Did I tell you about the time my father roller skated?
He was the least athletic man I knew. I threw better than he did at six years old. He came home with baseball gloves for him and me, kind of a toy one for my hand, but it wasn’t long before we switched and I had the adult glove and I was pitching into one of these devices that had a net and a rubber band and shot the ball back at you. This was about the same time they had automatic putting machines. You putted into a device akin to a dustpan and then it pushed the golf ball back to you. That was the technological revolution of the sixties. We listened to our records on vinyl and the breakthrough was transistors and the thought that we could take all of our music with us…was not even on our minds.
And we never roller skated growing up. Maybe because it wasn’t flat where we lived. Hilly compared to the traditional suburb, but not mountainous. And the roads were made from this newfangled concoction akin to the new math, something they used for about a decade and then abandoned, a combination of rocks, oil and sand that was mucky and sticky for days and then the top layer of rocks was pushed to the sides and the uneven surface was supposedly better for traction but it was hell for roller skates, never mind the skateboards that were fashionable for about a year around 1965.
And mostly we were ice skaters. Back when the lakes used to freeze over. Although I do remember going to a semi-outdoor rink, actually a rink with a roof, in Westport on the Post Road where they played records when you went in a circle, I distinctly remember hearing “96 Tears,” but mostly we went on the lake and the pond and we listened to the news to see if the ice was safe and it was often questionable/borderline and on the lake it was bumpy and on the ponds you could see the cracks and we were always worried about falling through but we ice skated, we never roller skated.
But we had those adjustable skates in the house, you know, the ones with heels and toes that you put over your shoes. I never remember using them, but I remember playing with them inside, I was fascinated by their adjustability, and the key. And I hated that Melanie song when it finally hit but by that time I was in college and roller skating was the furthest thing from my mind.
But they had an annual roller skating party at the Jewish Community Center, aka the JCC. In 1962 they built a new one, and a couple of years back, they tore down that one and replaced it with an old folks home and live long enough you realize nothing is forever, especially you.
But in the old JCC…the one in downtown Bridgeport, the one where we went to play basketball on Saturday night, once a year there was a roller skating party. Some company brought in skates and I wouldn’t participate, because my foot was small and I’d have to wear white skates. I know, I know, sounds ridiculous now, but when you’re that little these things are important, you want to be seen as a MAN! I’d sit and sulk on the sidelines, although the last year I eventually donned the white skates halfway through and had a good time but I was so busy trying not to fall that I don’t remember much else.
And then when the JCC moved uptown, into the new building, there were no more skating parties, we had to save the floor of the gym. Progress always comes with a cost, no one ever worried about the gym floor in the old building.
And by time the nineties rolled around I went to visit my younger sister in Minneapolis, the home of RollerBlades, and I tried them out. They were actually easier, with only one row of wheels, but in the seventies, there was a roller skating revival, it even made it into movies, and the epicenter was Venice Beach, but I never partook. I’d ride my bike down to the boardwalk and see the skaters in action, but it was not a casual endeavor but more of a cult, and I’m not a joiner by nature, I’m not beaming as a member of a group.
And like I told you, my dad was unathletic.
He told us he was on the high school tennis team, that he’d even won a letter, but when the tennis boom hit in the seventies and we got on the court and he was so terrible he finally admitted he was the manager, that’s how he’d gotten his letter.
But he could ski, and loved to. He took one lesson and was on the slopes for years. He eventually took a couple of privates at Bromley, but ultimately he forced his way down the mountain, in a modified snowplow/parallel system he was very proud of. But there was that one time in Aspen…
In case you don’t know, the most serious part is at the bottom of the hill, and my dad came over a ridge and lost control and wiped out an entire snow fence, put up for the annual race, and a course worker snidely yelled YOU JUST FINISHED THE ROCH CUP! My father thought this was hysterical and brought it up on a regular basis, he could laugh at himself. Funny, I just realized that. He took so much so seriously, but he had a wild sense of humor, he was constantly cracking jokes.
And then my older sister went to graduate school in Los Angeles and my family came out to visit and we went to the beach and they were renting skates.
Like I said, I always passed. Furthermore, I was now in my twenties without experience and I knew if you fell on skates, you got hurt, scraped by the concrete. But everybody else wanted to do it…
And at this point they had beige skates, unisex, they worked for everybody.
My father put down his credit card and we all started picking skates. But while I was trying to find the right size, when I’d finally found a pair and was lacing up, I looked up and my dad was skating in circles, he was doing tricks! Everything he’d told us about his youth had come true, he could really roller skate, like he’d been born on wheels, like it was the most natural thing ever. I’m worried I’m gonna fall on my ass and he’s striding down the boardwalk like he’s auditioning for a movie.
I can see my dad, with that shiteating grin on his face, oh, he always swore, the s-word was part of his everyday vocabulary, rolling down the boardwalk without a care in the world, believing the world was his oyster.
And at that moment…