I’m comfortable enough to admit that I have some deficiencies as a human being. I can be emotionally distant. I have problems saying no to free alcohol. I do not possess “cash experience.” But probably the most glaring black hole in my ruggedly handsome universe is my lack of ice skating skills.
Growing up on the mean streets and bird-themed cul-de-sacs of Nanaimo, I learned at an early age that when it came to organized sports you either played soccer or hockey, and never the twain shall meet. Since soccer was cheaper and didn’t involve 5 a.m. practices or pubic-hair-related hazing rituals, my parents enrolled all of their kids in the beautiful game, which we interpreted as the mildly attractive game.
And while I believe 12 years of soccer made me a gentler, less bar-fight-prone person, my on-ice inexperience has haunted me more than picking Matt Duchene in the second round of two hockey pools I’m suffering through this year.
So I enrolled in adult skating lessons.
For the past four months, my friends Jeff and Paul and I have carpooled to the Britannia Community Centre every Saturday for our weekly episode of “dudes on ice.” As a high school math teacher, a registered nurse on the Downtown Eastside and an arts and entertainment editor at a community newspaper, we make an unlikely bunch of skaters-in-training, especially considering our class shares the ice with several groups of five- to 10-year-olds.
So far we’ve learned to stop properly, skate backwards, glide on one foot and transition between skating forwards and backwards to the point that I think I could have made the 1973/74 Vancouver Canucks. Mind you, I usually fall every other lesson, but I attribute that to my “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.”
The most humbling part of my ongoing transformation from wobbly, Bambi-like fawn-on-frozen-pond to beer league superstar is the adult open skate we attend Tuesday nights to practise what we’ve learned on the weekend.
Surrounded by young couples in love, groups of giggly friends and one flamboyant 50-something male figure skater, the three of us sequester ourselves to a coned-off area of the rink to work on an array of suggestively named skating skills such as crossovers, c-pushes, tomahawking and double skulling to a poorly amplified soundtrack of top 40 hits from Katy Perry to Van Halen’s “Jump” interpreted by the cast of Glee. Then, without fail, usually as I take a solo flight around the rink to stretch out my tired soccer-scarred limbs, it comes on: “Forever Young” by German synth-pop band Alphaville.
Rife with cheesy 1984 production values and such penetrating lyrics as “Forever young, I want to be forever young/Do you really want to live forever, forever and ever,” the song has the exact opposite effect its lyrics try to convey. Never at any point do I feel forever young nor want to be forever young when I hear Alphaville’s sad-sack vocalist bleat his way through what can only be described as the sonic equivalent of a vasectomy.
If there is an upside to being a grown man gingerly orbiting a community centre ice rink while overly emotive hits of the ’80s relentlessly attack his gonads, it’s this: I’m improving. Every week I get a little better, which is something most of us experience less and less as we get older. Apart from learning to use iMovie last year and memorizing the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “Sleeping with the Television On,” I can’t remember the last time I acquired a new skill or practised something unfamiliar to me until I became competent at it.
Maybe it has something to do with time and energy and the lack thereof the older I get. Or maybe I’ve become what I’ve always feared—stuck in my ways. Or, perhaps, as a younger Todd Bertuzzi once said after sucker-punching and dog-piling on a fellow skater, promptly ending his career, “It is what it is.”
Michael Kissinger has been writing about his impending midlife crisis for the Courier since turning 40 last month.