That Roller Girl: Conclusion

I stood there on the sidewalk for a moment, gripping the metal of the signpost tightly in my fists, shrinking from the fear of what others might be thinking of me as they witnessed the scene. My ass was probably bruised, but not as badly as my ego was. I was sweating a little, likely from the stress as opposed to the physical activity. Choking down the lump forming in my throat, I tried to make myself small enough to fade away.

A mere eight blocks from salvation, I considered bailing out, putting my sneakers on and carrying my skates for the remainder of the journey. 

You fell down, so what? Suck it up and finish this! 

My mind flashed to Mom, crying on that upper east side kitchen floor. I wished I had someone to cry with, but I was on my own. I had gotten myself up off the cold ground, now I just needed to walk myself out the “door” and not let the city or the damn skates get the better of me.

I let go of the signpost and rolled slowly forward, remaining on the sidewalk until I reached the intersection of 18th and Broadway. I stood still on the corner until the light changed and then I stepped down off of the curb, slightly battered, but intent on completing my mission. For the next block, I was cautious as I stuck close to the east side of the street. 

The north end of Union Square Park was teeming with activity. From hacky-sackers bouncing their footie bean-bags and skateboarders wiping out on most of their tricks, to basket toting greenmarket browsers and acoustic guitar-thumping street performers, there were obstacles galore ahead of me. But that was the most direct route home, I decided I would take it slow.

I rolled into the park, inching ahead and leaning back into my brake the entire time. Occasionally, I actually felt it make contact with the pavers beneath me. Slowly and deliberately, I skated past the greenmarket vendors’ booths and around a ragtag little band of acoustic guitar, harmonica and bucket. They were playing something familiar, was it a Grateful Dead tune? Bob Dylan? It was nothing I had ever played, but it rang a bell.

At fifteen I officially became a part of Mom’s rehearsals. She had been playing with a local Long Island cover band that wanted to add another female singer. Mom suggested they give me a shot. “My daughter sings. We sing together all the time”, she told them.  

The band loved the idea of the mother/daughter act gimmick. My mom loved the idea of not having to compete with a new singer that she didn’t know. I was instantly accepted into the fold. I didn’t even have to audition. 

The band added me onto a gig they had in May of my Sophomore year of High School. I sang two songs, “I Will Survive” and “The Rose”. The rest of the time I stood on the stage, sang some background vocals, and mimicked my mother’s movements. At the end of the night the bandleader handed me eighty dollars. I knew then that show business was for me. 

Weekends became filled with gigs in lounges and bars that I wouldn’t have been allowed into had I not been in the band. I wore fancy sequined dresses and uncomfortable shoes and strapless bras. Mom and I always matched. We rehearsed once a week with the band and I learned an extensive repertoire. Eventually, my stepdad joined us on bass. 

Towards the end of senior year, I was hired by a band that played big events and expensive weddings in the city. I still played with my parents on Long Island through my early years at NYU, but I preferred my Manhattan gigs. I got to meet up with my friends at our local college bar, The Jolly Roger, after them. It was so much easier (and cooler) than commuting to Long Island. Sometimes I would show up at the bar still wearing my cocktail dress and heels, wielding my mic stand and small bag of gear. I was showing off and I don’t think anyone was fooled.

Skating past that little band in Union Square, I thought about how much better I was than those kids in the park, because I had real, paying gigs. That’s how professionalism had been defined to me, a paycheck. That determined one’s worth. I didn’t consider that the bucket band might be enjoying making music together without thinking about the reward. I had no respect for the hobbyist musician. 

As I made my way downtown towards the park’s southern border at 14th street  (one of the largest subway hubs and most popular meeting spots in New York) the crowd began, again, to thicken. I looked ahead. Not just a foot or two, but all the way, scanning the bustling section of Union Square for the perfect route. I charted my course. I calculated. It was like I plugged myself into the city in that moment. 

I took a deep breath and mustered my courage. I started slowly, but gained a bit of momentum when I realized I was successfully anticipating the movements of my fellow New Yorkers. The crowd seemed to be with me. They seemed to sense my every move, just as I was trying to divine theirs. It was like they wanted to see me get home unscathed. 

