Quondam Dreams

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Putting the Ow in WOW

When you attempt an activity that was once second nature for you, it's supposed to come right back. Your muscle memory takes over, the theory goes, and you're on your merry way.

I'm sure this is true about many things for many people. It might even be true for me: It's been a while since I've played piano, but I think I could still bang out a pretty respectable run-through of the first movement of Beethoven's Sonatina No. 1 in G. If I were ever to hear Balkan dance music, I'm sure I could comfortably settle into the appropriate dance and carry on a conversation while I did it. And I still do a mean backstroke.

But what if the action in question wasn't ever second nature? Does muscle memory still kick in?

I bring this up because of Saturday night's excursion to World on Wheels.

World on Wheels is a good old-fashioned roller rink that puts on an "adult skate" some Saturday nights. It seemed like as good a way as any to spend a recent evening, so a bunch of us piled into a car and made the short drive. We found parking, walked across the lot, opened up our bags for inspection (it's not in the best part of town), paid our entry fees, stopped at the skate rental counter, and sat down to lace up.

Feet securely, uh, secured, I gingerly stood up.

Muscle memory, my ass.

I was a pretty decent skater back in the day, but evidently not good enough to remember what I was doing twenty-odd years later (and, yes, it's pretty sobering that I'm old enough to not have done something in twenty-odd years).

So I found myself standing on that low-pile carpet indigenous to the foyers of bowling alleys and roller rinks, having a hard time finding and keeping my balance.

By the time we'd all put our stuff in lockers, two of the people I was with were out on the rink zipping around. Three of the others decided this was a good time for snacks. That left me.

Okay, I thought. Maybe I'm just having trouble because I'm on this carpet. Maybe I'll get my bearings once the skates are rolling like they're supposed to roll.

It was a nice theory.

I paused for a moment at the border of carpet and wood. Well, okay, it was more than a moment. Point is, I finally stuck my skate out there.

I kind of pulled myself along the wall for a few feet, and then pushed off...

And fell right on my ass.

Good thing I have no problem with making a fool out of myself in front of total strangers, because that's what I'd just done: Wiped out right in front of the railing that people leaned on to watch the skating. I laughed it off as I attempted to stand up, and they chuckled sympathetically. Or maybe they were laughing at me, and I just refused to accept it.

I heard a whistle. A guy in a referee's shirt skated towards me, diverting traffic around me as he helped me up.

"Sorry, it's been a while," I said.

"If you're going to skate slow, you need to get to the middle of the rink," he said by way of reply, indicating a cluster of couches surrounded by a low wall.

That struck me as kind of odd. I always remembered the fast people gravitating towards the middle and leaving the outside to the wall-hangers. I also remembered there being a good reason for this.

"How am I supposed to make it to the middle when I still can't remember how to make it ten feet?" I thought it was a very good question. In reply, the man in the striped shirt towed me to the bottom of one of the ramps leading off the rink.

If it hadn't all been so ridiculous, I might have felt a little humiliated. Instead, I felt kind of validated. I knew I was going to suck. It was just a question of how much I was going to suck. Now I knew: I sucked a lot.

Meanwhile, two more members of my group had jumped onto the rink and were twirling around like they'd never stopped skating. That left me and one other person. In time, she was persuaded to go out and be pulled around the rink for a while. My friends tried to get me to do the same thing, but I was done for the night. It was one of the easier decisions I'd made all week: I'd tried skating. I'd sucked. I'd been lucky not to break anything. I'd need some serious practice before I tried it again. Until then, if I fell, I wanted it to be on the carpet.

I had a good time, though. Usually, I prefer to be in the thick of the action, but this was one of those times when I was glad I stayed off to the side. The passing parade was pretty entertaining. There were people out there who must have been practicing their moves in their garages for a couple of decades, just waiting for a chance to show them off again, and I had a better vantage point along the side of the rink than I would have had if I were sprawled out on the rink itself.

WOW closed at two-ish. We piled back into Randall's car and went to Canter's. I hung out with my friends and had matzo ball soup. I got home after four and went straight to bed.

Sunday morning (okay, afternoon), I kind of wished that I had a better story about where I'd been all night and why I was slightly favoring my right foot. But, hell, I think I had a better time than I would have doing the archetypical Hollywood Thang. I probably escaped with fewer injuries than if I'd been out at shows (especially if any of those shows had been at UCB, where I always manage to injure myself), and I got matzo ball soup. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.


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