Tricky La Rouge

Apr 292011

Just to be clear: I'm totally cool with this.

“Y’all, I hate bikers.”

I’ve said it a million times. No, not these, these. Snotty, superior, Shot Blok munching, spandex-wearing, bikers. I hate their stupid, beetle-like, ergonomic helmets. I hate their multi-thousand-dollar bikes, which they guard and regard like it’s some combination of their car and their favorite dildo. I hate sharing the lane with them on the Westside Highway, where they zip past at lightning speed. I hated sharing the levee path with them in Baton Rouge, where on multiple occasions they yelled angrily at me as they came speeding up from behind, irritated at having to deal with something faster than a runner but slower than themselves (I do look behind me, dude, I’m trained to. I’m not in your way, I swear).

But I exaggerate. I have friends who are bikers, triathletes, even – among them, Red Stick’s Summer Squasher, who is amazing on the track, and her husband Doc Squasher, who provides invaluable medical advice for RSRD skaters, many of whom don’t have the couple hours and big chunk of cash it would take to obtain the five-minute consultation they need to assess their latest knee or ankle situation. When I really think about it, I don’t actually hate bikers, not the individual people, anyway. But I cling to this prejudice against them, against their obnoxious sleekness, against what I perceive to be their smugness. I had a friend once who was a serious racer (is that what you call them?), and when we had lunch together he always found a reason to turn up his nose at my mayonnaise, or, well, my energetic stories of my night out the previous evening. Sure, I purposely antagonized his, let’s say, athletic morals, not only for our mutual, smirking amusement, but so I could cling to this distaste I had for this crew of bespoked maniacs.

But, seriously, listen to me. “Is that what you call them?” How closely does that echo “Is it a ‘game’ or a ‘bout’ or a ‘match’ or what?” – a question we’ve all heard from derby non-initiates. And while the cost of the most boss Riedells you can find, Roll-Line plates or no, won’t even touch an entry-level racing bike, when I think about all the cash I’ve spent on monthly dues and new pads and those grippy Heartless I just had to have and travel to away bouts and, OMG, RollerCon, the financial commitment of the thing starts to look comparable. And the spandex. Well, derby has introduced some spandex into my life, actually, but more importantly, let’s think about how everyone looks to the average person on the street, kicking back in jeans and Converse, watching the insectlike biker speed by, followed by the rollergirl in booty shorts and vivid tights and her exoskeleton of shiny black plastic padding. As Gwendolyn Ann Smith writes in her contribution to the essay collection Gender Outlaws, “we’re all someone’s freak.”

Which gives me a nice little bridge to a controversy that recently exploded in the media, dubbed Toemaggedon by Jon Stewart. The most recent JCrew catalogue showed the company president painting her son’s toenails pink, in a feature about how she spends her weekend. I saw this picture before reading anything about it, and predicted that the Fox news pundits and such would be in an uproar. Even so, I didn’t anticipate language such as “psychological sterilization,” nor did I think the controversy would take up the amount of airtime and column space that it has. (Yes, I know it’s ironic of me to be giving it more space, here.)

The amount of vitriol about this little boy’s propensity for pink, and his mother’s refusal to police that propensity, made me shakingly angry. I posted a link on my facebook wall about it, along with a note about the fact that the coverage, on both sides, seemed to be focusing mainly on whether or not pink nail polish could turn the boy gay or transgender, without mentioning that, hey, actually, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst fucking thing in the world if the boy is or will be gay or transgender. I got the usual “hell yeahs” from the usual friends, but I also got a sort-of dissenter, an RSRD-affiliated friend, a person I like and respect who felt very strongly that the mother should not have exposed her son to public ridicule in that manner.

At first I agreed. Sure, kids should eventually learn that being different will make them vulnerable, will make people judge them, but that they should still be the proud little people they are, no matter what sort of people they are – gay or trans or temporarily pink-loving straightboys or whatever else. But maybe it was unfair to introduce this idea of self-confident resistance and fortitude at the age of five in a national sphere, I conceded. Maybe parents should avoid situations where their kid might be embarrassed. Thanks for thinking of the kid as a person, I wrote my friend.

