A perilous adventure on a suburban ice rink ends with a helping hand and a wooden whale | Jennifer Wang

“It’s very nice to hold hands,” I told a man I had just met.

When you learn to skate on the pop-up outdoor rink at your local mall, it apparently unlocks a part of your brain that says embarrassing things.

Gabe, the man who owned the hands, is usually an ice hockey goaltender, but today he’s the security commissioner for the small ice rink in Winter Wonderland. He had offered me his hands to help me walk on the synthetic and icy surface of the ice rink, and I, so surprised by the intimacy, I couldn’t help commenting on it as if I was suddenly on page 17 of a romance novel. .

But now was not the time for affairs of the heart. I had heavy, rented skates, and it was time to respect the sanctity of the purpose of rented shoes: to skate a mile in someone else’s shoes. Or at least a few meters.

While the ice cream wasn’t real, my hesitation was. I hadn’t done any substantial exercise since Covid began, and in the spirit of visiting a Winter Wonderland, I was wearing a very large jacket which made me feel too heavy and even more unbalanced than usual.

Gabe’s instructions were easy to follow and carry out…until they weren’t.

“Bend your knees and lower yourself. Now put your feet in a V shape,” he said.

“Then push off your left foot as if you were on a scooter. And drag your right foot.

“Push and drag,” I said out loud, hoping that saying the verbs would better help my feet perform the actions. “Push and drag,” I repeated, gently scratching the unglazed surface.

Shortly after, I was crossing the rink. Was it skating? No. Was it some kind of movement that had its own grace? Also no. It was a kind of ice cream… that worked.

When I showed signs of wobbling, Gabe introduced me to a newbie’s best friend, the wall, which I don’t mind if you cling to it while walking on the ice.

Eventually, I got to the other side of the rink. A distance that had taken me minutes to walk would probably have taken 20 seconds to walk, but I was out of breath from the effort of standing.

“Gabe,” I said. “There is only one problem. I’m here now. I gestured towards the corner of the rink where I was hovering unsteadily. “But my stuff…is over there.” I pointed to the other side of the rink, an area I had previously underestimated for its size before he forced me to “skate” on it.

“My life…is there.” I looked at Gabe, not wanting to say it out loud: how was I going to push and drag to the other side out of the rink? I was exhausted and my center of gravity threatened to collapse at any moment. Why did people do this? Wasn’t there enough uncertainty in daily life that we had to bring perilous walking surface and large metal-bladed shoes into our days?

“I have it,” Gabe said. And then in words that were part kind and part harbinger of devastating abandonment, he said “stay here.” And then he skated. Like, properly weathered. Her feet sliding side to side with ease, her body straight and relaxed, her voice quiet from not having to guide her feet.

He left the rink. And returned with a wooden whale, the length of its body on the ice and its tail curled up to the height of a small child, where it conveniently ended in a pair of sturdy handles.

Strangely, I had been in this situation before. My last attempt at ice skating a few years ago ended up having to hire a wooden penguin to get around the rink because I just couldn’t skate. Instead, with the six-year-olds bundled up on the ice rink, I shuffled and prodded the cartoonish penguin like he was playing in a budget version of Happy Feet on Ice.

“Whale, whale, whale… what do we have here?” I said, trying to save time, postponing the inevitable moment when I would have to hold my life again to a skating aid designed for children as I made my way through the people who were happily spinning around the rink. without a support animal.

“Come up,” Gabe said.

“Sorry what?” I said.

“You can sit on the whale,” he said, holding on to the whale’s tail.

Guessed you could sit on the whale, although it wasn’t for adults. But could I lift my leg with the weight of the ice skate on my foot to jump on it? Without falling? Just. And then, I sat down, it was the greatest human action on a whale since Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick.

Before I had time to worry about the prospect of falling off the whale because I had no core strength, Gabe started pushing.

“Wahhhhhhhhh,” I yelled as we flew across the rink, my legs akimbo, arms outstretched, the rhythmic scratching of Gabe’s skates contrasting with my wavering, sustained wails.

Within seconds we were back at the entrance to the rink where it all started.

Upon disembarking from the Whale Wind experience, I thanked Gabe for the lesson and for bringing me back closer to my normal life on earth.

“Thank you very much for the ride,” I said. “I really didn’t expect to ride a whale today.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. “You should try ice hockey now that you’ve learned to skate.”

I don’t think more generous words were ever spoken.

Jennifer Wong is a writer, comedian and presenter of Chopsticks or Fork? on ABC iview

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