The walk signal at fourteenth clicked on at just the right time and I was out of the park and back on Broadway. I had four blocks to go and then I could take these godforsaken skates off. I could tell everyone I’d done it and I never had to do it again. But if I was going to be a success in this town I was going to have to deal with people. A lot of people. And they were probably going to be in my way.

The signals and the traffic seemed to be timed just for me. The city seemed to see me coming and opened for me like the automated door at the grocery. So I pressed forward and gained more speed. Hopping back up onto the sidewalk, I maneuvered around garbage bags and cut perfect curves passing antique-seeking shoppers. The iconic spires on Grace Church came into view on my left. The same spires I could see from my suite-mates’ window in our 10th floor rooms. I had made it!

I turned right onto 10th street and rolled through the smoke cloud from the cigarette-sneaking freshmen outside my dorm. I leaned back into my squat and applied gentle pressure to my right skate’s braking mechanism. I slowed and rolled into the foyer. Digging in deeper to the brake, I slowed down even more. This time to a perfect, controlled stop. I didn’t even grab onto the front desk to do it. 

Hector was on the door. It was shortly after shift change and he was just starting his day. Hector had been the overnight guard first semester, so he’d seen us at our worst. And by worst, I mean drunkest. 

My friend Liz, who I had met on the first day of classes, was fluent in Spanish and Italian from her time spent living overseas. (Her parents worked for the government, it was all very cloak and dagger). She was used to having a doorman, I was not. She made a point of befriending Hector early on. 

Whenever Liz ran to the deli she would ask Hector if he needed anything. The two of them used to carry on long conversations in Spanish when we were coming in from the bar. I would stand and smile and try to follow the conversation with only my eighth grade Spanish knowledge and the relaxed looseness of a good buzz to help. I was happy for Hector when they moved him to the earlier shift, but I’d miss our late night pow wows.

I paused in front of him to let my victory sink in. I was dying to share it. “I did it, Hector! I made it”, my exclamation a celebration of life. He wasn’t sure what to make of my revelry, so he offered me a resounding “Muy bien chica, you rock”! He had no idea what I was talking about, but Hector was a very positive guy, so whatever I did he was going to tell me I rocked. “Check you later”, I said with a smile as he buzzed me in. 

I was mentally patting myself on the back as I rolled through the unlocked door to the lobby and over to the elevator which was just opening to let some of my fellow students out. 

After rolling through the sliding door behind them, I immediately removed my skates. My feet instinctively relaxed into the floor of the elevator. Curling my toes into the industrial carpet lining the Otis-built box felt like returning to earth after an intergalactic exploration. I was back to whisper-singing by the time the door slid open again on my floor. Still in just my socks, I shuffled down the hall to the corner suite that housed my four roommates and me. 

The place was empty when I entered, a rare occasion in a five person suite, one that I usually relished. But today it meant that no one was there to receive the conquering hero. I was disappointed. On the elevator ride I’d already begun replaying my adventure in my mind, attempting to craft the perfect tale of my triumph over the mean streets of the inner city. It wouldn’t be the same after I’d had time to recover, to catch my breath. 

I put my rollerblades in the closet and stared at them for a long moment. They had not become the instant symbol of my independence I’d wanted them to. (I wouldn’t be ditching my Metrocard any time soon). They didn’t look as cool anymore or as promising as they had uptown and with no one in house to “ooh and ahh”, my own feeling of accomplishment receded just a bit. 

Sweat was still sticking to my skin, so I grabbed my towels and robe and headed to our suite’s shared bathroom, a place that had become my sanctuary. Besides my oversized closet, it was the only sliver of privacy I had.

As I waited for the water to heat up and the bathroom to fill with steam, I peeled off my sweaty clothes. Contorting my naked body, I tried to get a view of the bruise that might be forming, but the angle of the mirror wouldn’t allow me visual confirmation. 

I got into the shower and stood in the quiet safety of the hot water for a little too long reliving my odyssey. The pressure was steady and strong. I let it flow over my shoulders, down my back and over my sore right cheek. I arched my back and tilted my head into the shower’s stream to allow it to soak through my hair to my scalp. I let it run onto my face. 

I thought about the old man I’d hit and how I’d reacted to his verbal attack with a counter attack. Without fear. Shouldn’t I have been afraid? Should I have been more sorry? He was in my way, standing in the street, too slow to avoid my onslaught. How is that my fault? 

