Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

Flimsy strong ankles

I love to roller skate. I imagine that Heaven is an empty skating floor, a jukebox playing "Yellow Submarine" and a pair of sleek, wheel-limber skates.

I haven't been in years. I managed to let the local McKinney place go out of business without even visiting it. You don't know what you've got until it's gone, and all that. They paved the roller rink, and put up a skateboard park.

Ice skating is a different matter. I have the hardest time keeping my ankles straight. Those same ankles that do so well on wheels fail me when they are atop an ice-skimming blade. I am more a diesel truck than an ice cutter anyway.
I will resist the "built for comfort" blues song metaphor.

I tried to have a fistfight at a roller rink once. I used to be proud of it, but now I am embarrassed.



I think that every school has an Alan. You know, the fellow without particular natural gifts for anything, who somehow fits right into the center of everything. The Alan at our school had all the usual accountrements of cool au courant among the elementary and junior high kids with whom I grew up. He wore his hair long when it was considered a radical thing to do, even though he was a pre-teen. He was friends with all the right kids, said the right things, had a really cool dad, and a biting, sharp wit. As is often the case with Alans, he was a decent athelete, but not truly gifted, he was not bad looking but certainly not handsome, and he was clever but not a genius. He just got that "fitting in" part that the rest of us didn't get.

Of course, for many kids, "fitting in" means a bit of pointing out at length those who did not fit in. Alan had an acid, teasing tongue that was well-suited to making fun of people less socially ept than he was. I've always thought that I'm one of those people who is slightly out of place in any setting. I don't fit in with anybody, but I'm not THAT far out of place. It's like I am in my own little universe, but it has radio telescope communication with this current plane of existence. When I was 13, though, this meant that I did not fit in, at all.

Alan used to tease me fairly mercilessly. I don't remember the things he would say anymore, although I remember in general things people would say and do. I'm usually pretty good with words, and I do not know for the life of me why I did not let his words roll off my back and work up some telling retorts. My efforts to do so at that time were quite feeble.

For some reason, when I was around 13, I determined that the only way to avoid the problems he gave me through verbal hassle was to challenge him to a fight. Now, I was not the "fighting kind" of kid. I had a sibling 13 months younger than I was, and we fought sometimes. But I was not a big "fighting" kid. I remember a few fights, some won, some lost, but they were not a big part of my make-up.

I challenged him to a fight at school, explaining, in teen terms, that the indignities to which he had subjected me
required that we meet on the proverbial "field of honor". To my surprise, he made light of the situation, and did not want a fight. I began to learn an important lesson. It's hard to have a fight with someone who doesn't want to fight.

Finally, though, we were both at a Boy Scout function at the local town skating rink, out in the country by the airport.
During a break in the skating, when I had taken off my skates, he rolled up and we continued our discussion. I explained in some detail that he would have to begin to be less caustic with me or we would need to settle our differences violently. He made some rather good arguments, as I recall, to the effect that this was unnecessary, particularly over harsh words exchanged. Unfortunately, I think he overplayed his hand.

Alan reached up a gave me a little slap, and then skated off. I did not really think about what to do next. I just did what I did next. In my sports-stockinged feet, I ran onto the rink floor. I caught up with Alan and threw him to the ground. Then I began pummeling him with my fists.

I like that part of the movie A Christmas Story when Ralphie triumphs over the bully who had made the local kids miserable. But my "fight" with Alan had nothing to do with that sort of thing, and was an ignoble thing. Words were Alan's only weapon, and a caustic, hectoring laugh. I was in a silly fight over fighting words.

Alan had the common sense to just ball up and not fight.
Soon, his father, the scoutmaster, pulled me off him. We all went out to a car and talked about it. I don't think his dad was particularly upset that I had started a fight. I think he understood why I did. No real negative repercussions came from that incident. My mother said something like "sometimes a boy's gotta do what a boy's gotta do". I vaguely remember my father showing me boxing stances, though this may have been related to something else.

For a few years, I felt a sense of pride when I thought of this interlude. I felt that I had stood up to a harasser, and confronted oppresson. Now I think that I missed an opportunity to teach myself the power of words, and that I
resorted to violence when words should have been employed.

Alan later had a religious conversion experience, although in our church-soaked town a stark religious conversion was less the anomaly in that context than it is nowadays. For a time, he became a Methodist minister, serving small town churches. He even became the associate minister of the church to which my parents belonged. We lived in the same town once again, as young adults. During the local 'all the guys come play' sandlot basketball game, he and I would both play. He was a good but not great player, having played on his high school team. I am always respectable but not amazing at sports. We got along well, and we never discussed our fight after junior high.

I do not know where Alan lives now. I know he left the ministry. Somebody said that his wife couldn't stand to be away from their home town in Gurdon, Arkansas long enough for them to go to Memphis, Tennesee for seminary. This is the sort of rumoured detail about small town lives that one learns about people among whom one lives in small towns. One hears stories of church news, health questions, (extra) marital strife, fish caught, fried chicken eaten, reverie shared, and all sorts of odd, idiosyncratic details about people when one lives in a small town.

Some people who grow up in small towns find them stultifying, oxygen-robbing. But I always found them tolerant of absurdity, the residents having learned so much about human absurdity through living in close proximity to others. But who knows? Maybe Alan had a crisis of faith rather than a homesick spouse. Maybe there's a story inside everyone so complex that words don't really express it.

I have not struck anyone in anger since I was a teen.
I'm sheepish to think I struck Alan. I'm sheepish about so many things from childhood, though--faux pas and social awkwardnesses. Maybe it's all practice, though, this living. It's like getting up on those blades on ice which seems oh-so-unforgiving. My ankles feel flimsy, but perhaps they'll strengthen. Perhaps instead I should put on roller wheels.
I'll skate someplace, while John Fogerty bellows from the speakers about a "Bad Moon Rising".

Sometimes I wonder if the key to strengths is in understanding weaknesses. Sometimes I just want to skate away from conflict. Sometimes I wonder about people from my past, that I do not know well enough to call, and I miss them a little, even though we were not friends, and I pummeled them at skating rinks when I was a teen.
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