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mortified: surreal

By Dave Carnie

As Sean mentioned in a previous post, I had introduced him to the recent popularity of the art of public mortification—a genre loosely called “mortified”:

“Witness adults sharing their most embarrassing childhood artifacts (journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies, art) with strangers,” it reads on getmortified.com.

My high school zine, Surreal, is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of being mortified by the early work of “Lil Baby Davy.” Mostly because this embarrassment was public. I put this thing out there. I aggressively sent it to other skaters all around the world. And it’s fucking horrible.

A sampling of four issues I managed to save. Not sure how many I made total, but these are, clockwise from top left: Issue 2, me pretending to be Picasso (mortified!); Issue 4, Caballero, Indy nosepick at Page Mill. Weird angle, but okay; Issue 6, a shack (is this what I thought surreal meant?); Issue 7, Bod Boyle probably at Raging Waters—I’d like to believe he’s doing something better than a boardslide, perhaps coming in from a hurricane, but I was not a very good photographer.

First, the title of the zine bugs the shit out of me: Surreal. What a stupid, pretentious title. I don’t even think I had pubic hair when I was making this, what the fuck did I know about what was real, unreal, or surreal? So in the spirit of the mortified movement, I thought it might be entertaining (for you) to flip through and review an issue of Surreal. When I started writing this last week, I was trying to decide whether I should review one of the later issues (mortifying) or one of the early issues (extremely mortifying). While debating this question, our old friend Mark Waters died.

Mark was a huge influence on me and my dumb lil buddies growing up skating in Cupertino and San Jose in the early '80s. He was a little bit older than us so he was able to mingle with “the cool kids”—like Steve Caballero and Corey O’Brien—but he would still hang out and skate with us even though we were total twerps. Mark was also a skateboard photographer and made a zine, all of which inspired me to do the same. So I thought we’d take a look at Issue 8 because it contains a road trip to Mark’s adopted home in Solano Beach, thus making this mortified review part-tribute to the memory of Mark Waters.

The one good thing about Issue 8 is that I had finally acquired a “proper” skateboard camera rig—a Nikon FM2, a fisheye lens (a cheap Sigma), and a Sunpak sidemount flash—so the pathetic photography is a little easier on the eyes. The cover features my good friend Tom Tranfaglia doing a b/s air transfer between two ditches at a place called “Shark Park” near San Diego somewhere. Apparently I didn’t have the hang of the flash yet because I only managed to light Tom’s fine knees.

Inside cover of Issue 8, or #ate, as I called it (so cleverrrrrrr!). It includes a story about my Chinese neighbors. The grandfather would get up at dawn, play basketball in their backyard (right below my bedroom window), and loudly clear his phlegm—waking up to basketballs and loogies splattering on the cement was always amusing. The photo is of my roadtrip companions, with Mark Waters (white helmet in the middle), standing in the spillway at the Mt. Baldy full pipe.

While the cover and the opening spread aren’t too bad, there are more general elements of my little skate zine project that bother me. First, there’s something rather audacious about a teenager making a magazine. It’s like watching children trying to cook, or wearing sunglasses, or otherwise trying to act like an adult. I’m sure this crude mimicry is important for human development, but it always looks and sounds incredibly stupid at the time—makes me want to smack them, “Act your age! It’s not the future yet!” Which is how looking at my childish zine makes me feel: I want to smack Lil Baby Davy. Like, what is this? A faux table of contents? An intro spread? The whole thing is only 20 fucking pages, what are we doing pretending this is a magazine with columns, pull quotes, mastheads, and ads? It’s a fucking ZINE—magazine cosplay.

Related question: Why is the Little League World Series on television?

The second thing that bugs me is that, while there are a couple of details in this issue that remind me of “later me,” the majority of the content in Surreal is nothing more than a poor impersonation of all my favorite zines from the time. The background for this spread, for instance, is a total ripoff of the Xerox smears that Mel Bend (Andy Jenkins) was doing in Bend magazine. I was smitten with Andy’s smears and I would waste vast reams of paper on the copier in my high school yearbook class (nerd) practicing his techniques. I’d get busted all the time by the old lady who oversaw the yearbook staff, but she was cool enough to turn a blind eye to my criminal experimentation.

