BRUCE at Seaside, Oregon Public Library, Nov 21

Don't be late!

Don’t be late!

The weather’s great in Oregon today — blue skies, gentle breezes and okay so it’s pretty cold but hey, it’s nearly December so just bundle up and stop yer whining — so come on out to the coast and we’ll talk Springsteen at the Seaside Public Library.

The action starts at 7 pm and runs for 90 straight minutes. Readings, questions, answers, all in the key of ‘B.’ See what I did there? With the ‘B’?

So you should come. We’ll hang out.

Good thing: The ontology of live nude girls


We do a lot of professional stripping here in Portland, Ore. Strip clubs throb in literally every quadrant of the city proper, and don’t even ask about the dirty business going on in between the Jiffy Lubes and lurid McBurgerJack outlets.

I don’t partake, less out of moral/ethical outrage than the simple fact that professional eroticism strikes me as basically the opposite of what I’m after on the eros front. But that’s just me.

We could — and perhaps should — go on at greater length about such sex industry; perhaps gauging the identities of the victims and the victimizers; the sense of who is actually running the game, and who is getting played. Complicated questions to be taken on another day. For now check out this five-minute report about some of Portland’s better-known dancers, club owners and assorted other sex pundits. The key words are abuse, freedom, art and empowerment.

Carlindustries statement on the Clackamas Town Center shooting spree

In the wake of the shooting at Clackamas Town Center here in Portland today think all of our hopes and prayers are with the NRA, and the terrible criticism they’ll have to endure  — again — for keeping assault weapons available to hockey mask-wearing citizens who choose to exercise their 2nd amendment rights in shopping malls. I just pray that we all remember that this is no time to talk about gun control, especially since the next mass shooting is probably just days away. Nothing to see here. Keep shopping.

BRUCE comes alive in Portland! And also MORE free audio!

Hey, Portland!

I’ll be reading, providing q’s to a’s and signing actual copies from/about/of BRUCE tonight, Friday Nov 9,  at Powell’s on Burnside at 7:30 pm.

You should come! And definitely get a copy of something signed, because I’m bringing my absolutely unique, one-of-a-kind, custom-made Tillie stamp with me. Maybe if you ask the Tillie stamp a question, it will answer. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened, right?

It will be fun. Of a sort.

MEANWHILE — here’s more free fun: Another 10-minute preview from the BRUCE audiobook, as read by Bobby Cannavale. Here, the story picks up in mid-1972, somewhere down the Jersey Shore. . . .

Rose City Rollers Doc Premieres on Saturday

A bonus story from the 2009 files, published in The Oregonian in June, and now reprinted in tribute to the Rose City Rollers and the new documentary, “Brutal Beauty,” about their exploits. The movie premieres in Portland on Saturday, January 9 at 7 pm. Tickets are $10 at the door.

Peter Ames Carlin The Rose City Rollers Should Kick Your Ass

What Heather Petty loves the most is when she gets to be the jammer.

That’s the roller derby’s equivalent of a quarterback, the woman at the center of the action; the one who gets to move the fastest; whose entire purpose is to out-skate, out-fake and out-muscle every other woman on the track.

“It’s like, you’re the ball,” she says. “You sprint full-out, hitting and weaving and going all-out in every imaginable way. It’s like track meets boxing meets wrestling. All on skates. And you get to hit people.”

Petty’s cheeks glow and her blue eyes grow electric. And it’s not just the roller derby competition that fires her up. It’s everything else about the Rose City Rollers league, too: The epic personalities; the aggressively slinky clothes; the interwoven strands of athleticism, wickedness and sisterhood.

“There is no low self-esteem in this building,” Petty says, gesturing toward the women on the track. “No one feels fat today. They’re not worried about their zits. I’m a confident person, right? But this is breathtaking.”

Particularly for a young woman just making her own way in the world. It’s tougher out there these days. And while some people look for meaning at the office, or at church, or at home with the spouse and kids, Petty has found it somewhere else: in a diverse community of women whose faith in themselves is so strong they understand exactly why a 27-year-old first-grade teacher can, and should, reinvent herself as a roller derby goddess called SoulFearic Acid.

Hit the Read More button, or else it might hit you…

* Therein lies the raw poetry in the sport called roller derby. And it is a sport, with real rules, real competition and enough blood, sweat and bruises to fill a hockey rink. The Portland league, just finishing its fourth season as Portland’s entry in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, is also one of the top-ranked roller derby outfits: Its all-star travel team rated ninth among the travel teams from the nation’s 77 leagues in the United States.

