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Published on October 10th, 2011 | by Rev. Norb


The Gospel According To Rev Norb: FOXZ ON THE RUN: A HARD DAY’S FLINT (Chapter 3)

Chapter 1 of this epic travelogue is here, and you can find Chapter 2 here.

My co-announcer works at the roller rink. She announces from the rink’s DJ booth, where she is also in charge of the venue music. This amuses me, because, when I first started out with the Foxz, I thought that’s what I was gonna hafta do too – so I would go to practice, stand in their old rink’s DJ booth, and figure out how I was gonna call the bout from way up there while I cued up CDs and stuff. The practice before the bout I found out that all I had to do was stand down by the jammer line and announce.

Because I was a dumbshit who thought he was gonna hafta be spinning records while announcing from some remote corner of the rink – and prepared as such – when it came time to really announce, it was really easy for me, just because I had prepared to do something much more involved and taxing. MORAL OF THE STORY: THE DUMBER YOU ARE, THE BETTER YOU’LL DO!

I, of course, have no interest in announcing from the DJ booth, so I grab the cordless mic with intentions of plying my craft down on the track. I am stopped in my tracks when I am informed that there is only ONE copy of the team rosters in the entire venue, and it is taped to the inside of the DJ booth window. I spend the national anthem scrawling names and numbers down on the back of a flyer. I think I’ve had more beers than you’re supposed to have before you announce, but, since my announcing companion is announcing from the DJ booth in between cueing up CDs, I decide the set-up is officially weird enough that I’m gonna give myself a free pass on this one.

The game starts as one might expect a game between a full-fledged WFTDA team ((the Foxz)) and a WFTDA apprentice league ((Flint)) to start: Dizzy gets off to a big first jam, and the Foxz go up by double digits right away. The rest of the first half is quite forgettable. It’s a low-scoring affair, and, to be honest, that’s due as much to jammer ineffectiveness as it is to any type of defensive staunchness. The action is, by and large, mediocre across the board, and, at the half, the Foxz are up on Flint City by a handful of points in a low-scoring game.

I was originally remorseful that I had drank beer so close to bout time; I am now remorseful that I have no additional beers to drink. At halftime, my cohort comes down to the skate floor, and asks me to join her in the implementation of Flint City’s spectacular halftime show. The halftime festivities are, as I understand it, something they do during down periods at open skate nights: Little kids are invited to come out on the floor, where the grownups – apparently, she and I – will attempt to hit them with huge, inflatable hammers. I’m not making this up, by the way. If they sit down, they’re safe – but, if they stand up and run around, we can hit them with our giant inflatable hammers. If we make contact, they’re out – unless, of course, they’re sitting down.

I am unsure why anyone would do anything but remain seated in this scenario, but I’m not the roller rink professional; consequently I just do what I’m told. Halftime is spent chasing down little kids and hitting them with inflatable hammers. Well worth the 481 mile drive in and of itself! At some break in the action, some older kid asks me if he can hold my inflatable hammer for a second. Being more than happy to have any excuse to cease participation in the wiggy halftime merriment, I hand him my hammer. He then winds up and whacks me across the stomach, as hard as he possibly can, with my own gigantic blow-up kid-whacking device. I am dumbfounded at the sheer dumbness of my situation.

Sensing my hesitation, the kid blasts me in the gut a second time. I feel like Adam Sandler in some as-yet-unmade Adam Sandler movie where Adam Sandler gets served with some kind of community service sentence, and winds up supervising a roller rink where bratty little kids whack him in the stomach as hard as they can with gigantic inflatable hammers and he has to smile and take it or he’ll wind up going to prison, or losing his inheritance, or pissing off his new girlfriend’s kids or whatever the Adam Sandler-y premise du jour is ((if this Adam Sandler movie has already been made, which it probably has, please pardon the duplication of services)). I’m down with being a good sport and all, but I decide beating these kids with something other than a REAL FUCKING TIRE IRON is grossly unsatisfying.

I let the kid keep my hammer, and slink off to the sidelines, throwing my cohort to the wolves. Shit happens. The second period starts off much like the first period, with both teams more or less slopping their way forward. No disrespect to Flint City, but i’m not exactly why we drove 481 miles to play an apprentice league. I mean, I enjoy road trips as much as the next dork, but what’s the benefit? It doesn’t count in our rankings, doesn’t count towards the number of bouts we need to have against WFTDA opponents each quarter…if we win, nobody cares; if we lose, we just lost to an apprentice league. Cue the perp walk of shame.

If we really needed to play an apprentice league on the road, couldn’t we just have played Mississippi Valley or someone and saved ourselves 600 miles of round-trip driving? Ah well, whatever. The Foxz start to stretch the lead out to double digits, and I start thinking that all is well – that we have reached the tipping point where the WFTDA league starts pulling away from the Padawan league, and the natural order of things is re-established and maintained. This is, of course, exactly where everything goes cockamamie for the Foxz.

