“We’re going to Black Bar tonight, you should come,” Karen’s friends implored. “There’s nothing special going on, just a couple of us getting together for drinks.”
The cloudless Los Angeles sky obscured nothing. The sun heavy and large in a pale blue canvas. A paranoid eye, its gaze hot and probing. They continued skating the ledge spot. It was supposed to be a casual session, but Trent brought his camera and was taking photos. Lots of photos.
“Dude, it’s just a Smith, you don’t need to shoot it,” Karen said to Trent, who was crouched near the end of the ledge, lens focusing on the incoming dip of the front truck.
“Ah, come on. It’s just for fun. No ulterior reasons! Also, you’re coming to Black Bar, right?”
A chorus of snickers came from the curb where the others sat, all on their phones, thumbs pounding into screens.
“Yeah, you don’t have plans tonight, right?” Camille chimed merrily, the row of them looking up from their phones at once.
“For the last time—no. I don’t have any goddamn plans. I’ll come with you to the bar.”
“Perfect,” Camille hissed as the thumbs on the curb worked at a furious clip.
Trent, Camille and the others waited in the living room as Karen got ready. Trent wouldn’t look her in the eyes, only facing her whenever he’d snap a photo.
“What are you doing? Can you not?” she snapped. But Trent claimed it was all in good fun. The photos were just for posterity’s sake.
“Who knows when you’ll look back on these and cherish this moment fondly?”
They piled into Camille’s Camry and cruised through buzzing lines of brake lights on the highway. Her friends talked in stilted tones about their days, skating, but it all came out hollow. Karen looked up from her phone to the rear view mirror—Trent and Camille’s eyes fixed coldly on her in its reflection.
“Why are y’all being so weird?” she asked. They laughed robotically.
“Us? Weird? No, we’re just regular old us delivering—er—driving you to the bar to meet some friends for a completely regular time. Right, Camille?” Camille nodded. Trent trained his camera on the mirror and caught the exasperated look on Karen’s face.
“Wait, uh, Karen. Can you walk in front of us, please? I get nervous if I enter a place first. It’s just some weird thing I have, you know?” Trent said as they neared the bar. Karen impatiently pushed between them, muttering to herself as she made her way to the door. Trent lifted his camera, snapped a few quick shots as she opened it and was swallowed by the sound:
“You’re PRO AF, PRO AF, PRO AF, PRO AF.” The crowd inside roared as Karen crossed the threshold. They swarmed her from all sides. Friends, family, and industry people in poorly fitting flannel. Held above their heads—like swords preparing for the downswing—were decks. It took her a moment to make sense of what was on them. The graphic was a cartoonish rendition of the logo of the company she rode for—except it was dressed up as Karen. Her name in chunky bold letters below it. Champagne rained down from somewhere as the chanting reached a deafening pitch. Her graphic’s caricature holding a paintbrush—because she liked to paint.
It was the same as all of the other pro-models graphics the brand put out. The other anthropomorphized logos held bongs, dumbbells, books—showcasing some other interest that would define that respective professional skateboarder as more than just that. Marketing. Karen screamed. The flash of Trent’s camera blinded her.
“These are all going up on the blog tomorrow so everyone can live this moment with you!” he yelled.
“You cannot escape this!” Camille shouted as the chants rained down. “This is a tradition that will never die. You must be surprised and appreciative of your generic AF first board graphic!”
The sound of her boards clacking together in the air above rang through the bar. Then the boards were in her arms. Big Karen holding lots of little Karens as phones captured it all. The boring horror. She had become “PRO AF.”
by Cole Nowicki