Tuesday, November 23, 2010

last jam

As a kid, if I ever dreamed of seeing my mug in the newspaper, I doubt I would’ve pictured it on the front page of the sports section, but here you have it:

When an L.A. Times photographer approached me about doing this piece, I was conflicted. It was an honor, of course, but it also made me a little squeamish. I’ve been a member of the Dolls’ PR committee since joining the league, and for three years, I was its director. It was my job to get reporters and photographers to point their equipment at other skaters. But this girl? The limelight makes me squirm.

As I’ve chronicled extensively here, retiring from roller derby is hard. It’s even more difficult when you’re being tailed by paparazzi.

In the documentary piece that ran on the Times’ web site, there’s a bit where I talk about the unimportance of makeup in the world of derby – yeah, we’re girls, and yeah, we like to play dress up, but the game always comes first. Last Saturday night, as I sat in the makeup chair before my final game, I cried. I had given the makeup artist free range because I was sick with anxiety and couldn’t make decisions.

Her work finished, I stared in the mirror and saw eyes I didn’t recognize as my own, thick with black eyeliner and mascara and hot pink shadow all the way up to my brow line. I looked old. It was the face of a retiree, the eyes of Tammy Faye Baker. Meanwhile, in the vestibule adjacent to the makeup room, the Times’ photographer was interviewing skaters about their reaction to Judy Gloom’s retirement and I could hear every word of it. It was all too much and I broke down.

My performance in the game was uneven, but so was my derby career, so it seems like a fair ending to the saga. In the last jam of the night, Fight Crew leading by only eight points, I committed a major penalty that prevented me from scoring or calling off the jam even though I was in the lead (boo). But…I managed to hang onto that lead while slowing the opposing jammer, successfully preventing her from making a third pass and cinching a 2-pt victory for the Crew (yay). It was one of those dramatic, sports-movie moments and the good guys won.

Photo by Mia More/Susanica Tam

Now that it’s all behind me, I’m really pleased with how the documentary piece turned out, but less enthusiastic about the article (I’m so tired of the “Librarian by Day, Killer Roller Derby Babe by night” media angle. I tried to steer the writer in another direction, but he wouldn’t budge. A quote from his article: “Hell on wheels, this little Glendale librarian.” And here’s the headline from a 2009 CNN article about another derby librarian: “Tiny librarian is hell on wheels.” Oh well).

Most importantly, the Derby Dolls made it on the front page of the L.A. Times’ sports section – above the fold! – and this is my crowning achievement as the former head of PR. I just never imagined it would be my helmet and specs in the photo.

Photo by Robert Gauthier/L.A. Times

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lena Dunham opens the door

I’d never heard of the 24-year-old writer/filmmaker Lena Dunham until reading Rebecca Mead’s profile in the November 15th issue of the New Yorker. I still haven't watched her Youtube videos or acquainted myself with her considerable internet presence. Therefore, I have no opinion of her work other than it was born from a place of privilege that is entirely foreign to me.

Dunham’s parents are both successful New York artists, about whom Mead writes, “Laurie Simmons makes photographs in which dolls and doll-house furniture are arranged to unsettling effect; Carroll Dumham makes exuberant, antic paintings that often feature a masculine figure with a penis where his nose should be.”

Dunham didn’t do well on her SATs, and therefore, spent her first year of college at New York’s New School (she later transferred to Oberlin). In the article, Dunham discusses the classmates she encountered during her freshman year and the unsettling experience of being on her home turf, but surrounded by provincials. For me, one of the most striking things from the profile is this quote about a New School classmate: “There was this boy who was really smart and really intellectual and he came from, like, a steel town in Pennsylvania, and his family called him ‘the freak.’ I had never met a person who was different from their parents before.”

Whether or not this is actually true isn’t relevant because I believe the sentiment is. Certainly she had met kids who were different from their parents, but she either never noticed or paused to consider the distinction.

As a person who regards close parent-child relationships with an instinctual suspicion, her statement I had never met a person who was different from their parents before was like peering into an alternate universe and having the door hit me in the face.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

working it

It was a hard thing when my teammate Crystal Deth retired in 2008. I had spent most of the season benched with a grade 3 ankle sprain, and during that time, I watched her game improve dramatically. I liked to think that she was skating for both of us, but in reality, she was just pissed. She hadn't made the all-star team that season and had something to prove. So, Crystal stepped it up -- attending extra practices, cross-training and thinking more strategically. Her skating jumped to another level -- a deer on wheels leaping over fallen bodies.

