Hot Dog or Pizza? Polyurethane wheels spin furiously as gaggles of giggling children race past in a rush to get nowhere. Parents talk amongst themselves casually while always keeping a watchful eye on the rink, anticipating the inevitable fall of a child that they hope will not be theirs. The scent of freshly baked pizza wafts throughout the building, enticing the families as if all this excitement were not enough to build up an appetite. This was the place to be on an idle Saturday in this small suburb of New Jersey, drawing in dozens of children and preteens every weekend. My party has to be here, mom! ” I whined, convinced that nowhere else would be quite as fun, even though every other kid in my class celebrated their birthday there as well. So instead of hosting a hair-braiding, truth-or-dare slumber party, or going to see the latest preteen comedy movie, my birthday festivities would of course occur here, at United Skates of America. I waited the month or so until my party with bated breath, patience not one of the virtues bestowed upon an (almost) ten-year-old. When the day had finally arrived, my family piled in our car with my two best friends; Eileen, a slightly too tall for her age, kindhearted Irish brunette, and Jen, a spunky blonde tomboy with one of those smiles that stretch across the face and matching dimples to go with it- the rest of the eager party-goers would meet us there. We arrive at the rink, a large concrete building with paint the gray color of dingy gym socks peeling in various places around the entrance, the poorly marked building easily missed by the untrained eye. A sign decorated with faded primary colors that barely still read the name of the rink hangs to show that the facility is still operational. Car doors slam open and then shut again as children dash from the vehicles, the gravel of the unpaved parking lot crunches underfoot. Children immediately begin to chatter amongst themselves as though they had not seen the others for a long period of time. Eventually however, a short freckly redhead recalls everyone’s attention as to why we had gathered at this rink in the first place. The mad rush begins again and 15 or so pairs of short legs sprint towards the door. Walking through the oversized metal door that weighs more than it should, children’s eyes light up with a joy only superseded by discovering all the presents left under the Christmas tree by Santa. First things first, everyone must rent their skates. These skates have been worn several times a day for who knows how many years, the scent drifting from behind the rental desk not much different than that of bowling shoes. Parents help make sure the skates are laced up tight enough. Now that everyone’s feet feel more like they are tied in a straight jacket rather than wearing shoes, it is time to hit the floor. Other skaters fly past me, creating a breeze as I try to set foot in the rink. I place one skate on the smooth, polished hardwood floor and immediately -- BANG! Feet still in the skates fly up above my head as I land flat on my back. As a testament to childhood resiliency, I get back on my feet, silently thanking my mom for making me wear the tacky pink helmet previously decorated with shimmering stickers in various girly shapes and hoping no one I knew saw. The carefree skating continues for an hour or so as the latest pop hits blast over the speaker system- boy bands belt out love songs irrelevant to our generation at the time and Britney asks to be hit “…One More Time. ” Eventually it is time for the rink’s mascot to make his momentary appearance. After proper introduction, Skate-o-saurus glides onto the rink, a graceful swan in an oversized green and orange dinosaur costume, probably worn by a local high school or college student. He leads the rink in an intense game of limbo, using probably the stick from an old broom or mop, decorated with paint and streamers to disguise its intended purpose. This game on land is not easily mastered by all, but with the addition of skates it becomes especially tricky. Each skater takes their turn, the hairs on the top of their heads brushing the ‘limbo stick,’ and one by one skaters fall to the ground, muffled thuds as bodies succumb to gravity. Shortly after, everyone forgets who won and resumes to skating, the more experienced skaters challenging their friends to a race, and those not so experienced just trying to keep from crashing and causing another dent or scuff in the already marred floor, a reminder of those who have fallen before. When just about every stomach is gargling, a gruff voice crackles through the speakers and requests, almost omnisciently, that “the guests of Nicole’s party come to the party room for food. ” The exhausted skaters stumble into the room, dripping sweat onto the multicolored carpet that conveniently hides stains. Kids flop down into chairs all around me. The fluorescent lights above shine bright on my party, illuminating the crepe paper streamers decorating the room causing miniature rainbows to be cast on every surface. “So what’ll it be, hot dog or pizza? ” requests the clearly overworked and underpaid server that definitely hates his job. I neglect to notice this but instead think- “hot dog or pizza? ” the hardest decision of the day.
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