My wife’s off-the-cuff decision to purchase a pair of roller skates for our oldest daughter as a Christmas present nearly broke my arm. It also caused me to stumble, both literally and figuratively, over a set of realities that proved unexpected both in their continued existence and their incidentally Satanic nature. Here’s how it all went down.
Two days after the holiday, we took the new gift to the local roller rink so daughter could give her wheels a spin, Mom could reclaim a prized piece of her adolescence, and little sister could try her hand (err—feet!) in some rentals herself. We had made a prior trip to the rink almost a year ago to the day for our German exchange student, who arrived in America with her own well-worn pair of skates in tow. I remained too scared to set foot on the floor that afternoon, actually managed to fall down on the carpeted exterior of the rink (badly bruising my tailbone and pride in the process), and just generally felt trapped the whole time in a childhood nightmare.
As a kid, I don’t remember why I ever went to the local roller rink: doubtless it was for some other kids’ birthdays. My parents certainly never skated; Dad never seemed to do anything outside of practicing law and playing the organ for a Methodist church. I also can’t recall on how many separate occasions I had to endure that particular hell of wheels and hard surfaces. From how deep a groove the one memory I have of it has worn within me, I reckon it must have been more than a few.
See, the only clear memory I have of the roller rink from growing up in the deep south runs like an anxiety dream. There’s me in a squatting position because I was too petrified to stand atop wobbly wheels. My hands push off the floor to propel my body along. Meanwhile, an endless string of teens and adults glide by, pausing just long enough to smirk down my way from what seem menacing heights and condescend to drawl with evident amusement: “You don’t skate?”
No. No, I didn’t. Because I was scared. The English reality television series Roller Derby Till I Die recounts the experience of one player whose skating moniker is Grievous Bodily Charm. As a child, all I could see were the grievous bodily aspects of roller skating. I never broke through to the charm part.
Watching my two daughters and wife absolutely having the time of their lives on a throw-back rink in our adopted Texas two days after this past Christmas, though, and being thrust by the sights and sounds of it all back into this painful memory of mine actually turned out to be the best gift ever. Even falling down repeatedly, my cautious, trepidatious oldest—in so many ways, a hesitant, mini version of myself from long ago—soon began jetting around all on her own out on that massive floor, swinging her arms to the beat of the music like some kind of industrial dance move, and sporting an equally massive grin. The younger daughter, too, was quickly gliding about in near ecstasy, shouting over the music about “joining the party life” and carrying on. My wife, of course, was ever the picture of grace: she doesn’t really pick her feet up to skate, but just sort of swishes them (and her hips) back and forth like the muscular tail of some silver-skinned fish you catch a shiny glimpse of before it slinks off into the depths. I wanted to follow her siren song but was too afraid and unsteady to. And then the moment of “inception” occurred.
When we left the rink that day, I drove us immediately to the nearby skate shop owned by the same family. I got the rest of my little family out of the car and through the door of the establishment on the pretense of “just looking” for a pair of skates for the youngest…and then one for my wife…“just to see” what they had and how much it might cost. Of course, the littlest one loved the pair they had in her size and immediately asked for them. Likewise, I could plainly see the desire alight in my wife’s expression as she beheld and then tried on a pair of pearly white skates with rainbow pompoms on the toes and LED wheels. Then the moment of truth: what did they have in my size, I wondered aloud, still playing it casual, just a look-see.
We left the store that day with three new pairs of roller skates, a hefty credit card bill, and the resolve of explorers who had just burned their ships to seek out and settle some new territory as a family: as a family of roller skaters. For the entirety of the month of January, we’ve been hitting the rink four, even five, times a week. I sometimes go on my own when they open on a weekday, so I can have the space almost entirely to myself, to practice outside the gaze of judgmental eyes and the distraction of other skaters buzzing me. In the evenings, my wife and I have watched a slew of both skate-themed fictional movies and documentaries/reality TV shows about African-American skate culture and the modern roller derby scene especially.
Last night—bargain night at the rink, when just two bucks gets you in—the girls even had their first private lesson (that’s in addition to the regular, public lessons we’ve been regularly attending on Saturday mornings). As they practiced gliding on one foot and getting into (and back out of) squatting positions while moving, I took the nasty spill that felt like it may have snapped my wrist, driven a fault line down my forearm, and/or chiseled a fragment off my elbow. My right ring finger is still tingly even as I type this, and the base of my tricep aches something fierce. Luckily, this new injury waited to occur just as the raging pes anserine bursitis in my right knee was finally beginning to, well, right itself, allowing my worry to take wing and migrate on northward to the newly throbbing upper extremity.
But spills and splints excepted, we’re all having the time of our lives, being physically active, discovering new music, gaining newfound confidence in our bodies and selves, and somehow managing to do it all both together and while remaining independent at the same time. Not only am I conquering a childhood demon of sorts out on the cavernous maple floor, but it has occurred to me that there are as well a few more inherently Satanic aspects to all this skating we’re doing and even to skate culture generally.
Let this piece serve as an introduction to a three-part mini-series of posts to come, exploring the Satanics of roller skating. The first essay will revisit a major theme of the most recent pieces on atheism and diabology/anthropology and discuss skating on “sidewalk terms” with others. In the second, I’ll examine skating as a form of pure recreation and play with identity and sense of self, a theme I first explored in the post about identity claims as expressives. Finally, the third essay will analyze modern skating culture as a form of reverse dominance hierarchy. I hope these pieces prove fun and unexpected and can offer a few concrete illustrations of some of the Satanic principles and ideas I’ve discussed elsewhere on the site.
If you’re brave enough to give it a go, lace up your skates and let’s get rolling!