Besides Bend, I was heavily influenced by Swank Zine (Tod Swank), Skate Fate (GSD), Ten-Foot Boneless One (O), Karmaboarder (Chris Johanson), Seven Zine (Kevin Wilkins, NE), Powerhouse (Rodger Bridges), Tiki (Bernie McGinn, NE), Naughty Nomads (John Dettman), Skate Scene (Gavin and Corey O’Brien), Generic (Bali Sahota), and of course Mark’s zine, 408—frankly there are way too many to mention. I should also add TWS and Thrasher because I was ripping them off also—especially Neil Blender’s “Aggro Zone.” Thank you to all.

Jason Jessee doing a very large method to fakie at the Fallbrook ramp. I remember later asking Jason how he did those massive airs to fakie and he said, “I don’t know, it starts out like a b/s air, but then I just give up halfway.”

This sort of looks like an article? The photo is decent, it’s Jason Jessee (a well known pro at the time), there’s some primitive design elements in a basic, but neat composition, and the body text is presented in typewriter font—given that this was made circa 1987, it probably was made with an actual typewriter. It’s not that bad. What is bad, however, is the writing because the style is yet more imitation/appropriation.

There was a rather peculiar style of writing that was pervasive in the “artsy” circles in skateboarding then, mostly led by the examples of GSD, Blender, Mountain, Swank, Andy Jenkins, etc.. I had recently discovered modern/alternative authors like Vonnegut and Burroughs, but there was something even more cool, weird, and raw about the writing that was going down in skateboard zines—I had never seen anything like it before and it was inspiring because the authors were just regular skateboarders like me. Mark was actually interviewing people in his zine. Wait, so I can do this, too? Mark assured me I could.

I distinctly remember that I was very impressed with GSD’s and Blender’s writings in TWS. I don’t recall which of them wrote it (I’ve always imagined it was GSD, but might have been Blender in “Aggro Zone?”), but I was profoundly influenced by a self-reflexive device they employed—where the text is about the text itself. There’s one piece in particular that I remember in which, near the bottom of the page, the author’s words began referring to themselves and the page they were on (I paraphrase the passage):

“Well, the bottom of the page is coming up, so it looks like I’m going to have to wrap this story up real quick. Like, maybe at the end of this sentence.”

The writing style of all these skate authors was cheeky, clever, snide, sardonic, sarcastic, and derisive and I ate it the fuck up. Their writing felt like skateboarding: it was creative, it didn’t follow any rules, and everyone just seemed to be making it up as they went along, having fun, and not really giving a tinker’s fart for the traditional rules of composition. Unfortunately my hamfisted attempts at aping their creative freestyle prose is ugly and embarrassing. From the first sentence in the “Down South” article it’s obvious that Lil Baby Davy aint gonna be following no rules, nuh-uh, no way, and I’m not going to clean my room neither:

ok, so we went on a trip just like everyone else. the we being frank, pete, tom, dave, and i. the we went to a place eight hours lower than san jose: san diego. this is some of the stuff i wrote while we were down there.

The we? Eight hours lower? Nice work e e cummings. The phrase, “You should learn the rules before you break the rules,” comes to mind here.

Clockwise from left: Mark Waters doing a f/s rock at Lori Rigsbee’s “ditch ramp”; Ray Underhill (also RIP) coasting a f/s air over the channel at Fallbrook; and what are essentially early Yelp reviews about our road trip from Pete, Tom, and David.

The other peculiar thing about this article is that it’s missing some of the more colorful stories from the trip. Maybe because it’s not so much an article or a story, but rather a collection of poorly crafted sentence clumps? It sort of reads like a Jake Phelps (also RIP) article, short and choppy, it’s only missing the “big guns.” Anyway, here are handful of brief stories from that trip with Mark that, for whatever reason, were not included:

1. Even back then Dan Sturt was an enigma and had a reputation for being a rather thorny character, so we were all on our best behavior while staying at the Solano Beach apartment Mark shared with Dan. Unfortunately, one day when we returned to the apartment after skating we were met with a wide array of clothing, furniture, and surfboards strewn across the parking lot. What the—? Apparently someone (in my memory it was Brad Boardman, but who knows?) had left a wet towel on Dan’s comfy chair in the living room and so Dan, as he later explained, “lost it,” then opened their second story window, and threw everything he could get his hands on out into the parking lot.

