Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Tuesday I post a new column.
It’s amazing that roller skating rinks still exist. Who the hell roller skates anymore? Kids can use rollerblades or Heely shoes to skate anywhere for free, so I’m not sure why they’d pay $8 to skate in a circle at a dark, creepy 1970s-style rink. Yet all over the country, the roller skating rinks still exist.
I went to one the other night. My friend Mike is a referee for an all-girls roller derby league (let’s be nice and pretend his intentions aren’t obvious), and he wanted to practice his skating. Mike’s girlfriend was supposed to come, but bailed out at the last minute. So now it was just two dudes spending a Saturday night rollerskating together. Great.
The rink is located on Venice Boulevard, near the southern neighborhoods of Los Angeles. We were the only white people there. I usually don’t pay attention to race, but it’s hard not to notice when you’re a white person rollerskating with 40 black people. But our minority status wasn’t our main concern. We were also the only adults at the rink. We unknowingly arrived during the all-ages skate at 8pm. The adult skate wasn’t until 10pm. Aside from parents, the closest people to our age were a group of 14-year-old girls.
Mike and I skated nervously around the track, wondering how long it would take for people to start staring at us. It wasn’t a long wait. Mike leaned over and whispered, “Everyone thinks we’re either pedophiles or gay.” I secretly wondered which of those groups would be less likely to get beat up. “Gay,” I thought to myself. “If anyone asks, I’ll choose gay.”
Just then, a small black kid – probably no older than six or seven – skated between Mike and I, nearly falling down in the process. “Watch out, hot pants!” he yelled back at us, a mean scowl on his face.
I wouldn’t have minded this comment if I’d actually been wearing hot pants, but I was wearing jeans. Had I misheard him? Had he called me “cracker pants” instead? That wouldn’t make sense either, since my jeans were not made of crackers. I leaned over to Mike and said, “We need to leave. Now.” Mike refused, noting that we had already paid, and might as well make the most of it.
The six-year-old bully was coming up on us again, so I moved off the rink to use the restroom. It wasn’t until I reached the stall that I realized how ridiculously hard it would be to pee while wearing skates. If you’ve never attempted this feat, let me assure you that it’s only funny if someone else has to do it.
About ten percent of my pee went into the toilet. The other 90 percent was sprayed all over the floor of the stall. If an adult was this bad at peeing on roller skates, I couldn’t even imagine how bad children were at it. I also didn’t want to imagine how much pee was absorbed by these floors each week. No mop in the world could scrub these floors clean.
After washing my hands and the areas of my legs I had peed on, I found Mike on the rink. He wasn’t hard to spot. The glare off his white skin shone like a spotlight as he skated. Mike noted that there was now a second adult on the rink: A middle-aged black man wearing suspenders and thick nerd glasses. He danced as he skated, jiggling his pudgy body to the beat.
“How come nobody’s looking at him like he’s a pedophile?” I asked Mike. “He’s even dressed like a child molester.” The man didn’t seem to notice the kids. He was too busy wiggling and shaking his butt to the music. He had probably been skating there every Saturday night for years, which I find sad yet tragically hilarious.
What was even more tragic was that this adult version of Steve Urkel knew the songs being played while we didn’t. In the 90 minutes Mike and I spent at the rink, the only music played was hip-hop. I didn’t recognize a single song, even the ones that caused the kids to scream and start booty dancing.
Now I know how my parents feel.
The DJ announced the last song, and Mike and I breathed a sigh of relief. We were finally nearing the end. Another young kid skated by Mike and cursed at him. Was this the same bully as before? Hell if I know. All children look like mutants to me. But now that an eight-year-old had screamed an expletive at us, we knew how an elementary school teacher feels. Who needs to spend Saturday nights drinking when you can spend them learning?