Still unsure of what my freedom ride had accomplished, I turned off the water and stepped out through the plastic curtain. I was never going to tell anyone, but I did feel guilty about screaming at an old man, so I pushed the guilt way down deep inside and told myself that exchanges like that were par for the course. 

I’m a New Yorker now and New York waits for no man. This city pushes aside what’s old to make room for what’s new. 

Even the building I was standing in had once been a grand hotel. Now it was a dorm that packed five students in a room. There were stories of the ghosts of those that used to frequent the penthouse speakeasy floating down the halls, but I never witnessed any apparitions. Maybe they were just quick enough to get out of my way, to make room for the future.

After toweling down and donning my robe, I flipped on the stereo and selected disc three in the five disc changer, Green Day’s “Dookie”. I skipped ahead to track 10. 

I heard you crying loud. All the way across town. 

I turned up the volume on our suite’s “get psyched” song, a must-play before any night out, usually on repeat.

You’ve been searching for that someone and it’s me out on the prowl as you sit around feeling sorry for yourself.

Singing along to the words I knew and mumbling over the ones I couldn’t decipher, I slid into my favorite pair of jeans and donned a simple white v-neck t-shirt. As a 90’s-era finishing touch, I tied an oversized and colorful cotton Aeropostal sweater around my waist. 

I squished a handful of gel into my hair, and went straight for my rich roommate’s closet where several pairs of Gucci sandals (in my size) resided. I slipped my feet into a hot pink pair. They felt divine!

No time to search the world around, ‘cause you know where I’ll be found. When I come around!

Coming back to life, I danced my way over to the mirror, swiped on just enough makeup to make me look like I wasn’t wearing any makeup and topped off my look with a dark lip color. 

As the song’s opening lick kicked in for the third time, I called Liz and suggested we meet in the lobby so I could relay the tale of my harrowing journey over whiskeys at the Jolly Roger. I swapped the Gucci’s for my own Doc Marten’s before heading out and letting the door slam shut behind me.


That Roller Girl: Part 2

If you haven’t already, check out That Roller Girl: Part 1. Part 2 might make more sense…


Surely he meant dumb kid or stupid bitch or the unspeakable “C” word. Asshole was a masculine insult. I was Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”, all rainbows and spring time. I was Mary Tyler Moore for God’s sake! Taking on the big city, turning the world on with my smile.  

I mustered an ever-clever “fuck you” in retort and threw in a “you old bastard” for color. Then I dug in and pushed off with my right skate. Just a bit of hip movement and a few tight curves with my blade-clad feet and I’d built the momentum to continue on my way, shaken but undeterred. 

Gliding down the next couple of blocks, I got lost in thought trying to reconcile the fact that an old man just called me an asshole. Shouldn’t my youth and femininity have protected me from being considered just another asshole on skates? My granddad believed in chivalry, ladies first and all that. Clearly, that old man wasn’t a gentleman like Granddad. Maybe I’d been spoiled. Shielded from the reality of old curmudgeons left behind by time – probably in rent controlled apartments.

I was brought back to reality by a passing cab that blew by me so fast it nearly spun me around. Grabbing on to the next street sign I passed, I hopped up onto the sidewalk to let my life flash before my eyes. Even the song I’d had stuck in my head stopped, like the needle of a record being abruptly removed from the vinyl. Scrrraaatchhh!! 

Maybe I am an asshole. Maybe the whole city is just a bunch of assholes. Maybe it is dangerous here. 

That was what people thought when I was a kid and I would visit the family in the midwest. I’d tell them I was from New York and they’d look at me with sympathy and terror. “Oh my, what’s that like”, they would ask. The inquiry a thin veil for their assumptions that I dodged criminals on my way to school because all they knew of New York was what they saw on TV. To them, there was no distinction between the urban and the suburban. 

I saw the difference right away and I wasn’t afraid. My first glimpse of the Empire State Building as it came into view on the approach to the Midtown Tunnel was enthralling. Steve Perry cranked through the speakers of my mom’s Ford Fiesta as we made the trek in from Long Island. 

You should’ve been gone! Knowing how I made you feel. 

Perry delivered the opening lyrics a capella, his voice full of grit and longing. I adored that voice. It stirred something in me.

