Ozzie Ausband


Upland, California. 1992. The car pulled to a stop at the far end of a culdesac. He  locked the door & it sat in the heat… ticking & making the noises that engines make. The air was hot. It felt angry on his skin. He pulled his bush hat down lower over his eyes. He squinted in the suns glare. A rusting chain-link fence meandered off into the distance. It separated the houses from the federal lands, the dam & the spillway area. He shouldered his backpack & stood there for a minute, peering about. He shrugged, as if making up his mind & walked over to a small section of the fence. It was peeled back. It had been left hanging to scrape the dirt. He stepped over it & onto the boulders that led down the hillside.

Huge power lines hung overhead & were strung across the valley floor. The boulders & dusty path that he walked, led directly across the barren valley. The huge metal towers –that held the power lines–scraped the sky. A lonely hawk circled in the distance. It lived a solitary life. He trudged along & once he was closer –under the power lines– he could hear the humming. It sounded like a million angry bees. He knew it was only the electrical lines, feeding the nearby cities. He thought of his father. He had recently seen a faded photograph of him. He was in uniform… a Marine Corps uniform. 1970. Vietnam. A bloody time. His mother told him that when his father came home on leave for the last time, he seemed hollow. He recalled looking at the photograph of his father. There was definitely something wrong with his fathers eyes. It was the image he held in his mind when he thought of him.

The boulders gave way to a dusty trail. He  followed it for about thirty minutes. Cactus & bristled bushes stubbornly raised their faces to the desert sun. He saw trash, broken glass & old beer cans. They were remnants of long-forgotten drunkenness. His head hurt & he stopped to take a drink from the water bottle that sloshed at his side. He had drank– more than a few –last night. He could smell the booze sweating out of him. It was one of the only things that brought sleep to him lately. Like his father, he was a Marine. Kuwait had been pretty grim & he didn’t like to think too much about it. They never really told them about the dreams.  The other guys didn’t talk about it. He kept seeing things. Nights were the worst. The Basra road. Al Jahra. Oil rigs & fields on fire. Black columns of smoke reaching up forever… That smell.

He shook his head to clear it of  uncomfortable memories.  Strangely, he remembered a bumper sticker: “Freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.” He hoisted his backpack higher & started walking again. His father hadn’t come home. One day he was there, tall, sparkling, shining in his uniform… then nothing. His mother would sit by the phone– as if sitting there might possibly make it ring. It didn’t. She chain smoked & cried. He sat in his room & read. Quiet prevailed. One day, men in uniform came & knocked. They were grim-faced. Impassive. He huddled upstairs behind his bed. He heard the solemn rumbling voices. Mother broke & all the Kleenex in the world couldn’t stop that tide. She never said much after that. She still doesn’t. “She never even kissed me goodbye when I was deployed to the Gulf.” He mumbled. He realized he was talking to himself.

He crested a small rise & saw the barbed wire & fencing that crowned the uppermost edge of the spillway. “Baldy!”  Quickly, he hastened down inside. Graffiti splashed across every surface within reach. He wasn’t as young as he once was but he sure felt like he was twelve again!  Skateboarding had always saved him. Once in the spillway, he hurried & quickly found himself at the pipes opening. He walked up inside. It was much cooler in the pipe. After all, it was far underground. The pipe echoed & was haunting. Sun filtered in & barely lit the middle. It didn’t matter. He pushed towards the light. Avoiding rough areas, he carved & kickturned as high as he could. Freedom. Therapy. The ghosts disappeared back into the past. The moment was perfection. He wished he had friends that skated. He wished his father could be there to see him. He wished the world were different. He wished. Thanks to Brandon Wong & Corbis for the images. Skate- Ozzie