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.