I roller skate, don’t drive no car. Don’t go too fast, but I go pretty far. – Melanie, “Brand New Key”
Last year, I attended my very first roller derby. I guess you could say I was in need of new roll models in my life. I’d been intrigued ever since I saw that poster posted on the bulletin board of the bagel shop I frequented. It said: Talk derby to me.
I did some research online about the sport, so I wouldn’t be completely clueless my first time. I delighted in learning about the psychotic pseudonyms players picked. My favorites include such charming nicknames as Punky Bruiser, Lucy Ballbreaker, Lucille Brawl, and Sally Jessy Rot-in-Hell.
At the bout, I was in awe. The game is so theatrical. The choreography is amazing, the way the pack of players careens around the track like a human rollercoaster. I liked the sport instantly—it promotes agility over fragility, demands physical strength and strength of character. Plus, I loved watching the players move: wending and bending, all nerve and verve, hustle and muscle.
I tried to capture all that Sapphletic prowess in my piece, “Out and a Bout,” in which a roller derby player gets her first-timer girlfriend’s wheels turning, resulting in comically conjugal consequences.
Here’s a little piece of the action:
“You’re not skating on thin ice, Val. You’re going to be fine.”
Claudia’s at the brink of the rink, arms draped over the wall, body bent at the waist with her rump sticking out as if she’s waiting for a spanking. I ought to strike some fear into her. She did the same to me and I didn’t even get a spanking.
Claud winks at me. I glare at her. She’s so confident and cavalier and superbly sexy and inevitably the glaring turns to staring and I still want to spank her but for all the wrong reasons.
“Come on, Val,” she urges. She skates onto the carpet and stops in front of me. “Get your butt in gear.”
“There’s no protective gear to get my butt in,” I lament, adjusting the Velcro on the kneepads Claud lent me. I hate that ripping sound it makes. It’s so ominous. “Forget it. I’m not skating. I’m on the bench.”
“I can see that,” Claud quips, dropping down onto the stiff wooden seat. She picks up the helmet. It looks like an eight ball and feels like a salad bowl. My curls are crushed. Claudia fastens the straps, her knuckles nuzzling my chin. I don’t mind this part so much.
Claud knows it, too, flashing her little snowman smile at me. She lifts my leg onto her lap. My calf gyrates against her thigh as she laces up the skates. I don’t mind this part so much, either.
Nevertheless, “I’ve already fallen for you, Claudia. Why do I have to do it again?”
Claud rubs my leg. It feels nice, but not as nice as it feels when I touch hers. She’s much more robust than I am. Whereas Claud is a cross between Wonder Woman and Rosie the Riveter, I’ve got the body of a stick figure drawing. Anyway, “Who says you’re going to fall?” she challenges.
“It’s a given.”
“I knew you’d give in,” Claud crows. “That’s why I didn’t give up.” She taps the cap of my kneepad. I do the same.
“Don’t be such a sissy, missy. A little pain never hurt anyone.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m your number one,” Claud answers. “And you’re my number one fan. Or you will be after the bout tonight.” She stands, takes my left hand. I’ve got a wrist pad on the right one, so maybe I won’t break every bone in my body.
“No, I mean, what’s your derby name?”
“Lisa Welt-chel,” she answers, hoisting me onto my skates. The wheels are orange like a basketball and clash with the camel-colored boots. But these boots aren’t made for walking and I practically pulverize Claudia’s hand as I wobble across the carpet. “Most players pick names that pay homage to inspiring women,” Claud continues, unfazed. “Mine pays homage to Lisa Whelchel.”
“The lady who played Blair Warner is inspiring?”
“When I was 14, she inspired my latent lesbian libido,” Claudia shares. “I’d watch the show on Nick at Nite and all these impure thoughts would pop into my head. She forced me to face the facts.”
I’d roll my eyes except I’m too focused on rolling my wheels, four of which are now in the rink. Please, God, don’t let me die with my boots on. Not when they’re this tacky. Just help me bumble and fumble and, if I have to, tumble my way through this. But please keep in mind that I bruise easily. And also that—
“Come on, Val,” Claud cuts in. “Let’s get these wheels in motion.”
If you want to read the whole shebang, you’ll just have to make like the gang in Grease 2 and score tonight.
Curiouser and curiouser,