Or thereabouts. It was either that summer or the next, making me either 9 or 10 years old. The exact time frame is a little hazy, but I remember a certain song playing on the radio all summer. A quick check of the Billboard charts shows that “The Streak” came out in ‘74, so I’m fairly certain it was that summer, but maybe not. You see, this was Tulsa, Oklahoma. We were always a little behind the times. There are some folks in that state TODAY who still don’t realize that the Civil War is over.
Anyway, it’s summer. Lately, Mom had been running around with her best friend at the time, Sharon. Both of them were recently divorced, both of them were a little bitter about men, and both were trying to get back into the singles scene. (This last bit really didn’t make sense to my elementary-school mind. If the last men in their lives had proven so unsatisfactory, why were they racing out to find replacements?)
Sharon was much more aggressive about the manhunt, convincing Mom to run around and participate in all these social activities that promised to offer a bumper crop of males who were both available and non-psychotic. Sometimes us kids got to go with, other times the two of them would dash off to mysterious adults-only rituals while we stayed with babysitters or slightly-reluctant relatives.
Speaking of “us kids”, there were two matched sets. Myself and my younger sister (Dawn), and Sharon’s kids, also an older boy and a younger girl. We were all roughly in the same three-year age span. That being the case, Mom and Sharon assumed that we would be the best of friends and get along just fine, so they didn’t think twice about leaving us all together while they went on a stud safari.
On the contrary, I did not find this to be an ideal arrangement.
I didn’t like Sharon’s kids. I don’t know what had happened in their lives, but it was obviously something that didn’t happen in mine. They were little hellions, always doing their urchin best to find trouble wherever they could. And they usually found it within twenty-three seconds of being left unsupervised. And because I was the oldest, everything was at least partially my fault, if not entirely.
And the mouths on those kids? Good God. Now, my daddy was no saint, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t heard special grown-up words before. In fact, every third word from his direction would have been bleeped in primetime, even today. But it was different when HE did it, because that’s what adults did, they cussed, and you really didn’t pay any attention. You just wanted to ride your Big Wheel until you got tired of the sidewalk cracks making your butt jiggle.
Cute little tykes sporting Garanimals should not be requesting that the Lord pass unfavorable judgment on pronouns, or offering travel directions that involve fiery destinations. This just shouldn’t be happening. And that was just the cussing. These kids also were fully schooled on every known sexual position on the planet, and would happily offer up any further intimate detail you may require. There were many times when my jaw would be hanging open in shock, until I remembered the 47 things they said you could do with such an exposed orifice, and my mouth would slam shut.
Those kids scared me.
Sharon, on the other hand, was a peach. I really liked her. She was very nice, and was always encouraging her kids to be creative and explore anything that they found interesting. (Obviously, this free-format educational concept must have included sex clinics or brothels at some point, but I digress.) She was very outgoing and not afraid to rush headlong into new situations, which balanced Mom’s tendency to remain quiet and just go along for the ride.
And the best thing about Sharon? In her bedroom, on the back of the door, was an almost life-size poster of a naked man. The first time my eyes spied THAT, I nearly wet myself. I may have been too young to really understand what things were all about, but I knew getting a gander of that naked man certainly put a smile on my face. At that point, I thought Sharon was the most thoughtful and gracious person I had ever met, arranging for this display and all.
After this discovery, I couldn’t wait for the opportunities to visit Sharon’s apartment. I would practically run to the front door. (I’m sure Mom thought it was sweet of me to be so friendly and polite during these social calls.) Once inside the apartment, I would use every plausible reason to wander down the short hallway to Sharon’s bedroom, peek around the door for a quick eyeful, then dash back to the front room.)
It was very innocent, really. After all, I just wanted to look. I certainly didn’t want to do anything like the hellions described. That business just seemed so messy and rude. It would be many years before their knowledge had even the most remote application in my life. By that time, I’m sure one or both of those kids were already serving a prison sentence.
Anyway, Sharon and Mom was lookin for some menfolk. And one of their favorite places to participate in an outreach program was at, amazingly enough, a skating rink. This particular skating rink was in far north Broken Arrow/far east Tulsa. Somewhere over there. I’m sure the place has been gone for years. I only remember the location because we would pass this still-standing nunnery just before we got there.
Yes, a nunnery. Practically adjacent to the Skating Rink of Sin and Un-betrothed Sexual Conquest. I’m sure that if the Sisters had known what was going on within rock-throwing distance, they wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night. Or maybe they DID know and would gaze longingly out their cloistered windows. You never can tell.
This skating rink must have been there for some time before it blossomed into a place of lust on wheels. It had a great wooden floor that was worn-in just right, nice and smooth so that you no longer felt the tiny cracks between the strips of wood. There was a long concession area down one side, where you could get all kinds of fried and greasy things to eat, because it was the 70’s and nobody knew a damn thing about fat and cholesterol.
The concession area was raised several feet above the rest of the building (who knows why, it just was). The main entrance to this section had a short flight of stairs. But the OTHER end of the concession area had a thrilling feature that was wildly popular. Instead of stairs, the whole floor ramped down and around to the main skating area. Which meant that all you had to do was barely roll over the precipice, and suddenly you would be hurtling downward with a velocity that would fling your ass out into the throng of circling skaters with an amazing amount of power.
