The Cool Kids by Zac Heisey
We stood in a huddled circle in the middle of the liquor store parking lot, each of us taking his turn trying to light a cigarette against the cold, damp air. The neon signs of the store reflected harshly against the wet pavement and backlit the heavy mist so that it looked like a million tiny electrical sparks when viewed at just the right angle. The store’s light attracted us four, slightly inebriated teenagers like moths to a lamp. Hands jammed into leather jacket pockets, hoodies pulled up over stocking caps, we were clones of one another, as so often seems to be the case with groups of young friends. It was well past midnight, and the only sounds breaking the silence of the winter night were the failed attempts at sparking the lighter, our vulgar utterances following the failures, and the occasional high-pitched ‘ding’ of patrons entering and exiting the liquor store.
Finally, someone managed to squeeze a spark from the lighter and put the flame to the American Spirit dangling loosely from the side of his mouth. With the lighter running hot, we passed around the torch, each of us taking great care to protect our smokes from the biting onshore wind. With four cigarettes burning bright in our small circle, the soft glow given off by the ends of our vices made it feel like we were standing around a campfire in the middle of the wilderness until a ‘ding’ would remind us of our true surroundings. From a back pocket, a copy of the latest Corpo Surf Magazine was produced, stealthily poached from the liquor store’s magazine rack.
We were knee-deep in the ‘anti-establishment’ movement with regard to the surf industry. We railed against the exploitation of ‘our’ surf culture, the commercialization of what we held dear. The stickers from a thousand surf brands competing for space on the newest, ‘slightly-revised but way better’ model from Pro Boards, Inc. The ‘Buyer’s Guides’ for every surf-related product imaginable, telling us what we ‘had to have for an epic summer!’ The photogs lining the beach at our local break, the groms in brightly colored wetsuits, the fun boards with GoPro mounts – it was all bullshit. Our heroes were Dane, Ando, Rasta, Knost, Warren – guys who oozed the gritty, counter-culture surfing lifestyle we so eagerly identified with. We spray-painted our surfboards with four letter words and sex organs. We took Polaroids of ourselves walking to the beach, boards under our arms, taking great care to appear as unconcerned with the world as possible. Any surf video or online clip featuring Slater was promptly regarded as marketing propaganda and vehemently criticized by our crew.
The magazine unrolled, glossy pages of advertisements and contest results separated from each other and fluttered in the wind. The flame of the lighter, weak from overuse, tickled the edge of the magazine until colors of blue, green, and orange danced across the pages. Dropped in the middle of our circle, the surf magazine was quickly reduced to a small fire, the faint scent of chemicals mingling with tobacco. We stared hypnotically into the flames until we heard the ‘ding’. “What the hell are you kids doing?!” demanded the liquor store clerk as he approached. We glanced in his direction with cool disinterest. Someone flicked the rest of their cigarette in his general direction. We walked away slowly, leaving the clerk to stamp out the flames, glowing red embers floating up into the darkness.
“What time is it?” someone asked after we’d covered a few blocks.
“Shit! My Dad is going to kill me! I’m surfing in the first heat tomorrow morning and he’ll be pissed if I surf like shit.”
Someone else asked, “Does anyone have Wi-Fi? I wanna check Ozzie’s Instagram for an update.”
“I’m thinking about shaping myself a board, but, like, not giving a fuck if it works or not. You know those boards Droid made? I wanna do something like that.”
And so we walked in the night. Four friends, consumers of surfing’s counter-culture, masters of our manufactured individuality.