A few beautiful things we've seen this month: a dad skipping — honest-to-God skipping — into a Kohl's, his giggling kids in tow. A Christmas pageant with twenty darling four-year-olds, each of whom appeared to be starring in his own one-man play. Sixty-plus drunken Santas streaming into a Dogtown bar, a blur of red and white and happiness.
This year we're trying to see the forest for the Christmas tress, rather than thinking about how glad we'll be to take the thing down and return our furniture to its usual lineup. We've vowed to enjoy winter this year, which explains why we're lacing up ice skates at Steinberg Skating Rink, forcing a smile, and resisting the urge to curse the blustery wind that makes the temperature fall like dead leaves from trees.
We take a couple precarious steps onto the ice, and our ankles already feel the strain. Across the rink, a group of teenagers are mugging for a camera while trying to skate underneath each other's outstretched legs. They collapse into a laughing, jumbled heap of sweaters and hats that looks like a clearance table at Old Navy.
Meanwhile, our spouse is flying around the rink, Gretzky-like. Already, he's lapped us. Twice. These seem to be genetic traits of every person who grew up in the Dakotas: blue eyes and a command of what ice-skating commentator Scott Hamilton might call "not falling down."
After about a half hour, we glide off the ice and into the Snowflake Café, where glittery flakes hang from the ceiling and reflect the light of nearby disco balls. The café resembles nothing so much as a darkened cafeteria, but its drink selection is rather diverse: Besides wine by the glass or bottle, it offers twenty or so beers, including Guinness, Dos Equis, Blue Moon, Schlafly, Amstel and a gamut of Anheuser-Busch products. For reasons we can't pinpoint, we order an A-B "malternative," a Bacardi Silver Raz.
The berry taste is a generic one. Were the label to read "blackberry" or "boysenberry" instead, we probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Though it doesn't look like it when the bottle is opened, it's aggressively carbonated, and the aftertaste is like that of Wet n Wild lip gloss — one named BikiniBerry, or something similarly sticky-sweet. We only drink one of them, and it settles in our stomach like a lump of coal. But at 5 percent, it does have a higher alcohol content than we'd expect for a drink that has to clarify — on its label in all capital letters — "CONTAINS ALCOHOL."
Maybe that's got something to do with why, when we step back onto the ice, we're a bit more confident. Inexplicably, we sashay to the middle of the rink and into an over-exaggerated spin. And for a few glorious moments, the blades are under our full control — before they betray us, sending us falling, falling, falling, the ice providing our ass all the cushion of concrete — and we're downright exuberant, feeling something that very nearly resembles joy.
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