But then another friend chimed in, mommy of a boy around the same age, a boy who, in fact, has two mommies. Was she embarrassing her kid all the time? she asked, justifiably irritated. Then I felt like a sell-out. Fuck those people who would judge either of those little boys, on whatever scale, local or national. Those moms should be true to who they are and who their kids are and if the issue ends up on CNN, well, that’s CNN’s problem.

But my attitude didn’t extend to “Fuck my stupid friend who thinks that mom should have hidden her kid’s pink toenails from the world.” Because this friend is part of the team I most love. Because I know this friend is a smart person, and because this friend has had kids and I haven’t. He isn’t homophobic, I’d say, even though those facebook comments might suggest some assimilationist pressure. Those posts expressed sadness about prejudice, and my only real problem with them is the resignation that this sort of prejudice will never go away.

Roller derby puts many in the position of playing with and befriending people they would never otherwise have talked to. As we all know, atheists skate with Catholics, pro-choice people skate with pro-life people, mechanics with lawyers, and on and on down the lists that amazed reporters glom together to chip away at the image the public has of a monolithically tattooed, queer-topia of alcoholic alpha-females.

Does my lack of anger at this friend mean that I’m engaging in some sort of hive mentality, some unquestioning support of my teammate, no matter if his views potentially threaten principles that I hold dear? No. But my derby-bond does make me think twice, because we’re freaks together, we’re different to other people in the same way, and we’re real people to each other in a way that we wouldn’t be if we hadn’t both been involved with RSRD. And that’s a hard thing, because I can’t dismiss him. And it’s a good thing, because it brings us both closer to the day when little boys can wear whatever color polish they want and people like my friend won’t have to worry about their happiness. We’re already getting closer to that day. My friend is not only concerned about pink-polish backlash, he’s a biker. This weekend he has a race, and I’ll be cheering him on.

Photo Credits:; The New Yorker.


Saving Tricky

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Apr 152011

Gustav. One of two that hit me that year.

“I grip the painted cement floor with the eight wheels on my feet, sweating, breathing hard, eyes forward and struggling to see a way past the skaters ahead of me. I’m new; I have much to prove. Suddenly a body makes contact with my left side, a body that feels more like a car in its solidity and force and speed, and I don’t feel pain, but embarrassment for being thus caught, so completely blindsided. I’m new; I’ve forgotten to look behind me. She’s gotten me just going into the first turn, so her hit is assisted by centrifugal force – I’m flung entirely off my feet. I land hard just on the edge of the track, my own hip bone drives against my soft flesh, and then I roll, twice, across the floor and out of bounds. My elbow and knee pads clatter. When I stop rolling, I haul myself off the floor and hustle back onto the track, before the pain in my hip catches up with me. The entire pack is now ahead of me; I’ve lost any ground I had gained. My hip begins to hum and my right leg won’t move as quickly as the other. The girl who hit me looks back, weaving side to side, ready for my belabored approach. She outweighs me by at least fifty pounds, has been playing this game for a year longer than I have. She smiles wickedly, and in this smile I see hunger – the pure pleasure of hitting bitches – and I see respect – the pleasure of discovering that a new skater can take it.

When I get home and peel off my sweaty tights, I see the beginnings of my first real roller derby bruise, which I name The Hurricane – appropriate enough, as I’m living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I could also have named it after a galaxy: over the next few days, purple and blue and lavender and then yellow and green and rust swirls spread over my right flank, starting near my sharp hip bone and curling towards the rear, extending down to my thigh. I wear short shorts to the gym, and one arm of The Hurricane extends below the spandex hem while I run and lift and get stronger and leaner, so I can better defend myself, so I can, someday, be the girl imprinting the newbies with my massive hits. Burly men peek sideways at the bruise while they lift barbells. The area remains swollen and tender for weeks, during which I’m slammed back onto it multiple times. But I don’t complain. I’m in love.

I remember that practice as the day I truly became a derby player, the day I proved that I wasn’t one of the multiple girls who show up a few times in cute skirts and fishnets and then disappear, concluding that the sport is too much work and too much pain. It was the day I really became Tricky La Rouge.”

Two years later, I write these words in New York, where I’ve moved to attend graduate school. I’ve had little time for anything other than writing and reading, so I’ve spent the last seven months off skates, with the exception of a wonderful visit to my team (my former team?) down South. After months of being called my legal, given name, I walked into a bar after practice and a civilian said, “Hey Tricky, when’s your next bout?”

