A Transient Visitors Very Tiny Tale by David O’Boyle
The ice crunching under our skates sounded the dinner bell for the Zamboni. It also notified the teenagers wearing yellow ‘Parks Department Staff’ shirts to round us up. Time to switch rinks.
Normally we wouldn’t tolerate the delay involved in this migration process. But it was the first snow of the season, so even the Parks Department got a pass. Twenty-four hours from now they wouldn’t be so lucky. Moods change. Winter wonderlands go from relieving tension to creating it. Today’s snow is tomorrow’s slush.
Not tolerating delay also requires the energy to complain. We didn’t have that. Any anger or willingness to do so was outweighed by exhaustion. With so many people chewing up the ice at once, we were essentially skating on snow. The extra effort involved made people glad to rest, and generally more inclined to conserve their breath than to waste it yelling at staff suffering from cystic acne.
But having your lungs and your skating legs ready for the next rink only addressed physical preparation. To enjoy yourself in a crowded rink required mental preparation too. For open ice rinks are quasi-anarchist states. Danger is everywhere. Reckless skaters amuse themselves by weaving in and out of packs of people to land axel jumps; to avoid being ‘it,’ kids play tag against the collective skating current; in every direction roughhousing teens fly by like kamikazes, crashing into sidewalls to stop, harming themselves and the friends they target.
When people started gathering around the sidewall closest to the lake, I figured one of the kamikazes landed a direct hit on a bystander. More curious than concerned, I went over to assess the damage. When I did, I realized I was mistaken. It was no kamikaze. The eyes of the crowd were drawn beyond the rink where the sun beamed through the snow-dusted pines all the way to the lake. Yet while the image was certainly picturesque, mother nature itself was too subtle a beauty to demand the immediate attention of city folk accustomed to the instant gratifications of places like Times Square.
“What am I missing,” I asked the lady next to me.
“There’s a man out there,” she said.
Before I could ask ‘where’, I saw him.
A skater glided out from a bend in the trees and zoomed toward the far side of the lake. The upper jaws of sunlight and the lower jaws of the horizon line swallowed him at the distant vanishing point. The Park made it clear that lake-skating was prohibited. Every few feet, a sign was posted saying so.
All of us caged in that little ice rink, going round and round, regulated by cones and teenage security staff and turn-styles, went home feeling a little foolish that day. While we shared this tiny artificial space with what felt like the entire borough of Brooklyn, one man right next to us enjoyed a lake to himself, sharing only with the sun and the trees and the developing stars.
I knew, and I think everyone else did too, that we were not looking at a law-breaker. We were looking at freedom.