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Published on July 17th, 2011 | by Rev. Norb

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WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES TODAY’S JUNIOR DERBY MERCH SO DIFFERENT, SO APPEALING?

So it’s six in the morning and i am painting my porch. Six in the morning seems like a pretty dumb time to do anything, really, but painting a porch is clearly an early morning activity of dumbness above and beyond the call of duty. I’m painting my porch at 6 AM because my washer used to leak, and my washer is in the kitchen ((isn’t everyone’s?)), so now some of the tile looks yucky ’cause it got all leaked upon and so forth.

Since no one likes yucky tile, said tile should be replaced, but i cannot replace the enyuckified flooring because, for reasons quite unclear to me, stores don’t stock regular ol’ black vinyl floor tile anymore, they only stock a curious and unpalatable assortment of greys, beiges, and whites. Grey, beige and white ain’t gonna do it for me; i need black, because i tiled my kitchen floor in a dashing purple-and-black checkerboard pattern some years ago, and, since the purple tile was a special order, i’ve got boxes of spare special-order purple Armstrong® tile lying around in my shed, but no black, because, in the much saner world of several years ago, black vinyl composition tile didn’t used to be a special order, you could just go to the store and grab a few off the shelves, hence i never purchased more than i needed, thus i have no extra black tile.

Deciding that i was going to use yesterday’s vacation day to finally replace the enyucked tile on the kitchen floor, i drove around to every home improvement store in Northeastern Wisconsin, in search of a half-dozen sixty-eight-cent black vinyl floor tiles, only to find that, in the eyes of the home improvement industry, black is now as weird as purple, and must be special ordered. Good going, black. i eventually ran up the white flag and ordered a thirty-five-dollar box of black tile ((of which i need roughly four bucks worth)), but the damage was done: I had spent my entire day of vacation trying – and failing – to obtain a handful of floor tiles for my kitchen. Now, burning an entire vacation day in the service of home improvement is a loathsome enough proposition as it is; burning said day with nothing to show for it ((except for a heightened awareness of consumer spending patterns in the ever-compelling realm of retail flooring)) is an affront which simply cannot stand.

Thus, that i might have at least some token token of triumph to show for the day’s efforts, i decided that, in lieu of replacing the tiles in the kitchen, i’d paint my porch ((and, by “porch,” i of course mean “concrete slab”)). However, having burned virtually all available daylight in one man’s fruitless quest to obtain a half-dozen black floor tiles, by the time i had gotten the porch all scraped and scuffed and swept and mopped and what-not, it was already well past midnight, so i figured i’d just get up early and do the actual painting before i left work work in the morning. Thus, here i sit, slathering some type of thirty-dollars-a-gallon grey paint all over my porch at six in the morning ((at this point in time you might be saying “Grey? Isn’t grey a tad drab and understated for a man who has a purple-and-black checkerboard kitchen floor?” to which i can only respond: DECORATIVE PAINT CHIPS!!! DECORATIVE PAINT CHIPS I TELL YOU!!!

The drab and understated porchy greyness will be all zazzed up in a brilliant post-production maneuver when i administer the finishing touches of sprinkling merry handfuls of decorative paint chips atop the wet paint! It’ll be a riot of paint-fleck merriment! A sprinkly fiesta! A compelling effusion of half-baked artsiness! [[a 16 oz. package of decorative paint chips costs $7.99 plus tax at Home Depot®. In comparison, i think steak goes for about five bucks a pound these days. No wonder Johnny can’t read!]] {{this revelation also adds an unexpected classist element to that “did you eat a lot of paint hips when you were a kid?” line from “Tommy Boy,” now that i think about it}}]])).

Now, i’m no authority on home improvement, but i’ll tell you one incontrovertible truth about painting: THE PAINT GODS ALWAYS DEMAND A SACRIFICE. Some innocent t-shirt must be blotched and dribbled beyond all recognition during the painting process, or you’re not really painting. But today, as i thwack porch, bugs, and fingers with grey epoxy abandon, I THUMB MY NOSE AT THE PAINT GODS, by virtue of my ROLLER PUNKS t-shirt. The Paint Gods cannot fuck up my ROLLER PUNKS shirt by getting it all fulla paint, because my ROLLER PUNKS shirt was all fulla paint when i bought it! I BLOW MY NOSE AT YOU, PAINT GODS! I FART IN YOUR GENERAL DIRECTION! HAVE AT THEE, I SAY!

