Alter Egos

Pulled from the second half of chapter two of my book. Please know, it’s just a teaser!

***

The prior week, Lager had shed some light on roller derby names.

“You have to have a name picked out by the time your six weeks of training is over,” she said. “I mean it when I say this is a complicated process, and one we all take very seriously.”

We were told that each name in the roller derby world is individual to that skater. Our names must get submitted for registration on a single world-wide data base of something like 30,000 skaters. The data base listed every registered skater so you could check to see if your idea was already taken. If you tried to register a name that was even somewhat close to one that previously existed, it would be denied, even if the skater was on the other side of the world. On occasion, it would be allowed — but it was derby code to ask permission to use the name you were considering. The original skater could deny the request and then you’d be back at square one.

A name wasn’t something you could make up on the fly. It had to fit you, and then it had to pass through those layers of approvals.

We heard horror stories about how girls had adopted their new personas, ordering jerseys imprinted with their names. And then just as they were getting used to hearing announcers talk about them over loudspeakers, they’d get the news that their names had not been approved. They’d then have to start over in the process of securing a new name.

“I’d recommend you pick something meaningful to you,” Lager had said. “If it’s a play off of your real name or something unique to you, chances are your choice will be cleared. My name was actually borrowed from a friend of mine. Her birth name is seriously Amber Lager. Isn’t that amazing?”

She listed off names from our mentor league in Kansas City. “Bruz-Her. Snot Rocket. Eclipse. Annie Maul. Track Rat. These are all girls who have made themselves legends in the roller derby world and whose names make them incredibly intimidating on the track. Think hard about it before you randomly pick something.”

Truthfully, every last one of us had all been thinking about it non-stop since before joining roller derby.

“This whole thing is stressful,” I said as we sat down in a dark basement pub just down the road from the rink. “Everything I’ve thought of was at high risk of being shot down. Oh, and what about this… Let’s say another skater and I come up with the same name and submit them at the same time. Who gets to keep the name?”

With so many stipulations, it was a struggle to come up with an appropriate name. Still, the idea of developing an alter-ego had made me giddy. I silently wondered if veteran derby girls got tired of reading Facebook posts from the Fresh Meat who were begging their friends to help come up with their personas. I didn’t want to take the decision lightly — it was a name that would need to live with me through my derby career, however long that would last.

“We have to take this seriously, guys,” Heather was giving us pep talks between deep swigs of Coors Light. “I mean it. Look at Poisonous Polly.”

I thought back to my first day. Polly was the tattoo-and-boot girl who had laughed at my Target gear. It was only recently that I had gotten close enough to her to see her knuckles were tattooed with the letters “STFU.” It was just one of the growing list of reasons I was petrified of her. It was in awe of Heather, who was charming her way into a friendship with Polly.

“We all know she’s terrifying,” she continued as we nodded in agreement. “I mean, a girl like that was scary long before she picked her name. But that name just adds to her intensity.”

“Seriously,” Michelle chimed in. “Have you guys noticed her number? It’s AS04. I looked it up one day because I was curious to know what it meant. It’s some kind of an agent that causes motor neuron death. Even her number is frightening.”

“I hadn’t even thought about a number yet,” I sighed in frustration. “There’s so much to be thinking about. Skills… Names… Numbers… Gear…”

“Well, here’s where I stand.” Crystal was holding a list in her hands. “My friends gave me a pile of ideas. I really like Hella Hitzgerald, but I think there’s a Hella Blitzgerald somewhere in Georgia.”

“That’s so smart,” I said.

“I know!” The frustration was evident in her voice, too. “I don’t think I’m going to even bother submitting it. I still can’t decide.”

“Maybe they’ll let it slide. In case they don’t, do you have a backup?”

“Yeah, my second choice is Tiger Beatdown.”

We all giggled at the play on our favorite teenybopper magazine.

“I like it,” Heather replied. “Okay, my turn. I asked my friend Stephen to brainstorm with me on some ideas. I challenged him to come up with 50 names. And he agreed. I’ll be honest — some of them were shit, and he knew it. He was pissed I asked him for that many options. But some of them were pure gold. Like this one: Sandra Day O’Slaughter. That’s the one I’m leaning toward.”

“Maybe I should look at your list,” I said, a hint of admiration in my voice.

“I’ve got mine, too!” Michelle was bubbling over with excitement over her choice. “My friends and family all call me Shell. So I’m going with Shotgun Shell. I like the play on my name. I like the idea of being a speeding bullet.”

We all nodded in agreement — it was a perfect name for her.

“How about you, Mel?” Crystal asked. “Did you decide?”

“I did,” I said.

My closest childhood friend nailed the perfect name for me. Among the countless suggestions from friends and coworkers, her idea stood out and I knew immediately it would become my new persona.

“Mary Lou Wretched,” I said. “It makes sense, I think. Mary Lou Retton was my hero when I was little. I thought I’d pay homage to the All American sweetheart.”

I was one of countless children who had idolized the gymnast. I stayed glued to the 1984 Olympics to see her win a gold medal for the U.S. I studied the Wheaties boxes with her picture on it. I wished for her red, white, and blue leotard as I performed cartwheels in our living room. I dreamed of the uneven parallel bars and doing flip flops while I studied her every move. She was everything I aspired to be when I was little.

She would soon be my inspiration for roller derby, too.

“So that’s it, huh?” I asked. “We’re Tiger Beatdown, Sandra Day O’Slaughter, Shotgun Shell, and Mary Lou Wretched?”

We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders, and to me it all seemed very anti-climactic.

“I’ll email Lager right now to get our names submitted,” Heather said as she picked up her phone.

As she texted away, a cigarette dangling from her lips, I had a moment of reflection: in a basement bar that reeked of booze and stale sweat, I was born.

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