At first the Rollers proved just as successful with Portlanders, who often filled the 2,800-seat Portland Expo Center during the league’s bouts. The league –which consists of four teams (the Heartless Heathers; the Break Neck Betties; Guns N Rollers and the High Rollers), an all-star team that represents the league in national competition (the Wheels of Justice) and a second-string all-star team (the Axles of Annihilation) –quickly developed a reputation for being as well-organized off the track as it was hotly competitive during bouts.

But as with so many businesses, the league is rolling through a rough patch. Decreasing attendance at the Expo Center last year deflated revenue enough to send most of this year’s bouts to a 500-seat practice facility in Oaks Park. And though the smaller venue offers a cozier setting, along with free parking and cheaper beer and food, the smaller shows lack the flashy lights and booming sound system in the bigger hall.

Meanwhile, the league continues to wrestle with its own growing pains and the perpetual struggle to reconcile its cartoonish image with the very real athletic rigor the sport requires.

“People think we’re just rowdy girls who like to hit each other,” says Erin Case, a veteran skater better known as Cadillac, the co-captain of the Break Neck Betties. “But this is a sport, dude. And we’re always going to fight to teach people what real derby is about.”
Which, as any experienced roller derby competitor will attest, can only begin for a competitor who has been knocked down enough to learn the sport’s most basic, and arguably most important, skill: how to get back up.

* The first thing you’ve got to do, when you dedicate yourself to the roller derby, is choose a derby name. The key is to create an alter ego that skates a razor line between strong, sexy and downright sinister. And so here they are: Teqkillya, Hurricane Skatrina, Viagra Falls, Apocalipstick. Those are the names we can print. Many are a bit more colorful.

Still, the names on their backs are usually the most conservative part of a derby girl’s uniform. Each team has its own colors and basic jerseys, but these are often artfully shredded, and set off by some combination of fishnet stockings, super-tight shorts, printed trash talk (e.g. “Eat My Skate”) and, in many cases, tattoos that glisten and glow on all manner of exposed flesh.

Do you want to hear how they talk to each other? Not if you have tender sensibilities, you don’t.

“It’s like we’re the bad girls,” says Kary Aloveah, who skated under the name Jewcy (a vaguely suggestive reference to her religious heritage) before retiring to serve as the league’s volunteer coordinator. “Smoking and drinking and hard living is still part of that roller derby image. And you’ve got hundreds of alpha females all competing with each other, swearing and screaming and carrying on.”

But for Petty, whose fresh-scrubbed visage and sweet demeanor seem much more appropriate for the first-grade class she teaches at Hazeldale Elementary School in the Beaverton School District, the appeal was entirely athletic.

A contact sport for women? Until she saw a newspaper ad during the winter she had no idea such a thing existed. And though her petite build doesn’t seem to lend itself to such mayhem, don’t be fooled.

“I’ve always been a thrill-seeker,” she says. “I rode a skateboard for years. I did back flips off the high rocks. And I always like getting hit. And hitting people.”

She spent a week brushing up on her skating, then went to a couple of Rollers-sponsored clinics for aspiring derby skaters. This crash course, along with Petty’s natural athleticism, carried her into the next league tryout, where she was judged promising enough to be one of the four skaters (out of 15) selected to join the league’s Fresh Meat farm team.

Here, the requirements are rigid: four mandatory practices a week, plus the monthly dues and required volunteer hours all of the league’s skaters must pony up. The captains of the four teams keep an eye on the prospects and gather every few months to draft additions to their rosters. Some Fresh Meat skaters wait a year or more to get tapped. Some never make it. Petty got snagged by the Break Neck Betties after three months.

“Heather is small and easy to overlook,” says team coach Ben Doyle. “But she’s also incredibly fast and incredibly determined. That’s gonna take her a long way.”

The derby has come quite a distance on its own. The game was invented in the mid-1930s by Leo Seltzer, a Portland-raised entrepreneur who was living in Chicago when he started musing on ways to combine Depression-era fads for dance marathons and roller skating. What he came up with –reputedly with the help of writer Damon Runyon –was roller derby, a racing sport that combined speed with a crunching physicality similar to football and hockey.

Roller derby, which included male teams, gained regional popularity in the ’40s, then grew into a national sport in the ’50s and ’60s thanks to regular exposure on television. But as the sport became almost entirely female, the entertainment industry tipped the scales from athletics to something like pro wrestling, complete with scripted rivalries and brawls. By the time Raquel Welch starred in “Kansas City Bomber,” a lurid B-movie shot in 1972 in Portland, the image of the derby had devolved into a
kind of mud wrestling on wheels.
The derby faded in the mid-’70s, but a few pockets of interest remained, and in the last decade it has surged back, due largely to urban hipsters who remade the blue-collar traditions to fit their own countercultural sensibilities.

The sport gained momentum in 2004 with the formation of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, a national organization that standardized and enforced league rules while also encouraging the organizations to be owned and operated (most often on a nonprofit basis) by the skaters themselves.

