May 30, 2002: It’s 11:00 PM and I have just returned from what can only be described as a surreal experience: the "John Hancock Champions on Ice Extravaganza!" i.e., an ice show with numerous Olympic figure skaters.
"An ice show" is far too feeble a phrase. It doesn’t even come close describing "THE ICE SHOW OF THE CENTURY!!!!! In somewhat more detail, I’d have to say it was like watching a movie directed by Salvador Dali, with a script by Franz Kafka; but I also admit I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
I had bought tickets for this thing as soon as it was announced that it was coming to the Roanoke Civic Center; maybe two months in advance. The announcement was made in our local paper and I was on the phone within minutes, as there is no better way to get into my wife's good graces than to set her in front of figure skating. I needed a new outboard motor for my boat, and it happens that the price of two tickets for the ice show and that of an outboard motor aren't that far apart. Even though I jumped right on it, we ended up with seats two-thirds up the wall in the Incipient Nosebleed Section, though we did have center ice, and an excellent view.
We locked the dogs in around 4:30 and hit the road. The Civic Center is about 40 minutes away. With a level of foresight matched only by the FBI's Counterintelligence Unit and the Brentwood California Police, the Civic Center authorities had simultaneously scheduled a traveling carnival for the same day as the ice show. This carnival was set up in….the parking lot. To give them their due, they did say in the ad that there would be “problems” with parking, but, ha, ha, if you don't like it you can go somewhere else to see a different ice show, so there.
We arrived at the CC about 5:15, well in advance of show time, to find the parking lot almost full. They were running shuttle buses to other lots, but we had opted for getting there early enough to avoid using an off-center lot, and actually did manage to snag just about the last space that was available. Numerous geezers with light wands were supplementing their Social Security checks by allegedly directing parking traffic. We got waved into a space at the end of the lot, near the carnival, and as soon as we got out of the car the “LOT FULL” sign went up. Giddy with excitement at our coup, we tromped into the CC vestibule, only to find the inner gates locked and guarded by more gimlet-eyed geezers. This contingent was assigned the job of announcing that the gates would open at 6:00 and not a second earlier. So, along with a few thousand other people, we stood around waiting for permission to get past the gate. In these situations I like to bleat or moo, which causes Mrs NRVO some embarrassment but relieves the tension.
I kept wondering how long the wait would be, and if, in the interim I was going to wet my pants, because the men's room was beyond the gate. Several times as we were waiting we were sternly warned that absolutely NO cameras or video cameras would be permitted inside. Someone asked the Chief Geezer, "Are we allowed to look?" and was told, "Yes, but you can't remember anything." Promptly at 6:10 the gates were opened, and people immediately began shuffling forward. By then we both had significant anxiety about visiting the rest rooms, which were no more than 20 feet from the gate and had been beckoning to me like an oasis in the desert, but in reverse, so to speak.
Now, I have no idea how this happened: even though we were certainly among the first 25 people let through the gate, there were at least 50 women already standing in line at the ladies' room door as soon as we walked through. There wasn't anyone in the men's room, but the line at the ladies' was way out the door and into the hall. It’s not unusual to see women standing in line to pee during intermissions, but at the beginning? Literally within seconds of opening the gates? There’s only one way to account for this: I think the CC must have hired women to stand in line, and they were inside before anyone else. That way there would be a pre-formed line as soon as the gates were opened. My wife was pretty honked off about it (she was in worse shape than I was) but after 10 more minutes she emerged with relief evident on her face and we shuffled to our seats. We didn't actually require pitons and snap rings to get to where we were supposed to be, but they'd have been some help.
The crowd was well over 80% women, which I'd expected. The estrogen fumes were almost suffocating me but luckily there was efficient air conditioning, and after 20+ years of teaching in veterinary schools (where 85% of students are female) I'd developed some immunity.
My wife said that the paper had reported they'd sold 6000 tickets out of 8000, but undoubtedly many walk-ins came and bought tickets at the door. At $60 a pop on average, 8000 tickets would have been nearly half a million bucks! Not bad!
The show was scheduled to begin at 7:00 PM. Promptly, at 7:21, the announcer's voice boomed out to warn us against throwing "flowers or other objects" onto the ice, and to say that the show would start in "one minute." Promptly, at 7:25 the show began with a sound-and-light display of Olympic rings and flags, projected onto the walls, the ice, and the audience. This caused numerous bursts of applause, and vast numbers of camera flashes from the spectators, using up film and batteries long before any of the skaters actually appeared. Then the show finally started with an introduction of the skaters. I had actually heard of some of them. It would have been impossible not to given the saturation coverage of the Winter Olympics.
It's very clear that the era of flat-chested, ham-butted, piano-legged female figure skaters is over. The Dorothy Hamills and Katarina Witts of the figure skating game have been replaced by leggy fillies who, without exception, would win any Buns of Steel competition they chose to enter; and who for the most part actually seem to have breasts. Not Hooters-level, perhaps, but they are definitely there. It may have been plastic surgery, a built-in Wonder Bra, or a trick of the lighting, but there's no doubt these were real girls. Even the homely ones, of which there weren't many.
