Ninepound Hammer

Toro Bravo

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Jul 142011

Horns and red sashes blur by me in a tangle of adrenaline and confusion.  I need to find my way back to the bar, the bar where this whole mess began. The bar has a number in its name, but I can’t remember what number. It could be a five, a ten, or a thirteen. I can’t remember what bar, and I can’t remember what number. I can’t remember, and I’m pretty certain that my plastic bullhorns have started to sweat.   

I’m in the middle of Fulton Street in New Orleans, and I’m still wearing my roller skates.  On the cobblestone, I can barely stand on my toe stops and wobble an inch ahead of my current position. The crowd pushes towards my red and black tutu, threatening to trample right over this weak bull. As a man hands me a handkerchief to nominate me for “Horniest Bull,” I can’t summon the strength for a smile. I can’t remember the name of the bar, and I can’t remember how to find my way back to the beginning. I’m shaking and sweating and swearing to myself that if I find my way back, I’ll never do anything this insane again.

I’m a roller derby girl, I remind myself, and I just finished the New Orleans version of San Fermin’s Running of the Bulls.  With hundreds of other eight-wheeled cattle, I Duct taped plastic horns to my helmet and chased thousands of masochistic runners down the morning-bright city streets. I reared my plastic red Wiffle Ball bat and smacked those runners square in their asses and sometimes, quite accidentally, their hips. The NOLA Bull Run was the most fun I’d had all year. Our team has had a rough season—a really rough season—and I needed this to remind me why I love skating. Why I love derby. Why I love where the sport has taken my life.                                                                                               

But now I am lost and shaking and sweating and swearing, crushed in a horde of white-clad runners too drunk and too crazy and too restless to acknowledge the power of my plastic bat. They’ve run, I’ve chased, and I’ve whacked. They’ve shouted, they’ve cried, and I’ve hit harder. Now I’m struggling to stay upright. I’m struggling to remember the name of Bar Five, Fifteen Bar, Bar Number Three. Some bar with some number in its name.                                

 I’m struggling because midway through the event, my blood sugar dropped lower than a fallen runner, and there is no way I’m going to be able to ask any of these people in white for help.

I’m a bull, I tell myself. A raging bull on wheels. I shouldn’t need any assistance. I’m supposed to be obliterating people with my plastic bat. I’m not supposed to be asking them for crackers or juice. A bull like myself shouldn’t need crackers or juice. I should be able to keep swinging my bat again and again and again, smacking runners in the rear as they stagger through the gauntlet. Instead, I’m hobbling to a sidewalk, hoping, just hoping, that I will remember the name of the bar where I have stashed my sandwich and fruit juice. Otherwise, I am going to pass out on the streets of New Orleans. Whoever finds me will probably just assume I had too much alcohol.

Although I want to plank myself onto the pavement, point my horns toward yesterday, and just give up, I know I have to keep pushing through the crowd. I heard there were ten thousand runners this year, and judging from the white ocean engulfing me, I believe that number. Ten thousand. I remember that number. I know that number. I still can’t remember the number of the bar. Seventeen Bar? Fourth Bar? Bar Two? I can’t remember. I just can’t remember.                                                   

 I am shaking and sweating and swearing that I am not going to drown in this whirl of white linen and lace. My plastic bullhorns feel heavier than they did before, and they are causing my head to droop. I need to take off my skates for stability.

Excuse me! a woman yells into my left horn. She’s slurping a Bloody Mary with her right hand and swinging a camera with her left. The circular, swinging motion of the camera entrances me. I stand frozen, hypnotized by the repetitive movement. Will you be our own personal bull?

Uh, um, sure, I stutter. I join the woman’s three friends and smile. She catches the camera mid circle and snaps a photo. I’m certain that my horns block at least one of the women from appearing in the picture. After the shutter snaps, I stand still and stare at a wet spot on the sidewalk. Bar Six?  Twenty Bar? Goddammit.

You are doing a great job out there, the woman says. Hey, you want a Bloody Mary or something?

Uh, no, no thanks, struggles from my mouth. If I could just find someone with soda or juice or sugar packets, I could get my blood sugar up. I don’t need a Bloody Mary; I need a Snickers bar and a Coke. If I could just remember the name of the bar, I could find my friends, eat my snack, and feel better. I could put my skates back on and pound any stragglers who dared to cross my path. But I can’t. I can’t remember.                                

I skate away from the Bloody Mary’s, towards a closed sandwich shop. I plop onto the sidewalk and remove my boots. Though I am not excited about walking around the puke-covered streets with nothing but fishnet stockings on my feet, I know I have to get these skates off. Otherwise, I’m even more dangerous than a derby girl with a plastic bat.

Carrying my skates, I barrel through the white sea of runners. I use my bat as a prod, shoving people out of my way. I am sweating and shaking and swearing that if I find my way back, I’ll never go anywhere alone again.                                       

I step barefoot into a bar, but it’s the wrong one.  By the time I’ve realized I’m in the wrong bar, I’m stuck in a moving tide of more white shirts. They are everywhere. Ole! Ole! Ole! a patron yells. I pretend not to hear him. I have to move, move, move and find my way back to the bullpen. That’s where my sandwich and fruit juice wait for me. I can’t let this happen, I tell myself. I just can’t. I can’t pass out in a pair of plastic bullhorns, fishnets, and a red and black tutu. Not in New Orleans. Not during the Bull Run.

