Before there was Facebook, he had to follow them on television. He had to highlight their schedules in his TV Guide, then e-mail the schedules to his friends, alerting them as to when he would not be answering his phone. One day, a client asked him why he’d never taken lessons. Bolek found an adult learn-to-skate. It was mostly women. He told himself that he’d just take lessons until he could skate backward. But once he learned to skate backward, he wanted to learn crossovers. And once he learned crossovers —
“He wanted to take some lessons,” says Bolek’s husband, Toby Susse. “Some lessons turned into him needing to get good skates, which turned into him needing more lessons, which turned into him needing even better skates.”
He did pairs ice dancing for a while, because that was easier on the joints. But his partner moved away, which is why he’s been acquiring new skills as a solo skater.
“I have two jumps and one spin,” Bolek says at the hair salon. “I have a waltz jump, and I have a salchow. I had a toe loop. I had a toe loop before I hurt my ankle.”
The svelte client remembers when he hurt his ankle, playing soccer with his 6-year-old, Daniel. It seems like that was just yesterday, when Bolek was worrying about physical therapy and how quickly he could get back on the ice.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time,” she says, “when he was not talking about skating.”
Bolek solemnly attaches another square of foil to the woman’s hair.
“I love this sport,” he says. “I love it beyond belief.”
* * *
Who is this man, this buoyant, happy specimen gyrating his hips to Right Said Fred on the ice? Whence comes this courage, this spectacular, bold decision to be too sexy for his car, his cat, his hat?
Back to the ice rink on Monday, where it smells like cold, where the “Nutcracker Suite” plays on a loop. The Zamboni combs the ice — a hypnotic shushing that leaves the rink polished and clean — and then Bolek enters the rink with a few other members of the Washington Figure Skating Club who will also be going to the national competition.
“I’ve been competing since I was 9,” says one, a ballerina type who has gone to the adult nationals four times.
“I’ve been competing since I was 47,” says another, a whip-thin man with a craggy face who has also been four times, and who is entered at the “Silver” level. Bolek is a “Bronze” — a description of skill sets meaning that he can do, for example, single jumps but not doubles.
The oldest skater here today is Elaine Evans, 72. She won’t be competing; she just skates recreationally. “As long as you’re willing to pay for those gorgeous young Russians,” you can buy happiness, she says. She gazes at her gorgeous Russian ice dancing coach/partner. “Best investment I ever made.”
Bolek cues up the music to run his two programs. The first is an instrumental piece, Egyptian in flavor. His second is “I’m Too Sexy.” Bolek takes what one might consider a literal approach to interpreting these lyrics. He mimics driving a car, tipping a hat — he does a wonderful kitty imitation, clawing through the air with both hands, being the cat he is too sexy for.
He finishes the routine, panting slightly, skating over to Walker.
“You had a nice spin down there.”
“Not the last one!”
“No. The one before. The last one, you rushed into it. . . .
And let’s try that salchow again.”
Bolek isn’t bringing Walker to the competition with him — it’s expensive to fund a coach’s travel and accommodations. Susse, Bolek’s husband, can’t come either, because they don’t want to take their son out of school. Susse’s mother is coming, though. The in-laws have bonded over their shared love of the sport; they can talk and talk and talk about it.
This is his last chance to receive guidance before his big day.
Eat a light breakfast, the Russian coach instructs. A banana. Maybe some nuts. Breathe before each element. Bring his arms tighter to his body on his spins. Smile.
Will he win? Does it matter?
“If I’m really feeling the music, it goes too fast anyway,” Bolek says.
Here on the ice, the hairdresser is home, accompanied by the sounds of a 1992 one-hit wonder and the swelling pride of a dream deferred, then realized.