It was the last night at the
outdoor skating rink. Before we skate there again a whole summer will
fatten up and fall to dry pieces around us.
We went a few days earlier
with some folks from the rescue squad, but a sunny day made the ice slushy.
There were pools of standing water on the ice. One side of the rink was
roped off with yellow CAUTION tape and orange traffic cones. There was
one little kid hugging the wall and moving his legs frantically like a
cartoon character getting ready to run. I was feeling that weird sensation
when friends meet who each know you in separate circumstances and you
find you can't quite be either of the selves you've come to know with
each of them. You thought you were one person but you were wrong. Susan
knows a few people from the squad and I'm sure it would trouble her a
little to know that I still felt suspended between two worlds when I was
with her and squad friends, but I just see that as normal. I don't want
to live as only one me.
Bob's the old guy who runs
the place; once you get to know Bob it kind of feels like you're going
over to his house to skate in his back yard. He saw us at the edge of
the rink, staring out at the wet mess and speculating that it would be
a bad day to have my friends try to learn how to skate. Bob said he'd
run the zamboni over the ice and smoosh it down, and we'd probably get
ten minutes of decent ice before it started to turn back into slush. My
squad friends decided to pass but encouraged us to go ahead. The ice was
uncertain, lacking the perfect frictionless vector of fresh ice. The faster
I skated, the more it felt like I would lose my grip on every turn. I
did fall once, but managed to avoid a pool of water and stood up only
a little dampened. The squad friends applauded from a picnic table at
the edge of the rink. I realized I'd wanted them to think I was kind of
hot shit on the ice.
The Pershing Park rink spends
the summer as a fountain. It's a nice size for a city fountain but pretty
small for an ice rink. Nonetheless, it's my favorite. The rink is sunk
below ground level, sheltered from the wind and not particularly visible
from two of the adjacent streets. It's seldom very crowded, even considering
that twenty people can easily fill it to capacity.
Tonight it's cold again and
the ice is solid, but there are only two other people out on the ice.
It's the last night -- Bob tells us he was thinking of closing up early
before we arrived. He runs the zamboni around again just as we're getting
our skates on. The sheen is so perfect you can't even tell if it's still
wet or not.
I go around and around so fast
that I can almost touch the ice on the inside of the turns, like a speed
skater. A couple more people amble by the rink and decide to skate too,
so I slow down for a while. I can skate like crazy tonight but my terrible
secret is that I've never learned to skate backwards. It was always too
much fun going forwards to stop and learn something else. But with the
rink practically to myself I decide it's a good time to try. The first
painstaking baby-steps are punctuated with several falls, and periodically
I break off and go skate around the rink as fast as I possibly can to
remind myself that I already know how to skate.
I can sense that there's a
simple movement here that my body just has to find. This will become easy
very quickly for me but I have to find the rhythm. I hate falling as I
wait for it, but I laugh when I fall because there doesn't seem to be
anything else to do about it.
After a half-hour or so, I
can feel it beginning. I have an edge to hold on to; I can sense that
I'm getting close. Bob comes slithering across the ice in his shoes. "That's
the figure skater way to do it," he tells me, "Let me show you
how to do this on hockey skates." He takes my hands and shows me
what to do with my feet and legs, and I do that for a while. I am skating
backwards -- slowly, arthritically, but I can feel what needs to happen
and I am just waiting for it to happen.
After a couple hours, we're
ready to head home. Bob comes over to us as we're pulling off our skates.
We wish him well until next winter. "We get going again in the fall,"
he tells us. "Why don't you come down and sign up to help out? You
could be rink guards. You get free ice time and you can just do it part
"Can we drive the zamboni?"
Susan asks. Always looking for smoothing more.
"Sure," he says.
"But you have to have a valid driver's license," he warns us
seriously. We assure him that we do.
"I want to drive the zamboni,"
Susan tells me. Despite the fact that we have real jobs, we've both instantly
latched on to the idea of working at the ice rink next winter.
"I want one of those red
nylon jackets the rink guards wear," I tell her.