My Roller Punks t-shirt is awesome. It is the coolest derby shirt i own ((actually, i think my Paper Dolls [[Fox Cityz Foxz league team]] t-shirt might be as cool as my Roller Punks shirt, but that’s only because indie powerpop legends The Nerves had that song called “Paper Dolls” [[later covered by the Rubber City Rebels]], so wearing it makes me appear to be an exceptionally tuned-in cat to the Rock Intelligentsia. Unfortunately, my girlfriend is on a different team than the Paper Dolls, so i court death every time i don this particular garment)).

It appears to have been silkscreened in somebody’s basement, and has the words “ROLLER PUNKS” superimposed in big messy letters over a vaguely-accurate hand-drawn outline of the state of Wisconsin. The “O” in “ROLLER PUNKS” is like a rolling manhole cover, or possibly a large wheel of Swiss cheese. It cost seven dollars and, as advertised, is all fulla paint ((I think it’s paint. I guess there is a vague possibility that what i think is paint is actually the result of a savagely botched tie-dye job, but i’m going to pretend i didn’t see that for now)). The Roller Punks are the junior derby adjunct of the Paper Valley Rollergirls league, which brings me, quite circuitously, to my question of the day: Why is junior derby merch always so much cooler than what the “real” leagues sell?

I mean, Paper Valley’s regular t-shirts are bland to a fault, they’re just a logo with stars where the A’s should be. They might as well be advertising the Menasha Credit Union for all anyone knows or cares. Plus, i know they cost more than seven bucks and they’re not all fulla paint, so they’re clearly not up to the lofty standards of the Roller Punks. This is not an isolated incident either: I couldn’t tell you one thing about Nashville’s t-shirts ((apart from the fact that they probably had a hole for the head and two more for the arms)), but the Nashville Junior Roller Derby shirt i saw Dr. Gonzo wearing at South Centrals was astoundingly awesome – and they weren’t even selling them at the tournament!

The contrast is amazing: I can look over table after table of derby shirts, and almost never find anything that captures my interest to the point where i’m motivated to plunk down my dough for it, but with junior derby, i find myself literally trying to get the shirt off a fellow announcer’s back. Complete indifference vs. “YOU GOTTA GET ME ONE O’ THOSE SHIRTS!! YOU GOTTA GET ME ONE O’ THOSE SHIRTS!” ((note to Dr. Gonzo: You gotta get me one of those shirts)) I mean, how has the grasp of derby’s radical chic – its outsider energy – its frisson of frickin’ DIY hoop-de-doo – so totally eluded the sport on the t-shirt level ((especially in light of how excellently said frisson of DIY fiddle-de-dee is grasped by the poster artists))?

I mean, an endless parade of skulls and nose art pinup girls is an okay place to start, but where’s the really wild stuff? Where’s the radical allure? Where’s the beef? I did some quick accounting, and, as far as i can tell, i own seven ((non-junior)) derby shirts and a half-price hoodie. Of the seven shirts, i think five were given to me. Of the two i actually paid for, only one was full-price. In other words, in five years of attending roller derby bouts, i have purchased exactly ONE full-price t-shirt for myself, not counting my treasured Roller Punks shirt. I’m sorry, but THAT indicates across-the-board piss-poorness vis-a-vis the global t-shirt situation.
Now, i don’t actually have any off-the-top-of-my-head design suggestions that will bring your league’s shirts up to the lofty standards of my Roller Punks shirt ((except that derby shirts oughta come with player names and numbers on the back, which would make the shirts more like a jersey than a mere t-shirt, therefore much, much cooler)) i’m leaving that as an exercise for the reader. However, i will state, quite emphatically, that a big part of the problem is this: THIS SHIT ALL COSTS TOO FUCKING MUCH.

I actually regret the lone full-price t-shirt purchase i made – i paid fifteen bucks for a one-color shirt. Fifteen bucks! Are you on fucking crack? Am i on fucking crack?? Do i need to SELL crack in order to afford another t-shirt??? If i pay fifteen bucks for a t-shirt, it better be pretty damn spiffy ((I mean, i paid fifteen bucks for a 33rd Annual Superman® Celebration t-shirt in Metropolis, IL recently, but it looked really cool, and was printed in red and yellow and blue and black and white and Caucasoid colored inks. I mean, it looked like a fifteen-dollar shirt. Don’t remember what the Radioactive City Rollergirls were charging for their shirts at their bout across the river in Paducah, but i didn’t pick one up – however, if they ever market a snowglobe version of their crazy inflatable venue, i’m all over that like grape on jelly)).

