Publish date:


The timing was a bit off this year when New York's Rockefeller Center ushered in its 38th skating season. With temperatures in the 70s, the ice was more suited to water-skiing than skating. Us regulars went out there anyway and splashed around the rink under the benign eyes of golden Prometheus, immobilized on his platform. Flags of all nations, usually fluttering in a brisk breeze, hung motionless. The crowd gathered on the plaza to gape, enjoying the sun, the blaring music, the last of autumn.

A few things had changed. Admission for adult skaters had gone up from last year's $3.50 to $5, and that might explain why a few regulars stayed away on opening day (non-regulars are children on double-runners, obnoxious teen-agers and tourists). For example, Madame Tutu (as I call her) did not show up for the first time in years. Neither did Dirty Dick. Mr. Heffelfinger, a retired CPA, was out there, though, still trying to do what he calls his double schlitz, and the Professor turned up to begin his never-ending quest for converts to his "loose" system of skating, which means bending at the waist and letting your arms hang limp, hands plucking at the ice so that it looks as if you're skating and picking up marbles simultaneously. "The human body was never meant to be rigid," explains the Professor. The Princess was there, of course. She is a lady of indeterminate age and skills wearing enough blue eyeshadow to boost the annual profit of Elizabeth Arden. Her costumes are brief, glittering with tinsel, and she always wears a crown, which is what earned her the royal sobriquet. At first glance it seems to have been fashioned from Reynolds Wrap.

Madame Tutu makes her own costumes, too. They are generally of black velvet bordered with fur, and she wears a towering white wig, Marie Antoinette-style. Madame Tutu is upwards of 70 years old, and more power to her. Spanish music turns her on, and her solo tango or Mexican hat dance, or whatever it is, is always performed in the center of the rink. Like Sonja Henie (the first celebrity to skate at Rockefeller Center, in 1937) she runs on her toes a lot. Madame Tutu also throws kisses to the crowd, which draws polite applause.

As for Dirty Dick, I met him my first time out a couple of years ago, which is not surprising since he glides around waiting to pounce on females venturing from the Skate House. One turn around the rink may be performed in silence while he explores the situation—you keep moving his hand back down to your waist. His patter is a series of traveling-salesman jokes interspersed with invitations to his apartment on the upper West Side for what he calls Bulgarian Kryzpiltch, a variation of Hungarian goulash. Dirty Dick is about the size of New York's diminutive Mayor Beame, but his mind is not on municipal bonds or even on Bulgarian Kryzpiltch, I fear. I'll say this for him. He has taught me to skate fast. I'm polishing a whole bootful of escape techniques, and if my flying camel doesn't fly far enough, I'll ask Madame Tutu to teach me how to run across the ice on my toes. Us regulars stick together.