It is a special time of year, but apparently not special enough to write something new. Here is a piece from a collection I wrote about life, love, and yes, roller skating. Happy Valentine’s Day!
I glanced at the bottom of my shoes today before putting them on, just to make sure.
I really don’t know how it all happened, how yesterday spun so far out of control. How I became so uncoordinated. How I had lost it.
And by saying I lost it, oh, yes, that means I most definitely at one time had it.
In sixth grade, skating parties were all the rage. We’d all get dropped off by our parents or older siblings at a dingy old skating rink, a dilapidated thing that could have doubled as a research habitat for new breeds of spiders. I’d walk up to the front desk like a duckling moments before taking flight for the first time; yes, once I had my Rollerblades, walking would be out, replaced by the smoothest of glides.
The front counter guy, pierced like a pincushion, always would ask, “Blades or skates?” Please. Might as well ask, “Scooter or Harley? Small bills or big? Coach or first class?”
Give me a break, sir, and while you’re at it, give me a pair of midnight black size sixes and a 3 Musketeers bar. The night is young.
I’d pull on my new, wheeled shoes over my double socks, and the world would change. It would go from a thing to be had, step-by-step, like some old-timey animation, to a zooming, in-your-face, 3-D action film. My thighs would burn as blisters rubbed on my feet, but I was numb to the pain, fueled on by the adrenalin that skated through my veins.
And fueled on by the girls. Yes, my skating prowess (along with my skater’s haircut), gave me an edge in this department. The lights would dim, Boyz II Men would come on, and everyone would crowd onto the floor for the illustrious couples’ skate.
The boys would form a sloppy line at one end of the rickety floor with the girls neatly assembled on the other. And the MC (in normal life, some dropout with a microphone; in this situation, he had the poetry of Shakespeare and the smooth delivery of Seacrest) would announce that the boys would be up first. This meant that we’d get to skate down to the girls’ end, claim the lady of our choosing, then whisk her around the floor, in a counter-clockwise manner, until the end of the chosen ballad.
This is where it paid to be fast. The MC would say, “Go,” and I’d dart away from the pack, like Olympic gold—nay, like my very life—was on the line. By arriving first, I had my pick of anyone! All the lovely sixth-grade girls of Jackson Middle School stared dreamily into my seducing eyes. They’d toss their hair and make puppy-dog eyes. I’d fix my own hair, making the sides flow tightly to a jagged point in the back, and I’d take in the three or four beauties for whom I’d harbored crushes for hours or even days! They’d catch my gaze and perk up even more—getting picked first was a definite boon to the aspirations of popularity.
But then my toying would end at the sound of clanking skaters whisking up behind me. It was time to choose, or forfeit my winning position. With compliments to the ladies at the front, just adorable as could be, I’d slither my way through the now-twittering throng to the very back. Here would lurk the less attractive sixth graders. They weren’t as confident or as pretty, and because of that there was a distinct chance some of them wouldn’t get picked by a boy to couple skate. Added to their dilemma, based on their weight distribution and the boy-to-girl ratio, there was also a distinct chance that many of them wouldn’t have gotten to the boys’ line in time to nab one when it was the ladies’ choice song, but I couldn’t worry about social injustice or superficiality. I had a job to do after all.
There, gazing in at the homely bunch, I would make my pick. I’d pick the sweetest one of the lot, some gal everyone respected and admired but was more likely to be picked to be a partner for science lab than anything else.
On the way back to the front, where my new arm candy and I would begin our romantic lap, I’d be sure to mutter just loud enough so the pretty girls could hear me, “I just thought this was the right thing to do…”
Bam! Seed planted. In one fell swoop, I went from the hotshot skater with a futuristic haircut to a sensitive soul dedicated to a woman’s heart and not just her clammy little hand.
It worked every time. When it was the ladies’ choice song, they’d come at me like sleep-deprived mothers seeing the last Black Friday wonder toy. I was the prize pick, and often I could turn the ladies’ choice song into a ladies’ choice evening, skating the night away with a variety of eligible suitorettes. I created my own little version of The Bachelor; I was Casanova on wheels.
Man, was I smooth.
But, like a wheel, what goes around comes around.
On a recent weekend, something was left on my doorstep. No, it wasn’t a baby; that actually may have been less of a life changer. It was a pair of Rollerblades, size eleven and midnight black. Knowing my wife used to love to Rollerblade, I decided to relive my sixth-grade days and show her the suave prince she had married.
That night we booted up in our garage and headed to the city park adjacent our home.
But everything had changed.
I realized this on the first hill we came to, just seconds from our apartment. My wife wouldn’t take the hill! Even with me, me (!), offering to hold her hand and guide her. “Nope,” she said. “You go ahead.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! But, of course, she didn’t know. She hadn’t seen me with my angular hair, shaped for speed and precision. This was her first look at me mounted on wheels. Of course she didn’t know. And, honestly, I was almost scared to show her this side of me in public. I mean, what if she swooned right there on the spot? Surely that would be better than the other effects my debonair skating demeanor might have on her. And, frankly, what about the other women in the park? I’ve seen enough AXE body spray commercials in my day to know what happens when the carnal desires of the fairer sex are mysteriously awakened. But what could I do? I can only be who I am, and on skates, I mean, it is the only way I know.
I took the hill smiling, but halfway down I heard a siren. Then I realized the siren was me. I was screaming. Worse than that was the way my arms were whipping in circles like whirligigs in a stiff wind. Finally the uphill slope reduced my speed enough for me to lunge for the safety of the grass.
“That’s why I wanted you to go first,” my wife piped from behind me. “I’m walking it.” She followed along in the grass, walking all sideways to keep her wheels from spinning like an idiot. I walked the same way down the next few hills.
We neared our destination, and by that point we were both bruised and broken, and that was just our pride. Our bodies hurt too. Luckily I had packed a shoe bag and had it strapped to my back (a sight that only further diminished the version of me, this sad, sad thing I had become). Our plan was to go to my friend Nate’s nearby home (he had been the giver of the skates, after all), take these evil wheeled shoes off our feet, and stash them there.
But there was one final hill to go, and it was the steepest of them all. My wife scooted down the roadside grass on her backside, like some feet-first slug. I stood atop the hill, at a likewise steep point of decision. “Just scoot down or crawl,” she encouraged.
“No,” I said, just as much to crawling or scooting as to where fate and age were trying to drag me. “No, I’m taking it. I’m taking the hill!”
“You’re going to fall,” she answered matter-of-factly.
As I raced down the hill, I knew she was right…unless…by cutting hard one way, I could curl around and maneuver my way back uphill. Then I’d turn and do it again. “Look! A capital C! All I have to do is just keep making uppercase C’s, and I’ll—”
It was then that I fell.
I landed on the curb. Hard. So hard, in fact, that my wife didn’t even laugh. Her eyes were wide with fear. She was probably equally afraid that from where I was on the treacherous pavement and with her feet snugly incased in their wheeled prisons there’d be no way for her to get out to me in time if this were, indeed, my dying breath; while I was out on my island of ice amid a half-frozen lake, she was safely on her backside in the grass. When she saw I had my vitals, she summed it up nicely. “You fell hard!” Then she laughed. Hard.
We made it to Nate’s. It had taken us around an hour-and-a-half to go about a half-mile. But it felt much longer.
We put on shoes without wheels and limped home, holding hands.
No matter what I had become and no matter how many men, women, and children, walking and playing in the park, had laughed and mocked me on this skating odyssey, here I was, still the ladies’ choice for the only one who mattered.