After a near-crippling skateboard accident, Steve had no choice but to move back in with his mother and stepfather, a twilight-years couple who raised their blended family in a sleepy West Virginian town and continues to make love with the lights on. The Sakatawas welcomed their felled manchild home with open arms, but it hasn’t been an easy transition. This is mostly due to Steve having never taken to his stepfather, a boorish drunk who preferred Johnny to a game of catch and who, if Steve’s stories are to be believed, brought unparalleled shame to the tenets his sports-loving father instilled in him before his untimely demise in the Spring of ‘82.
Steve was just a child then, the shortstop on his little league team and the first of his friends to kiss a girl. Suzanne. Suzanne was Steve’s second cousin, although no one would’ve figured as much — her bright red hair and unblinking eyes made her quite the striking Black Sheep in an otherwise monochromatic family. It’s true that a predictable combination of brown hair and brown eyes plagued the Sakatawas, though Steve never had much trouble circumventing this mundanity. No, Steve had done quite well for himself all things considered, and life would continue to march along in his favor for some time before tragedy took its toll.
The summer Steve graduated from high school, his cousin Phil suggested the two of them head west, just like their ancestors hadn’t done before them. With no prospects, a drunken stand-in dad and a teenaged stepsister who was beginning to resemble Jennie Garth more and more each day, Steve thought a change in scenery might be in his best interest. He agreed to leave his small-town life behind, and the two set out for Los Angeles.
A fledgling competitive skateboarding team whose membership criterion was “own a skateboard” scouted Steve almost immediately after a closeted member noticed his “tight ass” rollerblading through Woodland Park one afternoon. Phil wasn’t as lucky; work, friends, even an affordable hand job eluded the unfortunate transplant. Convinced of his worthlessness, Phil turned to smack unbeknownst to Steve, losing a silent and short-lived battle with heroin mere weeks after their arrival. Steve misguidedly named his board “China Girl” in Phil’s honor, an homage he would one day regret when an episode of Pop-Up Video revealed that his cousin was actually a heroin addict and not just a Bowie fan with an Asian fetish.
Skateboarding wasn’t the cash cow Steve had imagined it to be, so when his friend Alan suggested taking a side gig at Dream Phone, he jumped at the opportunity. “Our friends used to joke that we were like, manwhores or whatever, but it wasn’t like that,” Alan lamented. “We just… talked to lots of girls, made them feel good.” Alan pauses here, stares into his cup of coffee. “Things were alright, for a while.”
Steve’s amateur skateboarding career ended cruelly and abruptly when a ramp’s rusted nail pierced through the sole of his LA Gear sneaker during a competition, infecting his foot in a particularly grizzly manner. “I told him he could use my employee discount at Foot Locker to buy some DCs or somethin’,” Alan remembers, “but Steve’s got too much pride. Cheap ass Caldor and their bootleg LA Gears…” Despite heckling and hazing from older skaters on the Woodland team, Steve had always insisted that skateboarding was about heart, not about brand names. “’These Caldor shoes get the job done. And they only cost like, $10 bucks. …What? No, they’re not chick shoes, man. And even if they were, what’s it to you? Now shut up and watch me ollie.’ That was our Steve,” Alan recalled with a hesitant smile.
Bedridden and robbed of any shot at professional skating, Steve fell full-throttle into the Dream Phone business. Girls were calling him up for dates eighty, ninety times an hour. This proved lucrative for a while, but the fickle nature of ‘90s tweens rendered his job obsolete by the turn of the millennium and Steve was forced to consider phone sex or worse — moving back in with his mother. He gave the former a try, but it proved to be far too depressing after years of answering to the sweet naiveties of adoring prepubescent girls. Steve packed his bags and returned to West Virginia a decade after he’d left to start anew.
Steve’s career woes have aged him considerably, but the boyish and spirited playboy that Alan remembers still exists in part. While he nobly refuses to lay fault on his modest West Virginian roots and resulting philosophies regarding footwear and consumerism, Steve does blame his downfall on one particular establishment — Woodland Park and the rangers responsible for the nail that delivered a fatal blow to his bright future. “I warned them about that nail,” he whispers to no one, anyone. It’s the fourteenth time he’s said that this morning. Now closing in on his mid-forties, Steve lives a sheltered life in the bowels of his childhood home; his stepfather suggesting that he, “Git a dang job already,” while his mother follows with, “You leave thit boy alone, hear?” On occasion he hears the telephone ring in the distance and is reminded of the promise that sound once held, now an empty and echoing reminder of a life long forgotten.