Skate Land Circa 1983

The first time I ever got drunk, or high, happened to be on the same night. It was 1983 and I was twelve years old.

The Cockeysville Skate Land reigned supreme on Friday and Saturday nights. Everybody went, and if you didn’t, your life might as well be over. Designated parents would drop-off and pick-up from 7-11pm, and mom almost always took the early shift because she was usually toast by 11.

The Burnout Uniform, circa 1983 was as follows:

Jordache jeans, so tight you would have to lie back on the bed, hook a coat hanger through the little hole in the top of the zipper, suck in your stomach, and pull the coat hanger, forcefully zipping up your jeans. Once they were on, you could not bend at the waist, which made getting your Wallabees on very difficult. Next, came the Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Def Leppard, Ozzy, Queensryche, Van Halen, Kiss, Deep Purple, Motley Crue, AC/DC or Quiet Riot concert tee. The only other acceptable substitution was the black Jack Daniels tee, topped off with a well-worn, and unbuttoned flannel over top.

Hair was feathered, and sprayed with either White Rain or Aqua Net so stiff you could lift up the entire wing in one solid piece. Large handled comb in the back pocket. Ceremoniously, you would take the little red cap off of your black eyeliner pencil and hold it over a lighter, getting it warm and soft, then quickly pulling down a lower eyelid, you would blacken the fleshy line, the heavier the better. The cherry on top was a faded Levis jean jacket. Fortunately, I had taken up smoking, because the pack of reds in the pocket really completed the look.

I grabbed my banana bag purse with the eight, feathered roach clips hanging from the strap, my speed skates with red devil wheels, and I was ready to rock you like a hurricane.

I had started junior high that year, and had begun to hang out with a group of older girls in what was considered “the burn out crowd.” I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but they all cursed and smoked and were cool as shit in my book. They were misfits, and that is just where I fit best.

On this particular night, I had convinced my mom to let me spend the night at my friend Nancy’s after Skate Land. I had never been to Nancy’s house, she was a year ahead in 8th grade, and had asked me to spend the night with along Pam, another girl we hung out with. To me, this was a formal induction into the hall of cool. I didn’t get invited to many sleepovers, and this was critical, so of course I lied to my mom, said that Nancy was in my grade, and that her mom would drive me home in the morning. She was probably psyched to have a night off, so she agreed.

Like always, mom dropped me off in front of Skate Land, where Nancy and Pam were leaning against the brick wall, smoking cigarettes. We all paid our fee to get in, and headed into the loud, dark world we knew as freedom.

We all walked through the strobe lit darkness over to our usual spot in the back corner, where everyone would go for post couples-skate make-out sessions. This spot was conveniently located next to the back exit door, which led to the grassy hill out back known to all as the infamous “Make-out Mountain.”

We kicked off our shoes and shoved them under the bench along with our purses and coats, and began lacing up our speed skates. We hit the floor to the tune of Judas Priest’s “You Got Another Thing Comin’” for our introductory lap, a few effortless turns from front to backwards skate, then back to front, as we scoped out the scene to see who was and wasn’t there. After a few laps, we gathered up our crowd and headed over to the harvest gold linoleum tables in the snack bar.

We would sit drinking birch beer, smoking Marlboro’s and laughing, while Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Asteroids bleeped and blipped away in the background. We usually talked about who was cute, who’s hand we were or weren’t going to slap during ladies only skate, and who we hoped, with teenage angst, would slap our hand during men only skate.

This was one of the main events of the early evening. This set the stage for whom you would be hooking up with for couples skate, and quite possibly a trip to Make out Mountain for the night. It went like this; during ladies only skate, all the boys would lean one elbow on the black concrete block wall surrounding the rink, and casually hold out one hand to the girls they were interested in. We would skate around, under the multicolored lights in the darkness, and in passing, smack the hand(s) of the boy(s) we were interested in. When it was men only, the ritual was the same, and if the guy who’s hand you smacked was interested in you too, he would smack your hand back.

If hand smacks had been exchanged, this usually meant he would find you before the next couples skate, and in an all too cool and casual way, ask you if you wanted to skate. One of you would skate backwards, one forwards, hands on each other’s waists, or the girls’ wrists draped around the back of the guys neck.

There would be awkward conversation as you lapped out the rest of Still Loving You. If there was a kiss, then you had found your couples skate partner for the night. This was the courting ritual of 12-16 year olds, and everybody knew the rules.

We were finishing up our smokes in the snack bar, when a giggling Nancy hooked elbows with Pam and I and led us back to our spot in the corner. We all skated on the carpeted area that surrounded the rink over to the bench where our stuff was. Nancy bent down, and told us to “be cool” as she pulled something out of her purse and stuck it into the inside pocket of her jean jacket.

We followed her into the bathroom, and all crammed into a stall, as she pulled a fifth of Jack Daniels from the pocket of her jacket, took a long swig, wiped her mouth, and passed the bottle to me. I had only spent a lifetime watching my mom and Ron drink the shit, so what the hell, I certainly was not about to be uncool. I put the bottle to my lips and took a big sip. It burned and tasted like shit, but as I passed the bottle to Pam, I felt the delicious warmth spread in my belly, and I took another big gulp when it was passed around again. We passed it around a few more times, killing almost half of the bottle, then Nancy tucked it back into her jacket and we skated back to our stuff, where she ducked down and slipped it back into her purse.

