Ice Age Memories

A New York Times article yesterday about the opening of the renovated Queens Museum of Art, had this paragraph:

…for four years, from 1946 to 1950, the United Nations General Assembly had its first headquarters in Queens, in a low, pale slab of a building designed to be New York City’s Pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair. Set on an edge of what is now called Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, with the Grand Central Parkway streaming by, it proved itself a versatile premises, suited equally to athletics and aesthetics. For many years, half the building was a skating rink. The other half, beginning in 1972, was home to the Queens Museum of Art.

From probably 1955 to 1960, from early fall to late winter, Saturday mornings and afternoons and evenings, Sunday mornings and afternoons, sometimes only some of those times, sometimes all of them, with Friday evenings sometimes thrown in, I went skating on that skating rink, a half-hour public bus ride from the apartment house where I lived with my parents in Forest Hills. We called the building the City Building, from its name at the World’s Fair. Here’s what it looked like (photos courtesy of the New York Times):

city building

And here’s the rink:

city building rink

It’s hard to see in the photograph, but beyond the wooden barrier at the end of the ice rink was a roller skating rink, wooden floor, wooden wheels on the shoe skates. Adherents of each rink had nearly total contempt for adherents of the other; there were no crossover skaters. A great many of the ice skaters rented skates from the rink’s shop, but hard core regulars had their own skates. Girls usually wore figure skates, like the two young women in the foreground, but only very, very good skaters would dare wear outfits like theirs. The two guys at the right, enjoying the fashion show? I was one of them, figuratively, and wore hockey skates, as they are, or racing skates, also known as speed skates.

Uniformed guards, young guys with attitudes, policed the rink, helping little kids and old folks up from falls, keeping the speed skaters from speeding too much, flirting with the girls. A favorite Friday night pastime for me and my friends from Russell Sage Junior High School and then Forest Hills High School, was chasing Kathy Muldoon, the best of the girl skaters. As her name indicates, she was a bright redhead, easy to spot and try to tail.

On Saturday mornings the rink was given over to a speed skating club. With my close friend A___, who grew up to be an esteemed South Florida jurist but who at the time was known by me to be a practicing shoplifter, I attended the club’s very informal practices, then would reenter the building for the afternoon free-skating session, and would sometimes stay on for the evening session, subsisting on hot dogs, Cokes, and individual cardboard-like pizzas. It’s a wonder I could sleep, after hours and hours of going around and around, mostly counterclockwise, though the occasional clockwise laps were thrown in.

I kept skating through 1960-61, my first year in college, at Wollman Rink in Central Park, then stopped, as if on a dime, for years. I started again, equally suddenly, in the mid-80s, at Wollman and at Lasker Rink, in the north part of the park, where I sometimes went with Lily, sometimes after school on days when probably the last thing she needed was more exercise. In those days, we entertained ourselves while traveling with what we called Mental Hangman, the word game we played without pad or pencil, considering ourselves too advanced for such props. One of Lily’s great triumphs was when, given the clue, “two words, five letters and four letters,” she confidently answered: “Lasker Rink!”

A fond memory of our first day in Madison, New Jersey, Trisha’s and my first home together, was getting up early and going down to the frozen pond near our house and playing hockey by myself in a light snow until I couldn’t justify not being home and unpacking any longer. Trisha kindly let Lily and me go down to the rink later in day. We left Madison in the dead of winter in 1992 and I haven’t skated since. Our skates are in a nylon bag in the crawl space. I’m afraid to see what shape they’re in.

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