The Roller Rink

I learned how to use my voice in a roller rink. Let me clarify that, because surely the image that jumps into your mind when I say roller rink doesn’t match up perfectly with the place I’m talking about.
Noone had worn roller-skates in this place for at least twenty, maybe even thirty or forty years. It was just a big decaying skeleton of a roller rink, an enormous half-rotten whale. The exterior was all boarded up with plywood where the windows used to be, so that from the outside it looked like a condemned warehouse, and if you walked by it on a desolate avenue in some stagnating city you wouldn’t even notice it. You would walk right by without even looking at it. This roller rink, however, this monstrosity, was very obvious, because it was sitting in the woods, surrounded by pine trees.
It was (and still is) located in a state park in southern New York, and at one time, although your imagination would be hard-pressed to believe it now, the place actually functioned as a flourishing haven for adolescent romance. My father and my uncle can attest to this, because they spent their childhood summers at a campsite not far away, and they would occasionally take their summer loves there for an evening of doo-wop, soda-pop and backwoods kissing.
But somewhere in the decades since my dad’s youth, the dusty administrative offices of the New York State park system, in their groggy amnesia, lost track of the place, and it became a shell of itself, a broken, decomposing abomination, which, for a few summers in the early nineties, served as a creative haven for me and my friend Bill Trinkle.
To get inside, we’d pull back one of the plywood boards and slip through a window. It was treacherous business. The actual skating floor was half ripped up (the wood had probably been used for other projects around the park over the years), so the majority of the interior was a mess of beams and boards and rusty nails and frayed electric wires. There remained, however, a significant portion of the skating floor in tact, the center section, and this served as our stage. Once we worked our way out there by balancing across the underlying structural planks, we’d just start singing. We’d absolutely let loose, and we didn’t care how things came out. There were hundreds of swallows that dwelt in the roof beams, and once we started making noise, they’d begin flying around above us in figure-eights. The light shot through the holes in the roof in thick luminous shafts, and we’d just sing ourselves silly, until we’d released every possible emotion we had in us and let free every demon in our young souls. I sometimes wish we’d had one of those nifty hand-held field recorders they make now, with little condenser microphones that record in both mp3 and WAV formats, so I could hear what we sounded like just one time. It’s probably better off, ‘cause most of the time I’m sure we sounded like cacophonous garbage. However, when I’m trying to write a song these days, I sometimes picture myself in that dark vibrating cavern, with not a care in the world.

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