Sunday, June 26, 2011

I was a fat kid who didn't like skating.

"Dad, look at that kid. He's totally faking it. I saw him fall and there's no way that hurt. He obviously doesn't want to skate."

My eleven-year-old daughter and I gazed over at the portly, young man. He struggled mightily, spilling his body onto one of the rink's spectator benches, his mother hovering patiently with an ice bag and warm looks of concern. The Kitchen Aid gyration of his too-tight skates finally slowed to a stop as his bean bag bottom finally balanced itself on the painted wood. Success.

I wanted to approach the kid and tell him things would turn out fine for him, that his ability to operate four-wheeled boots should not and will not define him.

Then I changed my mind. Creepy.

It's Saturday afternoon at the roller rink and I'm here to tell you—over the past forty years, so much has changed in the world of tween entertainment—this has not.

Upon entering, I'm overcome by those same aromas of polished wood and disinfectant, finishing with an essence of overheated popcorn, spilled Mountain Dew and newly forming sweat glands.

The distorted din of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" has succumbed to the wailings of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, but this casserole contains the same ingredients. The repertoire still includes "reverse skate," "couples only" and of course, the races.

Even today, the skaters can be classified. The first grouping requires only maximum speed; form and consequences be damned. These are usually boys and they frequently resemble eleven-year-old Gilligans.

Others circle the floor in packs, lip-syncing whatever song is playing, never watching ahead because their heads are thrown back and their mouths agape in throes of laughter. These are usually girls.

A third class exists which welcomes both genders, and this is a group to which the aforementioned "injured" boy, and I, held membership. I'll call it the "Plutos."

Plutos slowly orbit the far reaches of the skating rink. And just as in the scientific world, most at the rink don't acknowledge Pluto's status as a planet.

That's okay; Pluto just wants to pass the time quietly and with little fanfare. We Plutos only roller skate out of necessity; it's either a birthday party or one hundred percent peer pressure.

To an overweight kid, skating parties take a back seat only to swimming parties on the scale of undesirable themes.

Memories of Pluto Club membership flooded my consciousness as I surveyed the spectacle. I reminisced about palming the peripheral wall like a drunken spelunker, expending maximum energy to stave off any type of wheel revolutions. A high center of gravity is not friend to the five-foot-tall, one-hundred-twenty-seven-pound skater.

Naturally, I bowed out of any speed skating competition, and when the couples skate rolled around, I usually grasped the opportunity to buy a Big Hunk or look at the condom machine in the boys' restroom.

Girls never asked me to skate with them anyway, which was totally cool; they all wanted to pair up with this kid named John Freeman, who was handsome, could balance on one wheel and kick a soccer ball the length of the field.

Usually, by the end of the session, I could skate sort of cross-country ski style, in three foot strokelets, and if I fell, I could stand up, rather than crawling Vietnam-style to the nearest railing. Solid progress.

The turned up lights signified the conclusion of our day, and my daughter and her friend skated gingerly toward me on the worn, green carpet.

"Did you guys have a good time?" I asked.

"Dad, that was so fun. Can we come back next Saturday?"

"We'll see," I replied, "and next time, I'm skating."

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