicago. My office was on the 3rd floor, and when everyone else would leave I’d often turn up my stereo as loud as it would go and jump around screaming along like an idiot to the loudest, angriest thing I had. It was excellent therapy. I highly recommend everyone try it sometime. My private karaoke included many bands, but vocalist Tim Singer’s bands – No Escape, Deadguy and the recently released (at the time) Kiss It Goodbye were in heavy rotation. I guess I always kind of related to his “I tried, but everything is fucked anyway” lyrical narrative. In my mind, that’s how I’d sing in a band.

Eventually Chuck would rope in the rest of a band and we’d all get together one evening after work in the basement of Bulldog Records, Victory’s record store in Wicker Park where bands like Blood For Blood and Murphy’s Law had recently played some already legendary shows. Drums set up, amps plugged in and blasting. I knew enough lyrics to enough songs that I figured there wouldn’t be a repeat of the New Direction situation and I was ready to go with whatever song they pulled out of the hardcore repertoire. Except the songs they’d written themselves and had already been practicing that I’d never heard before. Chuck handed me the mic and said “let’s go!” and I just stood there. I didn’t know what to sing, or what to say. I’d never written lyrics before, and certainly hadn’t anticipated doing it on the spot. I’d been daydreaming about doing this for years, and now when given the chance I froze. I convinced myself that anything I’d come up with would be so stupid the band would stop playing and I’d be laughed out of the basement. Of course, just standing there like an idiot had a similar effect. 

Decades later I of course recognize how letting my insecurity keep me from doing the thing I was dreaming of doing, when I directly had the opportunity to do it, was just about the stupidest thing I could have ever done. I’m not really big on regret, we all do things that if given another chance we might do differently or applying hindsight realize our errors, but pushing past that fear and doing actually band with my friends sometime in the 90’s when I had countless opportunities is something that I’d totally should have done. If life had do overs, that’s where I’d use mine.

I mention this because totally out of the blue this week there’s a new EP out by Tim’s new band Bitter Branches and it’s incredible. It’s the last thing I was expecting in 2020, and after listening to it on repeat essentially since buying it I can attest it’s exactly what I needed. If anything I’ve mentioned in this sounds familiar to you, maybe it’s what you need as well. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder to take the chances we have, when we have them. They won’t always be there and even trying and failing is way better than not trying at all.

Normal

During the 2016 US Presidential campaign the above ‘This is fine’ meme gained significant popularity as it perfectly captured how many people were feeling about the overall situation. It was not created for that however, and is actually part of a 2013 comic by KC Green, which you political buffs out there will recognize as a date not long into then President Obama’s 2nd term. There’s no question that 2020 is shaping up to be a disaster, and people are understandably asking how long until we get back to normal. But when exactly is this “normal” that everyone is talking about? It certainly wasn’t 2019, nor 2016. If you think back to the George W. Bush years following 9/11 and the resulting ‘war on terror’ there was a lot of hoping for a “return to normal” then too. The response to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign certainly made it clear that for a lot of people, Bill Clinton’s presidency was far from ideal. That takes us back to ’93. Was it normal before then? Under Bush Sr? How about Regan?

Fuck that.

The truth is it’s been a disaster for a long time, we simply forget how much we hated yesterday because of the overwhelming pain of today. So we trick ourselves into reaching for something slightly less terrible, rather than something better. “Normal” sucked. “Normal” was broken. “Normal” was dysfunctional and oppressive.

If “normal” was so great we wouldn’t have needed 4 waves of feminism. If “normal” was so great we wouldn’t have to explain to anyone why black lives matter. If “normal” was so great there would be no debate about who deserves health care, or an education. There would be no argument about what kind of basic lifestyle can or can’t be afforded with a full time minimum wage paycheck. There wouldn’t be countless examples of laws being enforced differently based on someone’s income or race. Teachers, the people we put in charge of educating future generations, wouldn’t be having to pay for school supplies out of their own pockets. Artists and musicians, people who make our world beautiful and enjoyable, wouldn’t be seen as disposable. The oceans wouldn’t be full of garbage. We wouldn’t be talking about how amazingly clear the skies and air are in cities that have imposed shelter in place rules, keeping people out of their cars. We wouldn’t be counting how many people died from the latest pandemic that jumped to humans in the unsanitary conditions from selling wild animal parts in wet markets.

And that’s the moment we are in right now.