If i pay TWENTY bucks for a shirt, the league better damn well hand-deliver it to my doorstep, then wash my car, scrub the tub and walk my girlfriend’s dog ((and, while you’re up, how ’bout painting the porch?)). I mean, why can’t shirts be, like, TEN bucks? I would bitch a lot less if they were ten bucks. And, sure, i realize that derby leagues aren’t generally rolling in dough like Unca Scrooge, and depend on merch sales to keep the boat afloat, as it were. Fine. I’ve spent fifteen dollars in the last five years; how’s that workin’ out for ya? That’s three bucks a year. Don’t spend it all in one place, Knoxville!

I mean…this is so embarassingly cliché, i can’t believe i’m saying it in front of witnesses, but…well…i really think the entire concept of making and selling derby shirts needs to be…well…punker ((except for the Roller Punks, who are obviously punk enough by definition)). I mean, right now, i feel the same way about derby shirts as i do about the shirts they’d have for sale at a Milwaukee Bucks game: Like the team, wouldn’t mind a shirt, don’t really NEED a shirt, too much money, forget it. Punk bands generally tend to favor the opposite philosophy, eschewing a premium price on their wares because they kinda just want people to be wearing their shirts. As a notorious skinflint, i endorse this strategy! I mean, the Roller Punks can sell shirts for seven bucks, why can’t anybody else?

Back in The Day©, when i was young and beautiful, my band used to get high-quality two-color shirts printed for under five bucks a piece. We sold them for seven. I’m not sure how many of our infamous “I’m Into Boris The Sprinkler And I Throw Like A Fag” shirts we sold, because we lost track after the first three thousand ((not to mention our special English tour edition, which had the word “Fag” crossed out and replaced with the hand-scrawled word “Cigarette”)). Now, if you factor in the shirts we traded to other bands with whom we played, and the occasional freebie for the righteous promoter, we probably did little better than breaking even; however, we sold THOUSANDS of shirts. THOUSANDS ((of course, our purportedly homophobic shirt also once got us kicked off a bill with Pansy Division in Des Moines, even though i maintain that i was probably called a “fag” in high school more often than some of the dudes in that band were, so i got, you know, rights and shit [[i also noticed that Pansy Division were able to choke down their righteous indignation long enough to appear on the same bill as us when the 2009 Insubordination Fest paycheck came a-calling]])).

That is not bad for a day-job-having, middle-of-nowhere-living, only-can-go-on-tour-for-a-week-and-a-half-a-year-because-of-work punk band. In 1996, there was a picture of a high school student wearing our shirt in Seventeen magazine, of all places. Is that kid wearing our shirt in Seventeen if we’re asking fifteen bucks and not seven for it? Maybe, maybe not. I dunno; if it costs a hypothetical five dollars to make a t-shirt ((i freely admit this figure may be a tad out of date, but not ridiculously so)), you hafta sell twice as many at ten dollars to make the same amount of profit you’d make selling half as many at fifteen dollars. And? So? Sell twice as many shirts then! Do the math!

Roller derby assembled has sold me ONE fifteen-dollar t-shirt IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS. Are you telling me you couldn’tve sold me two ten-dollar shirts in that same period? Fall in and dig the gig, Jethro: PEOPLE WHO COME TO YOUR MERCH TABLE WANT TO BUY STUFF. They WANT to give you money. BREAK SOME RULES! PISS OFF SOME BANDS! FUCK SHIT UP! If derby shirts were priced more reasonably, people would buy them for the same reason they buy punk band shirts at shows: It’s a cost-effective way to say HA HA HA JERK I SAW THIS BAND/TEAM PLAY AND YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT AS COOL AS I AM AND LOOK, I HAVE A T-SHIRT TO PROVE IT, HA HA HA CHUMP FUCK YOU or words to that extent.

You wouldn’t might not make any more money, but you’d have way more shirts out there, and then you could make more and cheaper and weirder shirts, and throw paint all over them, and someday, some loudmouth asshole will wear your shirt whilst he paints his porch grey with Tommy Boy flakes at six in the morning! AND, DAMMIT, ISN’T THAT WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT???

Uh, anyway, in case you’re wondering, the paint started peeling after about three days and the Decorative Paint Chips are still getting tracked all over the living room carpet.

Thus is the Gospel according to Rev. Nørb.


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