His apology was even more peculiar than the tantrum. His voice was eerily calm, almost professional, like a customer service representative. “I’m very sorry for the inconvenience, sir.” We were kind of unnerved by it, but Mark explained it in his kind and understanding way, “Don’t worry about it guys, that’s just Dan being Dan.” I don’t think we showered the rest of the trip for fear of leaving a wet towel somewhere it wasn’t supposed to be.

2. Much like the pile of clothes Dan made in the parking lot, Dan had also made a pile of clothes on the roof. Apparently when Mark and Dan would run out of toilet paper, which was often by the looks of the pile, Dan would simply take the shirt off his back—usually a skate shirt that was free and he had tons of them—wipe his ass with it, then reach out the bathroom window and, like a hook shot in basketball, toss the wadded-up shit shirt onto the roof. I was extremely impressed by this and immediately wanted to start wiping my ass with the clothes I was wearing.

3. Late one night Mark told us this really funny story about how GSD lived in the ceiling at the TWS/Tracker offices and that he kept weird vampire hours. “Let’s crank call him!” I have no idea what we said (I’m sure it was “hilarious”), but I do remember his stoic, monotone voice provided no reaction to our antics. I was a little kid, so the idea of this legendary pro skater living in the ceiling at a skate mag AND staying up all night blew my mind. I wish I had asked him if he wiped his ass with his clothes also.

4. Lori Rigsbee, who rode for Powell and was Mark’s girlfriend at the time was probably the first female skater I’d ever hung out and skated with. We rolled around her mini ramp a couple times and she was along for most of our adventures during the trip. During one commute I was sitting next to her in the back seat and she claimed she could fart on command. “Bullshit,” I said. And then she demonstrated. PFFT! PFFT! PFFT! Fart after fart after fart. “Holy fucking shit!” naïve Lil Baby Davy exclaimed, “that’s amazing! How do you do that?” I was a young boy so naturally I wanted to be able to fart on command also—that talent could really come in handy. By this point the laughter in the car was now directed at me because I was the only one who didn’t understand how this particular feat had been accomplished. Lori coyly explained that it’s easy you just need to suck air up into your body.

I took her seriously and started trying to suck air up into my asshole. I’m not really sure what I looked like, but I can only imagine my concentrated, far off glare was ridiculous.

Someone finally explained that this talent is reserved for females only and that I was missing the requisite anatomy. Wait. What? And that was my introduction to queefing.

5. In the text it mentions that we drove over the border and skated the Tijuana skatepark. What it doesn’t mention is the drink Mark ordered me at the bar we retired to after skating. “He’ll have a Tequila Villa!” Mark told the bartender pointing to me. “You’ll like it,” Mark promised after I gave him a quizzical look. A few minutes later two men arrived holding bottles and asked who at our table had ordered the Tequilla Villa? Everyone pointed at me. The two men yelled something crazy in Spanish, which scared the shit out of me, then they grabbed my head, yanked it back, jammed the bottles of booze down my throat, and then vigorously shook my skull back and forth. “TEQUILA VILLA!” they screamed triumphantly and disappeared again.

“Fuck you, Mark,” I said.

This almost feels like something that could have been considered for Big Brother: me and Frank dissected a mink in physiology class.

At least on paper it’s not a bad idea, but the actual execution is terrible. For one, the fish lens is a gimmick I became addicted to. And then there’s that goddamn hamfisted writing style again: “dead, meaning it was no longer living?” Oh my god, you insufferable twit. Also what’s with the self-censorship at the end? “so luckily we didn’t have to deal with any… um… uh, you know!” Mink cock? Why couldn’t I just say mink cock? Or mink dink? Me and Frink dissected a mink dink in the sink!

