With the eye of a hunter in pursuit, Wayne Pearson, 16, surveyed the girls around him outside the National Roller Skating Rink at 17th Street and Kalorama Road NW, and adjusted the beige cap carefully on the side of his head.
"You have to have a certain image when you come here," he explained, nonchalant in his navy blue peacoat with the unturned collar. "You have to look casual but clean ...The ladies, man, they try to be cool with them," he said.
Around him stretched the drab graffiti-marked world of Adams-Morgan; a burned out restaurant, a self-service gas station, a barbershop with jail-like grillwork across its windows,. and a sidewalk glittering with broken glass.
But before him lay the roller rink, a temple of romance and forgetfulness for thousanda of black teen-agers, a testing ground for courtship, a place to lose oneself in the deafening beat of disco soul.
"I come here for the ladies, man," said Pearson, as the evening's crowd swirled around him toward the roller rink door. "There's so many of them. All you have to do is take your pick".
Six girls in their early teens stand in the middle of the skating area, giggling and popping gum. One of them, in tight disco jeans, collarless shirt and gold glitter belt, still wearswhite plastic bow barrettes in her hair-caught momentarily between girlhood and womanhood.
The deejay, peering through the window of his booth, dims the house lights that encircle the domed stucco roof like a halo and spotlights a glass globe too dirty to glitter. With one hand he flips the switch for the "couples only" sign, and with the other settles the tone arm on a spinning record of "Mister Magic."
As the six girls stand anxiously, boys skate up to them, separating girls from girlsfriends and lead them away one by one, arm around waist, in careful, glide-stepping syncopation.
Across the rink, a tall, lanky youth wearing gray slacks and gray knit shirt and with a whisper of a beard argues with a girl in jeans and a lace blouse. He reaches for her, she turns her back, and he shouts, "Bring it on back here, girl."
She ignores him and enters the skating area as the deejay switches on the "all skate" sign and plays "Freak Out," The girl begins skating, dipping and swaying to the music. Minutes later she is skating with the youth, her hand in his.
"The dudes come here in dress slacks and plaid shirts and they oook b-a-d," said Mary Thompson, 17. "They know we're looking at them."
On a bench at the side of the rink, Wayne Pearson, a Laurel High student, is now tying the shoelaces to the $200 roller skates that he bought with money from a part-time job.
His mother, Agnes Pearson, tells the story that Wayne would never tell: how he looked at his reflection in her bedroom mirror, trying on clothes, taking off clothes, attempting to discover the right shirt, slacks and sweater combination for his night out at the roller skating rink.
"I don't know who he has to look right for, but he wants to be in style with everybody else, and he has to have what everybody else has," Mrs. Person said.
Skaters whiz by Pearson, doing eagle spreds" "side to sides," and "cross-shuffles." A youngster in bright yellow sweat pants and a navy blue sleeveless T-shirt does the "45"-one leg extended fully in front of the other leg bent at the knee, forming a 45-degree angle.
"Do you see that guy," said Andre Miller, 17, pointing to the younster doing the "45". "Things like that catch the ladies' attention.
"The conversation is the thing," he said, turning to look at a girl passing by. "You've got to make it interesting because girls want to know what you're about."
Annette Malks, 14, a student at Rabaut Junior High, leans against the red-colred phone booth next to the snack counter nibbling anxiously on the fingernail of an index finger.
Inside the phone booth, her friend and confidante, Tonya Middleton, 16, sinks a dime and a nickel into the pay telephone and calls her latest boyfriend, John (Popsey) Bates, 16, for the second time that night.
Malks watches from outside the nearly soundproof booth as Middleton smiles and speaks into the cold black telephone mouthpiece.
"Is he coming? Is he coming?" Malks asks in rapid-fire succession, her eyes wide with excitement as Middleton leaves the booth.
"No," Middleton says so softly that her one syllable is barely audible amid the din of roller wheels and disco rock. Neither girl says another word.
Malks shrugs her shoulders, turns away from her friend, then pushes off with one skate and dance-skates to "Bootsila" Bootsey's Rubber Band.
The crowd is growing larger now, about 70 skaters roll,ing around the rink, and deejay Herman Robinson Jr. looks out through the smoke-colored window of his booth and spins a faster tune.
"I try to work the crowd with the music," he says, putting on a peppy popular record called "Smooth Talk. "For a while, people stopped soming out to skate, but I think disco brought them back," he said.
In the aisle, Andre Miller, who attends Chamberlain Vocational High School, is tapping out the rhythm of the music on the side of the lockers, standing by himself on skates, seemingly lost in the music.
Elsewhere around the rink other young people sing along with the record. Those not skating are dancing-quite often by themselves in the aisle.
Occasionally, the sweet smell of marijuana drifts from one of the restrooms. Occasionally, a youngster will push another, or a jealous girlfriend will "shout down" another girl she feels is a rival, and a minor fight has begun. Serious fighting, which once gave the rink a bad name, is now rare, according to the manager, Charles (Mr. Charles) Havkins.
A.D.C. police officer familiar with the skating rink and the crowd it draws, said, "The majority of them use it for what it's for, but then you always have the element that use the crowd atmosphere for pocketbook snatches or other crimes."
"The kids need a place like that (the rink) to get away for some clean fun and to enjoy themselves," said the officer, who asked not to be identified.
"These kids are not bad kids; many of them are just mischievous. They want attention, they want somebody to care," said Connie Pollard, a skating instructor at the National for 14 years and a regular skater there for the past 25 years. Pollard remembers first skating at the National when the city was still segregated, when blacks could skate there only on Tuesday nights.
"Even the baddest kid today can be handled if you show him some attention," she said. "If you show him how to skate, show him how to improve so that he can look better and feel better on skates, you have that child (under control.)"
"I look forward to coming here because I have nothing else to do," said "Murphy," a part-time busboy in an Adams-Morgan restaurant. "I don't like my job, I am not happy worth a damn, I want clothes, I want money, I want everything and I can't get it.
"I come here to watch certain people I know who can skate. "I don't even compliment them, I don't know their names. They don't know that I'm watching them either. But when I do, I fantasize myself skating.
"I come here to get away," he said. "Its just like a regular disco, you come in and pay your money, get a little high before you come, and you don't have to think about anything. It's a fantasy. People imagine themselves escaping to another planet on skates." CAPTION: Picture, Pamela Jones, Reginald Dunmore at roller rink. By Fred Sweets-The Washington Post