At Ease in Absentia

Which is the duller, sitting through an ice show or attending the New York World’s Fair of 1965 (if there is one)? The answer probably ought to be the World’s Fair, on the assumption that at least half the total time invested would be spent standing in line and waiting to get into the automobile buildings or the Hall of Science. The question has to do with live attendance in the flesh, and if it were broadened to include TV programs, the competition would naturally be more severe: the Tournament of Roses, the Mummers’ Parade in Philadelphia, the halftime festivities at the annual NorthSouth football “classic,” and always the jolly wives and the absurd husbands of the situation comedies — here are soporifics to vie with the more powerful barbiturates. But since sleeping in public is doubtless frowned on at a world’s fair, there is really nothing elsewhere to match a fair’s sustained and inescapable inanity, although the parade through downtown Indianapolis on the eve of the “500” deserves at least honorable mention in this category, and so does the annual crowning of a king and queen of Aksarben in Omaha.

Sleeping is not prohibited at the ice show, but the booming music and echoing announcements from the public address system would make it impossible anyhow. The ice area is sometimes illuminated, yet the lighting in general would not be adequate for those wishing to while away the time by reading, and the seating arrangements are not suitable for cards and such games as Scrabble, Risk, etc. It becomes a matter of sitting there and taking it.

Typical of every ice show is the figure skating interval: a man, standing on one leg, leaning forward, with the other leg extended horizontally behind him. He is moving backward as slowly as he can without stalling altogether. The man wears a sequin-studded white outfit (tight knee-length pants, hussar-style jacket, and kepi), and the spotlight keeps him shimmering in all directions. His posture is not especially striking or exciting, but this slow backward business is hard to do without jiggling; and there you have it: everything in the ice show is supposed to be hard to do — solos, chorus numbers, clown acts, and all the rest of it. Very difficult.

Just as the man is about to reach a full stop, he is joined by the principal female skater. He seizes her by the ankles or the wrists — it doesn’t matter which—and begins swinging her in circles. The swinging business goes on for quite a long time. The man has great endurance as well as skill. Our program tells us that he won the bronze medal last year at Grossinger’s for barrel jumping. The woman held a title or two herself (dates graciously not supplied), and one always has the feeling that each of the principals in a figure skating act wishes the other were just a little better, so that the act could get the salary it really deserves. (She’s growing a bit too heavy to sling about like a sofa pillow, and the fact is he’s not as young as he used to be.) But the main trouble with the ice show is the skating: skate, skate, skate; that’s all they do.

Going to the fair is of course more fatiguing and more expensive. I say this as one who did not actually go, but I have seen the place from the air several times when coming in at La Guardia. I am sure I should experience, if I went, the heavy awareness of self-improvement, and everything would be relentlessly edifying. Even so, the fair need not be a total loss. Our illustrator, Carl Rose, went to it one day last summer and brought home a real nugget of information. The Philippine egg rolls are different from the Chinese egg rolls, he found. The Philippine egg rolls have raisins in them.