The Fox Cityz Foxz are still an old-school derby league – they have four home teams who play each other in a regular season that lasts from January to May, and that’s what the people come to see. The travel team ((known, incidentally, as the “Scream Puffz” for no logical reason)) is usually an afterthought, the roster often having a “whoever the hell felt like showing up that day” feel to it.

Right now, one of the Puffz’ two glaring weaknesses is a lack of a true #2 jammer option. The team is amply stocked with skaters who would make a fine third jammer in the rotation and a few new skaters who are showing some promise, but as far as someone who can play a legit second fiddle to Dizzy’s first trombone right now…uh, not so much. The Foxz’ jammer selection gets weirder and more baffling as the second period goes on. Fox Cityz sends a jammer with only one or two games of jamming experience to the line; she is then followed up by a jammer who, to my knowledge, has never jammed in a game, ever.

That’s all well and good if you’re up by 60 or down by 100, but if you’ve driven 481 miles to play a fricking apprentice league and you’re trying to hold on to a ten or fifteen point lead, maybe that’s not the way to go. Just sayin’. And it’s not just a Foxz thing – derby, in general, seems to have a pretty weak grasp on the whole concept of exploiting personnel matchups to gain an advantage.

Contrast this with basketball – coaches draw up intricate plays involving passing the ball and moving the offense in such a fashion that the defenders on the other team have to switch up the man they’re defending. They rotate, rotate, rotate and suddenly, BAM! Your seven-foot center is now guarded by their six-foot point guard, easy basket. Look at the eighth inning of any baseball game. Managers are sending in new pitchers to face a single batter, those batters are replaced by pinch-hitters, there are double switches, substitutions, all manner of positional tomfoolery, just so Team A can get a left-handed pitcher up against a left-handed batter, or a right-handed pitcher against a right-handed batter, or a faster runner on base, or a hitter in the pitcher’s spot.

In football, offensive coordinators figure out where the weak links are in the defense, and move heaven and earth to exploit those areas. In roller derby, somebody writes up the lineups on a piece of notebook paper the night before the bout and reads them off a clipboard the next day ((I heard the bench coach of the Oly Rollers doesn’t work from a list – she just picks the personnel groupings off the bench before each jam, based on what she thinks will be the most effective personnel grouping for any given jam. This just *might* have something to do with the fact that the Oly Rollers were 2009 WFTDA Champions [[of course, the fact that they have an awesome roster with which to work probably doesn’t hurt, either]])).

After a head-scratching stretch of truly puzzling jammer selections, the Foxz cough up the lead to Flint. The crowd is INTO IT. With only a handful of ticks on the game clock, Flint is up, 94-92. In a move of stunning logicalness, the Foxz send Dizzy Dame to the jammer line for the final jam. The Foxz need two to tie; three to win. Dizzy gets lead, but is passed by the Flint jammer. The crowd is going absolutely mental. No time is left on the game clock. Dizzy flips on the afterburners, passes her rival jammer, and hits the pack first, while a timely hit by the rearmost Foxz defender briefly stifles the Flint jammer’s progress. Two to tie; three to win. Dizzy passes the first two Flint defenders without incident but struggles for a few seconds with Flint’s 2-wall up front. As the Flint jammer enters the pack and begins scoring, Dizzy, shockingly, calls the jam – ending the game and locking in a one-point loss for the Foxz, 95-94. The crowd goes ballistic. She has called off the last jam of the game with her team down by one, and the tying and winning points five feet in front of her. Ay yi yi yi yi.

This underscores Scream Puffz glaring weakness #2: No coach. I watch a fair amount of roller derby, across all levels of competition, and I can say with some assurance that the derby IQ of my beloved Fox Cityz Foxz often appears to be among the lower reaches of derby IQ-dom. They frequently seem confused and unprepared in critical situations ((See also: Ending game while down by a point, et al)). Oh well, 500 years from now, who’ll know the difference?

The afterparty is about a block down the road from the venue. My after-bout routine on the road follows a predictable pattern: First and foremost, I can never really go directly to the afterparty. This is forbidden. I must, instead, take Sprocket and Yaya back to the hotel, so they can bitch about the latest loss, the factors that caused it, and the perceived avoidability of such factors. They will, invariably, bitch for at least an hour straight, insisting that they are “too pissed off at everyone” to go to the afterparty, and would rather just sit in the hotel and fume and watch Golden Girls. I will then suggest that perhaps we should go to the afterparty anyway, because we are all hungry, and we want to get there before the food is gone. I will be ignored. They will continue bitching. In about an hour’s time, they will have calmed down, and Sprocket will decide that she’s hungry, and that we should go to the afterparty before all the food is gone. We will then go to the afterparty. All the food will be gone. I can set my watch by it.

