:: Article

A Season in Limbo

By Jonathan Woods.

whenskateboards

When Skateboards Will Be Free, Said Sayrafiezadeh, The Dial Press 2009

Just so you know, this is not the life of some new millennium Chekhov. Nor the hard times of a literary bandit cast in the mold of William S. Burroughs. Said Sayrafiezadeh’s memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free is the bittersweet story of a kid left alone a lot while growing up. And who, growing up in America in the final quarter of the Twentieth Century, can’t identify with that?

Said’s father was never home. Too busy passing out copies of The Militant, the newspaper of the fringe Communist party in the U.S. Said’s mother spent her days working as a secretary, her nights attending meetings and rallies of the Socialist Workers Party. In between there was little time for Said, who was left to entertain himself and puzzle through life’s lessons on his own. Sounds like the plight of a million American kids.

Besides his disappearing acts from Said’s life, often for years at a stretch, Sayrafiezadeh senior was a hedonist of the revolution. As a fanatical member of the Communist Party, first in the U.S. and later in Iran after the fall of the Shah, Said’s father tilted at windmills, but always it seemed with his arm around some attractive woman of the barricades. Here Said describes his father’s worldview:

He believes that the world is quickly spiraling downward, of course, that poverty is unresolvable, that wars are constant, but these thoughts do not distress him in the way they distressed my mother and me. Instead he is invigorated by them. The revolution will come, certainly, and when it does, all will be well. Until then there is work to be done, food to be eaten, wine to be drunk and sex to be had. I am sure my father will live to be a hundred.

Said’s mother, an ardent Jewess named Martha Harris, lived a modest proletarian existence first in Brooklyn and later in Pittsburgh. She too was a diehard Communist.

That’s different. Growing up in America with parents who were diehard Communists.

Both Said’s parents were seriously disconnected from reality. No one in the U.S. of A in the 1980s and 90s gave a shit about the revolution of the proletariat. It existed as the group hallucination of the small band of diehard brothers calling themselves the Socialist Workers Party. A dead end. Said’s mother also suffered from depression.

Said’s mother and Sayrafiezadeh senior separated when Said was less than a year old. Another circumstance lots of readers will identify with. But there were no fat alimony checks. Just a drab apartment cluttered with stacks of The Militant newspaper.

The great strength of Said’s coming-of-age memoir is its depiction of growing up in an archetypically dysfunctional late 20th Century family. Said writes fluidly with a proletarian simplicity that impels the reader along. Mostly I flew through this memoir.

Said is also very funny (though mostly about his father, not his mother). Here he describes having dinner with his father the buffoon. Out of the blue Sayrafiezadeh senior invites Said to an Iranian restaurant in New York City to celebrate Said’s 30th birthday. At the restaurant Sayrafiezadeh senior orders a bottle of chardonnay.

The waitress places a carafe of chardonnay in front of us.

My father looks at her ass as she walks away. Then he looks at the carafe of chardonnay. Then he looks at me.

“This is white,” he says to me.

“It’s chardonnay.”

“I wanted red.”

“Chardonnay isn’t red.”

“Never?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Shit,” he says to himself.

A great sense of isolation pervades Said’s story. From his unpronounceable name, to his spouting at school of socialist rhetoric learned from his mother, which alienated him from his classmates, to long school bus rides ending in the echoing rooms of an empty apartment. Ah, the alienation of youth. We can all dig that.

When Said is sixteen, his mother abruptly quits the Socialist Workers Party. But she can’t resign from her depression.

Yet Said remains distinctly resilient. He makes friends, especially at the pickup basketball game at a local park. He does well in school. He kisses girls. He even masturbates. Like the rest of us, Said is a survivor. Much later he secures a good paying job at the Martha Stewart Company designing marketing programs and a cute girlfriend. She likes to rest her leg over his when they ride the subway together and celebrate her birthday with champagne and take-out from Benny’s Burritos.

The U.S. edition dust jacket has a color photo of Said, looking bemused, a tree-lined Brooklyn street stretching behind him. Despite all his parents’ weirdness, Said the author at age 40 sounds like he’s got his act pretty much together.

jonathanwoods

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jonathan Woods is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. His collection of noir crime stories entitled No Way, Jose & Other Wild-Ass Crime Stories will be published in April 2010 by New Pulp Press. When not writing he works part time at the Dahlia Woods Gallery.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, July 1st, 2009.