My next bout is never, or at least that’s how it feels at the moment. But still, I glowed, high from skating, and rattled off the details of the upcoming Red Stick bout proudly, while making it clear that I wouldn’t actually be in it. I returned to New York hungry to be Tricky again, so when my next piece of prose was due in class, I veered off my usual writing topic and introduced my fellow classmates to roller derby and to Tricky La Rouge. The response was amazing – when I asked them what they wanted more of, the answer was: everything. More derby history, more bout details, more stories about other skaters, more Tricky.

Researching that piece meant that I had to delve into derby websites and derby books I’d been avoiding for months, because really thinking about the sport had caused me pain. I could feel my identity as Tricky slipping away as my kneepads gathered dust in my closet. And if you skate, you know how important that derby-name identity is; see also Villanelle’s recent post. But then I threw myself into the essay, and while checking up on the date of the tryouts I’d purposely missed on the Gotham website, I discovered, just in time, that they were beginning their very first rec league practices the next weekend. I’ve been twice now, and that time on the track is literally saving Tricky’s life, as well as making me a better skater (already – our head coach, Surly Temple, and all her co-coaches thus far: Luna Impact, Ariel Assault, and Hela Skelter, have been amazing!).

That's right. Even Steve Martin knows Tricky now.

What’s also saving my life is those requests for more derby info from the non-derby friends I’ve made here at school (you can read one of these kickass people here). I do get frustrated occasionally, like when I invite people to come to a Gotham bout with me, and then they get excited because they think they’ll be seeing me skate, even though I’ve told them I’m not on a league (way to rub it in, People!). Or when people I know to be smart and awesome ask about derby and accompany their words with that horrible elbow-scissoring gesture that we’ve all seen from dudes in trucker hats countless times. But I’ve managed to pass some of my passion on to them, and I’m excited about dispelling any lingering confusion (especially since it indicates that my writing might have been unclear – what do you mean “how do you get points?!” Argh!). So what I thought had pulled me away is slowly reeling me back, and in the case of those rec league practices, in a concrete manner. I’m beginning to actually think (rather than desperately mumble to myself and others) that I will return to the track for real, and that I won’t have to give up my non-derby life to do it. I’m finding a way to be Tricky again, in his new life, even though it’ll take some time.

Photo Credits:; writer’s own.

Mar 042011

Something about being in a creative writing program has made my dreams about 48 times more vivid, lately. This is excellent, because it makes me think that even on those days when I don’t have time to write, because of reading and meetings and work and whatever else (ironic, I know), my brain is still taking the raw material of my days and thoughts and bending and shaping it into stories and images. If only the actual writing could happen during my sleep…

The actual brain that the dream came out of.

The other night, I dreamed I was in a vast, dark space, a retro roller rink, but about ten times the size of your usual neon-spray-painted, musty-smelling den. The distant periphery of the place was punctuated with multicolored lights, the ceiling was hundreds of feet up, and – most thrillingly – the place had a wood floor. There was a bout going on, some distance away from me; I think I was visiting my former team, Red Stick Roller Derby, like I did this past January. I couldn’t join in because I’d been away at school. But I wasn’t part of the crowd, either, so I had no access to the long, cloth-covered tables selling beer. I was in some strange limbo; couldn’t even see the jammer line. A nightmare, I know.

I stretched up on tiptoes, trying to get a better look at the action, and when I did, a former teammate – I think it was Turbo Tyke – waved at me from the front of the pack, which was standing on the line, waiting for some official time out to wrap up. And then, suddenly, I was up on toestops, in full gear. I still couldn’t see the game that well, and I still wasn’t on the roster, but there was all that beautiful, black space out there, that broad expanse of floor. I toe-stop-ran out into that space, away from the bout and the thundering crowd, and suddenly I could do all kinds of shit that I’ve never known how to do. I was spinning and leaping like some cross between a Central Park jam skater and Nancy Kerrigan. Those colored lights sped past me far faster than my fastest 25-in-5, and I could skate backward just as fast as forward. And there was all that space and time out there, in which to get better. The bout would go on without me, but I could come back to it whenever I wanted.

