Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding Part 1.

Welcome to the first installment of Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding. During the late 1980s and early 90s, Mystic Connecticut was a bustling hub of skateboarding activity. The merchants hated us, the jocks and jerks wanted to beat us down, and the cops did their best to arrest us. It was kind of an ass-backwards paradise for us punk-rock misfits and I don’t think any of us would have had it any other way. *Please note: some of the details here have been blurred, not for the purposes of artistic license, whatever that means, but due to the fact that I wasn’t taking notes back then, my only access to photography was an OLD Kodak Instamatic, and, quite frankly, I’m getting old. Welcome to part one.

When I turned 12, way back in 1980, I got the one and only thing I wanted for my birthday; a plastic yellow skateboard. It had translucent yellow wheels, loose and loud ball bearings, a tiny kick-tail, and an even smaller pointy nose. I saw it in the Benny’s department store in downtown Groton near the bikes my parents couldn’t afford and I became obsessed with it, pestering them every time we stepped into that store.

After months of begging, cajoling, and promising that I would be careful to not hurt myself, my fantasy of becoming a skateboarder became a reality. On the last day of November, that little skateboard was mine. It did, however, come with a catch, I could only ride it if I promised to wear a helmet. I was crestfallen. If that wasn’t enough, my parents, without consulting me, had gone ahead and purchased a helmet for me and it was quite possibly the most hideous thing I’d ever seen. Instead of an actual Pro-Tec skateboard helmet, my parents purchased a Cooper SK 100 hockey helmet that looked like it was made out of plastic milk jugs. Imagine, if you will; an awkward husky kid from a trailer park, wearing off-brand shoes purchased from the Railroad Salvage store and thrift store ToughSkins showing up at the quarter pipe some older kids built while wearing a beacon of ignorant geekdom upon his head. Let’s just say I wasn’t welcomed with open arms.I was determined, though, and didn’t let those gawking teenage boys bother me. Growing up in a trailer park had prepared me for a life of derision. Instead of trying to overcome the perceived adversity, I would walk past, doing my best to ignore the taunts, and head up the hill behind my house to figure out how to ride that useless plastic toy.

On day one, despite countless promises to be careful and not hurt myself, I did exactly that. On day one I learned two very important lessons: what speed wobbles are and what road rash is. My mother was not impressed.

Covered in scabs, but undaunted, I persisted. On day two, the speed wobbles also persisted, but it was on that day that I learned the importance of “run-out.” This gently curving road had two distinct sides to it: the safe side, with sloping manicured lawns, and the suicide, filled with rocks, briars, and trees. On day two, I discovered that bailing at speed onto a nice, soft lawn required almost no first aid, only soap and water.

Bombing hills, surreptitious trips to the quarter pipe, and the occasional trip to a reservoir spillway that later became known as the Fish Ditch was my entire world for the first two years of being a skateboarder. I didn’t need anyone or anything else and that suited me just fine. At the time there was no way I could predict what skateboarding would come to mean to me, what doors it would open, or how it would be the common ground on which most of my adult relationships would be founded. That little, yellow skateboard, after all, was just a silly plastic toy purchased from a discount department store in the submarine capital of the world.



Excerpt from “Young Offender” by Michelle Gemma, published in Post Magazine, Winter 1994

When the media broke the story on Jeff Poprocks last August (1994), there was already a certain amount of recognition surrounding the fuse phantom. Just days before his arrest, one local paper printed the plaintive demands of an eight-year old for the police “to please catch the fuse.”  Mystic resident Poprocks’   four month stint as a graffiti artist straddled the towns of both Groton and Stonington, common to most Mystical occurrences.  He is currently facing first, second, and third degree charges of criminal mischief as a result of his spray-painting various private and commercial buildings, rooftops, highway bridges and overpasses with his signature fuse. While Poprocks has raised the ire of Mystic property owners, for others, fuse lights our attention like the quick blue incandescence of late night television.


What’s surprising about Poprocks’ case and subsequent effect upon our community is that so many people readily presumed the gang implications of fuse.  Locals talked of the certainty of the fuse gang existence in Mystic, and most never questioned it.  The actual reality of the graffiti text may have frightened some, and perhaps raised again the suspicion of others that town has changed.  The frequent rhythm of the secret coded language marked something of significance, the actual meaning of which we could only speculate upon.  When questioned regarding his intent, Poprocks immediately alluded to the conflict of emerging teenage frustration of private self against expressing public persona in a medium at once visible and accessible.  Similar polarizations have occurred in the face of our society’s trademark television isolationism, except in the case of the latter, the individual sits at home in front of the television machine with the remote control and does nothing.  This may well be an exciting form of communication when taken to the next level of the video game, possibly a convoluted form of an individual art.  Graffiti art has always held the same level of fascination as any other individual athleticism:  the perfection of the individual will in the edge realm of complete self-reliance.  Once the basic technique is mastered, one lives to challenge the self and progress to higher levels of performance.


What the local papers failed to realize and capitalize upon as a positive vibe for town, was the big picture in Poprocks’ case.  Fuse is not a gang.  Any opportunity should be seized to comment on this.  But since most establishment sorts have done nothing to encourage the youth of our town in any real sense, let alone lead them forward into a new era of personal responsibility;  the public indifference is not surprising.  Instead the youth become criminals, and security forces must be hired to keep them down.  Down at home watching television until they go to college, which is not necessarily the most personally challenging option, only the most accessible for those most financially able.  As well, television is the most unlikely to encourage self-growth now so that a permanent commitment to Mystic and its cultural future is a reality.



Poprocks is fortunate enough to use the fortuitousness of cosmic timing to his advantage.  Since his graffiti artistry occurred entirely while he was seventeen years old, his eligibility for youthful offender status looks good.  He turned eighteen days after having been arrested, an occurrence beyond irony and cause for his own personal contemplation and subsequent call to duty.  Youthful offender status is granted upon affirmation of many conditions, one of which is the certainty that all offenses occurred while the individual was younger than eighteen.  And that fortune may well be his wooden cross to bear.  Having experienced the psychological scare tactics in the police’s questioning room after he turned himself in, Poprocks could not bear witness to other graffiti artists.  Primarily his outright lack of knowledge as to the others’ identity prevented him from revealing more than he knew.  The police were most interested to know who the perpetrators of the defacement of the Mystic Academy building were.   Anyone visiting the town-owned building recently is confronted with your more typical adolescent writings on the wall, of local romanticisms and rival town exchanges.  Nothing new really, except the scale and all over saturation of the spray paint due to the building’s current limbo status.  When the Board of education voted to close Mystic Academy at the end of the 1993 school year, the Town of Groton repossessed the building and its surrounding estate, and is presently trying to figure out its best use for the community.


And here we come full circle.  Poprocks’ case moves into its final stages, as he awaits verdict in his application for youthful offender status.  He seemingly meets all of the conditions for approval- he has no previous criminal or drug record of any kind.  He will plead guilty to all charges against him in a trial without media publicity, and no matter what, he will not go to jail.  As long as he is trouble-free until he is twenty-one, his future will not be shadowed by a criminal record.  What he will justifiably get from the court system fulfills the monetary implications of his artwork, which includes his own role in community service.  A role he has already impressively carved out for himself.



Pop Rocks

Young Offender starring Jeff Poprocks

Photograph by Michelle Gemma
published in Post Magazine, Winter 1994