People lived for this. Cable TV hadn’t been invented yet, so you had to make your fun where you could.
Now, not everyone dared to use this ramp. I didn’t go near it, in the beginning. I barely knew how to skate at the time, so my preferred method of rink entry was to gingerly ease myself through the normal gate, and then cautiously work my way forward in that awkward-looking clunk-clunk manner that newbies have, clinging to the railing on the periphery like there were no more lifeboats on the Titanic.
Sharon’s hellions, of course, were master skaters, zipping and twirling and practically doing back flips. They’d learned how to do this long ago, just like they’d somehow learned everything else fifteen years before a normal person should. They’d win competitions, while Dawn and I clunk-clunked on the sidelines, often tripping over a strand of hair and slamming our head into the ground.
The hellions considered us failures and babies. And it was not cool to be seen with babies. The only time you should associate with babies is if you are tormenting them in some way, preferably while other cool people watched. That being the case, Hellion Number One (Kerry) hatched a devious plan. Dumb-ass Number One (me) fell right into his trap.
Kerry was suddenly being very helpful. Over the course of several visits, he gave me pointers and showed me how to do things and gave realistic pep talks. And it worked. I got to the point where I didn’t have to hang on to the baby rail, and I could actually make it around the rink without incurring a flesh wound. There was a slight possibility that I might someday be cool.
Then the hellion on wheels moved on to Phase Two. He started talking up the massive ramp on the other side of the snack area. It was just so NEAT to roll down that thing. You didn’t go THAT fast, and if you started to fall you could always grab the handrail. Don’t you wanna try it?
I didn’t know about that.
Just then, probably acting on some evil, predetermined signal from Kerry, Hellion Number Two (Kristy) came zipping up in perfect form “I’ll show you how to do it, Brian,” she said chirpily. “Watch!”
And off she went, zipping effortlessly through the crowd at the concession counter. Two seconds later she shot over the crest of the ramp and whizzed downward, in a perfect arc, pigtails standing straight out behind her. She zoomed out into the rink with amazing grace, did this little figure-eight thing, then she screeched to a halt, finishing off with a twirl and a pretty hand movement. Several people stopped eating nachos long enough to raise scorecards.
Oh boy. I had to follow that?
“Come on,” urged Kerry. “Don’t be a baby!”
And what was wrong with being a baby if it meant that you lived to see another day?
Then Kerry clicked the last of his satanic plan into place. “Hey, why don’t I go to the bottom of the ramp and wait for you? I can help you if you start to fall. Okay?”
I looked at him for a second, not really sure about that, then sighed. “Okay,” I whispered.
He grinned broadly. “Cool! Okay, I’ll go wait at the bottom.” Then he was off, hurtling down the ramp and then stopping perfectly just before the ramp spilled onto the main rink. He looked up at me and nodded his head.
I shuffled to the top of the ramp, my heart-pounding. From this perspective, the angle of descent looked incredibly severe and seemed to guarantee certain death. I looked at Kerry again. He nodded his head again.
I gulped and rolled over the edge.
Suddenly, I was moving faster than one would think humanly possible. I’m pretty sure I started screaming immediately, but the wind was whipping by my ears with such force that I couldn’t hear anything else. About a third of the way down, my legs started to roll apart, a sure sign of incompetence and a certain indicator of social doom. Somehow I managed to get my legs back together before I ripped myself in two.
Halfway down, I hit the sharpest angle of the curve, but I managed to stay upright. Wow. That was the hardest part! I just might make it after all. I stopped the soundless screaming, and I think I might have even started to smile as I approached the final stretch.
Kerry was smiling, too, but not out of any shared jubilation over my non-death. He was grinning because it was time for the big show that he had carefully plotted over several weeks.
He stuck his foot directly in my path.
In my surprise and panic, I lost all bodily control and my skates slammed into each other, the wheels locking up and sealing my doom. My feet slammed to a halt, but the rest of my body shot forward. Houston, we have lift-off.
I sailed through the air, my mind vaguely registering the fact that Kerry had pulled his foot out of my trajectory at the last possible second. Clever little bastard. He could truthfully claim that he hadn’t actually tripped me. This is how politicians are born.
Then all of my focus was on the impending return from orbit. The wooden floor rushed up at me in a blur, then I crunched to the ground and slid a good ten feet across the aged, seamless wood. People scattered in all directions, struggling to get out of the landing zone. I finally came to a halt, ending with one of my skates somehow flopping upward and jabbing into my butt. I had just kicked myself in the ass, literally and figuratively. Damn hellion Kerry.
“Brian! Brian, are you okay?”
I rolled over onto my back and shook my head. A face came into view. Sharon! Nice Sharon. I liked her. How did she manage to raise these Dual Damiens?
She leaned down closer and brushed my hair out of my face. “Are you alright? Can I get you something?”
In my delirium, I blurted the first thing that came to mind.
“Did you bring the naked man with you?”
To be continued…
(Originally posted in “Memory Remix” on 01/29/10. Slightly revised and edited with extra flair for this post.)