But to me the weirdest thing about this spread is that this happened at all: we had to dissect a mink in our high school physiology class? AND we took the carcass home with us? Everyone did? A dead fucking mammal? It seems strange to me that this was still part of the curriculum as late as the '80s, but can you imagine this happening today? Or maybe it does happen today, what do I know? Also, probably because I own dogs now, I have to wonder if there were any students whose homework quite literally got eaten by their dog? Seems like that must have happened at least once.

Greg Aguilar, straight leg invert over the channel at Raging Waters.

Sometimes it’s called a sugarcane, but since its namesake, Chris Miller, is performing it here, it’s a Miller grind.

A centerfold, haha! Greg Aguilar was a local at Mush Ramp. I was in love with him precisely because I was so scared of him. He wore all black, he always had upside down crosses carved into his griptape, he only listened to death metal, he never smiled—to me he was the original Vertical Vampire—and he was good.

Apparently this Aguilar photo is part of a story about Raging Waters titled, “Again?” Not sure what that means. But the gist of the story—and I vaguely remember this—is that skating the Raging Waters ramp kinda sucked. For one, it was a bit of a hassle because we were considered “entertainment,” and thus “employees,” and that created a strange relationship between us and management—they hated us and made everything as difficult as possible. And while the legendary boomerang ramp was the widest in the world (very impressive), it ultimately wasn’t that good.

There were, of course, quite a few people who did skate it well and one of them was Chris Miller. He could drop in on one of the extensions at one end of the ramp and then after a handful of huge, drifting airs he’d be over the hip and at the other end of the ramp in the blink of an eye. Not many people could do that. The radius of the boomerang was so large that no one could carve around its entirety and so everyone was forced to deal with that hip—a lumpy piece of shit sculpted out of Bondo that was best to avoid. Maybe to Miller the Bondo hip was easy compared to Upland?

I do enjoy my fake Raging Waters ID gag, though. Especially because it predates the Big Brother “How To Make A Fake ID” article by almost ten years. The difference, however, is that a real fake ID is useful, you can buy beer with one, for instance, but a Raging Waters ID will get you nothing but a lumpy ramp with a side of waterslides.

Lil Baby Davy, b/s air at Raging Waters.

I used to hang out with the punk rockers at school, and I used to think that I was punk rock, too, but I was not punk rock. I was just a little boy with a crewcut who sometimes wore a Minor Threat or a Faction t-shirt. But my friend, Scott, really was punk rock. He wore funny, ripped up clothes that were held together with patches, including knee-high moccasins (?), he was smart—kind of a pseudo intellectual, he was the singer in a punk band, and he never said goodbye. He also stood out because he had a bonafide Exploited mohawk that was at least a foot tall when he wore it up. I remember in our speech class we had to do a “demonstration speech.” Like a dork, my speech was, “How To Do A Backside Air,” derrrrrrrr, but Scott’s was, “How To Put Up A Mohawk.” It was very informative because before Scott’s presentation I had not known how punkers made their hair stand up like that. Eggs. Who knew?

The embarrassing part of this spread, though, is that, once again, it’s just a ripoff of Swank, Bend, and everyone else. The title, “My Disco,” is a Big Black song. Even worse: I still listen to pretty much all of those bands to this day. NEWSFLASH: Old Man Still Listens To Same Music He Did 30 Years Ago!

I vaguely remember this: there was a summer skate camp in Santa Clara one year?

Another aspect of the playful style of writing that abounded at the time was in the handwritten script itself—everyone had their own style, their own font, if you will, and it was all over the place. Everyone seemed to be experimenting with language in any way they could, but vandalizing words was very popular: they spelled words wrong, they ignored common syntax, and they generally tried to affect the most childish handwriting style possible. I especially liked Swank’s and Chris Johanson’s scribbledehobble. My own handwriting, to this day, is abhorrent.

I don’t understand the story above, but I can immediately tell that it was influenced by the fictional characters that seemingly every zine author used as the subject of their stories and drawings. Swank had Justin Lovely, GSD had Winford Thomas, Neil Blender had Mark Coonson, Chris Johanson had Yota, Andy Jenkins had The Wrench Pilot, etc.. It was all quite lovely, indeed, very creative and inspiring, I loved it, but my attempts, like the above, were complete shit.