The Rose City Rollers got started that same year, led by Kim Stegeman, a rough-and-ready snowboarder who had degrees in marketing and advertising from Portland State University. Stegeman, who took Rocket Mean as her nom de derby, recruited a few like-minded women and started holding practices in the underground garage of the Grand Central bowling alley. After a year they had enough women to form teams, and the league held its debut bout in October 2005 in the Expo Center.

The curious came in droves, and if many were drawn by the league’s punk-rock attitude, all ended up seeing a serious game in which two teams of five women (four blockers and a jammer who scores points by lapping the other team’s blockers, who use their bodies to obstruct the other team’s jammer) projected their strength and guts into a serious, strictly officiated contest of speed, agility and strength.

The Rollers amassed fans and commercial sponsors, then donated time and money back to a variety of local causes. Granted nonprofit status, the league makes athletic education and empowerment high priorities, particularly when it comes to its youth league (the Rose Buds) and the recreational league (the Wreckers).

The Rollers can count fans, friends and corporate/commercial/government supporters all over the city. But unless every available ticket to the championship bout in the Expo Center is sold, it will be that much more difficult to find money to send the Wheels of Justice to interleague bouts. And if the travel team doesn’t travel, the league risks losing its national standing. No wonder, then, that every practice and official meeting seems to begin and end with reminders to sell more tickets to the big June 27 championship in the Expo Center. “If that doesn’t sell,” Stegeman declares flatly, “we’re gonna be screwed.”

* A warm Saturday evening at the Rollers’ Oaks Park facility. Tonight’s bout won’t begin for 15 minutes, but hard rock blares on the sound system, and the bleachers are packed with nerdy longhairs and Harley-Davidson aficionados; aging hippies and young, sulky goths. Lesbians and dockworkers. A 40-ish guy dressed sort of like a pirate sits near the league’s official photographer, Skippy Steve, whose other identity is Steve Price, a Circuit Court judge in Washington County. A pair of bikers sit in the front row on either side of a stroller that contains their snoozing toddler. Behind them perch a pair of grandmotherly ladies, one of whom is knitting.


The voice of the announcer booms over the speakers. The crowd screams back, nearly drowning out his next line, inviting anyone who thinks his microphone is too loud to tell him, so he can turn it down.

“We want everyone to have a comfortable night,” he explains.

Tell that to Rosemary Petty. She’s an old-fashioned woman, a nurse who raised her three kids to work hard, follow the rules and go to church on Sunday. “My dad got it immediately,” says Heather, Rosemary’s middle child. “But Mom was very uptight about the derby.”
Indeed, the elder Petty has more than a few questions about her daughter’s new sport. “You don’t expect a woman to be swearing or to be brutal,” she says. “They want to be independent, but once you gain the hardness and strength of men, you lose the softness of a woman.”

Still, Rosemary has been a mom long enough to know how to combine her own moral strength with maternal softness. So when her daughter’s roller derby team skates against the Guns N Rollers in the Rose City semifinals, the elder Pettys are in the front row, cheering along with everyone else.

Heather, or SoulFearic Acid, isn’t expecting to do much skating. This is her second real bout, and at the first one a few weeks ago she only got called in near the end. She scored a handful of points, but the outcome of the bout wasn’t in doubt by then. This time, the Betties start slowly in the first half and soon lag 30-plus points behind GNR. But then something changes, and the Betties start catching up. Petty contributes a few points during her first turn as jammer but clearly struggles to find her way past the bigger, more experienced skaters on the other team.

She gets knocked out of bounds. She bounces off her rivals’ shoulders and can’t quite discover, and play against, the rhythm of the pack. Called up again in the second half, Petty takes a big hit from a GNR blocker and caroms off the track toward the penalty box. She brakes, spins and zips back toward the rear of the pack. Petty lowers her head, feints left, then bolts suddenly right and, like a lightning bolt, forward.

Then she’s past everyone, a golden streak that passes the pack, then jets off to do it again. And again. By the time the jam ends Petty has racked up more than 20 points, helping to earn the Betties the right to face off against the High Rollers in the league championship bout Saturday night in the Expo Center.

Swept up in the post-bout celebration, the Betties surge into a wild, sweaty knot and are soon joined by the women from GNR, all of them slapping backs and hands and hugging. The woman who is now SoulFearic Acid looks ecstatic.

“I don’t know what happened!” she shouts. “It just . . . happened.”

Everyone’s yelling at everyone else. Petty’s right

in there, only no one calls her Heather. She’s earned her derby name, abbreviated for shout-out purposes to Soul.

“Am I becoming a badass? I suppose so,” Soul muses. “But I already knew I was a badass deep within.”