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; BillyBrew.com.

Apr 202010

Team Thunder with Smackya Sideways

I will not drink and derby. I will not drink and derby. I will not drink and derby. Yeah, right.

I woke up on Sunday with a massive hangover from the after party. My muscles were completely depleted and I was pretty sure I would not be okay. But eventually I dragged my ass out of bed and down to camp. Whoa. It took me like thirty minutes just to skate up and as soon as I stood up, I thought, “Fuck this, I can’t skate.” But then why did I drag myself across the country and spend half my savings to be here? To be a big fat hungover pussy? No way.

Don’t get too excited. I didn’t last long. I didn’t even get there until lunchtime. During which I decided to warm up. Skating was next to impossible, but I threw my poor pitiful bones around the track and listened to The Cult loud enough to blow an eardrum. I was so dehydrated I didn’t even break a sweat for almost twenty minutes. But it got better. Because I saw Quadzilla loitering, and I thought, “Hey,  I’m here to learn. He’s here to teach.” So, I asked him to pretty please help me with my skating.

My short private lesson with Quad was one of the most valuable moments of all of camp. He had been watching me skate all weekend and knew exactly where I was going wrong. And the thing about him is that he’s nice and whatever, but he’s really  honest. He’s not all “oh give yourself a break, you’re so new”, he’s more like, “look, if you want to get better, this is what you have to do”. And he looks at you like he’s not sure whether you’re gonna do it or not, because I bet he’s seen a lot of girls just say fuck it.

Anyways, here’s what I learned. Your weight needs to be over one leg all the time. All the fucking time. The whole skating thing is about weight transfer. If you’re in derby stance and your weight is in the center of your body, all your power is going straight into the ground. You have to center that weight over the leg that you’re using to push off. This all sounds really straightforward, but barely sober me had a really hard time putting it into practice. Because even though I’m new, I already have bad habits. And because even if my brain isn’t scared of falling, my body is, and it wants to keep my center of gravity centered instead of moving it back and forth like I need to.

I also learned that the last part of your skates that should leave the ground is the front. You gotta be pushing. Not stepping. Me? I step. Which seemed okay to me, because it took me forever to have the physical confidence to even lift my foot off the ground. Well, great, but t ain’t working cuz I’m still slow and clumsy. Not for long. Quad may have seen a lot of girls give up, but he doesn’t know me. Ima get this. Shit, since when did this turn into my diary? Oh, since I got too hungover to go to workshops. Sorry, y’all, but you’re gonna have to deal with some of my emo epiphanies. There’s a moral in there somewhere.

After my impromptu lesson with Quad, who probably thinks I’m in love with him by the way I’m up in his shit, I took a nap. (Dear Quad, I am not a stalker. I’m a writer. It’s kind of the same thing, only I will never call you or show up to your house. I am happy with a strictly textual relationship.) I thought I would never get up, and I almost didn’t, but the irresistible pull of hot fresh derby wafted in through my window and I drag-assed to see the Rat City v. Charm City bout.

And holy fuck, was it worth it. Sure, I was so tired that I could barely carry on a conversation and had to hide by myself in the beer garden, but it was a really exciting game. I’m not much of a recapper, but I will say this; it was tied at 52 at halftime, Rat City was down for a lot of the second half, and then they made a major comeback and won 143-107. It was a hard won game, too, with a lot of dirty stuff going on. I saw a lot of low blows and elbows, but the Rat City girls kept it together and played it cool. I fell in love with Rat City.

Especially this girl. Her name is Onya Heels and she’s fast as shit and a total bruiser. She blocks, she jams, and she does it all with effortless grace. And she’s not some skinny bitch who looks like unattainably athletic standing still, either. She’s hot and everything, but she looks  basically like a regular girl until you see her move. And then you realize that she is a total.fucking.superhero. I would not fuck with this girl if you gave me a thousand new pairs of skates. Re AnimateHer was also a super notable jammer. She’s fast and nimble and took some really hard hits with aplomb. I’d show you a picture of her, but I never caught her standing still.

The game ended. My night ended. Camp ended. The End. Boo hoo, I know. But, I’m still in Seattle, so stay tuned for my night of practice with the Rat City Girls.

Read about Day 1.
Read about Day 2.
Read about Day 3.
Read about Day 4.

