That image is sadly NOT my Fantasyland Skating Rink. But here is my evidence that it existed:
Last week they announced your school’s skate night and you’ve reminded your mom every day since.
“Today’s Friday. Someone has to drive me to Fantasyland at 5.”
“I know,” she says without turning away from the stove. She’d already started dinner by the time you got home from school, and you can smell the pork chops in the crock pot.
“Are you taking me or is Dad?”
You hope it’s Dad, and bet you’re right, since Mom’s cooking and probably won’t be done before you have to leave. If Dad takes you, he’ll drop you off and then just come back for you when it’s over. He is openly disinterested in sitting in a roller rink full of elementary school kids and any parents who stay behind.
“Well why don’t you just bring a book and wait in the car?” Mom says kind of teasing him kind of scolding him.
“An old guy sitting in his car for two hours outside of a skating rink? They’ll call the cops on me.”
If Mom takes you, she’ll stay there, and other kids will know that your mom is there.
“He’s in fifth grade. The boy doesn’t need his parents to stand watch while he roller skates with his friends.”
“You don’t know that. What if something happens?” But staying there means she can talk to the other moms, which is a perk for her.
Her ease with socializing will not strike you as admirable for many years. For now, it horrifies you and delays your departure from places like church, the mall, and PTA meetings. She calls it visiting.
I visited with Ronna.
I know you want to leave, but I’m still visiting with Cheryl and Dave.
“But how will you be able to take me? It starts at 5 and dinner is at 6?” You say with impeccable logic.
“We’re eating early and will be ready to leave at 5.”
“It starts at 5,” you say having not yet learned what it means to be fashionably late.
“You don’t need to be there right at 5,” Dad says.
“Why would I not be there at 5 if it starts at 5?”
He does not list the many reasons to not be exactly on time to a school night for upper elementary students at the local roller skating rink.
You inhale your dinner and start to push your chair back before anyone else has finished their pork chop.
“Can we go?”
Mom asks if you’re even full and don’t you want more mashed potatoes or cottage cheese, you barely had any.
“No. I want to go so I don’t miss it.”
“You’re not going to miss it, it lasts two hours,” she says, seemingly unaware that she also likes to visit during dinner, further delaying your departure.
Your sister, who is 3 years older and in junior high, asks for confirmation that they still do those stupid skate parties.
“I can just take him and come back and finish my dinner when I get back,” says Dad stuffing a final bite of bread into his mouth.
“You’re not going to stay with him?”
“It’s a roller rink, not a freeway. He doesn’t need me to stay.”
She teases and scolds him again, “Fred.”
One of the reasons to not arrive exactly on time to a school night for upper elementary students at the local roller skating rink is that you have not confirmed when or if any of your friends are coming. When you enter through the burgundy double doors, you cannot see for five to ten seconds while your eyes adjust to the dim light, but you can hear the muffled music thumping from the main room, and all of this is disorienting. Pink and yellow neon beckon you past the air hockey table to the skate check.
The entire walk, you scan everyone gliding past you for the face of someone to hang out with. There are older kids, a much younger kid who shrieks by you, and a few adults, but no one you even recognize. You hand over your money and wait for the man (though logically, now, you know that, at best, he was in college) to bring you your light tan with orange wheels rental skates.
“I’m glad I brought my own,” says a voice directly behind you.
You turn around and see two girls from the other class, one of whom has a pair of white My Little Pony skates hanging over her shoulder like a trophy fish.
“What?” the other girl says to you accusatorily.
“Oh, nothing” you say in your nonchalant-est tone and turn back to the skate check counter, which is carpeted with the same purplish red with black diamond pattern as the floor.
The man clacks your skates down while informing you that they don’t have a size six, but here is a six-and-a-half.
“Okay,” then you turn to cavernous stretch that runs alongside the actual rink.
This area, also ominously carpeted with purplish red with black diamonds, features round benches, carpeted in some color indistinguishable in the dimness and without diamonds, that resemble large mushrooms. These are where you sit to put on your skates. On the wall opposite the rink stands a row of cubbies to put your shoes. No one you know is in this area. Your only hope now is that someone who will allow you to hang out with them is currently skating or in the arcade room.
