"Man-Up!" the billboard overhead emasculates while I tug at a cigarette and crouch down in my car to the soundtrack of Madonna's "Die Another Day" as mashed up with "London" by the Pet Shop Boys. It may be a sign from God, but it's also just an advertisement for haircuts for men and boys, of which I'm most probably neither. I, after all, have roots.
In my rearview, a top-heavy size 12 shuffles out from what appears to be a tin barn, and she's wearing a diamond-bottomed skirt/dress onesie (or reotard), like Tonya Harding might, drapey sequin appliqués teasing at the glory spot where her thighs chafe. I can't be sure if I've hopped genders or entire cultural eras; all I know is that I took a confusing turn on the 408 and popped out somewhere just south of Footloose and north of Boys Don't Cry, in the middle of red hot nowhere on Goldenrod.
Finally, Tony pulls up.
"I didn't want to go in alone," I roll down my window, as anonymously as any alcoholic. "This looks like the scene where I get raped."
I've invited myself along to a friendly, irony-drenched, booze-dry foray into roller-skating with Tony and his crew of WPRK misfits. It's somebody's birthday, but that doesn't matter. I'm more interested in the Jessica Simpson of it all: the Seacrest/Longoria/Applegate celebrity tube-topping of her "A Public Affair" video, which skated into my living room this week, and the general, if distant, fabulousness it has since aroused in my very being. We're at Universal Entertainment and Skating for their Adult Night, and if I'm not mistaken, there's a theme — "Wheels of Fire" or something — which is great, because I won't leave the house if there's not a theme involved.
"Who's that girl over there?" Tony's friend Veronica throws eyes in the direction of a black-and-white striped T-shirt with choppy hair. "And where do we know her from?"
Me, I'm resplendent in the relative boonies of anonymity, happy to make an ass of myself among one friend, a few third-party associations and a medium-sized mass of people. I am back in the sixth grade.
"Yeah," Tony dims all the lights. "In THIS light, you do look a little bit like you're in junior high."
Then this light is just fine with me. And it's not all that's timeless, either: There's me, beige rental skates with orange wheels and the fact that Michael Jackson's "PYT" continues to catalyze bland, stationary beings into concentric rolling circles of inertia. I, frankly, am much more effective at standing still sans wheels on my feet, but a quick DJ blur into Stacey Q's "Two of Hearts" is way too much for my late-era Facts of Life midsection to bear.
"Holy shit!" I Blair at Tony. "Cinnamon! Stacey-motherfuckin'-Q! We have to dance!"
I'll make this mistake several times, somehow confusing the athletic act of rolling and standing up with the less taxing act of jumping up and down on a dance floor. No sooner is Lady Q bleating, "I neeeed you, I neeeed you!" than I'm turning my attention from the stability of my feet to the dance-pop cosmos of eternal ecstasy. Somewhere in between, balance is lost, my skates fly up in front of me to about eye level, and I horizontally plop down hard on the space where my flimsy spine hints at an actual ass. There is no decorum, just the sound of a bag of bones hitting a wooden surface, set to a disco beat. I try to laugh, but it comes out more like the scream of a wimp facedown in a garbage can at the sixth grade dance (that really happened, actually), and my useless notes to self of "skate it off, skate it off," are barely enough to man me up to the comfort of the concession area for another awkward date with humility.
Against stereotype, there are a number of severely hot, obviously heterosexual men here.
"Do you think it's like some sort of prison release program?" I dream that dream. "Like, an anger management excursion for ‘hate' knuckle tattoos who feign good behavior?"
"A few beers and a Camaro and whatever happens," Tony plays along.
"Whatever happens on skates, stays on skates," I complete somebody else's sentence with somebody else's marketing campaign. "Either way, it's very hot."
A "shuffle skate" ensues (only for those who can maintain both rhythm and balance), and my place on the sidelines turns into a kind of shopping booth. I stand next to my longtime friend-of-friend James and we both pick people like they're pastries going around on a Lazy Susan. Eventually, I rejoin the all-skate fray and try to reclaim my youth (I swear I was on the speed skating team in 1979, seriously), only to be met with yet another acquaintance of yore.
"Hey, Billy!" Eli approaches, all tattooed and cute, and now officially the cool guy at the skating rink.
"Shhh, I'm trying to skate," is all I can muster against gravity. Except I'm not, really. Reasonably defeated and more than a little bit sore, I tuck the tongues back into my rent-a-skates and head out the door, back into the now. At home, nursing my rear with a libation, I flip on VH1 Classic just in time for a sneak peek of the first hour of MTV from 25 years ago, and there she is in the second video: the girl with the black-and-white striped T-shirt and the choppy hair! "You Better Run!" Pat Benatars, and everything then is now again.
I would get up to change it, or at least jump around to it. But, for now, I cannot. I'm a man firstname.lastname@example.org