It's actually painful to contemplate the strength of those shapely limbs. Any one of those girls could have broken my arm like a matchstick if she'd wanted to without breaking a sweat. As for the guys, they were even more hardbodied than the ladies were, and in some cases equally feminine. All of them were totally fat-free, with muscles enough to chuck a 115-pound woman around like a softball. Though some of their costumes were, well, a bit over the top, these guys could have killed any normal man with three fingers. Tarzan isn't in the same league as an Olympic Champion On Ice. Heck, The Incredible Hulk would have trouble with them.
It's also clear that the Olympics is far less flashy, and far, far less racy than the commercial exhibitions of this type. Sex sells, and there was quite a bit more of it here than on the family TV screen. While there are certainly discreet sexual overtones even in something as wholesome as the Olympics, it was a whole lot more obvious in the Champions On Ice. I counted at least four men who skated in drag: this figure includes two Russians, each the size of a Beefmaster bull, both of whom were wearing…pink tutus. There was one woman who cross-dressed as a man, and looked a lot better in mens’ clothes than any of the men did. There were two semi-strip-teases, not up to Minsky’s standards but well beyond anything that ABC would allow on screen; and long before the first set was over I'd lost count of what could fairly be described as “simulated sex acts” in the couples' performances.
Nor were the costumes the same as the ones you see on the tube. Now, figure skaters' costumes are pretty revealing, anyway, but there was definitely more skin on display in the Champions On Ice Extravaganza than there was on TV. Some of it may have been pseudo-skin in the form of flesh-colored nylon panels, but from where I was sitting it was hard to tell the difference and it didn't much matter. It's fair to say, however, that even though Dorothy or Katarina in their prime might have pulled these outfits off—sorry about that, I couldn't resist—the ladies all did an admirable job with what they weren't wearing.
Nor were only the women revealingly dressed. Though all the men wore trousers (except the tutu-clad Russians) those trousers apparently came out of spray cans. There was, ahem, not much left to the imagination. Several of the more popular stud muffins played to the crowd's feminine hordes and their taste for raunchiness. At least two of them kissed spectators, and one removed his sequined vest within arm's reach of a berserk woman in the front row, a la the Chippendales.
There was some attempt to please the few men in the audience: the first woman out on the ice, an extraordinarily handsome blonde from Canada, planted a smooch on a male spectator during her act. She skated to to the tunes "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best friend," and "Material Girl." Needless to say, she was dressed in red, to the extent that she was dressed at all; but nobody complained, least of all the guy in front.
I now realize why figure skating is so popular with women, and why the audience for it, both live and televised, is overwhelmingly female. In that crowd the average female spectator ran about 225 pounds on the hoof. This is roughly the equivalent of two Michelle Kwans, three Sarah Hugheses, or 1.25 Katarina Witts. These women recognize the girl skaters as indescribably feminine, the embodiment of what they themselves would be if the world were more justly ordered. That in most cases any given woman in the audience had a left leg that weighed more than Sarah Hughes was irrelevant. Those supple sylphs, effortlessly gliding over the ice, elegant and beauteous embodiments of grace and poise, represented what each one knew she herself would be in a world that hadn’t stacked the deck against them. It just wasn’t fair that things didn’t turn out that way.
As for the male skaters, to women they seem to represent a level of perfection no mere husband could ever attain. For women, male figure skaters serve the same purposes Playboy centerfolds do for men: they are physically perfect fantasy objects of desire, but nevertheless safely free from the frightening possibility that the desire will ever be gratified. For a woman in the audience at the Champions On Ice Extravaganza, lusting after Elvis Stojko is permissible so long as she doesn't actually start drooling and/or throw her damp plus-sized underpants onto the ice (these undoubtedly qualify as “other objects”). Most of them managed to refrain from tossing their undies out there, but a few did go home with wet shirt fronts.
Men universally profess to loathe figure skating, but the fact is that most of them will sneak a peek at the tube when their wives are watching. This is simply because—let's face it—there are large numbers of Hot Babes in the game, and if all you’re going to do is look, there's no reason not, right? Thus the sport satisfies both sides.
The skating promoters have a very good deal going. So long as they can continue to find new skaters who meet the criteria of physical perfection, incomparable grace, and not-so-subtle sex appeal, they will go on making millions of dollars. I expect there is an inexhaustible supply of these things.
The show ended, as I expected it would, with a patriotic theme. All the performers, dressed in red, white, and blue, did their thing together to the tunes of Jimi Hendrix' version of "The Star Spangled Banner" and Ray Charles' spine-chilling rendition of "America the Beautiful." All of them, including the Canadians and the Beefmaster Rooshians who by then had changed out of their tutus. Even the French skaters participated, though I suppose they had to pay them extra.
As the grand finale came to an end, all around the arena the management set off explosives. Well, actually fireworks, that were suspended from the catwalks on wires. I'd seem them on my way in and thought they were microphones. But they were honest to God fireworks, BIG ones, with deafening noise and lots of smoke and sparks.
Then, alas, it was over. We had to leave Fairyland to return to the cruel world of the parking lot. We sat in that lot for 25 minutes, waiting to exit, after butting our way through the crowds for 10 minutes just to get back to the car. By the time we left it was well after 10:15. Got home about 11:00 PM and let the dogs out again for a much-needed whiz, and so to bed. My wife is counting the days until the next figure skating event.