It’s not hyperbole to say that everything is going to change. There’s the world we knew before the virus, and the world we make after it. No one will ever think of handshakes or face masks the same again. That’s a given. But what about everything else? I don’t want the world to go back to normal. I don’t want something just not quite as bad. I want us to take the opportunity that we have been presented with and strive for something better.

You can call me an idealist, but that would be a hard sell given how much time I spend talking about how everything sucks. But I’m trying to make tomorrow better, and I believe that’s possible. And I’m not the only one. Here is a very short and very incomplete list of a few people I consider friends. People I know who won’t settle for “not quite as bad” and are actively working for something better. Take a few moments and see what they are up to, and feel free to add more names, projects and links in the comments.

Astra • Christian • Esra’aGunnerGlenIshaJesseKeliPeterRyanShakaShepard • StephanieTarekTiffiniyUgoHelen, Jason & Karien

(this post can be found at arethingsbacktonormalagain.com)

Dispatch from COVID-19 occupied Tokyo, Feb 28, 2020

[The following is an excerpt of something I sent out to my newsletter. Subscribe to have future updates mailed directly to you.]

I went for a walk yesterday afternoon and with the exception of face masks and hand sanitizer being sold out everywhere which has been the case for a few weeks now, nothing else seemed any different. A few more masks being worn on the street but not enough that you’d notice unless you were looking. This is a stark contrast to the scene about 20 minutes away from here at Shibuya crossing where easily 80% of people are wearing masks, though most of those people are wearing them incorrectly.

And then late last night it was announced that all elementary and high schools will be closed for the several 4 weeks.

This morning people were joking that there was going to be a rush on toilet paper. This afternoon Tara walked over to the neighborhood pharmacy and they were completely sold out, she went to 2 other stores including the one at the train station near our house – all empty. At the train station everyone was wearing masks, and people were staring at her enough that she felt uncomfortable and put on a mask just to blend in.

I remembered I’d put a pack of toilet paper in my shopping cart on Amazon Japan and went to look but it had been removed as it was no longer available from the seller. Searching for toilet paper shows everything is out of stock. Literally everything. There are some 3rd party sellers who will let you pre-order a 4 or 6 pack for the equivalent of about $150 but with the caveat that they don’t expect to ship it until mid April. I bought a 24 pack on Amazon Dot Com for $25 and then paid $50 to have it shipped from the US to Japan. It’ll be here next week, so that’s fun.

Rumors are whispering that China has closed shipping borders and that paper products are coming from there, so this could be the tip of the iceberg – but I haven’t seen any real confirmation of that. Lots of rumors.

We actually have a really well planned emergency kit with fully stocked bug out bags and several weeks worth of supplies. But those are in Los Angeles. In storage. While some other staples like cereal and milk are also selling out, the vegan options seem fully stocked. I was able to order a few cases of vegan ramen delivered next day without any problem, but not sure how long that will last before the regular people get hip to the tasty vegan options.

Moments ago the major of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency and asked everyone to stay in their homes all weekend. Here in Tokyo, Disneyland has closed until mid-March and events are being cancelled left and right but we’re still not in panic mode, at least not outwardly. This evening I walked over to the grocery store and the shelves of perishables are empty. The shelves of disinfectants and cleaners are empty. Everything else is mostly well stocked. It feels weird, like simultaneously on the brink of something but desperately clinging to some semblance of normalcy. A slow motion explosion happening right in front of your eyes. We’re planning to go to a park tomorrow afternoon to see plum blossoms.

We still have power and internet, but if this was a zombie/apocalypse movie they’d cut out soon with no warning.

Feeling parallels to the days back in 2011 just after the Tohoku earthquake. But that was more of an aftermath with a hopeful eye towards the future with thoughts of rebuilding and this is an ominous hesitation about what is coming, but at the same time refusing to acknowledge the inevitable as if that will somehow prevent it.

Talking about Safecast

In 2011 I was living with my family in Los Angeles. We lived in a little grey 2 bedroom 1 bath house once occupied by Henry Rollins, an author & musician whose punk rock/DIY ethics & integrity had already played a formative role in my life. In early March I would celebrate my son’s first birthday, and a few days later a triple disaster on the opposite side of the planet would completely change the course of my life. Over the following weeks and months I’d find myself staying up 24 hours at a time coordinating with people in every timezone imaginable trying to find information and answers for friends and family directly impacted by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown playing out in Fukushima. The government systems had failed, and we thought we could help. Be it art or activism, if you know me you know I’ve spent most of my life pushing against the boundaries of established norms, refusing to just accept the status quo. I would make several trips to Japan to work with others like me, taking our first steps towards a solution to a problem much larger than most of us realized at the time. Eventually the back and forth would become too much, and in 2017 as a family we decided to upend our lives and move around the world so as to better focus on the project that had become Safecast. As we approach the 9 year anniversary, I’m writing from Tokyo to ask you to join me.