Ketchup for breakfast?… jesus, dude… fuck off.

I continued to perpetuate this peculiar fictional style even after I began writing for Big Brother. Fortunately Marc McKee cut that shit off quick and offered me a piece of advice I have never forgotten. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was essentially: Stop writing fiction, just write about what happened because the truth is stranger than fiction.

He’s right. I took it to heart and soon became one of the biggest proponents of Big Brother’s NO FICTION policy.

This is where I am MORTIFIED: a portrait of my then girlfriend, Dita. In a skate zine? Yeah, that makes sense. Also, what’s with the fucking graphic? Is this an ad? Am I pimping her out? Was I running an escort service while in high school? So stupid.

Finally, last page: “Art End.” HAHAHA! What the fuck? It says something about “a beach in Santa Cruz,” on the previous page, so I’m guessing that’s a cliff, shot with a fisheye lens, then printed as a negative? Whatever it is, it’s not ART, but it is at the END, and this is one instance in which last is very much least.

While all the lousy writing, hackneyed photography, and hamfisted imitation is hard for me to look at, I’m glad I made Surreal. If nothing else, it was good practice, good training, for the world I was eventually going to inhabit. I’m glad I made all those mistakes while I was young and stupid when you’re expected to be a fucking idiot. But I’m also pleased by the simple fact that I made a zine—no matter how horrible—because it represents something bigger than me, something that I learned from skateboarding and all the skaters that influenced me.

Mark, for instance, taught me an interesting vocabulary word back then. He was driving us somewhere to go skate and we were listening to the Buzzcocks on his Cunt Squire’s station wagon stereo. I was a big fan of the Buzzcocks, but I didn’t own any of their albums, it was all recorded on blank cassette tapes, so I didn’t know the titles to any of the songs. If I had, I probably would have realized that the chorus for one of my favorite Buzzcocks songs was not: “I! I want you! On top of me!” (I was a teenager, that’s where my mind was.)

Mark, my older, wiser friend, gently explained that the singer is not saying, “on top of me,” he’s saying, “Autonomy.”

“Autonomy?” I said. “Who the fuck is Autonomy?”

The actual definition of autonomy is, “freedom from external control or influence; independence,” but Mark put it into more personal terms and defined it as: this—what we’re doing right now—skateboarding and punk rock. Mark didn’t just explain it, he lived it.

Thus, “autonomy” became sort of a shorthand term for describing the punk/skate/art lifestyle that I was aspiring to live: you are not part of a herd, you are a freethinking autonomous individual. Be your own person. Carve your own path. Do it yourself. And we done did do it ourselves: we shaped and designed our own boards; we learned construction so we could build ramps; if we wanted to skate a new spot, we’d find a way to get to it; we made our own magazines and taught ourselves photography, design, and writing; we learned how to screenprint and made our own clothes; and, of course, through it all, we rode skateboards without coaches, or teachers, or anyone telling us when or how to do it.

Keith Hufnagel (also RIP—how many of our dead brothers are in this story? Fuck…) would later say something in an interview that sort of dances around the same idea:

The best thing about skateboarding,” Keith said, “is that it holds the keys to everything. It allows you to do anything you want to—if you want it. … Because if you’re a skateboarder, you already know how to work hard: you trained yourself to be a good skateboarder. Skateboarding doesn’t come naturally. It’s not like you come out and you can do all these tricks. You work hard. And if you can translate that into a job, a real job, then you should be able to succeed.”

Of course, we weren’t autonomous back then. We were little kids living with our parents, battling high school and puberty—we were idiots. But it was an important time in our development and Mark showed us that skateboarding did indeed hold the keys to everything and that its influence could help us become better, smarter, stronger, and more thoughtful idiots. I’ll always be thankful to Mark Waters for that. Rest in peace, my friend.


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  • Hassan on

    This was wonderful. RIP Mark.

  • Dana on

    Rest In Peace MARK.


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