Each year my wife and I have three daughters’ birthdays to celebrate, and instead of following my suggestion that the girls are too grown up for parties (and gifts), we manage to make these events increasingly elaborate and expensive. This year, my middle daughter, Anna (the one who plans to shop for a living), informed us that she wanted to celebrate her thirteenth birthday by taking a few friends to the Galleria in Dallas, Texas, to go ice skating. That didn’t sound too bad. The girls would get some exercise and enjoy an activity similar to my Skateland days on Saturday mornings down at the roller rink- where my big brother and I would spend half a day eating Pop Rocks, drinking “suicides,” playing pinball, imagining what it would be like to talk to an actual girl, and when we got bored enough, roller skating. My wife and I should have guessed that ice skating was simply Anna’s ploy to get herself into a position to browse three shopping malls stacked on top of each other.
The Galleria (which, incidentally, sort of rhymes with “diarrhea”) is similar to other malls, the difference being that along with the typical houses of dad-horror like Claire’s, Justice, Aeropostale, and Hot Topic, there are scads of designer shops with Italian names that I can’t pronounce without sounding like someone from the supporting cast of Swamp People. It’s probably one of the few places on earth where it’s perfectly acceptable to peruse the fashions at Gucci while wolfing down a tub of Auntie Anne’s pretzel nuggets. Naturally, I spent most of my waiting time posing as a trashcan monitor in the mall concourse trying to guess whose hair was real and spot people who looked like Pokémon characters. “Look! It’s a Squirtle, and he’s wearing yoga pants and a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap!”
Once the girls had finally exhausted their allowances (and mine) on unicorn keychains, stuffed animals, choker necklaces, stuffed animals, flavored lip gloss, stuffed animals, friendship bracelets, and stuffed animals, we headed down about forty-eight escalators to reach the Galleria Ice Skating and Public Humiliation Center. The skating rink is the centerpiece of the mall and sits at the bottom of a massive atrium that ascends to a roof made of glass so God can join the hundreds of Galleria shoppers laughing at you while you skate. The rink area is surrounded by restaurants, presumably to remind you of what you’d rather be doing than ice skating. When we had rented our skates that smelled like hair plugs from a shower drain (and I would know) and walked in them like crippled zombies to the rink entrance, I noticed that above the muffled strains of bad pop music, I could hear screaming. These were not squeals of delight coming from overjoyed children, but actual cries of terror. I would soon find out why.
I had been ice skating before during another moment of suicidal dementia, so it didn’t take me long to get my balance. I remembered that the proper novice skating position is to lean forward slightly in a shallow squat with the feet shoulder width apart, like you’ve just spent too much time at a cheap Chinese buffet. In other words, I was practically an expert. I did get overconfident a few times and eventually had a visit from the dreaded Skating Monitor-an arrogant teenager whose job is to watch you fall down and ask, “Are you ok, sir?” without laughing. One of these embarrassing episodes involved my sliding into the ample back legs of a rather robust young lady who looked like Kim Kardashian- if Kim Kardashian was an offensive guard for the Pittsburg Steelers. She was accompanied by several guys who looked like the rest of the Steelers’ offensive line-only bigger and more menacing. The woman proceeded to cushion her fall by sitting in my lap. Amid my horrified torrent of apologies and fears that this incident might lead to a police action, her strapping male companions burst into laughter and pulled us up. Apparently, I had helped them win a bet. (One even offered me money.) The woman was really sweet about the whole thing, and she asked me to keep her updated on my physical therapy.
After I had recovered from this disgrace, I spent some time helping Abbie, our youngest and least talkative daughter, learn to master an activity that she’s likely to participate in a whole once every ten years or so throughout her life. (If only I could help her with her math homework). When Abbie got the hang it, she skated close behind me like a barnacle on a spastic humpback whale. To steady herself, she repeatedly grabbed and yanked the seat of my blue jeans, which had already started their daily trip to Plumbersville. This meant I would spend the rest of my time on the ice trying to balance myself with a pant load of ten-year-old girl while hiking up my britches to my armpits. It was like a performance of Geeks on Ice.
Despite the all of the falling and public near-disrobing, everyone had a really good time, and Anna is still talking about how much fun she had for her birthday. Abbie has even been asking when we can go back and skate again. I just hope she realizes that next time, I’ll be wearing more appropriate attire. I hear Gucci is having a sale on yoga pants.