Tara, Ripley & Sydney, Los Angeles circa 2011

We began Safecast with a push towards transparency, quickly growing to address the larger issues of trust and openness and forced a reassessment of what we all should expect from environmental monitoring projects. In a world where devices can be bricked anytime a company pivots, where EPA datasets and research disappear overnight, where a single politician can undo decades of work out of spite or where government regulations are written to augment an industry’s financial goals rather than the health of the people or the protection of our environment we stood up and said not anymore. If we can’t trust the companies and governments to look out for us, we’ll do it ourselves without them. We put all of our data into the public domain to ensure everyone can use it, and no one can ever delete it. My son will be able to show his grandchildren this data and it will be just as useful then as it is now. All of the devices we designed are open and futureproof, ensuring they will work as intended for as long as someone feels like repairing them. In a few short years this community built the largest open radiation dataset ever collected, larger than the combined datasets published by every government today. This information reshaped evacuation zones and helped people make life changing decisions. We’ve built a real time monitoring network that lets residents know about changes in their environments in minutes. From Tokyo I was able to see how smoke from brush fires was directly impacting my friends back in Los Angeles because of Safecast air sensors that were up and running. This system was unimaginable a few years earlier when I was in LA worrying about friends in Japan and week or month old data was the best anyone could find. Our global volunteer team has helped us to build a comprehensive map allowing people to see measurements on the streets in front of their houses, all over the world. In addition to the tools and deployments we’ve developed curriculum, lesson plans and tutorials to help people understand how this works, and do it for themselves without relying on us. In a world where companies are trying to find new ways to lock people into their ecosystems, we’ve actively worked to make sure these systems can function even without us. 

In the nonprofit world it’s commonplace to spend half your time fundraising in order to spend the other half doing the work. At Safecast we focus the majority of our time and energy on the work and the funding has come through recognition of our results. We’ve been lucky to have the incredible support of Reid Hoffman, Shuttleworth Foundation, Knight Foundation and others like them with courage, vision and the ability to see the long term picture. Their wonderful donations have covered the majority of our bills year over year. We’ve been able to have the kind of tangible, global, long term impact that we have precisely because we get to spend our time working doing the work without fundraising as a distraction. But that also creates a dependency where our ongoing work relies on a single person or a single donation, which isn’t healthy. We started this project with a recognition that “the way things work” wasn’t working and a belief that we could find a new way, and I think we’ve done that. Similarly, we think the way that nonprofits are expected to survive is broken, and believe there has to be a better way. “That’s the way it’s always been done” is a terrible reason to keep doing something, especially when it’s obviously not working. We reimagined what environmental monitoring could be, and now we are reimagining how to fund it. Safecast is not flashy. We are not a trendy startup looking for a quick exit, we’re not selling data out the back door to jack up our valuation. We aren’t looking for a hockey stick increase in market share. We are a passionate global community committed to a reliable solution that can be counted on today, tomorrow, and in the years to come. While we deeply appreciate the funders who have helped us get this far, if we want to be truly robust our funding needs to come from our community. Rather than relying on one person donating $100k, I want 100 people to donate $1k. A few hundred volunteers with geiger counters built the largest radiation dataset ever amassed while politicians sat around talking about why they couldn’t do it. That’s the proof that a few committed people can do the work that everyone else will benefit from. That’s what I’ve spent the last 9 years of my life focused on. Safecast is deploying sensor networks and building datasets that will benefit us all for generations–we didn’t ask permission or get anyone’s approval to do this, it’s just what we do.

My 45th birthday is at the end of this month. For my birthday I’m hoping to find 100 people to commit to giving $100 a month to Safecast for 1 year. These donations are tax deductible. That money will go a long way towards paying for salaries, servers and sensors. But more importantly, it will prove that a few people who care can positively impact the world. I hope you’ll join me.

