From Skateboards to Motocross

As far as I know, I was the first kid in my town to make a homemade skateboard, months before you could buy them. I’d discovered the sport from my cousins, Tom and Jerry, who’d gone to California in 1963, where they discovered surfing. When they returned to Valparaiso, Indiana, they quickly invented dune surfing because waves on Lake Michigan were seldom big enough to ride but the lake was ringed by huge sand dunes. My cousins also started making skateboards and then buying the latest models once they came out commercially. This was years before the sticky wheels with grip revolutionized the sport.

Eventually, the local model-race-car center started carrying the initial round of skateboards. I avoided the typical small board and bought one that would be normal by today’s standards, but back then it was considered huge. It was called The Makaha. I wanted a big board so I could do tricks. My favorite was jumping over a broomstick about four feet off the ground in my basement, but I also liked to jump curbs and lay down flat on my back. Like all boards at the time, it had no kick tail.

In 1964 I started publishing my own newspaper while in junior high. It was called The Cap’n Crunch Courier. When Cap’n Crunch came out, it broke all records for sugar content in cereals, forever earning a place in my teenage heart. None of the original issues of that esteemed fanzine seem to have survived, unfortunately, although I did locate some of the drawings I did for the first issue (above), in which I published an entire page of cartoons devoted skateboarding. I had a couple of skateboarding buddies, one named Steve Tyler, whom I made fun of here, and the other named Stuart Tarr, who also become a journalist.


Here’s a photo of me (left) and Tyler in class at the time. You can see I was a class clown, always instigating one hilarious prank or another, like my snowball fight in Leal School against Patton’s gang. That’s Andy Miller waving his arm in the back. This had to be during winter because I’m wearing a heavy sweater my mom knitted for me. She always made the best sweaters and socks around winter time and got inspired with her knitting after we went to Europe for a year.

Within a few years, our skateboards would be replaced by cheap Japanese motorcycles. It started with a film called The Great Escape, which depicted Steve McQueen jumping a fence with a German clunker built like a Harley. My cousin Tom had earlier led us into dune surfing and skateboarding, so, of course, we followed Tom into this new passion for off-road motorcycle racing, although none of us but Tom had a driver’s license. My brother even stuck with the sport, although today he rides track and not off-road.

The Stockholm Manifesto

Marta was my first real girlfriend.

Thanks to mom filling out an application to Valparaiso University, I briefly attended college after barely graduating high school. Mom figured I’d jump on it since my favorite cousin, Tom Hutton, had just returned from Vietnam and enrolled there on the GI Bill. I ‘d kept up a correspondence with Tom during his entire tour, a time during which he went through some heavy, heavy changes and emerged as an ardent anti-war activist.

I’d been living in Oakland when I got the news I’d been accepted, so I hitch-hiked back east, and checked out the Lutheran college both my parents graduated from. Unfortunately, I felt tremendously isolated from all the devout Christians, although I did create two lasting friendships with fellow searchers on the path of illuminated fun I’d been scouting the past three years (The Merry Pranksters being my ultimate role model). We discovered a hay-filled barn with a giant rope swing and it became 24-hour party central. A lot of swan dives into the haystack while intoxicated on LSD, beer or both. After the Kent State Massacre, however, I stopped attending class, and just spent my time studying the art of having fun all the time. When the school music building burned (suspected arson), it came down the grapevine I was the number-one suspect being investigated.

Eventually, my dad caught wind of the situation and cut me off completely, having already wasted $5,000 on tuition fees alone. The best thing that came out of Valpo was an encounter with Joseph Heller, who clued me into Louis-Ferdinand Celine, a tremendous influence on Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, Joseph Heller, J.D. Salinger, to name but a few.

Maybe I wasn’t attending class,  but I was educating myself in my own way and I burned through everything Celine wrote (that I could find) in a few days. My draft number was low, so when my cousin Tom discovered my circumstances, knowing I’d be inducted straight from the physical exam into bootcamp, plunked down $350 for a one-way ticket to  Stockholm, where his army buddy, Ed Keeling, was attending the university.  I had very few possessions, just a letter from Tom explaining my hasty exit from the States and could he help me out? I had virtually no money, and slept the first few nights on the floor in Ed’s tiny dorm room, with Ed wondering what the hell was going on and when was I going to get the hell out of there?!

I was soon rescued, however, by a couple of amazing Swedish goddesses, one blonde, one brunette. Eva, the blonde, took me under her wing and introduced me to her revolutionary cellmates. She put up with my cynical rants and was even amused by them. Eva sensed I was going to evolve into a great, great revolutionary. In fact, I think she was convinced that’s exactly what was going to happen. This made me laugh. I loathed Marxism more than I did organized religion!

Eva was certainly beautiful and I undoubtedly had a shot with her, but I chose Marta, who was a dead ringer for a French movie star. Or maybe Marta picked me? In a way, she became my first real girlfriend. Marta was a year or two older and gave me some necessary schooling in art of making love. I was living my down-and-out-in-Europe fantasy and having a blast! I even got some extra work in the film Joe Hill, which gave me enough money to buy a typewriter so I could commence creating the first great counterculture novel of my generation, the rock’n’roll, garageband, go-for-broke generation that actually created the sixties.  I never got beyond the opening chapter.