And I should’ve been gone, after all your words of steel. 

The big sound of that reverberating soulfulness defined the urban experience for me. I still picture the night skyline of 1984 Manhattan whenever I hear it.

That was around the time Mom was taking me to a lot of her band rehearsals. My favorite ones were in the city. I loved driving through the steely grey concrete landscape and perpetual dusk of the Manhattan streets to the different rehearsal spaces. 

One space was on the same block as the Empire State Building. Holding my mom’s hand as we walked from the parking garage, I would tilt my head as far back as I could. Gazing towards the top of the world, I felt small but important at the base of the iconic skyscraper. Just being there meant I was special, that I had something my friends didn’t.

Another space was particularly luxe. It was grey and everything was carpeted, the floors, the walls, everything. There was foam on the ceiling and on one side of the room there was a big glass window. A drum kit sat opposite the glass wall, on a stage that placed it slightly higher than the amps, which were immense.

I would sit in the corner, behind a giant stack of speakers singing along at the top of my lungs while the band filled the air with guitars and bass and very loud drums. I wanted to prove myself, to fit into that world but I realized early on that there’s no place for a thumb-sucking seven-year-old in rock and roll. 

Letting go of the sign, I stepped carefully off the curb. Officially, I was kind of scared, but I took a deep breath and whispered to myself “you’re ok, just start over”. 

I pushed off, shimmied up to speed and headed south again. The next few blocks were uneventful. I had passed 23rd street without incident, even managing to get a peek up at The Flatiron Building, my favorite in New York. I was making progress, building confidence.

At 20th street, the road narrowed. As I passed ABC Carpet & Home I was distracted by an awesome pendant lamp hanging in the window. I rubberized my neck as I checked out the oversized Moroccan-style stunner and daydreamed of the penthouse with the picture window that it might one day adorn. I was getting ahead of myself.

I still don’t know what I ran over. A stick? A knish? A dead rat? I have no clue. But it was my undoing. It tripped me up good. My biggest fear was about to be realized. I was going to fall. 

I tried to recover. I tried to brake, but my feet weren’t exactly on the ground. At least not at the same time. My arms flailed about in a reflexive attempt to regain my balance, but I knew that the pavement and I would soon meet. I was sorry I had deemed wrist and knee pads “totally lame” when deciding whether to purchase the full protection package with my blades.

Time slowed. For a split second I thought I’d righted myself, but then my skates got in front of me and my feet kept rolling right past my ass. In a flash, that ass was squarely on the pavement. 

You fucking failure! 

I looked around to see who was yelling at me before I realized it was, in fact, me. Sitting flat on the concrete in the street, legs stretched out ahead, my wheels were still spinning. The buildings around me cast shadows on an otherwise sunny day, chilling the pavement. I dropped my head into my hands and surveyed the scene through my slightly spread fingers.

Shaking with anger at myself, I felt a hot flush filling my face. People kept passing, an audience I was unprepared to entertain. I wanted to scream and cry, to sit there until someone came to help, but I knew I couldn’t stay where I was. Traffic was inevitable, so was the embarrassment of trying to get back up. 

Wearing rollerblades makes you about six inches taller than you naturally are, which shifts one’s center of gravity considerably making it near impossible to stand up with any amount of grace. I flopped around for a few seconds on the street before ultimately having to wiggle around onto all fours and crawl over to a street sign to pull myself back up. 

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s how the pros do it.

That Roller Girl: Part 1

In the ’90s, rollerblading was all the rage, and I was sure it was my “thing”…

It’ll be just like going to Christine’s. A straight shot, right down Broadway. You got this! 

I paused by the ticket machines to strap on my blades. I had made it from home to the station in Bellerose on wheels, no problem. How hard could it be to get myself from Penn Station to Brittany Hall? NYU wasn’t that far from the Long Island Rail Road, I would save money by skipping the subway and I’d be getting some exercise. 

Rollerblading is great for your buns and thighs. 

The trip was just a tad more than one mile. Feeling totally ready, I stowed my sneakers in my purple Jansport backpack and rolled to the escalator. 

Why didn’t I get myself upstairs before I put these things on? 

I was sure everyone looking at me was thinking “Dumb ass!”  

