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Hell on Wheels

Roller skating returns. Aren't you glad?

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You're supposed to call it in-line skating, because Rollerblade is the registered trademark of Rollerblade Inc., just as you're supposed to say facial tissue instead of Kleenex. But let's be honest here. They're not roller blades, they're not in-line skates; they're roller skates. Maybe they don't have metal wheels, pom-pom laces, or a key so you can extend them over your sneakers, but they're the same thing. And they are everywhere. Suddenly the world's a roller rink.

I hate roller rinks. Roller rinks were the bloody coliseum of my adolescent sexual frustration. I was a gawking gladiator with more acne than armor. Like a Christian thrown to the lions, I was eaten alive, night after night. I tried. I skated my heart out. I'd come home with big watery blisters on both my feet. I ruined my knees trying to limbo lower. Still the pretty girls eluded me like chimeras in the mist. I was a teenage roller-rink pariah.

But I had to go back--too young to drink, too young to drive, I had nowhere else to go. The roller rink became a hell for me. "Hang on Sloopy" and that Red Baron song played while souls anguished. The fastest and cutest tormented the slow and homely, pushing them over and laughing. Win, win at any cost. It was a world populated by Tonya Hardings and Jeff Gilloolys. And now thanks to Rollerblades--I mean in-line skates--the gates of hell have been flung wide open.

It may be an osteopath's dream: if not a crowbar, then a curb in every shin. But it's a nightmare for the rest of us. The rolling fiends are everywhere. They fly by like Valkyries, all Lycra and spandex. Convertibles just weren't enough exposure for these narcissists. They need to feel the wind rushing through their . . . well, you name it and it rushes through. It's like everyone gets to be their own self-contained parade float.

I know, fun is fun and it looks like fun. And maybe my problem is still a certain amount of sexual frustration, but what scares me is that the boundaries between adolescence and adulthood seem blurred. The rules of the rink now apply to all of us. We're all supposed to go around the same way. The cutest and the fastest still win, and the rest of us are just obstacles to be dodged or pushed over.

The pastimes of children and adults have become one and the same. Soon we will have in-line jacks and roller dodgeball, or power hopscotch and ultra kick the can. But no one is going to call us in to dinner. No one will make us pick up after ourselves, do our homework, or even play fair. We'll just keep on playing and playing until someone gets hurt, and then we will keep on playing.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Paul Moch.

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