We were all giggling and obviously this wasn’t their first time to the rodeo. I on the other hand, was feeling loopy and dizzy and absolutely wonderful. It was trio skate, and we all hooked arms and set off onto the rink laughing our asses off, taking turns whipping the outside person around the corners.

About five minutes later, the totally gorgeous guard with the black and white striped shirt, whistle around his neck and miraculously feathered hair, skated over and told Nancy to come with him to the office. We all looked at each other, speechless, and we watched Nancy play it cool and skate over into the office. We watched the scene play out behind the plexiglass. They had found the bottle, and had called her parents who were on their way.

She came barreling out of the office, crying and freaking out, “guys, they called my dad, he is coming to get us, and he is going to fucking kill me!” Drunk and terrified, we followed a panicked Nancy out the front door, down the huge grassy hill, across the main road, and hid behind The Village Inn Tavern across the street, all still in our skates.

It was freezing, we didn’t have our coats, and we were crying because we knew this was going to be the end of our world as we knew it. A few minutes later, she saw her dad’s big red van pull into the skate land parking lot, and watched him walk inside the front of the building. We knew we had to go back.

We awkwardly/drunkenly crossed back over the main road and up the hill, in our skates, and rolled apprehensively in the front doors. Nancy was going into the office to face the music, and we begged her to tell her dad not to tell our parents.

We got our shoes and coats on, and watched Nancy walk out of the office with her head down, followed by her father, who happened to be the most enormous biker dude I had ever seen. He said in an intimidating tone, “girls, come with me, we’ll talk about this in the car.” We did as we were told and sheepishly followed him into the big red van.

We were sitting in the back, shaking, crying, waiting for the shit to hit the fan, begging him not to tell our parents. “What the FUCK were you all doing with a bottle of booze?! I’m still gonna let you both spend the night, and I aint gonna tell your parents, but I am gonna teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.”

Holy shit, here it comes I thought…

He pulled out the bottle that had been confiscated, still halfway full and said, “You’re all going to finish the bottle, right here, right now.”

What. The. Fuck?

I can tell you one thing for sure, he was absolutely right, it was a lesson I never forgot, just not sure it was the one he intended on teaching.

The three of us sat there, slugging it back and passing it, feeling sicker and sicker with each turn, my throat a flaming tunnel of fire. After we finally finished the bottle, he took it from us, pitched it into the glove box, turned up the stereo so loud I thought I would go blind, and headed home.

I’m guessing this was also my first blackout. I don’t remember anything until we got to Nancy’s, and I walked into the twilight zone. The floors were wood, as in sub-flooring, and there was half of a taken apart motorcycle in the living room, and motorcycle parts everywhere. It was cold as shit, and her very pretty, and obviously VERY young, blond mother sat at the table, “Nance, what happened? Come here girls, sit down and have a smoke, was your Dad mean to you?”

What the fuck? We sat around the table, while Nancy told the whole story, drunk off her ass, to her sister/mother who consoled us as if we had been the victims of an unjust crime. I ran to the bathroom and threw up a river of burning horror.

We followed Nancy to her room, and by that I mean climbed up the wooden attic stairs to her very own A-framed wonderland. There were concert posters all over the ceiling/walls, black lights, lava lamps, beanbag chairs, and a mattress on the floor. We all sat in a circle, “holy shit, man, can you fucking believe that shit?” At which point Nancy grabbed an old cigar box she had hidden behind a stack of records and opened it up.

Inside, there was something small and wooden, a lighter, and a black plastic film canister. Curiously I watched her take what looked like oregano from the canister and put it into the wooden thing. “After all that shit, I need to catch a fucking buzz and chill out!”

I had NO idea what the hell it was, but I watched her put it to her mouth, light it, and inhale like a cigarette but holding it in for a really long time. She covered the end of the pipe with the lighter and handed it to me as she held in the smoke. I wasn’t about to do anything other than look like I had done this a thousand times before.

Just as I put the pipe to my mouth and drew in a big hit, I shit you not, up popped her huge, tattooed, leather vested, bearded father through the door. He was about five feet from me, staring at me as I coughed out an enormous cloud of smoke. I tried to stupidly hide the bowl behind my back, not knowing what else to do in my already drunken twelve-year-old brain. He said, in his low, intimidating voice, “Gimmie that bowl.” I didn’t know what a bowl was, but I assumed it was the thing I had behind my back, and I reluctantly pulled it out and handed it to him.

Just when the night couldn’t possibly get any stranger, he put the bowl to his lips and pulled a huge hit, letting the smoke creep out of his mouth, being sucked up through his nose, as he stared right at me.

I looked at the other girls in disbelief to see if they were actually seeing the same thing I was. Nancy just smiled her ultra fucking cool sideways grin and said, “Don’t be a Bogart dad, pass it back.”