This is indeed the case: Sprocket and Yaya bitch for an hour, I say we should go to the afterparty before the food is gone, both insist that they have no interest in going to the afterparty, Sprocket gets hungry and says we should go to the afterparty before all the food is gone, we go to the afterparty, all the food is gone. I’m not even perturbed by this anymore. I just accept it as the natural order of things.

I order a damn fine $2.20 grilled cheese at the bar. The Labatt’s Blue is plentiful and affordable. Derby, grilled cheese and beer: Flint’s general livability is seemingly quite underrated. At closing time, the remaining Foxz field an invite from Flint City’s Leeanimal to come skinny dipping with some hardy ((and apparently overclad)) Flintians. My passengers seem to think this is a good idea. I suggest that going to an afterparty which is AFTER an afterparty which we have now, clearly, won anyway might not be that great an idea from a driving standpoint. Further, to be honest, I really have no desire to see anyone on my team in their birthday suits. That’s about as appealing a proposition to me as hanging around a YMCA locker room watching the other guys cunningly apply Cruex to their jock itch ((which is, incidentally, not that appealing a proposition to me)).

But, that said, I have no such resistance against checking out the skaters on the OTHER team in the buff, so, after token resistance, I relent, and we follow a few carloads of Flint City skaters and hangers-on to scenic Lake Fenton ((named, presumably, for either David Fenton of the Vapors, or Shane Fenton of Shane Fenton & the Fentones, who later went on to greater success as Alvin Stardust, from whom Billy Idol swiped most of his stage moves)). Leeanimal loads about a dozen derby dopes onto a pontoon boat, and off we putter, headed for the designated cool kid skinny dipping spot. We reach a little island in the middle of the lake, and cut the motor. There is a lot of boisterous yammering along the lines of “YEAH! WHOO! SKINNY DIPPING! ALL RIGHT!” yet no one is actually DOING anything that would create a skinny dipping situation — like, you know, removing their clothes and jumping in the water and shit.

I decide I’ve had quite enough of this whole talk-minus-action fol-de-rol, thus I peel off my clothes in yeomanlike fashion, and execute what I believe to be a daring and powerful butt-first plunge overboard into the briny depths below. I am instantaneously jolted back to reality: I have leapt – ever so dynamically! Ever so bravely! – off the boat into about an inch of water, landing forcefully on my ass on a bunch of rocks. This is not quite the grand entrance for which I was looking.

Sheepishly and nakedly, I trudge through the ankle-deep water, heading out to the deeper parts of lake, where the exposed heads of a variety of presumably unclad rollergirls can already be seen. How come it’s never the nude girls standing in an inch of water and ME with the water up to my neck? A reasonable amount of bedlam ensues, as I wrestle with Lez Roll, whip a bunch of people with a wet cattail stalk, and convince the remaining members of my team to sing the Foxz Fight Song in the middle of the lake ((“FOX CITYZ FOXZ, YELL YELL YELL! FOX CITYZ FOXZ, WE CAN’T SPELL! FOX CITYZ FOXZ, TEE HEE HEE! WE PLURALIZE WITH A LOWER CASE ‘Z’!”)) to cement our status as winners of the afterparty AND after-afterparty.

As we return to the boat, one of the chestier Flint City girls laments that she thinks she needs breast reduction surgery. I join the rest of the crowd, lobbing trite platitudes at her along the lines of “heavens, no! You’re beautiful just as God made you” and “why would anyone want breast reduction surgery! Pshaw!” At this point, a second Flint City skater mentions that she herself has had breast reduction surgery, and thinks it’s great. At this point, I realize that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF MY FURTHER PARTICIPATION IN THIS CONVERSATION, so I slink off to the other end of the boat and drink a wine cooler. “FETCH AFT THE RUM, DARBY!” I yell, as usual, to no one in particular.

When we get back ashore and get into our vehicles, one of my teammates squishes her naked boobs all over my driver’s side window. It makes it look like my window was pelted with two wrong-colored fried eggs. As I back the car out of the parking lot, I roll the window down, shake my fist, and yell “IT’S AN OUTRAGE I TELL YOU!”, as “Fetch aft the rum, Darby!” seems appropriate for the situation ((as far as I can tell)).

We depart Flint in the morning, headed back up thru the comparatively humdrum upper reaches of Lower Michigan. The only thing with which I have to amuse myself on the dull trip up I-75 are the various hand-scrawled signs advertising cherries. As a source of a cheap, sophomoric giggity, these signs never get old. Near the bridge, I spy a particularly amusing variant on the theme, with large block letters promising “SWEET BLACK CHERRIES.” Adopting a random cartoon voice, I wheeze “now THERE’S something you can’t get in Grand Blanc!” No one listens but the dog.

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