Apr 192010

Day three started with me running late. As usual. When, thank god, this hot bitch offered me a ride in the lobby of my hotel. Who would say no? She’s Estro Jen of the Angel City Derby Girls and holder of the title Best Ass In Roller Derby. I know I promised a close up, but I don’t really know her that well, so just make do with this candid and I’ll work on it, alright? Anyways, before we got in the car she warned me that it might be dangerous. It kinda was, but I enjoyed her enthusiastic careening through parking lots in search of espresso. It was a fitting way to start the morning. Plus, it gave me a chance to get to know the Estro behind the ass. Turns out she runs a skate shop in Long Beach, CA called Moxi. And…(wait for it) she wants to write about gear for LDG! Which is a gift to the world, because this chic really knows her shit. Because of her I bought harder wheels, and it was a totally fucking revelation (See below). No, but really. She also taught me a lot about toe stops and truck length and other stuff I can’t really use yet because I’m a) broke and b) too new to know the difference but that will come in handy down the derby brick road. And, she’s totally releasing her own line of lifestyle skates with Reidell like pronto. Skates with leopard spots and zebra stripes for street skating. With little ruffled hot shorts to match. No shit.

After Estro graciously delivered me to Camp, I went to her Beginner’s workshop on Skating Skills. The first half dealt almost completely with stops. Turns out my plow stop was all wrong. I’ve been making a full, two-legged snowplow like a skier, but really you’re supposed to push one leg out and keep the weight on the other. It looks almost the same, but not quite, and the benefit of doing this is that if you have your weight over one leg, you can use that to push back off again. If you have both your legs completely spread, your weight is in between your legs, and you have no power to move. You just gotta step. The we worked on transitioning from forwards to backwards which is something I really suck at. But she had us get in partners and, using the stability of another skater, I improved quickly. Only on one side, but hey, it’s a fucking start.

Then I shuffled off to Pivoting with Gingersnap. Have I mentioned how rad this chic is? Seriously, though. We did the whole class with our mouthguards in. Why? Cuz pivots gotta talk while they’re wearing mouthguards. Duh. We did some waterfalling drills and she made us keep screaming. We talked a lot about what the pivot actually does. Snap’s take on things is basically that every blocker needs to be communicating as well as the pivot, and that besides the whole star passing thing, the pivot is just another blocker. We got in lines and practiced rotating around a partner. We packed up and practiced rotating to the front. All the while screaming and touching. We did a lot of screaming and a lot of touching and a lot of rotating, and I feel a little more nimble about how I move through the pack and a lot more comfortable screaming. And I learned some things about the three second rule. Like how to get around it. Like you can press wrist to wrist and as long as the jammer isn’t trying to break through that, you’re good. I really want to hear a debate about the three second rule, though, cuz there’s a lot of ideas about it and people don’t seem to agree.

At some point I took a break and bought new wheels. They’re Atom Jukes, and I’m totally in love. I got a good deal on them from Gino at Lead Jammer Skates, who is personable and also really knows his shit. He totally talked me down from buying the expensive bearings and the Heartless wheels. I decided on these because I wanted something a little harder than what I skate on now (Sugars), but still pretty grippy. They’re wide, so they’ve got a lot of stability, which is important to new bitches like me. After all this retail therapy I really needed a nap to rest up for Team Thunder practice. Obviously.

I was exhausted but exhilarated during practice. We warmed up for a few, and then scrimmaged against Team Blood. We were playing a lot better than the day before, since we all knew each other a little better and all that shit. Quad let me jam, and even though I totally bit, it was fun, and I learned a lot in that one jam. Like about this whole “friendly side” side thing Quad is always talking about. He means that if you’re jamming and you come up on a pair made up of your teammate and someone from the other team, you gotta go on the friendly side, or the side of your team mate. Sounds obvious, but sometimes the hole on the other side looks bigger, no? Doesn’t matter. Cuz when your teammate starts banging that other bitch around, that hole is gonna close up and you aren’t going to have the benefit of grabbing on to that girl who aint your friend for an assist.

More rest. Or something like it. And then it’s go time. Bout time. Team Thunder vs. Team Blood and I am freaking pumped. Warm up was rad cuz Quad was skating with us, and just having him on our tail was a major motivation. Then shit got real. I already told y’all about our badass jammer On ‘Da Sligh. She was totally running shit. And we had this other jammer, a leggy blonde who’s name I can’t remember and who I just call Shameless, who was like Jane Be Nimble. But we weren’t keeping it together that well as a pack, and I was really sucking. Yeah, I was tired and sore and shit, but honestly, I was just out of my league. Every girl on both teams had been skating longer and better than me for the most part, and I was in the penalty box three times to pay for my lack of experience. And we lost. But I don’t give a shit, because it was fun and I learned a lot, and even though he must have been mad disappointed in me, Quad was still cool with me after. Yay Coach Quad, you fucking rule.

The after party was at a hilarious bar called the Horse & Cow. I was taken there by a carload of Canadians listening to Rick Astley, I shit you not. If I had never gotten out of the car, it would have been a great night. But then there was an amazing explosion of drunken rollergirls. And Navy dudes straight from a ball with girls in long dresses. And locals. WTF? Seriously, it was the most hilarious  crowd, and even thought the DJ sucked and played Bad Romance no less than three times I still danced my ass off. Did I mention there was a stripper pole? Oh, wait. Actually there were two.

