What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Six Year Old on Skates

Not every derelict college student has a six-year-old brother. Some do, but those cases are rare, and generally limited to the older brother variety of the derelict species. I am, as befits my variegated and diversely endowed existence, a member of that particular strain.

A six-year-old brother is an uplifting if tedious addition to just about any activity imaginable, particularly in the summertime when classes are out and teachers have relinquished their tyrannical but protective custody over the student's mind. Actually, the custody is never relinquished at all. It is turned over to the brother. This transfer of authority became especially clear to me on a particular day last month, as I watched the brother wobble out onto an ice-skating rink. He was doing a good job, I thought, watching him coast a few feet at a time. He showed excellent coordination for the very brother who had an attention deficit so extreme that he couldn't hold a violin under his chin without forgetting it was there and dropping it to the floor for my mother's special enjoyment, and who was always up at six in the morning, eager to conduct a frenzied chat that would frazzle all impatient nerves.

In fact, he was skating so well that I concluded that there couldn't be much to the feat. If the six-year-old brother could do it, anyone probably could. In fact, if the six-year-old brother could do it I probably could. So I rented a pair of skates.

It wasn't as if I expected to be a virtuoso. I had never worn skates before, and I knew attaining a graceful air would take a bit of practice. So I sat for a while at the edge of the ice, watching the advanced skaters waltz and frisk along the shimmering surface. I observed how one foot would gracefully fall in front of the other as they rounded turns. I noticed how they stepped into their allotted trajectories with forward momentum, not backwards thrust. I even noticed the deft little flicks of the blades that sped the skaters along backwards whenever they wished to speak to their partners behind them without stopping. Now, I just needed to implement my new knowledge.

Soon I felt confident enough to try on the size-fourteen behemoths that had been silently handed to me by a dubious-faced youth behind the counter. I removed my shoes (vulgar things they now seemed!) and began with the laces to ascend a Matterhorn of holes and hooks that seemingly stretched up to heaven, or at least to my knees. Who wouldn't feel a bit overconfident after completing a task like that?

They don't tell you this until you've already burned the bridges, but outside of their intended environs, skates are very awkward things to walk in. They're generally leather and universally rigid, allowing no ankle movement at all, which presents many difficulties to the skater. First, there is the necessity of either goose-stepping or brass-band-marching across the floor before reaching the ice. This is not pleasant in the presence of ruddy-faced gliders and ecstatic waltzers who were apparently born in skates (talk about a painful pregnancy!). Second, balance on the ice can be achieved only by an uncomfortable standing squat, or by bending over backwards and falling on one's tail bone. I am a proponent of the former option, but only in theory.

My brother was finishing his lesson as I stepped onto the glassy circle, but I was glad he still had a few minutes left of watching his teacher instead of me. I grasped the wall for my life, and took one step, one thrust, one stumble at a time. I had wondered why that little boy's legs seemed a bit shaky. Now I understood. But I was determined, and I gradually let go of the wall and began to learn to skate. "It's just like roller-skating," I told myself, which felt like encouragement at the time because I had forgotten how bad I was at roller-skating. I took a few steps, threw my weight forward, and fell on my tailbone. The six-year-old brother came gliding up beside me. "Take little steps," he said, his cherubic face denying my planned retort. I got up, and he showed me how to spread my feet apart: "This is how you stop."

He glowed with energy. "You're doing really good for your first time. When everyone is done, a truck comes out and puts snow all over the ice to make it smooth. Did you know what Nick and I do? We watch the water come out of those little gates. Are you going around again?" Indeed I was. I worked around the rink a few more times until I started to get the hang of it. Once again the brother glided along side of me, slowing down so he wouldn't pass me by. "Put your hands out like you're holding a table," he said. I did, but it didn't help. He sped off.

It was then that I resolved in my heart of hearts to skate faster than he did. His legs were not even half the length of mine, and I put mine to work. I skated doggedly for half an hour. Epic theme songs welled in my head, interrupted only every thirty seconds or so when my brother meandered out in front of me and I had to slow down so he could tell me about the crackers we had waiting for us when we got done, or the teenage Olympic candidates who would come to practice later, or his teacher or his sister or his cousin or his toys.

At the end of the half hour I felt like I was getting pretty regular. My brother was in front of me again, but this time instead of slowing down to talk I stepped around him and started off as fast as I could. He came up beside me, gazed at my feet in his hyper way, and gave me a tip. "Take little steps and glide," he said and demonstrated, shooting far ahead of me. I stopped, panting. "How did you do that?" I asked. He showed me: "Like this." I tried to do it. I could not.

Then, with heavy spirits, I knew that I had to leave the rink. I was defeated, and my pride lay on the field as wounded as my tailbone. But as I turned toward the door, so did everyone else. The open session was over, and the truck was coming to smooth the ice for those Olympic candidates. I was saved by the bell.


Night-Song said...

I also belong to that peculiar strain of humanity in that as a college sophomore, I have an eight year old brother. He can locate legos, cartoon network, and all things related to "Age of Empires" or "Medal of Honor" online faster than I can process what exactly it is that he's looking for. He impatiently moves my hand from the mouse to take over and show me how much fun the Mario-like games are. As the person responsible for discovering Google for the rest of the family, it's a bit humbling. Still, it's nice to know that I'm not alone in that kind of feeling. Thanks for the reminder!

Natalie said...

Ahh, that was funny! I am, so far, more capable at most things than my 6 year old brother...but I imagine that will end eventually. :)

I can skate though!...and unless my brother gets a ton more coordination all the sudden, I'll probably always skate better...I think. ;) I'll wait for him to prove me wrong.

Katie said...

LOL. I loved this. And the table (we call it the "magic table") really does help your skating -- you probably just weren't using it correctly ;-)