When I locate the exit to the bar, I take a breath. Eight Bar? I know it’s not Nine Bar. I would remember that. Nine is part of my derby name. I am shaking and sweating and swearing with greater intensity. Fuck dammit fuck. I feel like my limbs have floated away from my body and become rafts in the white ocean that’s flooding Fulton Street. I feel like I’m never going to find anybody. I feel like I’m ready to give up.

And that’s when I hear her. Babe E. Quakes, standing between the joint I just exited and 12 Bar, talking on her phone. No, it’s not the one I wore yesterday. It’s the one that I left in the suitcase to dry— I don’t care. I barge past her and plod my way through the bar. 12 Bar.            

Back in the bullpen, I shove squished pieces of sandwich into my dry throat. Cho, who appears out of nowhere, asks me if despite the low blood sugar, I had fun. Of course! I answer. I want to do it tomorrow, too. I want to skate on the streets . I want to chase people. I want to pretend that all of those runners I hit are responsible for every negative thing that has happened this season. Again and again and again.             

Finally, I am sweating less. I am shaking less. I am swearing that once I feel better, I’ll definitely be ready to fight.

May 302011

This is a season of firsts for me.

My first Live Derby Girls blog! My first time subbing! My first season playing every position except pivot! My first engagement to a badass, derby-supporting man! My first time using five exclamation points in a single paragraph!

My first time purchasing a Kanye West album.

If the first time isn’t the best, it is always, always the most memorable.

Hi, I’m 9lb Hammer. I play for the Burn City Rollers of Auburn, AL. I’m a doctoral students, I teach college English, and I wrote a book about derby (that was reviewed by Villianelle, my interleague derby wife and favorite blogger!). I hate tomatoes, and I despise ketchup. I define myself by the amount of love my three cats give me. I I’m picky with my men (beardies are best) and with my skate wheels (Atoms, please).

I’m even pickier with my music.

I grew up listening to old time mountain music and mainstream country. (Anyone else remember Suzy Bogguss and Aaron Tippin?) In 8th grade, my cousin and I discovered The Beatles. We spent an entire week listening to Abbey Road; we didn’t even stop the CD when we slept, ate, or dug a hole outside for our time capsule. As I whipped through high school and began college, my musical tastes converged, eventually leading me to an appropriate apex: alternative country music.

Alt. country was—and still is—a perfect fit for me. I’ve always been a little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll. (But not the Donny and Marie kind. Seriously.) The first time I heard a Ryan Adams’ song, I knew that this was the genre of music I’d been waiting to hear all my life. I fell deeply in love with Gram Parsons, The Jayhawks, and Old 97s. All of my friends liked, and for boyfriends, it was a requirement.

Unfortunately, I judged people who listened to pop, punk, metal, or rap; I even judged people who liked the same bands but different albums. Your favorite Wilco album is A Ghost is Born and not A.M.? I really don’t think our friendship is going to work. Like, whoa. No way.

And then I started derby. I started making friends who listened to everything from Metallica to Barney to Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga. The more I got to know my teammates, the more I realized, hey! Cool people can listen to pop music! Country music! Kids music! Metal! I even dated a ref who—gasp!—loves Wu Tang Clan. The more I skated, the more I realized that music is not the definitive measure of a person.

Then came the Kanye album.

I bought My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on a whim. It was payday, and I was browsing the entertainment section of Target. I’d heard that one of my favorite artists—Bon Iver—was featured on the new Kanye album, so I thought I’d take a chance. A risk. A leap.

On my first listen, I hated the album. Until this point, I’d never owned a hip-hop album. The only thing I knew about Kanye was that he spoke his mind, and I liked that. What I didn’t like was that a lot of his rhymes seemed like rhymes –for-rhymes-sake.

But I kept listening.

Eventually, I started discovering that the universal themes of the album could reach a recovering music snob like myself. Cure me, even. I fell in love with the songs one-by-one; I started appreciating how the highs and lows of the album created a pastiche of personalities and experiences; I let the words and the beats find their way into my hardened lo-fi heart.

So Saturday night, before I subbed for the very first time, I listened to MBDTF’s “Monster” on repeat. The song features a variety of heavy hitters: Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Kanye, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj. As I let the rhymes and beats seep through my skin, I got pumped. I got ready. I got fired the f. up.

During the bout, I played the song on repeat in my head. I didn’t hear the announcer, the mixed-up music, or the fans. (I did listen to the coach, though…promise.) As I skated, I pushed to the beat of “Gossip gossip/
N-ggas just stop it/
Everybody know (I’m a muthaf-cking monster).” When I jammed in the second half, lines from Nicki Minaj’s verse echoed between my ears: “You could be the King but watch the Queen conquer
/O.K. first things first I’ll eat your brains
/Then I’mma start rocking gold teeth and fangs
/Cause that’s what a muthaf-cking monster do. ”

And you know what? I had a great bout. A great muthaf-cking bout. I was a monster.

(I’m pretty sure it’s because I had a more badass earbug than Kathy Mattea’s “18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses.” )

At the close of “Monster,” my man Bon Iver croons “So I-I am headed home.” I know that I will always listen to music. I also know that no matter how many times I will sub or move, I will always consider Burn City my home team.

But it’s good to shake everything up sometimes. It’s good to be a muthaf-cking monster.