My Razzle Dazzle: Todd Peterson
Life takes on different meanings for many people some need to find acceptance within themselves while others struggle for years to learn who they really are and where they belong. From a Monroe, Wisconsin to the Bay Area author Todd Peterson sets the stage, enters many different worlds and arenas and opens up his heart, mind and soul to you the reader. My Razzle Dazzle is a poignant, heartfelt and honest memoir that will teach young people, men and women that who you choose to be and who you are is what really counts. Razzle Dazzle is defined as a noisy and exciting activity that attracts attention like football, action movements or something done to confuse an opponent. Enter the worlds that Todd chose to be a part of but first understand his struggles, his wins, losses and defeats as he takes you on a trip back in time to understand Todd.
Eight year old Scott Clark was tough and he loved bullying other kids especially Todd. From the moment he entered his presence and often played in the streets, Todd learned early on that things were going to be tough. School is supposed to be a safe haven for kids and befriending both boys and girls should have been okay. But, first Todd shares a tragic and difficult moment in his life when his father decides to take the one thing that he loves more than anything, his dog, Princess and ends her life. Tragic, sad and difficult for him to deal with. But, things move ahead and time does not stand still as we meet Todd and Scott once again as his older brother has to come to his rescue when someone picks on him.
Each chapter relates something in his past and then he summarizes it and relates the events in the present and how the past impacts the present. Todd has always been on the outside looking in even in his family trying to find acceptance within his family structure and mainly in the eyes of his father. But, what he recounts in the many chapters are events that are filled with humor, joy, struggles and triumphs. Wait until you learn about flying like Peter Pan, his friendship with Tommy, playing tag with his brothers and the fun of just being him. But, what happens when he decides to do Double Dutch? What kind of ridicule does he get from his friends? The time period is the 60’s and 70’s and the main thrust his Todd’s self awareness of realizing that he was gay. Todd is quite diligent, persistent and had a passion for something that might surprise readers but which kept me glued to reading this memoir from start to finish. As Todd learned how to deal with different kinds of people, worked in a carnival and made some great friends his one hope was to enter an arena filled with Whips, Jams, Blow Outs, Blocks, jabs and much more: You got it my favorite sport growing up and going to some many matches: ROLLER DERBY! I loved the New York Chiefs, the Bay Bombers, the Boston Red Devils and many more. Sitting in the armory and in Madison Square Garden was exciting. Todd might have felt like an outcast, outsider and living within a world that isolated him from others, he never faltered, loved watching Roller Derby and decided early on that he would somehow find his way into the arena and skate with the pros.
Todd had to find his place within himself and he left home, hitched across the United States, had to really budget his money, hoped that he would have a place to sleep and then even graduated college with a degree in computers. He never gave up on himself!
Girls were a part of his life and although he did try to have a real relationship with some he realized that it would not work out. The memoir focuses on the many difficulties he had in school, on the playground, his first encounters with different male partners, the end results, which were sometimes difficult, and his long time relationship with Kevin. You get two voices in this memoir: One Todd telling it as the narrator and the second Todd explaining it in the present. Going to church with Bonnie, entering Sunday school and listening to the music of the 60’s the author brings the time period to life and those that lived and were part of that era will definitely identify with Todd in many ways. How the Public Librarian Turned Into Freak, understanding homosexuality from reading, the Gay Liberation Front who Frank Kameny worked with and the many conferences that made Todd aware that he was different. The hardest thing for Todd was to find acceptance in the eyes of his father and often he felt that he left him down. His relationship with his brother Darrel, feeling isolated, rejected and often beaten in the halls of his school, it’s amazing that he was able to withstand so much and yet come out ahead. Chapter 10 will enlighten readers on High School, Girls and A Circus of Wonders followed by his friendship with Debbie, working in Kiddie Land and as Ride Jockey who took tickets and loaded passengers – it was called Bucking tubs and started the ride. Find out how much fun that was and why part of his job was to rescue kids who jumped the buckets when you read Chapter 11. Always feeling different within himself, as he relates on page 108: his mind swirled with firework colors and the older of burning oranges mixed with gingersnaps wafted through the air. His world was colorful and filled with different types of visions and pictures. But, Todd like so many during that era experimented with recreational drugs as the best time of his life. His first acid experience changed his life. Chapter 12 focuses on the Madison Scouts and Bugle Corps and his relationship with someone that he dearly misses Dale.
Todd was enthralled with Roller Derby on television as so many others were. He loved the rebels, the sport itself, the skaters and when readers learn more about the inside scoop and how Roller Derby was really run, you will be amazed at what you learn. Just wanting to be accepted for who he was and is only part of the story. The Vietnam War and the protests are part of what reading audiences will learn about and his dream of becoming a Roller Derby Skater is detailed throughout the memoir as he enters the rink, practices with the beginning and finds himself equal to the intermediates. Hoping to reach his goal or attain his dream he goes to San Francisco where the real journey begins. From Fags, Dykes, Roller Derby Queens to Charlie who was on the opposing team you feel the rush, the energy and the momentum each time he puts on his skates.
Roller Derby was something that I always loved to watch and I definitely loved watching it in person. It achieved popularity throughout the country. When New York sports writer, Damon Runyon witnessed a game in Miami in 1938, he suggested more contact and rules. Roller Derby became a game that entered your homes each week between teams of five men and five men scoring points by lapping their opponents. It was first televised from the Polo Grounds in New York in 1946 capturing more attention when broadcast in 1948 from the 69th Regiment Armory. As the author relates the many players that he played with and against I recall my favorites on the New York Chiefs: Gerry Murray and on the Brooklyn team the hardest and toughest female every: Midge Toughie Brashun. Chiefs, Red Devils, were just some of the teams but the New York Chiefs were favorite till this day. Added in Murray’s husband Gene Gammon and the sport took off in more ways than one as Todd Peterson becomes part of the Bay Bombers. Imagine being part of this team and skating with the greats!
As you read the memoir you too will get caught up in the competitions, the game, the rules and learning about the Derby Code and how points were scored and how games were won. His relationship with Kevin, his friends that died and his understanding that he had HIV and dealing with cancer and much more, Todd is someone to be admired and respected. Hearing his voice and learning about his work in the computer field as a consultant, and creator of many innovative programs, Todd Peterson sets the bar high for so many others. Hiding his sexuality from his father was hard when he learns the truth it could have been devastating but something happens when he, his brother and dad enter a local bar that changes it all. An ending that will bring tears to the reader’s eyes and a man who would never give up on himself or his dream. My Razzle Dazzle: When an outside decides to do the unexpected he is not longer on the outside looking in.
Fran Lewis: MJ magazine: Just Reviews