Okay, to be accurate, at least I reached novice status in ice skating – one of precious few activities of any sort in which I reached any level other than rank beginner. As in, just began 5 minutes ago.
Growing up in working-class Chicago with its harsh winters, ice skating was a popular pastime. The Chicago Park District permitted skating on frozen-over lagoons, including the big one in Lincoln Park, along the lakefront. At smaller parks all over the city, they would spray water around the baseball diamond or some other patch of ground and wait for it to freeze. Then, each afternoon and evening, the skaters would come, ready to brave the cold and exercise their skills on metal blades.
Actual ice-skating rinks did exist, but the guys in my neighborhood did their skating at the public parks, despite the frigid temperatures and hearty Chicago winter winds.
One reason for my ability in this pastime was that, unlike a lot of people who tried, I had no trouble with my ankles. I was able to stand quite easily on skates, with little of the leaning to one side that characterized novice skaters with weak ankles.
No acrobatic maneuvers or showy presentations for me, of course. No backward runs, either. But as long as I kept gliding forward at a modest pace, I was okay.
That being so, I had no hesitation about registering for ice skating as my final physical education class while attending the University of Illinois. Because I’d failed one gym class and dropped out of two others, I was still taking P.E. through Junior year. So, I was pleased to see that they offered something in which I could participate on an almost adept level, though hardly expecting to excel.
I was mistaken. Leisurely skating along in a straight-ahead direction wasn’t good enough for this taskmaster of an instructor. No, we had to do little tricks on ice – even skating backwards. The big test involved ice dancing, which is something I’d not only never tried, but seldom even seen done in a serious way.
As a result, the debacle at skating class slashed away any feeling that I might possess even a trickle of competence. Basically, when our turn came for the final exam, I virtually had to be held up by the cute young woman I was allegedly “dancing” with, traversing the rink in a shaky circle of dread and discomfort.
It was not my finest hour.
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