Part 1 in a 3 part article

by Jessica Typface
The Portland Chronicler
January 25th, 2023

A group of kids came down the street slowly. Their baggy clothes waved and their arms brushed against each other. They noticed this, but refused to show that they noticed it. A variety of tears dotted their clothing. From frayed knee holes to torn shirt sleeves their clothing was a form of proof. Some carried baseball bats.

The boy in the middle stuck out his knobby knees to reveal bold red gashes. The horizontal pattern scraping across his knee cap, along with the attendant bats would give the impression that he and his friends had been playing baseball. This would be incorrect. But they did like to gather in the lot behind the grocery store and play. Theirs was a different kind of game; one that not everyone wants to join. Today Darren won. Other days it would be someone else.

Throughout the suburbs of eastern Portland, kids like Darren and his friends gather to play a game called Skinning. Like most teen fads only they really “get-it”. In fact that’s what Darren told me when I first introduced myself to him.

“You don’t get it,” Darren scoffed. His knees, bent and still baring dark spots of gravel in the wounds, looked painful. But he seemed to either enjoy the sting or refused to show his discomfort.

“It’s all about how much you want it,” Darren explained with a pitying shake of his head. The group did not abandon Darren with me, the adult. They waited behind us, sitting stoop-shouldered. Not all of them were completely forthcoming about themselves. Some admitted to being thirteen, one was twelve. Had any of them been older than fourteen I would have been both surprised and more reticent. The number of scars displayed would have impressed a motorcycle gang.

I asked Darren, as well as his friends, what it was they wanted. What were they searching for in all this? While most of them smirked and elbow-nudged their neighbor, Darren responded. I could tell why he was their spokesman, their leader of sorts.

“It’s like, most of the time, you’re not real. On your phone you know,” he paused and licked his lips. “But when you’re doing it, when your blood is out, you can feel your own skin again.”

Skinning has been on the rise only recently. In fact the earliest recorded game was only posted on YouTube in October of 2020. Mostly occurring in metropolitan areas, like Portland, (as well as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta and Chicago), Skinning has just started to pop up in smaller, more rural areas like Boise, Idaho, Denver, Colorado and even one known occurrence in Wichita, Kansas. These gatherings are most likely occurring in many more cities and towns across America and go regularly unreported to local authorities.

When I asked Darren’s parents about his extracurricular activities they politely demurred. Not one parent I spoke with was willing to fully discuss the repeated abrasions their kids came home with. Nor do they always know that their kid participates in Skinning. Two of the parent couples I spoke with were under the impression that my questions were regarding school sports.

I asked Darren, before meeting his parents, if he and his friends would allow me to come with them so I could watch the game for myself. Spectators frequently record games surreptitiously and post them on social media. But this very act seems to belie the intentions behind their game. After asking several times, agreeing to change any names used in this story, he still was reluctant. It was not until I suggested that we would refrain from video and use only photos of the games results that Darren finally let me see what I didn’t “get”.

Inspired by this week’s music challenge “The Fallen” by Franz Ferdinand. Check out the piece written by Dylan Hughes here.

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