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Teetering on the edge of cool

Alison Berkley

For the last four nights I’ve been at the X Games, standing at the bottom of the halfpipe being reminded of why I’m not cool. Even though I tried to get away from it, my career keeps bringing me back to the all-too-hip world of snowboarding and action sports (the word “extreme”: also not cool). You guys know the story by now, but maybe not the whole story. From the very beginning, my career as an editor at the big snowboarding magazine in Southern California was rife with difficulty. For one, I didn’t fit in. I was pretty much the nerd who was thrown in with all the cool kids, the clique of mean girls back in eighth grade. The level of cool in Southern California was unbeknownst to me. Between the surfers and the hot chicks and the beach and working for a publisher that was at the epicenter of the snow/skate/surf scene, I was totally out of my league, and totally out of my element.I moved to Cali from Boulder and was very much the mountain girl, with my floppy hats and beaded jewelry, loose-fitting sundresses and Teva river sandals. I was fit, but far from skinny (“stocky” or “muscular” were the way people who didn’t want to offend me described it). I came from a place where all it took to impress a boy was keeping up with him on a mountain bike, and all it took to rope him in, so to speak, was tying a figure-eight knot into the other end of his belay. I quickly learned that cute and athletic don’t get you very far in California. I always thought they should have a sign at the state line like the ones you see at the amusement park that say, “You must be this tall to ride this ride.” Like somewhere around 5-foot-8, 115 pounds, and a 32C – at least – if you have any hope at all of ever getting laid. My second week on the job at the magazine, I was told a major snowboard manufacturer would outfit the entire editorial staff from head to toe with whatever equipment and clothing we wanted. So I went straight to the publisher and said, “Isn’t that unethical?” When he started turning red, I clarified. “To accept free stuff from an advertiser, I mean.”He escorted me into his office and closed the door. His office was strewn with relics of a life spent being cool: an electric guitar in the corner, several surfboards stacked against the far wall, a skateboard under the desk, artifacts from travels to the tropics, and a blown-up photograph of himself hanging ten on some giant wave, his big belly pressed forward in the classic “soul arch,” his own silent, private glory. He was a large man with long, grayish blond hair he wore in a ponytail. His skin was freckled and red from being in the sun every day, blue eyes fixed in a permanent squint. He wore a leather choker necklace with a shark’s tooth hanging from it, a T-shirt that stretched over his round belly, surf shorts and flip-flops. I sat down on the couch, waiting for him to say something like, “I never got the chance to welcome you aboard,” or “I’ve heard so much about you. We are so glad to have some new, young talent on staff.” Maybe he’d offer me surf lessons or stock options or maybe he wanted to have an affair. I always had that screw-the-boss-after-everyone-leaves-the-office fantasy, even if he was a little older and a littler fatter than I would have liked.”Who the HELL do you think you are?!” he bellowed, his face turning a deeper shade of crimson under what I originally suspected was a sunburn from his afternoon surf session. I felt my face get redder, too.”Excuse me?” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.”You better get right off that feminist soapbox of yours, and you better get off it now.””Feminist? Me?” As boy crazy as I was at the time, I’d always considered myself sort of sexist, preferred the ways of men.”If that’s how you’re going to be, you can go right back to the East Coast, or back to your prep school or wherever it is you came from.”So I go, “Um, I came from Boulder. That’s in Colorado. It’s actually a state school.”I did what my mom the shrink taught me to do when it comes to dealing with crazy people. I pretended to agree with everything he said, and repeated, “You’re absolutely right. I’m terribly sorry,” until he calmed down. Then I happily filled out my order form and collected about $3,000 worth of free gear.That’s pretty much how it went for the next five years. I teetered on the edge of cool but usually fell on my face in the process. I learned to surf. I got a tattoo on my ankle, lost a bunch of weight and watched my hair turn so blond I didn’t even recognize my own reflection. I traded in my clogs and hippie dresses for platform flip-flops and miniskirts. I went to all the industry parties, the movie premieres, the big contests and trade shows. Even though I had the credentials or the passes or the free tickets or was on the guest list or whatever you needed to get in, I still never felt like I fit in.That’s kind of how it was at the X Games. I had access to whatever, wherever, to control towers and snowmobiles, VIP tents and free meals. I was drowning in the sea of cool, but that doesn’t really matter anymore. Once the X Games finally leaves town, I’ll have all the space I need – enough to fit in just fine.The Princess has been sleeping too much and is just not herself. Send your wake-up call to alison@berkleymedia.com


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