Roommates Brian Howard drinks grape Kool Aid, and Paul Zitzer eats grapefruit.
“Oh, here’s another good one,” Brian Howard says before cracking up at his thought. Brian Howard, Paul Zitzer, and I are at a restaurant, and I’ve asked him what’s lame about his roommate, Paul. He’s having the time of his life reciting a long list of eccentricities–everything from Zitzer’s minimalist tendencies to his habit of lining up the labels of containers.
But Zitzer has some jabs of his own. “My turn, my turn!” he shouts like an impatient kid as he points at Howard. “I want to say stuff about him.”
Not wishing to be cut off, Howard continues, “Every day for breakfast, he eats … ” Howard appears to be searching for the name of some exotic, extremely rare fruit.
“Grapefruit,” Zitzer says deadpan, like everybody but an idiot knows the name. “It’s called grapefruit.”
“Yeah, grapefruit,” Howard repeats, he seems unfamiliar with the name (he rarely eats fruit), but he continues explaining Zitzer’s morning ritual. “Every morning he has grapefruit. He has a bowl for it, a serrated spoon, a saucer. What do you need a saucer for? You already have a bowl! It would drive me nuts.”
“You want to talk about food? I’ll tell you what Howard eats for breakfast every day of his life,” Zitzer says, overjoyed to finally be able to retaliate. Howard sees what’s coming and starts laughing from embarrassment.
“Grape Kool Aid and frozen pizza,” Zitzer gleefully says. “And for lunch it’s grape Kool Aid and a turkey sandwich. And for dinner it’s grape Kool Aid and another frozen pizza. The only utensils he needs are a pizza cutter and a glass.”
Howard, still laughing at himself, explains that he has a problem with certain textures of food–he didn’t taste a banana until he was 24 years old. Zitzer laughs and points at him.
The ping-pong arguing continues, each enjoying bringing to light the various character defects of the other. It’s never malicious, and you can tell they’re close by the delight they derive from ruining each other. As much as they both enjoy the verbal boxing match, it displays how they balance each other out. For instance, Zitzer can barely find his way back from the bathroom, whereas Howard retains a map-like memory of every city he’s ever visited. And on the other side of that coin, Howard admits he stresses and has learned from his friend how to relax a bit more.
Their demeanor is ying and yang. Howard is usually passive, while Zitzer can act like a jackrabbit on a sugar high, often communicating through exaggerated, cartoon-like bursts of short sentences that sound like protests no matter what he’s saying. “He’s definitely in the top three for the funniest guys in skateboarding,” Howard says.
When they first met at an amateur contest in 1991, they both thought the other one hated him. During the next year, they bumped into one another at contests and did no more than exchange the odd “What’s up?” Howard thought Zitzer didn’t like him enough to talk to him. Zitzer figured Howard thought he was a kook.
They both won contests and turned pro a year apart. By then, Zitzer had moved from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Tampa, Florida, where he built a ramp. Howard began visiting from South Carolina to skate. They hung out more and more, then at a contest in Bricktown, New Jersey their friendship solidified when they spent a weekend together dodging a coke dealer’s gothic daughter who’d fallen in love with Howard and taken to stalking him. Zitzer helped him hide. Howard began crashing at Zitzer’s cramped, one-bedroom apartment when he’d visit. Zitzer loathed his place and in 1994 found an apartment with room for Howard and another roommate.
After three years in Tampa, the two felt the urge to move to Southern California. The road trip took three-and-a-half days. Howard did most of the driving of the huge rental truck (Zitzer claims Howard fulfilled his blue-collar dream of becoming a truck driver), while Zitzer ddrove Howard’s Subaru. They had walkie-talkies, and, naturally, used them for the sole purpose of aggravating each other. “I’d sing the chicken song “One Week” by The Bare Naked Ladies to him over the walkie-talkie,” Howard laughs and sings a few lines. “I hate the song, but I like to sing it to him, because it makes him so mad.”
Now sharing an apartment in Encinitas, with the new YMCA ramp just blocks away, it’s obvious skating is at the center of their friendship. For almost four years they’ve skated together whenever possible. As we walk out of the restaurant, Howard remembers that Zitzer still has to sign the lease–Howard is the only one on it, therefore he’s held accountable for almost everything. Immediately, they begin arguing about when Zitzer will sign. “I don’t need to, your name is on it,” Zitzer says. The argument continues into the parking lot. “You know I’m not going to rip you off if anything happens!” Zitzer says, joking with his cartoon-like incredulousness.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Howard shoots back with a laugh, “but I want it in writing.”