26 replies

  1. Yikes – that’s kind of scary that Nancy’s father could have killed you via alcohol poisoning. I had a friend like Nancy – she introduced us to a ‘peter meter’ (from a nudie mag) and when we went skating at age 11 or 12 and a 17 year old guy (sleazy, greasy, big comb etc) tried to skate with me – I freaked out…and that was the end of that…

    AquaNet – extra super hold 99 cents

    • Skate Land was a breeding ground for all kinds of illicit activity. Sex, drugs and Rock ‘N Roll baby. Apparently alcohol poisoning was not considered an issue, neither was smoking cigarettes and pot with your daughter and her 12 and 13 year old friend. Good times. My hair was hard as fuck.

      • I was a naive kid – but became a little more wild when I hit 15…by then it was hanging out at the alternative all ages punk/gay bar that was verboten to be going to (in my mom’s eyes)….ah, the memories. I had forgotten all about making my pencil eyeliner liquid via a lighter. I really hated Journey so I was glad when the skating phase passed us by.

  2. Many of these same phenomena happened in upsate New York circa the same time. We went to a magical place called “Skate 98” outside of Attica, NY. I usually wore my “Asia” or “Journey” concert T. And played Missile Command. And did the couple skate routine. Thanks for the memories. What is Nancy up to now?

  3. We used to fix pap smear slides with Aqua Net. Worked better than any toxin formalin fixative. Really makes you wonder what the hell we were spraying on our hair. And I remember the comb in the back pocket. Mine was swirly, like a swirly Lifesaver candy.

  4. Holy shit. First, I love the nostalgia you brought up for the skating rink. It was a big deal in my hometown too, although everything moved to the bowling alley when we got into high school. My college roommate used to do the lighter with the eyeliner thing, and I have it my notes as something to write about too.
    I can relate to the rest of the story as well; having those parent/child, adult/teenager boundaries removed is really confusing.
    My dad did the ‘finish the whole pack’ trick with my brother and cousin when he caught them smoking and it worked on them. They both threw up and never touched another cig.
    If he’d tried that with me instead of whipping me, I probably would have kept smoking at 11 instead of stopping and picking it up again when I started drinking at 17…because I really liked the feeling of a nicotine buzz.
    That move is disasterous when people like the buzz more than they fear the consequence (also a huge liberty to take with someone else’s kid).
    I’m just sitting here shaking my head and rambling, sorry.
    Great series, Tracy.

    • I think the skating thing was big for anyone who was a teenager in the 80’s. It may have changed over to bowling, but I was in Juvenile Detention for a year and a half so I wouldn’t know, but that’s another story.
      Good on your dad with the smokes, there were always cigarettes burning in my world from as long as I can remember. It was funny, my mom would be telling me how bad it was and how I had to quit as she lit a True Blue 100. She died of cancer at 56, which reminds me, I need to quit smoking.
      I ALWAYS liked the buzz more than I feared the consequence. To this day even, my motto is “it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.”
      I’m a piece of work Rachelle, let me tell you.
      Glad to bring back some memories, thanks for chiming in with your own.

  5. Hahaha!! I think I wore the exact outfit you described here yesterday…Isn’t it funny how things come back? I was born in 1981 and I’ve been reading in fashion magazine about the “return on 90’s grunge”. God help us…Such a hilarious post! I had a similar experience, but it was on the floor of a bathroom at a punk rock show with White Lightning vodka and a joint we bought off some guy in an alley. No dad though…

  6. Tracy,
    I had every single one of those concert t-shirts. I miss the fucking 80’s. Great read. I’m not sure if I told you this, but you’re pretty fucking good. Hahaha
    PS- What kind of lady can resist Still Loving You?

  7. I wrote a less wild story about my coworker’s love story, “Lu’s 26 year marriage” on my blog earlier this month. Poor Lu was a gangly and tall (she called herself) “ugly duckling” and the handsome man who asked her to dance became her husband. Their roller rink might have had the same sordid back stories but she was kind of backwards so may have not known about them. Cool that you chose this story to tell us, must be the roller skating memories time of year. Much more fun to skate in the winter! Older rinks had fans in the summer but ours didn’t have air conditioning!

  8. Aside from the parental bizarreness, you cracked me up with the ’80s music-fashion descriptions; ah, those memories. I’m thinking there will be a follow-up segment to this? I keep getting this awkward, distrusting feeling about the step-dad and male parents in your life. Hope I’m way off.

  9. This really brought back memories for me. Trying to zip up the jordaches, melting the eye-liner (oh, shit – I laughed when I read that – I had completely forgotten about it), if the wind blew – your hair didn’t move or it lifted up in one big piece! We also wore a bandana…

      • Yep and I have a pic of me wearing a purple bandana (around the head) with giant purple ear rings, and purple eyeshadow (all the way to the eyebrows!) a poufed up 80’s perm….I laugh my ass off EVERY single time I see it (I keep it buried in an old photo album).

  10. (sigh). . .I miss the skating rink, though my experiences there weren’t quite like yours. I remember feathered hair and the hot guys, but I was still quite chaste then, and only snuck makeup to the rink. All my debauchery started a couple of years later.

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