You walk slowly to the cubby wall and with keen eye ascertain which box is the least likely to get your shoes fucked with. Though, at this point in your life you do not know the phrase fuck with and would describe it as “do stuff to.” Strategically, which cubby will not entice anyone to do stuff to your shoes? That’s the one you choose.
You glide with the effort and confidence of someone who had avoided any sort of practice or familiarity with roller skating, because your driveway and street were rough and pebbled, making skating on them unpleasant and the fear of road rash from your inevitable eating of it an omnipresent specter.
Your fear of wiping out while navigating the leisurely Pinecone Drive downhill took root in Mom’s insistence that you wear a helmet, because even she knew that you were prone to ending up prone. You knew that wearing a helmet while roller skating alone would make you look like a dork. So, you didn’t. And now, girls who lived in Kansas, but were somehow tan and blonde as if they had grown up on a beach, coasted past you followed by boys whose two-hand touch football abilities somehow translated to skating on carpet.
After klonking over to the edge of the rink, you lean against the rail in a manner that casually conveys the narrative that you are not here alone and you are not recognizing a simmering panic induced by the prospect of spending the two hours between now and your dad returning doing something you are not good at, by yourself, set to the music of Boyz II Men. This allows you to scan the faces of the people as they lap past you. You see some classmates, but their eyes pass over you without recognition.
Unsure of what other options you have, you start to snake around the fuzz mushroom benches.
You pass some moms talking and one of them call out to you, “Oh hey. Bryan is in the arcade room.”
“Oh, cool.” You bolt to the side room.
Bryan is there playing Bomberman. You could tell him how relieved you are that he is there, but that might break his concentration. So you just say hi and pretend to play Tron. You are saving your money for a grape soda and one of those sticky hands that you whip to the wall. You also have not seen Tron, and the objective of an arcade game based on the light cycles from the movie is not obvious to you so why waste a quarter on it.
You and Bryan go skate. The deep blue of the rink and the light bouncing off of the disco ball onto the glow-in-the-dark space murals allow you to slip into an otherworldly state of mind. The noise of your skates on the floor sound like air soaring past you. The dark corners opposite the cubbies feel like the bottom of the ocean. Then they announce that limbo will be starting.
Jack be limbo, jack be quick. Jack go unda limbo stick.
All around the limbo clock. Hey, let’s do the limbo rock.
You and Bryan flame out while Chubby Checker’s voice bounces around the room. The Kansas beach girl does the splits to take home the championship.
You and Bryan go to play air hockey. It takes a few games before you know when to declare that you got next, so as to actually get next. While you wait, some girls from your class come talk to you. Well, Shawna talks to you. The two other stand behind her. In 20 minutes, the in house DJ will announce that MC Hammer’s smash hit “U Can’t Touch This” has been requested by her in your honor. You do not yet understand flirting.
You and Bryan form a tenuous alliance with Shawna and her friends, moving in a pack. Shawna strongly implies that a good way for you to show that you like her would be to buy her a drink from the concession stand. Shawna does not know that you’re paltry allowance and poor budgeting skills have not resulted in money to impress girls with. So, you wait for a moment when she is not around to buy your grape soda. That moment presents itself when the DJ announces couple skate. You and Bryan express your disgust and flee the rink.
“Do you remember when there was a tornado here?” Bryan asks.
You do, because you were here. You readily access the memory of being on skates and ushered in the bathroom, with every other guy at Fantasyland, for safety, because the tornado was “very close.” Humidity from the bodies mixed with the scent of urine. Someone peed in a trashcan because all of the stalls were full, while you wondered how close was very close and were you going to die.
“Yeah. That was crazy,” you say.
Nothing much else happened that night. Shawna asks where her soda is. The lights come on exposing the utter scuzziness of the setting. It will be years before you truly understand last call, but this is your first experience with it. You join the swarm at the skate check counter and get your shoes back. Dad is waiting outside in his rumbling pick-up truck. He asks how was it and you say fine, before rolling the window down and letting the spring air drip across your face.