After reaching the top of the first escalator, I rolled my way to the next one. The long one that leads you to the street. I stood still on the mechanical stairway watching my fellow commuters climbing the stairs, beating me in my self-imposed race to the surface. I relished the feeling of finding the holes in any crowd and zig-zagging my way through it. As if I would get a prize for getting to point B before the others. 

At the mercy of the escalator, I pondered it’s origin. It must’ve been invented to speed things up, yet it seems, instead, to have slowed us down by appealing to our inherent laziness. 

When I finally emerged from the depths I rolled myself out of the way and stopped by a street sign. I held it for balance and assurance. This place near the taxi stand outside Penn Station was comfortable for me, familiar. It had served, for the past few years, as my entry point into Manhattan. Here, my high school friends and I would step out into the street after sneaking in on the train from Long Island, having told our parents we were taking the bus to the Roosevelt Field Mall. It was our meeting place before concerts or Broadway shows. It was the portal through which we stepped to leave our suburban selves behind. 

In this spot, a few years later, a cute young cop would help me hail a cab and give me his phone number, making me feel so Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City”. But today I went completely unnoticed, just another New Yorker getting around town. 

I  tightened the straps of my Jansport, securing my belongings and preparing myself for motion. It was a gorgeous day and I was taking advantage of it. This would be a leisurely ride through my new city. I belonged here. I could feel it. After a semester and a half, I was officially a Manhattanite and this little freedom ride would solidify that status once and for all. It was as though I’d been trying to reach this moment my whole life, all eighteen years.

When I was nine, my mother almost moved us to Manhattan. Her best friend, my Aunt Patti, lived on East 78th street between York and the FDR. Her apartment was in an old east side tenement building. The largest of its three rooms housed a pullman kitchen along one wall. The bedroom barely fit a dresser and a bed (which you had to crawl in and out of from one side because it was literally wedged between the walls) and the living room felt tiny even when I was a small child. My mother told me once that it was “rent controlled”. I wouldn’t come to understand that “rent control” meant “holy grail” in real estate speak until I was much older and once I did, I resented anyone who had such a deal. But there was a park across the street and a restaurant around the corner where I could fall asleep in a booth while my mom and Patti chatted up the bartender. Manhattan was alright by me.

Mom was on tour with a band when she met my dad. She gave up singing when they married, but after their divorce she started singing again to supplement her income and feed her passion. Having come from Indiana to Long Island to marry my father, Mom had spent the years since their divorce shanghai-ed on the island that exists in the shadow of the greatest city on earth. She was drawn to the city, so when an apartment became available downstairs from Patti, my mother was excited to make the move. 

The evening we went in to sign the lease and pick up the keys, I remember walking into the empty apartment. It was dark inside, even as the last glimmers of sunshine held on outside. Somehow, it seemed even smaller than Patti’s place.  

When we walked in, I went to gaze out the living room window at the swings and see-saw across the street. The playground was locked up behind a fence that rose high above our new window’s view. It looked less inviting than it had before, sinister somehow.

I went in search of Mom.

She was sitting on the kitchen floor, crying. I stroked her hair and asked, “what’s wrong, Mommy”? She reached up to hold my hand and cried some more. 

I was scared, I had no idea what to do. “It’ll be OK”, I told her. Though I had no clue what “it” was. “Don’t cry”. She just sniffled and held on tighter.

So, I sat down with her and I cried a little too. The old linoleum floor was cold. Sitting there, the room around us seemed to expand, like we were shrinking right there on that floor. It was as if she was determined to disappear and take me with her. Through the gated window to the fire escape outside, I gazed blankly at the rapidly darkening sky.

I felt responsible. Had I caused her tears? Was it my job to make them go away? I didn’t know. I just knew I needed to take care of her, to share the burden that my existence had placed on her. I often cried when my mother did, whether I understood it or not.

When Mom’s tears subsided, we stood slowly. I gripped her hand in mine as she steadied herself and then we walked hand in hand out of the apartment. We never went back. 

I had almost become a city kid, almost. I fantasized about what “might have been” a lot after that. How cool it would have been, how much time we’d have spent at that park, or hanging out with Aunt Patti and eating Egg Foo Young!

The experience gave the city a mystique. It became something to be feared, or conquered. I never questioned what made my mom change her mind, but when it came time to choose a college, NYU was at the top of the list. It was the list, and I’d made it in.

