Robert Buchsbaum stood at the doorway. His big brown eyes watched the boys from the Japanese martial arts school. They stood perfectly in rows. Uniforms white and clean. All of their movements were crisp and efficient. Lifetimes of tradition woven into the fabric of the country. Honor. Discipline. Sacrifice. He was in Japan and found himself the outsider. Everywhere he went… it was palpable.The Japanese were too kind and never said anything. No pointing fingers or dirty looks. It simply wasn’t their way. Inscrutable. His father was an interpreter at the US Embassy in Tokyo. They had come from Los Angeles that summer. Pretty soon, he knew he’d be in public school here. His fathers assignment would last three years. He’d already started learning the Japanese language. Later in life, he’d look back on this day. A bright yellow sun, a blue sky, the white uniforms and perfect fluidity of the young warriors martial arts kicks and strikes and a longing that took him on a lifelong journey. He’d find himself sitting in an armchair in Cheviot Hills in Los Angeles. He would be old, tired and broken. He thought of all the years of training, the self sacrifice and preparation to be a warrior. His greatest battle would end up being time.
As the years flew by in Japan, his ability level increased at the martial arts school where he trained. His love for the martial arts and combat consumed him. He loved the way his body felt. The iron discipline. It felt good to master himself. He returned to Los Angeles in his late teens and had already trained himself to a high level. His fathers connections soon helped him begin training in fencing, Kung Fu and boxing. He found himself in school during the days and every evening he was lost in combat. Bloodied and sore, he’d drive home to his parents house in Cheviot Hills. He’d take a hot shower and go swim in the huge square pool behind the house. The normal things that interested other young men, meant nothing to him. Girls, cruising, booze. He felt these were a dead-end. All that mattered was mastering his body and his mind. His entire focus walked on the edge of a knife… the gleaming blade, his stance, the weight shifting on the balls of his feet… It became his entire existence.
Time. Its relentless hand sweeps through everything. It leaves nothing. It takes all we have and all we’ll ever be. Robert moved through the shadows in the late afternoon. The windows were dirty as was the rest of the house. His parents had died in the nineteen seventies and he’d sold his condo and moved back into the house in Cheviot Hills. Cluttered. He’d never really got around to going through their things. He just closed the doors and lived on in the rest of the house. He saw his martial arts equipment in a corner. Unused. It had been years… he couldn’t move like he once did. Vitality and flexibility were a thing he no longer knew. Youth was a stranger’s face mocking him in his infirmity. He parted the curtain and saw the gardener watering the pots on the back porch. He waved. Robert saw the shimmering water in the huge square pool… it had been a long time since he swam. “I should get in the water again.” He thought. “It would probably be good for my joints.” Turning away, he sat back down. “Maybe another time…” he mused. Robert sat there, an old man, in an old house and idly thought through his past. The sun spun through the afternoon heat. He thought of his training, the warrior he once was and the battle he prepared for and never fought. Robert felt his advancing years in his bones. That night when he went to sleep, he couldn’t know that his battle was finally over. Sleep took him one last time.
His Shadow On Every Wall
Arthur Viecco pulled his car to the curb and looked the house over. It was sagging there under the heat of the afternoon. The trees were overgrown, the yard a mess and it had a heavy unused look about it. Arthur’s friend bought homes and was involved in developing properties. He had bought the property from the state after Robert Buchsbaum had passed.There were no relatives. He’d told Arthur that the pool there was massive and the home would be demolished. Knowing Arthur was a skateboarding legend from the seventies, he thought it might prove to be a good pool for skating. Arthur looked it over and realized that the walls were big and round. He got a pump and the pool soon sat empty under the afternoon sun. Arthur called me and I went by. We walked through the house. Robert Buchsbaum. His entire life lay inside those walls. Every dream he ever had, every long night awake and sleepless, every fortunate and unfortunate occurrence… it was there with glaring realism. There were piles of clothing, shoes and the furniture still sat where Robert had last sat… it made us quiet and sad. In a closet, a pile of sixteen millimeter movie spools sat on the carpet. ‘Italy 1960’ was written on one canister, ‘Christmas 1957’ on another. These were scattered with photos and slides. His entire life discarded. It was grotesque in its abandon.
We walked around and took it all in. The fragility of life. Paper-thin. I found a teak wood shelf filled with martial arts books. I saw his belt certificates and I found his Karate Gi. His belts were all there to show his rise in Karate and the combative arts. Martial arts equipment and books on fencing and combat were strewn about. I told Arthur “This man was a warrior.” It was hard to reconcile all of the discipline, training and achievement with the mess we were looking over. His shadow was on every wall. We finally called in some friends and rode the pool. I was haunted by Robert Buchsbaum, his demise and the fact that all he ever was, would soon be a pile of rubble. We took his Karate Gi and photo and hung them up. Respect. Honor.
Every session became a tribute to him, at least for some of us… The pool was big, deep and you had to step up to it. One had to be a warrior. Arthur called the pool the Equalizer. I think he felt the pool challenging enough that it had a tempering effect on all who came there. The pool made you give one hundred percent. If you didn’t charge in full-throttle, you came away with nothing. The pool was the ultimate opponent.
The sessions became a weekly thing. We knew that the pool wouldn’t last. If anything, this property reinforced how fleeting life can be. One look around the remnants of Robert’s house made that abundantly clear. Life waited for no one. Soon, word came down the line that permits were secured to demolish the house. The next time I drove over, a green construction fence was wrapped around the property. The endless cycle of life, death and life. The sessions increased and the pool demanded more from everyone.
One of the things that I noticed immediately, was the intensity in the sessions. The pool made each skater battle it out. Hardly one of us would walk away unscathed. It seemed fitting, given that the homeowner had been one to challenge life in the way that he did… In every session, someone was at war with themselves. Apropos.
The power company appeared one day and installed a new power box and pole in the back corner. That same week, all the trees and shade in the backyard were gone. It was like some giant hand had reached down and moved things around like a chessboard. Huge trees gone, giant piles of lumber stacked, concrete bags and pipes scattered along the fences. Progress… just not the kind I like. I walked through the house after the last session there. I saw an old first aid kit, razors, tea bags and medicine from the nineteen nineties scattered across the filthy carpet. Someone had come and piled the living room area with old appliances, furniture, wires and clothing. I picked up a postcard from the floor. It had a foot print on it. Smudged. It showed a handsome couple dressed in winter clothing at a ski resort. In big red letters it said , “Greetings from Paradise.” I looked at the pool and thought of the sessions we’ve been having. I laughed under my breath… “Paradise indeed!”
Robert Buchsbaum spent decades becoming a master of the martial arts. Pain, sweat, injury, self denial… things — as skaters — we can completely relate to. For us, there’s no other way. People live their entire lives collecting stuff. They go to school, collect a few letters to put after their name, some gather trophies, others ribbons and banners, some collect cars and wives… the list is endless and ultimately sad. These are but small victories on the long, gritty road of life. As the great end is sweeping in, we find ourselves standing before only one opponent and it’s the same for each of us. Time. Time always wins. Rest in Peace Robert Buchsbaum. Thanks for the lesson and the fun. – Ozzie
Thanks to all of the photographers, skaters and filmers that contributed to this story.