For those of you who couldn’t make it out to last week’s TNB Literary Experience in Los Angeles, here’s a little taste of what you missed.

Behold this set from spoken word maestro Rich Ferguson, accompanied by B.O.S.S:

The lover that left too soon, the other that stayed too long;
the driver that cut you off in traffic;
the weatherperson that never gets the five-day forecast right;
the upper class, middle class & lower class;
the infirm & elderly;
Republicans & Democrats;
Hispanics, Blacks & Whites;
Israel & Palestine;
suburbanites & Skid Row denizens.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.

Hitler, Mussolini, Milosevic, 
Pinochet, Pol Pot & Ratko Mladic.
They all needed to make an enemy outta someone—
practically everyone but themselves.

Slavery, segregation;
the Civil War & two World Wars;
Vietnam & 9/11;
the Trail of Tears & Mandela imprisoned;
Hiroshima, Nagasaki; 
the Oklahoma City Bombing;
Kent State & Tiananmen Square;
Columbine, the L.A. Riots & global genocides.

Everyone’s got a finger poised 
ready to hit the Doomsday button
like it’s some super-hot G-spot.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.

The Lincoln assassination, 
JFK assassination,
John Lennon,
Malcolm X,
Medgar Evers, 
Harvey Milk,
Che Guevara,
Trotsky & Ghandi assassinations.

It’s insane,
the way we’ve let guns do the speaking 
instead of peace talks.

And somewhere in the midst of all this bloody history
Martin Luther King Jr. once called out: “I have a dream, I have a dream…”
But sometimes it’s hard to keep a dream alive,
especially when you’re caught in the devil’s crosshairs.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.

Cover-ups, 
pay-offs & corruption;
secret torture sessions & death.
Invading Libya, Iraq & Afghanistan.
For all the lies our government has told 
its lips may as well be blue:

Truth asphyxiated.

This suicidal tendency,
a blemish of supremacy 
on the face of our nation.
We’re well on our way 
to making enemies out of everyone.
Pretty soon,
we won’t even be able to call 
our own shadow a friend.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.

It’s a fatal attraction,
the way we make ourselves gasoline
when someone’s heart’s on fire.
We just wanna see all the love
go up in smoke.

And in the name of the Bothered, Stunned & Tortured Ghost,
let me say:
Instead of worshipping,
we’ve spent way too long
warshipping all our Gods & Goddesses 
with bombs instead of prayers.

That’s what happens when you spend too much time
in the zero church:
You never get your soul’s worth of healing.

And so we continue
to prey upon others 
with this religion of vengeance.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.


Author’s Note: If you’d like to see a video of this piece, click here.

After a whistle stop tour of my hometowns of LA, San Diego and NYC, I’m back in my other home, Petersham, NSW, back teaching, writing. The dog, cat and kids. My office in the upstairs hallway. My beloved is here, and an indispensable best friend, family both there and here, my livelihood (for the present) is here, but my characters, my soul-mates, are there.

Not as horny a dilemma as you think. I drive on the left but glance to the right. I watch SBS News, but hear CBS 8. I eavesdrop on the conversation behind me on the train (a couple of call center managers talking about ‘escalations’ and ‘dehiring’) and give a SoCal edge to their antipodean jive. As the train winds out into the suburbs I see the two story timber homes of Brooklyn rather than the single-story brick bungalows so prevalent here. The boarded up bookstores are the same everywhere, as are the basement dildo stores and thrift shops and Laundromats and pawn stores, but instead of VIP Lounges I see gun stores, and smell Mexican instead of Thai, slices instead of pies and great vats of undrinkable swill instead of aromatic shots of espresso. And water water everywhere. I imagine the azure Southern Pacific washing up on the silver sands of southern California and see frozen lakes instead of mangrove swamps.

It’s a little scary, a little schizo, and I wonder what I’m missing. I think about Flaubert and Faulkner, neither of whom were entirely where they wanted to be and I also think of Stephen King who transformed Flatline, Maine into a febrile field of dreams and whose words stare back at me from a post-it on my monitor.

YOU CAN DO THIS.


ALEX “AXLES OF EVIL” COHEN:  So, Kasey…roller derby is a pretty rough sport, right? I wouldn’t think such a sensitive writer as yourself could compete in such a brutal game!

JENNIFER “KASEY BOMBER” BARBEE: Have you seen these guns?! No, but seriously, roller derby IS a very rough sport, but even we sensitive writer types need to blow off steam sometimes. Roller derby skaters nowadays come from all walks of life. Also, there’s nothing to get your creative juices flowing like a little sanctioned violence.

 

What exactly do you mean by ‘sanctioned violence?’

Well, as you’ll see in our book, as rough as roller derby looks, it’s also a highly technical sport with reams and reams of rules to keep all that rough-and-tumble action safe. People like to ask, “So you just get to go out there and beat people up on wheels, huh?” Well…not exactly. The aggression in roller derby is as complex as the aggression in football or rugby, but also like those sports, it’s the big hits and sweet strategy that keep the fans coming back. It is also what kept me coming back season after season! I like to land a nice solid hit…who doesn’t?

 

Was there a particular moment when you just knew you had a rollergirl inside you?

I think she’s been in there since my adolescent local skating rink days. I was always getting in trouble for weaving a little too closely to the other kids on the rink. But as an adult, I think I knew I’d found my place the very first day I showed up for practice in 2003. I had no idea who I’d see in that rink parking lot, and I was really taken aback at how normal and friendly everyone was. They were very welcoming, and un-intimidating..and then they put on skates. They were loud, crass, hilarious, fearless and (in those early days) totally reckless! Then we went out for drinks a couple of days later and I realized that they were the exact same way at the bar! It was like being sucked into the most bad ass gang in the world.

 

How is writing like roller derby?

In both, you’d better get used to getting knocked down. But you practice and practice and practice until you realize that it’s not about how many times you get knocked down, but what you learn when you’re on your ass and how quickly you’re able to get back up and try again. Teamwork also helps a whole helluva lot.

 

Here’s a variation on an old favorite:  Granting them the skill to skate, if you could choose any 4 famous non-athletes living or dead to be your derby blockers, who would they be?

I’m not religious, but I’d say Moses would be pretty high on the list. If the man could part the Red Sea, I’m sure that splitting a pack of blockers would be a piece of cake. Bea Arthur – those shoulders would be destroyers! Joan of Arc – because if she’s willing to martyr herself for a cause, maybe she would make some good bait in the pack. And finally, Pam Grier. No one kicks butt like Pam Grier.

 

***

JENNIFER “KASEY BOMBER” BARBEE: Axles of Evil, what a fantastic name! However did you come up with it?

ALEX “AXLES OF EVIL” COHEN: Well, I’m a journalist and back when I first joined derby in 2003, the phrase “axis of evil” was in the news a whole bunch. Also, I’m a vintage car buff (I own a 58 Edsel Ranger) so I liked the axles reference (and of course there’s the spiffy skating move called the axel). I’ve since discovered that Axles of Evil is also the name of a bad-ass bicycle polo club in Portland, Oregon. Haven’t met them yet, but I’d like to.


But you had a different nom du skate for a while, did you not?

Yeah, in 2005, I moved to Austin, Texas for a stretch where I skated with the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls. I was fortunate enough to be placed on the Catholic-school-girl themed team the Holy Rollers. They had an Axle Rosie and it would have just been too damn confusing. So I became Smother Theresa for two seasons.

 

Was the derby life different in Austin?

Definitely so. Each roller derby league has its own way of doing things – everything from rules to league structure to cultural traditions. They have a great custom known as the Last Supper where the two teams who are about to face off in a bout come together for a potluck meal and some bonding before the bloodshed. I remember showing up to my first Last Supper and being terribly nervous… until the door was answered by skater Venis Envy who was COMPLETELY naked. By the end of the evening, Venis had convinced most of us to go au naturel. A few bottles of vino later, we took a couple of group nudie shots together. It was a great night… Well, that is until I had to get lead paint removed from my house this year by a bunch of burly dudes. I came home to find my room utterly spotless, and the photos of us naked rollergirls stacked nicely on my dresser. Doh!

 

You recently wrapped up a West Coast Book Tour. How’d that go?

Super fun! We got to eat oysters, see old friends, and have a fantastic cocktail called a Unicorn Jizz (Absolut Mango, Triple Sec, Simple Syrup, Sweet and Sour and Grenadine)! It’s definitely rewarding to meet rollergirls on the road and find out how the book speaks to them – no matter what stage of their derby career they’re at. We did have one very awkward moment at a reading. A woman sitting in the back row was pulling a Sharon Stone “Basic Instinct” on us, flashing flesh-colored undies that really looked for a moment like Barbie genitalia…. I found it very difficult to make eye contact with our audience after that.

 

Finally, if you were a tree, what tree would you be?

A manzanita! They’re short, tough, little trees found in California with a smooth, mahogany-colored bark. Love those things.

 

 

I had no idea how many miles we had driven.

I’d lost all track of how many cities and towns and truckstops we’d been through.

The TNBers we’d met, at least, I could keep track of.

Los Angeles has caught a cold.

She sniffles, shivers and pulls her hills and canyons tighter, trying to brace herself against the chill.

“Man,” she says. “It’s, like, totally cold outside.”

She’s right.

Yesterday dawned with a blueish tinge. The air was crisp and clear under a sky of brightest blue. Even the smog had been frightened into submission, it was too cold for haze and the brown gases and sooty dust and slunk back up the tailpipes and chimneys from whence they’d emerged.

It was like a new world.

A clean one.

And so I went out.

Be-sneakered and happy I climbed the earthen trails of Griffith Park, winding under ponderous eucalyptus and umbrella fig-trees, bidding a chipper “good morning” to celebrities and stepping over piles of defecation from leashed Labradors and wild coyotes.

As I climbed I grew warmer.

My blood pulsed through my limbs and the pitiful, weakened sun climbed upon my back and bid me carry it along the paths. It was as light as a feather, but warm as a lovers embrace.

I smiled to myself, mystified. People often judge my city without knowing her, and it’s their loss, for she is truly beautiful. I looked around at this wilderness within a city and marveled that it had taken me less than a five minute walk from my Hollywood home to get here.

I climbed higher, emerging from the tree line just below the observatory.

It was open. I went inside. I opened my mind as it opened it’s doors, and suddenly I was just a speck in the cosmos.

In space everything is round.

We are surrounded by roundness.

We walk on a ball.

We breathe in round particles.

Dots.

Our tides and emotions are dictated by a globe.

I forget these things sometimes.

It was nice to be reminded.

My life, too, moves in circles.

Little orbits around big and small occurrences.

I spin around and come back to the beginning, then zip off in another cycle, on a different trajectory, but I always seem to come back to the starting point before finding another path.

This makes me happy.

I like to see circles in my life. It makes sense, somehow, to swing like the giant pendulum that hangs from the observatory…

… and to never be still.

I, on the other hand, don’t have a great machine with which to watch my life unfold.

To my knowledge there are no white-coated scientists observing me and making notes.

I do not think I am someone else’s experiment. But then again, I could be wrong.

Perhaps there are eyes trained down upon me, just as we have eyes trained skywards?

Perhaps there is a slot in our roof that slides back to reveal a giant telescope focused towards us?

Perhaps not.

In any case, here we are. Inexplicably.

Little dots on a bigger dot that looks like every other tiny dot out there….

… and it makes me feel charmingly insignificant.