I’ve just had one of the more surreal experiences of my life.
Have you ever been to a roller derby? Are you familiar with this? I don’t know if men do it, but the women’s version of roller derby is apparently all the rage right now. When I got the Facebook invitation from my former neighbor, Cammie, I was pretty surprised. Cammie isn’t really the roller derby type. Whatever that means. She’s an archivist at a university library. She’s not prim or dowdy or anything – the first time I met her was when her friends left her drunk ass in my care while they went to search for her apartment keys in her car, which had been left at whatever bar had over-served her. Cammie, who is maybe 95 pounds soaking wet, sat slumped on my floor with her back against my couch, eyes closed, occasionally muttering that she hoped she wouldn’t get sick on my stuff.
But the next day, she wrote me a thank you note.
Anyway, so I went to the roller derby. You guys, this is some serious roughhousing. I don’t really know how it works except one of the girls on each team has a star on her helmet, and she’s like Head Bitch In Charge for however long she has the star, and she’s the one who has to power through the crowd and lap them. And however many times she laps them or something, she gets points for the team. The stars are removable, so the Head Bitch changes up every so often, though I have no idea what the guidelines are for that. And the rest of the team is trying to block their opponents from getting to the Head Bitch, while also trying to block for her. This sometimes resembles a really aggressive game of Red Rover. There are maybe, I dunno, eight chicks on a team at a time, but they rotate and they seem to have another eight on the bench at any given time. There are some other rules and there are at least three referees in actual referee clothing. One of them was also wearing a kilt. They skate around and two of them are responsible for holding a hand up and pointing continually at whichever HBIC is in the lead at any given time. And then there was this other guy in skinny stonewashed black jeans who kept frantically writing things on a white dry erase board and showing it to people in some sort of official capacity, but I could never see what he’d written or figure out what he might possibly be keeping track of.
There might be fouls, but I’m not sure. There was a lot of what I found to be errant whistling from the refs. If your job is to knock a bitch down, it’s hard to know when you’ve crossed a line.
Oh, and the derby girls have names! Names like Cramp Crusher and Ima Psycho and Anita Bandage.
It was a back-to-back bout (they’re called bouts), so it was kind of long, but by halftime (they have halftime!) of the second bout, I was actually getting into it. Still, I was trying to ignore the three annoying announcers (three), one of whom was wearing a gold sequined jacket and top hat. I make it a policy to ignore anyone who wears sequins unless it’s a prom or a bride. That goes double for men.
It took me over an hour to realize that these teams actually have coaches. How does one coach a roller derby team? I couldn’t figure it out. But sure enough, the guy in the skinny stonewashed black jeans would run over (he wasn’t on skates) and hold up the white dry erase board to the coaches. Who were wearing – are you ready for this? – lavender suits. Not deep lavender… it was pale, so that I thought it might be a dove gray color. But no. Lavender. One of Cammie’s friends did some recon to find out for sure.
After the first bout, one of the members of the team came up to the bleachers, where about 300 serious roller derby fans of all walks of life, young and old, goth and average, punk and non-punk, were seated. She personally shook hands with most of us and thanked us for coming. Up close, I realized… she was at least 45 years old.
Which made me feel like such a bum, because this is some physical stuff and I’m sitting on the bleachers all, “Oh, that would kill my back!”
The second bout was much rowdier. As a woman from the first bout sold beer in the stands with one of those carriers you see at baseball and football games, the action on the floor was intense. I was chatting with Cammie’s friend Deb when I suddenly realized the entire arena had fallen silent. I mean silent.
I looked up.
One of the roller girls was splayed out on the floor, face-down. Possibly dead.
Everyone else had taken a knee. You know how they do in football, when someone gets hit really hard and appears unconscious, and everybody gets down on a knee and prays or whatnot? That’s what was happening. And me, talking to Deb about knishes, all insensitive-like. And now I was all, “Aw, man… somebody got killed at the roller derby and I missed it.”
There were medical personnel surrounding her, and though I couldn’t quite tell what they were doing, I kept looking for blood and/or teeth. Finding none, I waited along with the rest of the crowd.
She was alright. She came back later.
About an hour after I’d arrived, I saw a girl sit down three bleachers in front of me who looked like a former coworker. Sometime after the woman didn’t die on the floor, I saw her and her friends get up to leave. Turns out, it was the former coworker, sans about 30 pounds since the last time I saw her. And you know who she was with?
Yes, Gwyneth. The woman who stole the affections and attention of my non-boyfriend, Jack.
I had exactly these thoughts:
Oh my God. Is he here? (No.)
Seriously, she is really young.
When did she get glasses?
I probably stared at her the whole time she was arranging herself to leave, saying goodbye to her friends and heading up the bleachers toward the exit. I had strangely few feelings. I briefly fantasized about a whirl around the derby floor, pulling her hair and smacking at her with open fists, but it’s pretty obvious based on any reality whatsoever that I would come up the loser in that bout. She’s a marathon runner. I haven’t gone to a gym in nine months. Really, I never blamed her for anything – it was completely Jack’s fault – she probably had no idea how devastated I was. But still… what are the odds? To run into her at the roller derby?! Really? Three hundred people out of an entire metro area population, and we’re both there?
Gwyneth goes to the roller derby?
I go to the roller derby?
Sometimes I wonder if I just dreamed the whole thing. But there are pictures of the derby on my phone. So I guess not.
And I didn’t even get a beer.