At the “walk” signal’s command, I rolled across Seventh avenue and started making my way down 32nd street to Broadway. It was just after 2pm and the streets were crowded. 

Sticking to the sidewalk and using the occasional street sign or mailbox as a crutch, I made slow but steady progress maneuvering through the late-lunching office workers carrying their boxes from Sbarro, and their bags of McDonald’s and Hale and Hearty Soup. By the time I made it to Broadway, I was emboldened by my accomplishment.

I paused on the corner. To the south, was NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. The institution on which I had pinned my hopes. To the north, was the part of town where Broadway became more than just an avenue. Where it was an art, an industry, and my dream. My acceptance to Tisch had been, to me, the first step towards my inevitable top billing on a glittering theater district marquee. 

Stepping down off of the curb and onto the famed thoroughfare, I turned right and headed south. The first few blocks went smoothly. All of the lights turned in my favor, so braking wasn’t an issue. Which was good, because I was still a novice when it came to that part of the sport. I was singing to myself a little bit, under my breath. I have a tendency to do that, I always have. All through sixth grade, Jared M. teased me mercilessly for singing “country music” when Patsy Cline songs inadvertently escaped my lips during group study. My mom had always nurtured this habit. 

She taught me about harmony at a young age. Lessons started one Christmas with “Silent Night”. She knew it in German too, I only knew the English. We were driving from the babysitter’s or the supermarket. Or maybe we’d gotten some ornaments at Cheap John’s. She turned off the radio and said we should sing carols to get in the spirit. 

We started in unison, Silent night, holy night . Then, she shifted her voice to the third above. All is calm, all is bright. 

In the beginning it was hard not to follow. My voice naturally wanted to match hers, to be hers. She was patient with me on this, not always with other things, but harmonizing was something she loved. She said, “just keep on the melody, concentrate on that. Don’t get distracted by what I do”. 

The first time I heard it happen it was thrilling. We had gone from singing carols on a shopping trip to making music. I sounded like her, like a real singer. Our voices created natural overtones. The vibrations that surrounded us inside the car were soothing, magical. 

Singing in the car became one of our favorite pastimes. I started helping her practice. If she had to learn a duet, I would be the boy. When the chorus came around we’d be in harmony and all I had to do was sing along. A mystery was unlocked. As our voices blended, they created the auditory illusion of more voices, more notes, more harmonies.

I was still absentmindedly singing to myself as I approached Chelsea.

You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser. You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger. You gotta…

My voice trailed off of Des’ree as the traffic and the crowd started to thicken and the terrain became rougher and steeper than I had anticipated. 

There are hills in the city? Who knew? This place never ceases to amaze! 

The streets I’d learned on back home were nearly empty during the day and pretty flat. There were traffic circles every few blocks that you could swing around leisurely a couple of times for practice. But now I was heading downhill and gaining speed, more speed than I wanted to gain. I tried applying the brake and got little result from my efforts, but the wind was whipping through my hair and I was feeling good. 

I could get used to going this fast. This is officially my new thing. I’m going to Rollerblade everywhere and I’m going to be so in shape and super hot just from getting myself around town! 

Suddenly, the driver’s side door of a parked car to my right flew open in front of me, cutting off my internal motivational speech. 


I swerved around it, but I had barely slowed down in the process. I was wobbling and having a hard time recovering. 

Meanwhile, about half a block ahead of me there was an old man standing on the corner. He peered up the block in my direction, watching the traffic intently. He was waiting to cross. I was faltering when I saw him step off the curb into the crosswalk. I had the light, but clearly this man was a veteran jaywalker and had no intention of waiting for the official “walk” signal. 

The traffic was zipping by and I had neither the stability nor the space necessary to swerve. Stopping was clearly not an option, but if I stayed the course we would surely collide. Shifting my weight forward and wishing I’d paid more attention to the braking lesson I’d gotten from Chrissy that time, I tried willing the old man out of my way. But I ultimately failed to get my telepathic message across.

Direct hit! Our shoulders got the brunt of it, my right, his left. The impact stopped me. With one hand on the nearest parked car I swiveled to face him. My first attempt at an apology came out as voiceless air and before I could gather the vocal courage to try again the old man was already screaming, “you asshole”!

His outburst left me mute.