Simple sports

Roller derby is a complicated game with a set of rules that gets bigger and more complex with every iteration. Every time I explain the game to a person who has never seen a bout, I’m reminded how complex it is. And I wonder about roller derby’s ability to attract a larger and mainstream audience. And I worry that our complex rules are a huge contributing factor to its niche status.

Derby, once you understand how to read it, is as dramatic as any other sport.

But how do you teach people to read it if they don’t understand the rules? How do you explain to a newbie, for example, cutting rules? If you cut in front of two skaters, it’s a major. If you cut one, it’s a minor. Unless that person is ahead of everyone else and on the other team, then it’s a major. Except if she’s so far ahead that she’s out of play, then it’s nothing. (Let’s not even get into the beast that is the point-scorer-changing star pass, which gives referees nightmares.)

Now, I’ve been warned about making analogies to and using examples from other sports, but stick with me.

Every summer, I go see the local AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim of Southern California of the United States. I drink beer, shout at players and umpires and have a good time. I follow the Phillies and am happy when they win and sad when they lose.

Still, I have no idea how the infield-fly rule works. And I don’t have a great grasp of dropped third strikes and foul-tip outs.

And then there’s hockey, which I watch live once or twice a year. I honestly have no idea what you can and cannot do.

But I understand the way to keep score. And that, for most fans, is enough to convey the drama that attracts us to sports.

Terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad referee

For the last 17 months, I’ve been roller skating in counter-clockwise circles around women hitting each other while also skating in counter-clockwise circles, blowing a whistle and shouting projecting at them.

Except not really.

For the first several of those month, you could barely call what I was doing roller skating. It was mostly falling with some rolling between. And there were times when I’d find an excuse to skip practice, or show up late because I was goddamned discouraged and my level of suck.

And, even when I refereed my first bout after six of those months, I didn’t really do much whistle blowing or penalty calling. And I still remember one of the few penalties I did call being totally and completely wrong. Yes, I sucked.

I spent months getting better, reading the rules, watching an sweaty women ram into each other an uncountable number of times, practicing, improving. Go persistence.

And it paid off. I got better. I got to officiate the first WFTDA-sanction bout in Iowa. And the first WFTDA-sanctioned bout featuring all Iowa teams. And the first bout, also WFTDA-sanctioned, between Des Moines’ two leagues. I was accepted to officiate a tournament in Milwaukee in June. And it has made me feel like hot shit. Go me.

Thing is, I still suck.

Feedback from a skater following a recent bout : “From my vantage point, it looked like you often waited for other refs to make calls on penalties it seemed you were looking right at.”

But she’s wrong. I wasn’t waiting for other refs to make the calls. It was worse than that. Not only were my calls were just slow, I was so unaware that I didn’t know other referees were making the same call. Because I suck.

Yes, 17 months of skating and falling down, reading rules and getting confused, scrimmaging and bouting, I still miss a ton of action, and am slow of the calls I make. But that’s OK. I’m going to take my crappy officiating across the Midwest and I’ll get better. Never perfect, but better. Because persistence pays off.

How I became Amazon’s pitchman for a 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant on Facebook

My career as a personal-lubricant pitchman started with a favorited tweet on Stellar that linked to Amazon where, for just $1,495, anyone could purchase a 55-gallon drum of Passion Natural water-based lubricant (and save 46 percent off list!).

“What are you going to do with all this lube?! Wrestling match? Biggest adult party ever?” the pitch for the 522-pound tub went. “If you are looking for a simply jaw-dropping amount of lube, Passion Natural Water-Based Lubricant is ready to get the fun started with this 55 gallon drum! With its superb formula you will have a natural feel that keeps you moist longer and also works great with all toy materials. Easily washes away with warm water and mild soap. You may never run out of lube again!”

While it isn’t eligible for free Amazon Prime shipping, freight is a reasonable $20.95. There were entertaining customer reviews, often the best part of the odd products for sale on Amazon, and, since it was Valentine’s Day, it was timely.

Amused, I posted it to Facebook with the line “A 55-gallon drum of lube on Amazon. For Valentine’s Day. And every day. For the rest of your life.” And then I went on with my life.

A week later, a friend posts a screen capture and tells me that my post has been showing up next to his news feed as a sponsored story, meaning Amazon is paying Facebook to highlight my link to a giant tub of personal lubricant.

Other people start reporting that they’re seeing it, too. A fellow roller derby referee. A former employee of a magazine I still write for. My co-worker’s wife. They’re not seeing just once, but regularly. Said one friend: “It has shown up as one on mine every single time I log in.”

I’m partially amused that Amazon is paying for this, but I’m also sorta annoyed. Of course Facebook is happily selling me out to advertisers. That’s its business. That’s what you sign up for when make an account.

But in the context of a sponsored story, some of the context in which it was a joke is lost, and I’ve started to wonder how many people now see me as the pitchman for a 55-gallon drum of lube.

“Undisclosed location”

Embattled (there’s a journalism cliche I’ve always wanted to use not really) University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen G. Bloom told Jim Romenesko:

“I’m at an undisclosed location. I left because I don’t want some of these crazy people who are reading everything they want to read into my story to know where I am.”

Ten bucks says Bloom, a man I’d consider a mentor, is on pre-planned holiday trip.

Filling the X-Files void

As a teenager, I was introduced to, and loved watching, The X-Files. Sunday appointment viewing and when it jumped to the big screen, it was one of only two movies I made a point to see opening day.

Then David Duchovny quit and the Agent Mulder disappeared and Robert Patrick joined and became the new Agent Scully and the old Agent Scully turned into the new Agent Mulder and it sucked and then The X-Files went away for good.

Then I was introduced to Fringe. It hit the same sweet spot that The X-files had.

But now that Fringe is getting closer to death, I need a replacement.

So what’s it take for a show to hit that same geeky place in my heart? I think these are the elements:

  • Suspenseful science fiction
  • Set on present day planet Earth
  • Normal people investigating some grand unknown (black oil of The X-files or the other dimension of Fringe)
  • But not too much focus on “mythology” over “monster of the week” episodes
  • Focus on a few key relationships (Mulder and Scully. Peter and Olivia. Dr. Bishop and Peter.)
  • Great dialog with deadpan humor

A couple weeks ago I put the question to fellow Fringe and X-file lover Jordan Running on Twitter:

@swirlee Random question: As a lover of “The X-files” and “Fringe,” what other shows or movies hit the same sweet spot for you?

@bergus

Nick Bergus

He came up with a couple:

@bergus Perhaps Criminal Minds (and its short-lived contemporary The Inside) and The 4400 (though flawed). Fringe’s the first to come close.

@swirlee

Jordan Running

I also asked on Aardvark and got a few suggestions:

  • The Lost Room
  • Lost
  • Carnivale
  • Surface
  • Primeval
  • The Adventures of Sarah Jane
  • The Middleman

And here’s my thought: Torchwood. Let’s see if it hits my necessary elements:

  • Suspenseful science fiction ✔
  • Set on present day planet Earth ✔
  • Normal people investigating some grand unknown ✔ except Captain Jack Harkness
  • But not too much focus on “mythology” over “monster of the week” episodes ✔
  • Focus on a few key relationships ✔ only a few more characters
  • Great dialog with deadpan humor ✔

Am I missing some important elements? Are there other heirs to The X-Files throne?

UPDATE:

Another suggestion