Humanity at the Roller Rink

When I was nine, St. Tammany Roller Rink was the place to be on the first Friday night of every month. The skating rink held a monthly lock-in for children of all ages (or at least through high school aged, when kids would ultimately discover the joys of a six pack and a parking lot). The doors locked at 10 p.m. and didn’t open again until 7 the next morning. In the small town of Covington, Louisiana, it was an exciting hub for kids to take in a night of skating, arcade games, and fast food – for about an hour.

Then boredom would set in and I would spend the night regretting my decision to blow all my money on soda and games of NFL Blitz while trying to convince my more fiscally responsible friend to share just one french-fry. He never did and I vowed to never forgive him.

Anyway, I remember one night the organizers of the event decided to hold a round of karaoke during one of these lock-ins and I decided to sign up. Now, I’ve never been a particularly skilled singer nor did I enjoy performing in front of people at that time, but I thought I was hot shit for knowing that the radio bleeped out the word “motherfucker” in Nelly’s song Country Grammar and I thought I would be cool if I sang the song, expletive intact.

I also thought that this little singing competition would be held in some obscure corner of the rink so as not to disturb the avid skate fans. I was wrong.

After about half an hour, the rink was cleared turning it into a stage and everyone was invited to line up on the outside of the walls to watch these, now surely terrified, performers. Suddenly, my funny little joke didn’t seem so fun. Two singers went before me only to be treated to polite applause and stale yawns. Then they asked for Chase Wilkinson to take the stage.

At this point I was content to believe that Chase Wilkinson didn’t exist. I sat quietly outside the wall, looking around innocently for this poor soul with the rest of the crowd. They called my name two, three, maybe four times before my friend Garrett (that spectacular Judas who would later withhold his french fries) said that he didn’t think they were going to stop calling my name and gently pushed me out onto the “stage”.

Wearing my roller blades, a shirt that was too tight, and jeans that were too loose, I rolled out into the center of the rink with my eyes planted firmly on the ground. Everyone gave an awkward laugh at the fat little white boy as the well-known rap song began.

I didn’t sing. I barely looked up from the ground as Nelly began to rap about lighting blunts and passing them around. I wanted to run, or skate away as it may be, but I stood there rocking uneasily and waiting for this experience to be over.

Then something spectacular happened. Three or four older boys, who I had never met, skated into the rink and began to dance around and sing. They put their arms around my shoulders as they got the crowd into the song. And after a moment, the embarrassment fell away and I danced. I still didn’t sing. I did not get my moment of saying “motherfucker” to a building full of middle-schoolers. To be honest, I don’t even think that word is in that song. But I did dance and revel in a horrible moment turned wonderful by the kindness of a few strangers.

The song ended, the crowd cheered, and we skated away. I thanked my nameless saviors and went back to watching other people make fools of themselves. Safe again behind the wall.

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