Memphis Roller Derby: The View From Suicide Seats

It’s called “suicide seating.” The Memphis Roller Derby uses a flat track with no barriers between the skaters and the audience. Three things prevent a rollergirl from flying off the track and injuring spectators: The girl’s deftness, a slim rope of lights tacked to the floor, and those brave souls in suicide seating.

Chapter 3

It’s called “suicide seating.” The Memphis Roller Derby uses a flat track with no barriers between the skaters and the audience. Three things prevent a rollergirl from flying off the track and injuring spectators: The girl’s deftness, a slim rope of lights tacked to the floor, and those brave souls in suicide seating.

Suicide seating is open to all ticket holders, provided that she/he is over 18, okay with sitting on a hardwood floor, and willing to accept the risks of being a buffer between speeding rollergirls and the less adventurous members of the audience.

Suicide seating does come with notable benefits, however. From this vantage point one can get some great photos, hear every grunt and curse, and there is a good chance that a rollergirl may drop into one’s lap.

Once the Colliervile Funquest is sufficiently packed the lights dim, and the show begins. Not the sport, but the show. Both are important parts of the roller derby experience. The show itself is worth the $15 ticket. It simply must be witnessed to be fully appreciated, so I won’t ruin your future experience with a lot of spoiler details.

The PrissKilla Prezleys (PKP) begin with low lights, black capes, and a female Elvis impersonator in a white jumpsuit. Sweet.

Click for Full Size Roller Derby Photo

Their opponents for the evening, the Women of Mass Destruction (WMD), also dim the lights for their opening. Rollergirls belly crawl from hidden locations amongst the audience to the center of the track, while their coaches lob candy like hand grenades and an A-Team inspired opening narrative plays over the sound system.

Just fuckin’ awesome!

The women get some time to skate around the track in full costume, complete with adornments that are not allowed during the competition. Little Bo Peep Show in her full boa and poofy bloomers. Chica Bandita with her pink bandana and six-shooter. Do rags, movie star sunglasses, Al Capone hats, and various other adornments have to be shed before the first line-up.

Other expressions of individuality remain throughout the bout. Akilles Wheel of the WMD wears half of her face painted in camouflage. The other half is left clean to show there is a beautiful visage under all of that green. Fishnets and a wide variety of knee socks are quite popular. Miniskirts or shorts are not required, but they seem to be the preference for this group.

Then there are the stickers on their helmets: an image of brass knuckles, various cartoon characters, F the President.

Once the second whistle blows, the competition is on and the girls get dead serious about what they are doing. I suddenly realize just how difficult it is to get a good action photo of the skaters. They are moving pretty damn quick. I’m in suicide seating at turn three. It’s a good place to be, if I can be quick enough to line up a shot. Right next to me is a young woman operating a digital video camera on a tripod. It isn’t long before a skater misses the turn and wipes out that digital video camera on a tripod. Shortly afterward another rollergirl takes the turn too wide and soars off the track, cutting inches in front of me. She exhales a quick “Shit!” before flopping down onto a row of spectators. A quick apology and she is up again, chasing after the pack. Demi Automatic of the WMD goes down; then inadvertently flashes red panties over a nice apple bottom as she hurries back to her feet. Upon seeing this, I have to question why any straight guy would rather watch football.

The action is constant. Each team is only allowed one timeout per period. The periods are twenty minutes long, broken down into “jams” that typically last around 2 minutes. The length of each particular jam is at the discretion of the lead jammer (the jammer that cuts through the pack first). After each jam the women quickly line up for the next one.

Between periods or during timeouts the teams send out a daughter to skate around the track and fly mom’s team flag. They might also send out a presumably gay young male cheerleader to show the team colors. There really aren’t enough venues within modern society where men can strut proudly around a track in tights while shaking pom-poms.

The PKP versus WMD bout is competitive throughout, but in the end the WMD have the edge.

AOD girls storm over the track like Wednesday Addams all grown up

After a brief break to allow the spectators to crowd into the bathrooms, buy overpriced fatty snacks, and get liquored up; the Legion of Zoom (Z girls) and the Angels of Death (AOD) take their turns at center stage.

The Z girls are led out by their pimped out madam of a coach, Whorecules. Then it’s a lot of machine guns, raccoon masks, and rock ‘n’ roll. The Z girls are quick to remind us that everyone, ourselves included, loves a fast girl.

Their unwholesomely gloomy opponents, on the other hand, are almost frightening. The voices of unseen children spookily recite nursery rhymes while the lights dim. Little girls in blood stained surgical masks and quads fly the team flag around the rink. Finally, AOD girls storm over the track like Wednesday Addams all grown up.

The AOD is into black trench coats and black and purple striped knee socks. Buns ‘n’ Roses, a former ballerina, wears a tutu and carries a bloodied meat cleaver.

It’s all really, really fuckin’ cool.

Their dark uniforms and makeup are in direct contradiction to the silver skirts and brightly colored costumes of the Z girls. But the Z girls will not be intimidated.

With the second whistle the game is on and skaters are flying around the track. Machine Gun Kelly is bouncing off blockers and gliding through the pack for the Z girls. This is no small accomplishment, considering Bob. Bob is the name stitched across Cat Claus’ plentiful booty. Cat Claus, with the assistance of Bob, is a very potent blocker for the AOD. Jill B. Nimble may have been voted the best ass in the derby, but Cat Claus has arguably the most effective ass in the derby.

An AOD blocker violently hits the hardwood and brings the action to stop. She limps off of the track with assistance. The show goes on.

It quickly becomes apparent that this bout is all about Lil Cinner, a 43-year-old jammer for the AOD. This woman works her way through the pack with near Jedi ability.

As established during the week’s practice scrimmage, tension builds when the AOD are on the track. I see an out of bounds AOD girl attempt to grab the Z girl jammer. Holds of any kind are not permitted in the sport. The refs apparently miss this. Click for Full Size Roller Derby PhotoDespite this one oversight, there are plenty of penalties issued. Similar to hockey, when a rollergirl is given a penalty by a ref, she must spend a minute in the penalty box. Her teammates will continue the bout without her until her time has been served.

The AOD had so many girls in the penalty box at one point that they were briefly down to one lone skater on the track. This was apparently a ref’s mistake. Only two skaters from one team are supposed to be in the penalty box at a time. Two AOD girls, Victator and Cat Claus, are completely expelled from the bout. I’m not certain of the exact reasoning behind this, but the rules state that a skater can be expelled only for serious physical violence or blatant disregard for the rules.

This does not end the hostility, however. Victator retreats to a spot in suicide seating and continues to antagonize passing Z girls from the audience. Finally, Envie, a taunted Z girl, stops on the track near her tormentor and challenges her. Victator stands and approaches. There is a lot of “bring it on” kind of talk before the Z girl receives a major violation herself and skates off to do her time in the penalty box.

In the end, despite their penalties and expulsions, the AOD spanked the Z girls.

This might be a good time to re-emphasize that Roller Derby is a legitimate sport. Altercations are not staged for dramatic effect. In fact, these and similar occurrences are strongly discouraged. But they do happen on occasion. Roller derby is all about women who don’t like to be pushed around pushing each other around.

Check back early next week for a few words on the after party, special events, and the necessity of roller girls in modern society.

Technorati Tags: memphis, memphis roller derby, roller derby, rollergirls

About Benn Stebleton