Friday night Mrs. Smith pulled in my driveway to pick me up. I had agreed to accompany her and a carload of kids to her thirteen-year-old daughter’s birthday party at Classic Skating Rink. The rink was built when I was a kid and I hadn’t stepped foot onto it’s powder blue floor since I was about thirteen, myself. And as we walked through the heavy black doors, it was like stepping through a time warp. Everything about the place was exactly the same, including the smell of pre-teen lust hanging heavily in the air.
The kids (4 girls and 2 boys) put on their rollerblades while Mrs. Smith and I went to the counter to get the old-fashioned ”free skates”. The kids in line before us were handing their shoes to the workers as collateral for the inline skates they were using. When it was my turn, I handed my shoes over the counter and asked for the regular skates in a size 6. The teenaged boy at the counter pulled out a pair of flourescent blue skates with bright coral laces (probably the exact pair of skates I used the last time I was there) and handed them to me saying, “It’s okay, we don’t need your shoes. We only do that for rollerblades.” Apparently, hideousness is its own anti-theft device.
By the time Mrs. Smith and I got our skates on, the party-goers were long gone checking out the rink and, more particularly, the other people at the rink. And, more particularly than that, the people of the opposite gender at the rink. And, most particularly, the opposite gendered people at the rink that were total hotties.
Mrs. Smith and I made our way to the rink across the black carpet with colorful geometric shapes scattered across it (very 1982). We had a singular goal: remain upright. It’s amazing to realize what happens between the ages of 13 and 29 at the skating rink—at thirteen, you second-guess every move you make, convinced that all eyes are always on you. By the time you’re nearing 30 it’s very clear that you have become completely invisible. And that invisibility was the reasoning behind my willingness to skate.
“They say it’s like riding a bike,” Mrs. Smith said as we stood at the edge of the rink.
We slowly set our heavy feet onto the slick oval floor and began moving with the crowd of very small, very fast skaters, whizzing by to the timeless strains of The Village People. Making our way around the rink, we were visited often by the partygoers, who were chatting and anticipating the most important event of the evening—the snowball.
“What’s a snowball?” I asked.
All four girls started explaining at the same time, so I couldn’t tell a thing they said. However, the glow in their faces explained everything—it involved asking and skating alone with a member of the opposite gender, and everything about the entire night would somehow depend on this, and devastating depression would be the result of not skating with that one particular person who was, by all accounts, their soulmate. When the girls skated away, I explained to Mrs. Smith that if I were to wake up one morning and be thirteen again, I would be so appreciative if she would just shoot me.
About then, the DJ announced that it was time to play the Hokey-Pokey and called all skaters to the middle of the floor. Mrs. Smith and I made our way off the rink. A large father sporting a windbreaker, white tennis shoes, and a camcorder began walking toward the rink, filming all the way.
“Michael!” he called toward the rink, “Go do the Hokey-Pokey!”
We looked to see who he was calling, but couldn’t tell.
“Michael!” he yelled louder, “Go do the Hokey-Pokey with the kids!”
Suddenly, it was clear who Michael was. A tall, probably fourteen-year-old boy rode toward the man on a scooter with a look in his eyes that was completely mortified with a twinge of total agony.
“Dad,” he said as quietly and with as much pleading as he could, “I don’t want to do the Hokey-Pokey.”
“Go do it, Michael, I want to get it on film.”
“But, Dad, I’m on a scooter.”
“That’s okay, just be creative.”
We left them arguing there, certain that this very conversation would be played out in Michael’s therapy sessions in ten years.
The night continued on. The skating became easier. The lights got dimmer. Mrs. Smith and I eventually reached a maximum speed of 6.3 miles per hour, of which we were especially proud. Finally, near the end of the party, the DJ asked the crowd if it was time to snowball. We made our way off the rink as the crowd polarized to the edges—boys on one side, girls on the other. We stood back watching the partygoers encouraging Birthday Girl Smith to go ask the boy she’d been wanting to skate with all night. They stood around her, feeding her encouragement and pushing her forward. Eventually she made her way around the rink. We watched for her to ask him, but instead she skated by and then looked back longingly. He looked at her and began skating toward her. She turned around. They met each other halfway. Joining hands, they made their way around the rink, and Mrs. Smith, standing on the edge with her camera recorded it for all posterity.
Eventually it was time to trade our skates for shoes and boots. The party had been a great success, with only a few disappointments. Phone numbers were exchanged. Birthday wishes were granted. We drove home as soft white snow swirled toward the ground.
Later, when Mr. & Mrs. Smith came over to our house to hang out, I asked if Birthday Girl Smith was happy with the results of the party.
“I think so,” said Mrs. Smith, “when we left her to come here, she was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling with the biggest smile on her face. She said, I like a boy and he likes me too.”
We laughed and I looked over at Ryan—a boy I knew the last time I had been skating—and realized that being thirteen maybe wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered.