May 14, 2007
Last weekend two friends of mine celebrated their 40th birthdays at Cal Skate.
When I was in elementary school and junior high everybody had roller-skating birthday parties at Cal Skate.
Roller skating was ubiquitous in the late ’70s/early ’80s.
I couldn’t roller skate.
I was that chunky kid pushing herself along the side of the rink.
Everyone else, even my five-year-old brother, skated so effortlessly–forward, backwards, shooting-the-duck–under the flashing colored lights and spinning disco ball in the Xanadu of Cal Skate. I tried not to fall.
Another thing that was ubiquitous in the late ’70s/early 80s: Olivia Newton-John.
The first record I ever bought with my own money was the Grease soundtrack. I earned the money by losing weight. My mother paid me for each pound I lost.
In 1980 Ralph Nau began writing letters to Olivia Newton-John. He was convinced that her music and movies were secret love messages from her to him. He moved to Los Angeles to be near her. He killed a puppy and sent her its teeth. He also wrote letters to Sheena Easton, who sang the theme song for the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.
In 1983 Michael Perry was caught camping on Olivia Newton-John’s property. He was obsessed with her eyes. He went home to Louisiana and killed his parents, cousins, and baby nephew by shooting them all in the eyes. When he was arrested he was found with seven TVs, all blaring white noise, eyes drawn on the screens.
Olivia Newton-John moved home to Australia. Ralph Nau flew there to find her. He wandered around in the Outback for a while. When he returned home to Wisconsin, he killed his stepbrother with an axe.
Something else that was ubiquitous in the late ’70s/early ’80s: serial killers.
My sixth grade camping trip was cancelled because the Trailside Killer was on the loose.
Then there was the Night Stalker.
The Night Stalker was working his way north, and in my mind it seemed likely that his killing spree would take him up Highway 101 to my town. He would get off the freeway and head down the Boulevard until he reached the first stoplight. He would take a left onto my street. He would stop in front of my house, the biggest house in town, a pink Victorian mansion with a Rapunzel turret on the side. We never locked our doors. I didn’t even have a key to my own house. He would assume that the front door was locked (as I said, it wasn’t) and go around to the back door. He would open it and go inside and up the back stairs. He would open the door at the top of the stairs. My bedroom door.
I slept with the covers over my head. I figured if the Night Stalker was going to kill me, I didn’t want his face to be the last thing I ever saw.
Years later, when someone grabbed me from behind and broke a bottle over my head, I was grateful that I never saw my attacker’s face.
1997 was also the year John Mark Karr moved to Petaluma. He had a morbid fascination with the murders of Polly Klaas and JonBenet Ramsey. He worked as a substitute elementary school teacher until he was arrested for possession of child pornography in 2001. He fled to Thailand. In 2006 he was extradited to Colorado following his claim that he was with JonBenet Ramsey when she died. There was no forensic evidence linking him to the crime and the charges were dropped. The child pornography charges were dropped, too, because the evidence was lost.
That brings us to 2007, to last weekend, the birthday party at Cal Skate.
Cal Skate was unchanged since the ’70s.
Same flashing colored lights and spinning disco ball.
Same snack bar.
Time collapsed. It was like the fold-in picture on the back cover of MAD Magazine, where you fold Point A to meet Point B and a new picture appears. Point A (me then) met Point B (me now) as I laced up my rented skates, feeling hopeful that a new picture would appear, one in which I could magically roller skate.
Earlier that day I had Googled “how to roller skate.” I found a set of instructions that would have me skating backwards in eight easy steps.
With my skates on I stood up on the carpet and placed my feet in a V (step one). I kept my body upright and didn’t look down (step two). I bent my knees slightly and put my arms out like airplane wings (step three). I marched in place, keeping my feet in their V position (step four). I did not slide my skates (step five). To start moving I pushed one skate out to the side (step six).
Nothing happened, I didn’t move.
I pushed the other skate out the the side (step six, again).
Still no movement.
The only way I could move was by taking baby steps. I decided to get on the rink and push myself along the side for old time’s sake. I stood at the gate and hesitated.
Step seven was how to fall. Fall on your butt, not on your hands.
What if I fell wrong? Was it worth the risk? In the end, I stayed on the carpet and watched as everyone else skated to AC/DC and did the Hokey Pokey.