Dying Young(ish) Around Monterey Bay

When somebody young or youngish dies, the odds favor a memorial t-shirt. Maybe it’s generational. Millennials, Zs, even Xers: those are t-shirt generations. Elderly boomers? Really not. The printed t-shirt didn’t really hit its stride until the ’80s.

Ashleigh Swain was only 16 and a student at North Monterey High that Friday afternoon in 2011 when she stopped at an intersection and then pulled her blue Camry straight out in front of an oncoming truck. Cross-traffic didn’t have to stop.

Out of that moment came her death. And this t-shirt.

I could have as many memorial t-shirts as I wanted, if that was my idea of a good time. I picked up this one because it’s a classic of the type: tender, sincere, sad, and extremely sentimental.

From what I could find out, Ashleigh Swain was a nice young woman: well-liked, well-loved, and popular. She made jewelry and stained glass. She wanted to be a nurse. After her death, a scholarship was established in her name.

Someone even built a memorial Facebook page to Ashleigh; it’s still up. For years her friends and family wrote messages to Ashleigh there, messages that she could never read. But which helped them to heal.

The final post dates to 2016. Her friends graduated and moved on to other towns, other schools, other lives. And the t-shirts, or at least one of them, went to Goodwill.

That’s all right; the Facebook page did its job. And a memorial t-shirt only gets worn for so long. Unless it’s really cool, of course. Like this one:

Yes, that’s a humanoid hot-dog spilling beer from one hand while riding a skateboard — or is it a mustard bottle — across a barbecue grill. And what this is, is a t-shirt for the memorial luau of one Moish Brenman: committed skateboarder, skateboard deck artist, and a mover and shaker behind skatepark development in Santa Cruz.

Brenman came to Santa Cruz in the ear;y ‘90s, age 21 to help a friend and some of his friends found Consolidated Skateboards. Consolidated developed into a scrappy and iconoclastic skateboard company where Brenman was first art director. By all reports Brenman liked to live large and take other people along with him. Popular.

Other side of the t-shirt: Moish’s personal logo, with dates.

He illustrated over 100 decks for Consolidated and even created the company’s logo. He was a major force behind Consolidated’s “DON’T DO IT” ad campaign to warn customers about Nike and other corporate predators who wanted to move in on the small skateboard companies and independent retailers who built the industry. Coincidentally or otherwise, Nike scrubbed its venture into the skateboard market.

On the side Brenham created logos, illustrations, rock art, what have you. Brenman even drew a skeletal motorcycle rider for the Daly City Hells Angels which ended up on a t-shirt that the Angels probably sold as a fundraiser. I have that t-shirt.

This one didn’t even make it past the lawyers.

As a deck artist, Brenman considered himself a fairly obscure artist who had done a couple of decks that were extremely well known. One of them made it it onto lists of “most offensive deck designs of all time:”

Brenman’s design was a parody of a deck by a skate company called Alien Workshop: the original board bore a picture of a Grey alien and the single word “Believe.” Brenman’s version was for a company called “Asian Worshop,” with multiple Asian stereotypes. Take a look

Here’s a fun fact: even with a name like Moish Brenman, Brenman’s mother was Hawaiian Chinese, an educated woman with a lifelong interest in Judaism. She eventually converted. And Moish got the name Moish, even though he considered himself Chinese and looked it. He saw nothing wrong with the deck, or the joke. It was okay; he was Chinese, right? So he could make that joke.

I’d disagree. But the zeitgeist of ’90s skateboarding culture said otherwise, and Brenman was part of that.

Brenman also made a mark in Santa Cruz primary author of “The Plan,” a sort of blueprint for skateboard activism published in pamphlet form by Consolidated. The Plan diagrammed the process of gaining support for a skateboard park in towns that needed one, step by step. The Plan, and Brenman, were part of the successful campaign to bring a new, modern skatepark (Mike Fox Skatepark) to Santa Cruz.

Moish Brenman

Brenham left Santa Cruz around Y2K and went up to the Bay Area to make it in game design. He did.

Brenman’s games resume is long; his jobs as creative designer and lead, many. He ended up in hip, digital San Francisco: respected and prosperous with a wife and kid and a career. A few weeks short of his 45th birthday, a heart attack took him in his sleep. Almost-45 is not 16. But was it before his time? I’d say so.

The skateboard world saw Brenman off in style. The notice at right appeared in Thrasher magazine, the New Yorker of skateboard culture, calling the faithful to Derby Park in Santa Cruz for a hot-dog luau in Moish’s honor.

Derby Park has Santa Cruz’ oldest skateboard course — one of the oldest anywhere — but is also a “real” park with grass and tables and barbecues. Mike Fox Skatepark, with bigger and better and more modern skateboarding features, has none of that.

Brenman and other brahmins of the skaterati would have come for (or held) numerous “Derby-ques” at Derby Park over the years. These were meetings of the skater tribes where tube-shaped meats were barbequed and beer consumed. Derby Park is the motherland of Santa Cruz skateboard culture, or close enough.

And so the tribes gathered for a derby-que in Moish Brenman’s honor, as foretold on the sacred t-shirt. And the t-shirts were distributed, beer and barbecued sustenance were consumed, and stories were told into the evening.

I’d like to think so, anyway. But I wasn’t there; I knew nothing of Brenman. It took a t-shirt to teach me.

I may add a few more shirts to this gallery at a later date. Stay tuned.