Ankle mended, I was able to skate with my team that fall. Then Crystal dropped the R-Bomb in December. I couldn't believe it. Quit now? She'd been on fire, and I loved skating with her because we always pushed each other to work harder. But she was quitting while she was ahead, and years later, I've come to appreciate that decision.

Photo By 3D Sean.

A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a subpooler (in LADD, a subpooler is a skater who isn't yet on a team, but may be asked to "sub" for an injured team skater during a game. To be in subpool is to be in roller derby limbo).

"I heard you're retiring," she said. "I can't believe it! You still have so much skate in you." Maybe so, I thought, but I'd like to keep some "skate" in reserve -- not leave roller derby depleted, exhausted and washed-up.

My leaguemates have surprised me with their support and kindness these last few weeks and it's been emotionally overwhelming. It hasn't made saying goodbye any easier, but it completely reinforces what an incredible, meaningful experience these past seven years on skates has been.

Some other reactions to retirement:

Tawdry Tempest (Fight Crew, retired 2009): "I've never looked back."

Queen Elizadeath (Varsity Brawlers): "What are you going to do with your skates?" (for the record, I have some very bad-ass skates into which QED's feet would fit nicely. Apologies to QED and other small-footed derby girls -- I can't part with them!)

P.I.T.A. (Sirens): "I just want you to know that you and Crystal Deth were such an inspiration to me when I first started Fresh Meat."

Bonnie D.Stroir (Swarm, OG Derby Doll who is "taking a break" after this season): "You're not really retiring, right? You're just taking a break."

Tawdry Tempest (a couple of weeks following her previous comment): "Guess I shoulda worked my retirement like you."

Thora Zeen (league co-founder, former Siren, and one of my all-time favorite skaters): "It's about time!"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Halloween started with a bike ride to the home of a retired skater for brunch. A small group of us had gathered -- Dolls past and present, but mostly past. We ate french toast and an announcement was made: a baby is coming.

One other still-skating Doll was in attendance, a veteran like me, and she was noticeably limping. She's skating again following a year spent recovering from knee surgery. It hasn't been an easy comeback for her. Every time she falls at practice, we skaters collectively suck in our breath, hoping she's OK.

It's funny to think back on our early years together in the league. I was working in the FIDM library where she was a student, and every once in a while, I'd help her at the reference desk. I'd been with the Dolls at least a year when she started skating. Barely able to remain upright that first month, she wasn't exactly a natural, but she was determined and progressed quickly. She eventually became one of the brightest stars in the league -- talented, strategic and a great leader.

I don't doubt that she's capable of making a total comeback from this injury, but watching her take those uncertain steps on Sunday, all I could think was, I don't have that in me anymore.

Our stomachs sloshing with bread and coffee and beer, the old folks caravanned to the Bob Baker Marionette Theater to watch a Halloween-themed puppet show. I've passed the building countless times, fascinated by the idea of marionettes living beneath 2nd Street overpass, but for whatever reason, I never found the time to attend.

It was magic. The puppeteers worked in plain sight, manipulating their marionettes to a soundtrack that hasn't changed in decades. I loved the rawness of it, the old-timey feel. The show stood as a testament to Bob Baker's faith in his audience. In the age of slick animation, CGI and Pixar perfection, I was delighted to watch children suspend their disbelief in the face of a dude with his hand clearly up a puppet's ass. This was the kind of entertainment so many of us grew up on, and I was grateful to experience this bit of nostalgia with kids who maybe aren't as hard as I sometimes fear. That this place endures makes me feel good about L.A.

Afterward, we filed into a party room decorated for every season -- dust-covered ribbons and ornaments hung alongside withering skeletons. Among the rows of long, cafeteria-style tables, we were handed plastic cups of ice cream to eat with flat wooden spoons.

A pit stop at a nearby bar followed. A bloody mary and a michelada later, we rode our bikes across town in search of Thai food. We sailed past Echo Park, the towering palm trees guarding the lake like sentries, to Sunset Blvd. At Coronado St., the iconic Happy Foot/Sad Foot greeted us, ushering our crew into Silver Lake. The sun setting, we rolled toward Hollywood, flying past the packs of roving trick-or-treaters, tiny warriors with pillowcases slung over their shoulders, scavenging the streets for chocolate. The air was filled with the scent of pastries baking somewhere.

And finally, Jitlada. There were six of us, but we ordered food for ten, and over two hours, we licked our plates clean -- no morsel left behind. Noses ran and tears rolled down our cheeks as we worked. A whole fish was ordered and decimated. We took turns pulling it apart with our fingers, a grade school dissection project. We devoured the cheeks, the eyes. Sated, we sat back in our chairs, sucking on the bones. This was Halloween for grown-ups.