Read about Day 1.
Read about Day 2.
Read about Day 3.
Read about Day 4.

Apr 172010

Holy shit. I am sore, tired, and overflowing with the sweet nectar of derby love. Yes, I am actually halfway through Day 3 of B&T, but you’re gonna have to forgive me cuz derby twelve hours a day leaves little time for blogging. So just forget about the dates and let’s get it on.

I started Day 2 with a blocking workshop with Coach Pauly. (See Day 1 for details about his unorthodox and amazing teaching skills.) He took us off our skates again, which always makes me groan and then is the most valuable approach on the planet. He made us focus on our hitting skills by positioning ourselves correctly in relation to the target. The target being, of course, the bitch nearest you in another color jersey. We did a lot of crotch stomping. Without skates, it becomes really obvious that the best crotch stomps come from behind when you lead with the whole body. Pauly is the master of telling you things that you should have already known without making you feel stupid. Like if you hit a bitch with your shoulder and she don’t go down, give her the ass. And also to deflect should hits with a hip and vice versa. And, holy epiphany for the new girl, again, but he taught me to give the girl trying to hit me my shoulder so she gets a penalty for back blocking. Duh. I love him.

On to Stance with Smackya Sideways. Have you heard about her? She’s like a sidewinding hurricane. She’s got this totally unflappable demeanor that makes you think she knows everything, and frankly, I’m pretty sure that she does. She immediately put music on to get us moving. To figure out our stance, she made us squat for like a hundred years while picking up only our toes to move in little circles. It really helped me understand where my weight needs to be. Think of your inside toes like steering wheels, pick em up and move em in the direction you want to go in. Then she showed us some jam skating move called Downtown (some people call it grapevining), which I totally can’t do yet, but the dancey steps helped me think about my footwork in a more fluid way. Like I don’t have to be a triceratops with wheels on it’s feet. Maybe I could be more like a gazelle. More like Smack.

Then what? Then I went back to my hotel with this crazy nineteen year old from Seattle, Stank A. Pantz (don’t get excited, it ain’t what you think), ate a pound of chicken and a bunch of candy (Krissy Krash, I hope you’re not reading this!) to get refueled. By this time the bruises on my arms from blocking with Coach Pauly were really starting to form and my legs felt like bendy straws from trying to keep up with Smack, but fuck it, I’m here and I’m not tryin to waste my time, so I geared up and got my ass back to class.

Jamming with Quadzilla was seriously intense. He made us hop from foot to foot for like an hour, and really hit home the idea of weight transfer. If you only step from foot to foot, all you do is lose power, but if you really hop then that leg that you hopped on becomes like a spring that propels you. Once we started doing it on skates, I was instantly faster and more agile. Instantly. Just thinking differently about where I’m getting my power from, muscle-wise, totally changed my approach. Plus, Quad has this great motivational spiel about rewards and consequences (video coming soon). Basically, if you’re a player (and I know that you are), you can’t be thinking about failure or getting hit or any of that shit. Sure, those other bitches want to knock you down. They probably will, too. But focusing on the consequences just makes you scared. If you’re jamming, you gotta be thinking about points, and that’s it. Points and the roar of the crowd screaming your name. Roar fucking roar.

I took a class with Gingersnap on using levels in blocking. I have already raved about the intense greatness of this woman, so I’ll try to tone it down. Using levels is about blocking when you don’t have much space. In actuality, you never have as much space as you want to give the kind of hits that you want to. So, what do you do? You gotta make it. You gotta make that space by getting so low you can touch your laces and let that be your velocity. Snap calls it harnessing mother nature. She’s got this great line about how derby is a sexy sport, and you gotta be using all the power from your, uh, mother nature, bringing it up and throwing at people.

Oh, what?!?! I forgot to say that I made the roster for the public bout! Quadzilla is my coach, and this crazy skater in the green helmet is my teammate. Her name is On Da Sligh and she’s like a little fucking badass jackrabbit on wheels. She jukes and fakes and speeds like a mofo and I think I worship her. And she’s on my team. What? Practice was a little chaotic at first since we don’t know each other, but we quickly figured out who does what. I hold the line. That’s what I do. Since I’m on a team of more experienced players, I was scared that I wouldn’t have a place, but I do. I’m pretty okay at it, and the other blockers can be off doing important things while I sit my ass on that line.

Oh, and I got hit in the face. Wait, guess what number hit me? It was a pretty crucial moment, because the refs totally didn’t notice or call it or ANYTHING, so after the jam I ran to the center and screamed, “Hey refs, whose fucking number is on my face?” and they were all, “oh shit” about it and then they had a little ref meeting about paying attention to illegal activity. And then everyone wanted to take my picture because it really isn’t that often you have someone else’s number so perfectly reproduced on YOUR FACE. Thanks #10. I got your fucking number.

Read about Day 1.
Read about Day 2.
Read about Day 3.
Read about Day 4.