I Check The Mail Only When Certain It Has Arrived

April 10th, 2008 | Category: Essays, Videos

The mailbox at my parents’ house in Alabama is at the end of winding asphalt strip, the only interruption in acres of sporadic deciduous trees, save their house of course. One day almost exactly twenty years ago, some of the best mail I ever received happened upon that mailbox.

In the late 80s, BMX, the art and sport of riding bicycles with twenty-inch wheels, was split into two distinct, almost completely separate sports: freestyle and racing. The former, of which I was solely a part of by then, was host to a vast network of homemade zines. These photocopied, folded, stapled, and stamped pieces of pulp crisscrossed the globe like the web over fiber optic cables does now. On that day, I got a letter from a fellow zine-maker named Marr, a zine from Andy Jenkins, and a videotape from Mark Eaton. The former was not that big a deal (no offense to Marr). Crystal River, Florida resident Marr and I exchanged letters on a regular, as many of us bike-riding zine-makers did. The latter two were big deals — very big deals to my impressionable seventeen-year-old mind.

In early 1988, Andy Jenkins was the editor of Freestylin’ Magazine, the freestyle BMXer’s monthly bible. He was also using the copy machine at Wizard Publications to make Bend zine. Bend #7, which I got that day, was a glimpse into another world. It was equal parts the unseen dark side of BMX and impeccable layout and design. In all the zines I’d received in that same mailbox, I’d never seen anything like Bend, and Andy’s command of the grime and grain of photocopied images and his knack for balancing those images on half-sized pages is still unmatched.

Bend would also introduce me to a cast of characters whose paths would crisscross mine in the coming decades (e.g., Tod Swank, Mark Lewman, O, Matt Heckert, Rodger Bridges, Bernie McGinn, Spike Jonze, Dave Carnie, et al.) and to music I still listen to (e.g., Big Black, Gang of Four, Wire, Pailhead, etc.). Andy is currently art director at Girl Skateboards, and, yeah, we still talk from time to time (in fact, I just sent him a package last week).

I also got an historic videotape that day: the first installment of Mark “Lungmustard” Eaton’s Dorkin’ in York series. Mark was one of York, Pennsylvania’s Plywood Hoods, a team that also consisted of Kevin Jones, Mike Daily, Dale Mitzell, Jamie McKulik, and several others. Prior to Dorkin’ in York, their presence was known through Daily’s zine, Aggro Rag, and the privileged who saw their riding at contests: These guys revolutionized flatland, and Mark’s videos cemented their place in BMX history.

A brief aside: To call Kevin Jones “the Michael Jordon of flatland” would only make sense if basketball was something one did alone for hours on end in an empty parking lot. Okay, so basketball is often that way. The difference is that flatland has no finals, no March Madness, no television coverage. Kevin Jones can do things on a bicycle that no one else on the planet can do, and Mark Eaton’s videotapes are one of the few (only?) places you can see it.

Anyway, shortly after receiving said tape, I attended a contest out of state. After casually mentioning that I had it, I was accosted by everyone in earshot: “You have what!?!” A VCR was secured and fifty-or-so sweaty BMXers huddled into my friend Chris Bentley’s hotel room for a screening.

What the first Dorkin’ in York lacked in production quality it made up for in pure riding footage. Most of us had never seen the Hoods ride, so upon first seeing this tape, our minds were collectively blown. There’s really no way to explain it other than saying it was a complete paradigm shift or something akin to Plato’s allegory of the cave: shit was different after that.

Much the same can be said for me after checking the mail that day. It was dead in the middle of some of the most influential times of my teenhood, and I was slowly getting to know people who would become my friends and my heroes alike.

Where Are They Now?

I’ve kept up with and stayed in touch with most of the people mentioned above. Just last year, I had the pleasure of working with Mark Lewman and Rodger Bridges at Nemo Design in Portland… When I lived in San Diego, I worked with Tod Swank, and hung out with O and Matt Heckert… I hung out with Mike Daily in both San Diego and Portland. He writes books and performs spoken word with a band. His latest is Alarm… Though he’s filmed many things other than BMX, Mark Eaton recently directed a BMX documentary called Joe Kid on a Stingray… As you all know, Spike Jones directs movies now (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, etc.)… As I mentioned above, Andy Jenkins is art director at Girl Skateboards, but he still does Bend. It’s a website and a publishing house now. Bend Press put out Daily’s first novel, Valley, and a book made of mail, from which I stole the title of this post.

Here’s Eaton’s commercial for Joe Kid on a Stingray (runtime: 0:48):

Further Posting: