A trip to the Tucson Roller Derby becomes an eye-opening experience

After all these years, I finally know what Jim Croce meant when he sang about "the night that I fell in love with a roller derby queen." I went to the season-ending Tucson Roller Derby matches over at Bladeworld on Grant Road, and it was nothing short of magnificent.

The main reason I went was that a friend of mine, whose real name (Lisa) will remain top-secret, was playing in the third-place game for the Furious Truckstop Waitresses. She goes by the name Ace Benedict, and her teammates include Sunni Sideup, Hell Bent Betty, Peaches Rodriguez and Gracie Spoon, among others. Ace is a jammer, one of the quicker skaters who attempts to score points for her team by breaking away from the pack, circling the track and passing (lapping) members of the other team, who do their best to block her progress and/or knock her into the cheap seats.

They were playing the Iron Curtain, featuring Kosma Nauti, Karla Marx and Dot Stoevsky. These people have a bright future writing titles for porn films.

The festivities were supposed to start at 6:30 on a Saturday evening. I always go to Mass on Saturday at 5 p.m., and I figured that as long as they didn't let some long-winded deacon give the sermon, I'd be OK. But the Mass actually did run long, because it was announced that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's longtime (now sorta-retired) pastor, Tom Millane, had been named a monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI. (That doesn't exactly even things out for that Holocaust-denier fiasco, but it's a step in the right direction.)

Anyway, I was driving over to Bladeworld, and I figured I'd get there, and there would be maybe 100 people in the place, with the demographics and all the enthusiasm of a WNBA game. But this place was rockin' and packed to the rafters. I don't know what the legal capacity is in that building, but if I had exhaled, somebody would have gone flying out the far door.

Everybody was there—entire families, young couples, old couples, middle-age threesomes, politicians, bons vivants, and me. At one point, I was standing right next to City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich. I was going to introduce myself, but I didn't want to ruin her evening.

I swear, if I had shown up dressed as Pizza the Hut, I would have been the 87th-most uniquely dressed person there. No. 86 would have been this skinny, balding 40-something guy whose remaining hair was spiked and sprayed, Flock of Seagulls style. He actually looked like Howard Jones—if Howard Jones had spent the past 25 years taking weekly ass-whuppins.

I was talking to my friend Dirk, who is a personal trainer and a weight-room freak, when up walked (or, more correctly, thundered) a guy who looked as though he could take two Dirks, squeeze them together and swallow the mass whole, like a vitamin supplement. This guy was monstrous; he had to go 6 foot 4, 260. His head and shoulders looked like an Easter Island statue perched atop an aircraft carrier. (Those statues are called "moai," but if I had used that term, only two anthropologists would have gotten the joke.)

The guy's 60-inch chest was torturing a green Copper Queens T-shirt, and he was also wearing what can only (and must!) be described as tight-fitting gold lamé hotpants. He also had on fierce green lipstick and eye shadow, a pig-tailed wig and a hard hat. I immediately thought, "I gotta talk to this guy."

Turns out his name is Pat (in costume, he's Mista Miner), and he's a pharmacy technician. He moved out here a few years ago from Jersey, and he loves the weather, loves roller derby and loves his wife, who is the team manager for the Copper Queens. He also trains some of the team members at Gold's Gym on Speedway Boulevard. Nice guy.

Two things about skating: I've never, ever been on roller skates. Not once. I couldn't afford roller skates, even the cheap kind that strapped onto your regular shoes and got tightened in place by a skate key. Let's just say that when LBJ tried to fight the War on Poverty in my neighborhood, poverty won.

The second thing is that I grew up watching roller derby on TV. It was the Los Angeles T-Birds, led by Ralphie Valladares. The rival squad was led by Toughie Brasuhn, who was, no doubt, the inspiration for Croce when he sang: She was 5-foot-6, 215, a bleached-blonde bomber with a streak of mean.

I watched it religiously for a couple of years until somebody asked me, "Don't you think it's weird that the T-Birds only play home games, and they always manage to win on a last-second jam?" Another myth exploded.

The stuff at Bladeworld certainly wasn't staged. These are good athletes, and they get after it. Iron Curtain was led by Luc3f3r (pronounced "Lucifer"), and she was money. Every time she scored, the announcers, who were also very good, shouted, "Satan rules!"

With 16 seconds left in the game, and Ace's team down by an even 100 points, 138-38, they called a time out. Now, that's confidence! I thought, "I have to see this play!"

They ended up losing by more than 100.

The between-games entertainment was provided by a band named Monster Pussy. Really.