IT was May, so hot that not even the girls on campus could endure lying out in the sun. There were only two weeks of school left before summer vacation. We would soon be saying goodbye to St. Louis, to boarding school and to friends, getting on planes and heading home to our other lives. I ran back to the dorm in hopes that my friends hadn't left for the Meramec River without me. We took turns on a rope swing a few of the seniors had built, diving or just plopping off it into the cool clay-colored water. It took our thoughts off the humdrum life of boarding school.
Mike was waiting at the dorm. I rushed down to my room, threw my book-weighted backpack on the bed and put on a grungy pair of shorts and a T-shirt from a store called ``In.'' I signed out with the resident counselor. Now I was set for whatever adventure we faced this afternoon. It turned out to be an experience shared with two guys whom we had never seen before and probably would never see again.
Mike said we had to run a quick errand at a camera shop. We left the school, driving on Manchester. The car windows were down and James Taylor was on, giving us his greatest hits. The Chrysler smelled of Calvin Klein's Obsession. Mike had spilled the cologne earlier in the year and now whenever the car was hot enough, the scent haunted us.
We had trouble finding the shop and finally decided to head for the Meramec. Mike turned down an alley-like side street nestled among warehouses. It led into a neighborhood that I could tell had once been charming and could be again if its residents had the time and money.
Mike made another left. I was fiddling with the Chrysler's tape deck which seemed to be eating up James Taylor. When I glanced up, Mike was moving toward a parking lot and two black teenagers our age. They were skateboarding, enjoying the warehouse wall that the architect had designed with a lip. Mike pulled into the lot just beyond where the guys were skating. Out of the corners of their eyes they kept a curious watch on us. Mike turned to me and said, ``I gotta do this. I'll be right back.''
I remembered back to the first time I met Mike two years ago. It was the first week of school. I had been walking back to the dorm feeling distraught and wondering why I had decided to leave my home in California and attend a boarding school in the Midwest. Just then a burly junior, Mike, came running past, stopped, turned to me and asked if I wanted to go skate with him and a few other guys. I told him I didn't skate. He said, ``Don't worry about it. Come along anyway.'' I did and it cured my doubts about the new school and the Midwest.
Mike proceeded to get out of the car, throw his keys on the seat, and head off toward the skaters. As he approached, they gave him a puzzled look as if in their minds they were asking themselves, ``What is this guy going to pull?''
Skating was a way Mike could connect with other people. It was as if there was some kind of magical brotherhood between skaters and when he saw the two black guys, the connection was made. He called, ``Let me have a try.''
The taller guy paused for a second, then said, ``Sure, man.'' He handed Mike a board. He got on it, headed straight for the warehouse, and did a ``wall ride'' up the slanting lip of the wall. The smaller black guy followed right in his tracks, doing a ``wall ride'' that put a jealous twinkle in Mike's eye. I looked over. The black guy threw me a smirk of glee.
I got out of the car, sat on the hood and watched. The next 10 minutes Mike and the two guys spent talking about skating moves and showing each other different tricks. Mike showed the guys how to do a ``method.'' He twirled a board with his feet while jumping off and catching it in the air. In exchange, the guys showed him a complicated move which Mike never could duplicate even after hours of practice. The three guys shared the two boards. I don't believe they even exchanged names; smiles were enough.
I had been taught that we were equal but different, not really brothers. And yet Mike was skating with these guys like brothers, clattering their skateboards against the wall, communicating without words. I had been in such a hurry to be with my friends at the river. Now it occurred to me that I was among friends.
After a while Mike meandered back to the car and stood next to where I sat. He explained the moves the guys were making. We knew the moment would soon draw to a close.
Finally Mike turned to me, gave my arm a squeeze as if to say let's not overstay our welcome. I hopped off the hood and we got into the Chrysler. Mike started the car. We smiled and waved to the skaters. They waved back.
We had shared a moment. We had given each other a glimpse of ourselves, not as black and white, not neighborhood guys and boarding-school students, but all of us just teenagers skating together for a few minutes late one muggy Friday afternoon in May.
Off we headed, turning back onto Manchester toward the Meramec.