It’s just a dream, I know, and here I’m taking my hazy, unconscious impressions and trying to give them the narrative color that will give you that sensation of sailing through the dark, of landing perfectly everytime on that forgiving, wonderfully not-too-sticky wood floor. Of waking up in my bed, feet convinced they have just been freed of the weight of those Riedell 265’s.

When I first started skating, I would twitch in my bed, jamming though pack after pack of dream skaters, trying to work out the mechanics of the thing. Now I just dream about that space and time, and those waiting teammates.

Photo Credits: Author’s Own.

Feb 212011

This is me, feeling like I'm having an out-of-body experience.

“In the world of roller derby, our next reader, Sarah Perry, is known as Tricky La Rouge. Tonight, instead of kicking your ass, she’s decided to be nice and read to you.”

So went my introduction last Thursday, February 17, when I read my writing publicly for the first time. I’m in my first year in the graduate writing program at Columbia University, focusing on creative nonfiction and working on a book (more details to come later). I moved to New York this past August, leaving my beloved team, Red Stick Roller Derby, behind in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Ohh, New York!” you might say. “Are you skating?” you ask, your breath perhaps catching as the amazingly kickass NYC league, Gotham Girls Roller Derby, comes to mind.

Sadly, no, I’m not currently skating. Transfer tryouts were in November, and after months of hemming and hawing, I concluded that school is just too important (and too damn expensive) to risk neglecting my writing because I got sucked into Derbyland. (For the moment, we’ll put aside the very real question of whether I would have made it onto such a high-level team to begin with). Life is about balance, sure, but on the other side of the equation, I didn’t want to convince those girls to take a chance on me and then shirk in my training because I was pulling all-nighters. It’s Gotham, for chrissakes. You can’t screw around.

What I am doing, every week or two, is getting drunk and yammering on about derby to anyone who will listen. I try not to do this, honestly – try to keep my love on the downlow, like when you’ve recently broken up with someone and you don’t want to burden your friends with your sloppy heartbreak. But I’ve found that writers are really interested in derby – it probably has something to do with all the time we have to spend sitting on our asses, muscles atrophying, frustration multiplying with no aggressive outlet. During a break in the reading last week, a fellow Columbia writer-friend came up to me and said that I had done a good job, but then said, “What was the deal with that intro?”

I’d hit the free wine pretty hard the second I got off stage, but somehow my brain made an insightful leap, and it occurred to me that she’d thought the derby thing was made up, which, I admit, would sound pretty cheesy. “Well, it’s true!” I said.

Ah, PBR. Neatly sitting at the intersection of my two universes.

My friend immediately brightened up and said, “Oh, then – that’s pretty awesome,” or something to that effect; the Cabernet and the subsequent $2 PBR’s have dropped a bit of a haze on the evening (not everything is expensive in NYC). She proceeded to tell me that she’d skateboarded a lot as a kid, and missed it. I was about to launch a nerdy conversation about helmets and wheels (I’ve been meaning to get those Kryptos or similar skateboarding wheels for outside), when another reader took the podium.

I miss derby so hard that discovering this girl was a skateboarder in her adolescence made me feel immediately more bonded to her. I miss derby so hard that I know when every Red Stick fundraiser or public appearance is, and no matter how tedious the event, I wish I was there. I miss derby so hard that when I see a Columbia undergraduate athlete chick hobbling along with one foot in a stabilization boot, I’m so jealous that she even has an opportunity to get injured in a sport, I could just about kick it out from under her.

You get the idea. For the record, I’m planning to go back – I’ll drag my nervous self to tryouts this year or next, when school settles down a bit, but I admit I’m worried that life will take over and divert me from the track. But all those drunken conversations would suggest otherwise. I had stopped writing for LiveDerbyGirls because I wasn’t officially skating any more, but it’s clear I still have things to say. Many of you out there might be in the same boat – laid up with a stubborn injury, tending to a newborn, launching a new career or tackling school as well. So this column will explore some of the issues that those of us on hiatus still obsess over, as well as bring you little nuggets of derby lore and suggestions for working those ripped fishnets back into your wardrobe and whatever else I dig up that seems interesting to current skaters, former skaters, future skaters, and even our cherished fans.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Picture Credits: Writer’s own, taken by MacSweeney’s contributor Casey Plett;