The Sculpture Gardens Ice Skating Rink
Jan. 11, 2003
Memory can be a deceiving thing. Though I haven’t been ice skating in years, when my friends suggested hitting the rink at the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art, I was instantly transported to a time when I used to whisk gracefully around Waldman Rink in New York City’s Central Park. I remembered snowflakes falling from the sky while horses and buggies rhythmically clopped by. The air was crisp and rich with the scent of hot, charred pretzels, roasted almonds and hot cocoa.
“Yes,” I emphatically agreed, my mouth already watering at the thought. “I love ice-skating!”
I love ice-skating? What gave me that idea? The bruises on my thighs and my right knee, which throb painfully as I write this, are testaments to the fact that never in my life have I done anything gracefully. I have the grace of baby elephant, and I certainly don’t “whisk.” I think “plod” would be a more accurate description.
What about the memories, you ask? That must have been a movie I saw on Encore.
Accompanied by four of my friends, I arrived at the rink just before 9 p.m.. Already cherry-cheeked from the short walk from the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro stop, I longingly glanced at the cafe where they were serving coffee and cocoa and all kinds of warm, comforting things. Despite my feeble protests, my friends dragged me towards the rental line where a hoard of 11-year-olds stood in their bubble jackets rapping inappropriate Missy Elliot lyrics.
Once the Lil’ Romeo contingency left, I made my way to the front and paid $7.50 for two hours of skating and a skate rental. The woman handed me my receipt and a long orange strip, which she mumbled I should place somewhere on my clothing. As I waited for my friends, I snottily wondered why she hadn’t just told me to “put it in my pocket” like a normal human being. When I looked around and saw everyone with big strips of florescent color going down their middles, I realized I was the idiot and stuck the orange band on my coat.
Skates on, I stepped onto the ice.
“Have you really skated before?” my friend haughtily asked as I clung desperately to the rail and inched my way around the rink.
“Yes!” I replied defensively, too afraid to let go of the rail. I concentrated on completing the circle knowing that once I got around, I would be able to step out onto dry land.
As I pulled myself along the rail, I noticed that the clientele at the Sculpture Gardens was a little out of the norm. Usually when I think of ice skating, I envision tiny young women in frilly costumes. This rink, however, was full of middle-aged men in long brown coats skating alone while Frank Sinatra crooned on the loudspeakers. I pictured the men saying goodbye to their wives (“OK honey, I’m going out with the boys … it’s poker night!”) and then running outside and sneakily pulling their skates out of the bushes.
They were a talkative bunch, coaxing me along as I wearily slogged along the sides.
“Don’t tense up!” said a man in a coonskin cap.
After seven minutes, I made it half way around the rink and finally worked up the nerve to let go of the bar. My friend held my hand and patiently led me along. I felt like a toddler learning to walk for the first time as I pitched back and forth and wind-milled my arms about for balance.
“Keep your head up,” he said..
“Keep your head up, keep your head up,” I repeated as I stared fearfully at the rock solid ice at my feet.” It was a soothing mantra.
And then it happened. I somehow let go and plunged forward shouting, “Out of my way! I’m a journalist!”
It was exhilarating, terrifying and wonderful. The crisp air rushed past me. The other skaters congratulated me with shouts of “I knew you could do it!” But then, as I turned to smile, I lost control and plunged down to the ground knee first. I stayed there, on the ice, laughing hysterically as two rink guards appeared out of nowhere and helped me up. On my feet again, I noticed the rink guards stayed nearby. I don’t think they trusted me alone on the ice.
I made it around several times, only falling once more. After an hour my friends and I decided that we were ready to head home. We put on our shoes and returned our skates. I was dying for a steaming cup of cocoa, but when we turned to look, the cafe had already closed. Of course, because this is Washington, D.C., where it’s illegal to make a profit after 6 p.m.
Frozen and bruised, we returned to the Marvin Center for some of that comfort in a cup known as Starbucks.
Fortunately I’ve documented this evening so I won’t be deluded and fooled into skating again. But just in case, I do have one thing to ask. Should you ever hear me say that I love ice skating, will you pull out this issue of the Hatchet and smack me with it?