Once Upon A Time In Bradenton

While walking home from the office the other day and talking to myself along the way I remembered a story from my childhood that I’d mostly forgotten. This was also when I was in 7th and 8th grade, I started hanging out with this kid named Erik-with-a-k who was as crappy of a skateboarder as I was so I didn’t feel too self conscious around him. We’d skate at a nearby school parking lot and sometimes visit a neighborhood ramp, he’d bring a little portable tape deck and blast Sex Pistols and Circle Jerks tapes. He’d tell me about a good friend of his who was a stupidly famous pro skater and I’d tell him he was full of shit. Then he’d tell me about him in front of his parents and they’d nod agreeingly so I figured maybe it was legit. One day he announced that he’d talked to his friend and this dude was going to be sending a care package of 25 complete boards for free, and Erik-with-a-k said he was going to give me 5 of them. This was huge because I was poor and had a really old really beat up deck, and the expected build was legit. Indy trucks, Slimeballs, Powell Swiss bearings and flypaper griptape. I’m embarrassed that I still remember this. 

Anyway, separately there was a legendarily good skater in our small Florida town named Caleb who could ollie into the back of a pickup truck, you can ask anyone. And this new windfall of skateboard booty had given me an idea. I knew a girl who knew a guy who people said sometimes skated with Caleb and I asked her if she could ask him if he could pass on a letter for me. He said yes, and she said yes. So, 13 or 14 year old me wrote a letter to Caleb. I told him he probably didn’t know who I was but I knew all about him and his pick up truck oillie-ing. I asked him if he’d teach me how to skate, because I sucked and everyone I knew sucked and I just wanted some tips from someone who knew what they were doing. Keep in mind this was 1988 or so and there was no YouTube. Anyway I told him about the skateboards I was about to get, and offered him one of the complete builds in return for his skate tutoring. I gave the letter to the girl, she said she gave it to the guy, but Caleb never replied. 

A year later I’d go to high school and it would be the same high school that Caleb went to, though he was a few years older. Being a punk or skateboarding wasn’t really a cool thing to do in those days, especially not in the middle of Florida. [As an aside that same year I’d run for (and lose) student council Vice President using the slogan Sean B for VP and my campaign posters had a drawing of a kid on a skateboard which I drew and thought was cool, but some other Sean B in my school who was a surfer didn’t take too kindly too and pulled me aside one day and told me to take every last one down or he and his surf friends were going to beat my sorry skater ass because he didn’t want anyone thinking the posters were his implying that he skated.] Anyway, During lunch all 5 or 6 people who were into punk or skateboarding or that kind of thing would end up sitting together at lunch and yes that meant that eventually I’d be sitting with Caleb, who by this time had lost all his mythos and was just a stoner in my mind. To his credit he never made fun of me, though one day he would ask me if I ever got all those skateboards. Which I didn’t, because the story from Erik-with-a-k was bullshit.

Turns out Erik-with-a-k was a pathological liar, the first I’d ever recognized. We’d stopped being friends the previous summer when his mother found a massive stash of porno mags under his bed and he’d played dumb by blaming them on me, saying I’d ask him to hold some things for him but told him he wasn’t allowed to look at them. His mother believed him and called my mother to tell her how I was poisoning the mind of her sweet innocent child and I wasn’t welcome in their home anymore. I got grounded because “you know what you did” though I didn’t know, and it wasn’t until I called Erik-with-a-k to find out what the fuck was going on that I learned what was going on when as he, over the phone, lied to my face about it. I told him to fuck off, he told me he’d kick my ass if he ever saw me again.

A few years later I’d see him again, he’d turned into a cowboy and was hanging out in the back of a pick up truck with some other cowboys in the parking lot of the Denny’s my friends and I would go to. When I say he turned into a cowboy I mean he’d started wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat and had developed a very strong southern drawl. I said “Hey Erik-with-a-k what the fuck is up with the cowboy boots and hat and that southern drawl?” and he said “Boy! Whyount you comm’on over ‘ere and you’ll find out!” and I said “No thanks” and went inside the Denny’s. He and his friends drove away pretty quickly once more of my friends showed up and joined me inside. They were probably worried someone would throw a skateboard at their pickup truck and scratch the paint or something. When I got home that night there was a message on my answering machine from him, full hick-accent and with some good-ol boys a hootin’ and a hollerin’ in the background and conveyin’ the message that I got lucky tonight but he’d find me some other time when I didn’t have all my friends and teach me a lesson about respect.

I’m pretty sure I never saw or heard from him ever again though I passed some dude who looked a hell of a lot like him on the moving sidewalk at Denver airport about 5 years ago and I like to think it was him and he got scared because he didn’t have his rodeo clowns with him and ran anyway as soon as he got off the moving sidewalk. True story.

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