Ice Ice Baby
A first-time skater takes to the rink at Monterey on Ice.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Deperately clutching the wall with my right arm isn’t enough to save me. I lose any hint of balance on my left skate, lurch backward and fall flat on my bony bottom. I decide to lie flat on my back and wait for my skating instructor to lift my dead weight.
While he skates to my rescue, onlookers are laughing at me. Apparently I’m a crowd favorite. I would like to see them demonstrate as much resilience– despite my fifth wipeout in roughly 30 minutes, with even the sea lions guffawing at me, I’m still festive.
It’s not because of the carols, though they remain on constant rotation. It’s not the size of the rink that makes me so happy– at 50 by 70 feet, kept frozen by a large humming machine, it isn’t huge.
It is partly because of my red beret and tacky holiday vest. But I’m also enjoying the chance to log Norman Rockwell-style yuletide memories in a Mediterranean climate. Mostly, though, it’s because of the encouragement of my coach.
Finding a worthwhile ice skating coach in Monterey is difficult, if not impossible– Oksana Baiul lives in Ukraine (I couldn’t afford her anyway) and fellow out-of-towner Dorothy Hamill has osteoporosis.
But it’s OK: My friend Mike Kirch has agreed to monitor my safety as I go ice-skating for the first time. He is not without credentials: He skated as a child for the reward of hot cocoa and says he was “pretty good.” More important, he is the third-best skater in the rink, ranked just a fraction below an 8-year-old girl in a pink sweater.
His final qualifications are also significant: While anyone else would be embarrassed to skate with me, he is not, and even agreed to wear a gaudy Christmas sweater I picked out to match my own.
From my cold, corpse-like position, Coach Kirch lifts me up, laughing, begging me not to lie so stiff. He does have enormous patience.
“Watch out for those little kids,” he tells me. “They watch Disney on Ice a few too many times and they think they’re Aladdin. Bastards.”
On the ice I hoof like I’m wearing high heels. Coach quickly corrects me. “Make sure the blades of your skates are straight, and directly beneath your feet.”
I stand bowlegged and fall backward, nearly tearing the crotch of my jeans. He tells me to hug the wall until my legs are straight. I stomp along the wall until my knees stop wobbling. Coach straightens my shoulders. “Now put your weight on one foot, let the other one follow, and glide,” he says.
Wipe out No. 2. Now I adhere to the wall like a rock climber to the edge of a cliff.
I push against the wall to propel my body forward. I’m nauseous. I wonder why the Dramamine I took earlier isn’t kicking in. Coach skates alongside as I shuffle into a glide. Seeing my improvement, he links arms with me and leads me away from the wall.
Skaters flock to the opposite end of the rink when they see me coming. I’m a 5-foot-4-inch bulldozer in a sweater vest. Coach lets go. I start flailing.
I panic-breast stroke past a woman who suggests my skates are too loose. Coach dutifully tightens the laces. She’s right– with my laces tightened I am more agile.
I am also overly confident.
This time it takes two Monterey on Ice employees to lift me up. I have been in the rink for nearly an hour. I take a 10-minute break for self-loathing. But my coach says I have to get back on the ice. I don’t know why he’s so persistent. There’s no medal involved.
Back on the ice, Coach abandons me for a group of girls who compliment his sweater and ask him to take their picture. “Jingle Bell Rock” is playing. It will be my favorite holiday melody from now on. This is the moment when I let go of the wall, let go of my dependence on Coach and successfully skate around the rink twice. A woman applauds and shouts, “You’re the success story of the night!” I don’t think she intends to be patronizing.
But no one has more pride than my coach. He takes one of my arms and lifts it in the air. “You’re doing it!”
I retire at the peak of my game, my socks soaked, my heels chaffed, my tailbone bruised. But I express heartfelt gratitude to my coach; he expresses amazement.
“You did great,” he says. “You did it– I really didn’t think you could!”
Monterey on Ice at Custom House Plaza in Monterey is open through Jan. 4. Hours: Noon–10pm weekdays, 10am-10pm weekends, noon-8pm Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Day, 10am-11pm New Year’s Eve. $10/children 12 and under; $12/adult; $3/skates. 649-6545, www.montereyonice.com.