MY Kill Play: Tim Patten
You can feel the electricity in the air that is generated from the crowd. The stands are so quiet you can hear a pin drop but then a full explosion occurs. The visiting team takes the limelight and the announcer introduces the players. Our home team comes through the doors and the room takes on another dimension as they take front stage and the announcer introduces them, creates the hype and then everything begins. The players are in place. The blockers are chosen and the jammers get ready to score and the rink is filled with the stars of my favorite sport ready to rumble and roll: ROLLER DERBY!
Roller Derby was the catalyst that lit up the souls of millions, says author Tim Patten. When you read this novel you will understand just what an impact it made and still does in his life today as you watch the players skate, feel the impact of the bumps, punches, fights and slams as the jammers hope to score and the crowd screams for favorite team. This book is about the sport but it’s about the personal story of the author, Tim Patten/Todd Patterson who formed many friendships, went to many gay bars, had lots of boyfriends and finally a harsh reality sets in that caused many players to realize that their time in life and the sport was about to come to an end. When President Obama passed a law in 2015 marriage for all in a speech on June 26 of that year, you could image the how Todd Patterson felt at that moment. The story begins with Todd being invited to the wedding of two gay men and telling readers about the weeding, the ceremony and the excitement when each man slipped the ring on the other that would become his partner for life. Then the harsh reality of something was about to set in as Todd’s chest tightened when he read and learned about a disease that so many would have and would take the lives of those close to him friends and teammates.
Imagine the impact when on June 5th 1981 the CDC made a report revealing that five homosexual men were infected with PCP and two had died. Gay men all over America were now vulnerable. Meet Jamie Beal who would become a great friend and influence in Todd’s life. Their meeting was electric and the scenes quite graphic and revealing as the giant speakers blasted music all over the club and the music and closeness took over for a moment before flashing back to a traumatic experience in Dr. Everett’s office that would embarrass and tarnish any five year old or even older. But, then his mind reeled ahead like a movie on the screen to the roller derby competition at Oakland Auditorium. Meet Joshua who is hot, and is working on a screen testing skaters for a TV commercial. Throughout the novel the author flashes back and forth to his childhood and incidents that he still remembers so vividly. One where he was five years old in the back seat of their old Chevy as they traveled on the farmland and was about to have an operation that frightened him. Even though his mother was soothing and kind the staff and the doctor seemed clinical as we move forward to Todd and Joshua. Showing up for the commercial and the shoot was on a Saturday at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. The following chapter 4 introduces more men Larry Lewis, Many Green his childhood idol and Mark Spitz of the roller derby. Then there is gorgeous Ed who would make not just guy’s head’s turn. As the crew filmed the commercial the players acted as if it was a real game and the fights, brushes and roughness made you think they were competing for a title or championship game. Next meet Zack who wanted to get to know Todd better. Obviously our author is one hot guy! Driving him he seemed bumped and brushed but one would change it all forever. What do you do when you learn that your life might be over because you have AIDS? How do you cope with this dreaded illness and hope do you keep it hidden from others?
The difficult choice he makes is to learn the truth himself as he opens a door with just a number above it and enters to find many others in the same situation as himself. Thoughts went through his mind as he remembers that everyone in San Francisco goes to the baths, everyone is intimate and close but when he remembers his past and the operation at age five it brings tears to the reader’s eyes as he want through something he never quite understood. Meeting Carol at this center and talking about his personal encounters and knowing that the process took minutes Todd spent a few days trying to improve the speed of medical information systems by modifying the medication charting code. But, in the end the ways he treated himself were unorthodox, unique, and at times you wonder whether dangerous. Dancing Queen is the title of Chapter 6 and once again we meet Jamie Beal whose visit coincided with the roller derby game at Kezar Pavilion. Meeting him he stared at him with longing eyes. When his friend Ross asked him a more intimate question you will have to learn that for yourself. It’s personal. The interaction is filled with humor; the partying quite loud, graphic and they had tons of fun and the mood electric and charged. There were jealousies and rivalries but when Todd meets David things take on a different turn. Ross came trotting up to them and the scene was quite provocative and the dancing well read it and find out. But the discussion changes when someone brings up that “Rumor is that government is testing a chemical weapon on us. You never know what the Pentagon is doing.” Todd was anxious and nervous and something was stalking the nation and when they find out things will take a tragic turn.
Todd returns for his results and the answer is he is the seventh one to get the disease in that state. Not something he ever wanted to hear? Carol the nurse who delivered the results felt heartsick for him but in his mind he froze and speaking was not easy. What do you do when you are now a victim of this epidemic? How do you deal with knowing your life can end at any time? Todd went on the net and found different treatments, different unusual ways to treat his illness and talked to some who claimed they had the cure. But, in reality we all know that medications have been given to halt the illness but only a few are that lucky to survive.
Imagine that the epidemic gets worse in 1983 when the CDC publishes their first list of precautions for healthcare workers and allied heath professionals to prevent AIDS transmission. Reading that the epidemic is widespread in the Bay area and that it’s a death sentence puts a damper on the mood of the book and many scenes that will help readers understand what Todd says: I am the face of the unknown virus he thought and then he adds: AND THE UNKNOWN VIRUS IS ME! But, will he let it win?
Remembering how a good friend named Bonnie saved his life from almost drowning and then bringing it back to the present and rationalizing how to understand the virus that was slowly killing him. But, using his speed and exertion in roller derby would not alleviate the stress but would help him deal better with life. He used a visualization process to each aching muscle pains from roller derby matches and then threw himself into with much more vigor. Setting aside daily a time to focus on relaxing each part of him seemed like something positive to help guide him. Slipping back to his childhood he remembers the death of Grandma Miller and his own mother leaving in a terrible state. At times he feels like there is a hollow space within himself that might never be filled. When he speaks to his mother and tells her about his illness it brought tears to my eyes and if I was standing in the same room with her I would have given her a huge hug. With parents that are supportive and caring telling Todd he could come home and they would care for him, the story brings to light what others should follow that being gay is who he is and as their son they accept him with love and understanding.
My favorite part of the book is when his family and friends of other roller derby stars and their families come to see the great Joan Weston in action. Let’s not forget Barbara Baker and the one whose ego is really inflated and provides so much local color Eve Belzak. But the story takes on a sad turn each time another member of the derby dies and he reads about it in the papers.
Hal Davis was his partner in the rink. Joshua ran the league and David his one true love. The scenes in the club in chapter 15 are graphic and filled with love and tons of dancing but it also brings to light the tragedy of the illness. Consulting comrades is Chapter 16 where Tim focuses on what happens when Ryan White, an HIV, positive teen dies. Dealing with the battles, seeing an expert in hoping to cure the illness and never giving up author Tim Patten learns the meaning of family, friendship, discrimination, heartache, hope and courage.
Meet Susan O’Hara who works with him getting a specific deal related to his real job in the tech world. The scene where she gets a ticket is priceless and Todd auditions for another television commercial, work and the derby keep him centered and besides David and Susan, Todd and Shirley have become close friends.
Joining a team in the World Roller Federation, which formed new teams, and Weston opened a training center for new hopefuls in Southern California. Both the Roller Derby League and its successor the International Roller Derby League used a rigid star system to rank the top players. Chapter 17 will guide you through this as you hear the fans in the stadium and the players come out. Todd felt like himself and he has taken every drug, medicine, odd preparation to keep him on track and alive. The American Skating Derby Association met weekly. They offered promotional packages venues. Joan Weston, Eve Belzak, Matt Gini and Dee Dee Medine bought into them. The most exciting part of the book is the big derby event where his family came and families of others were there too and the action is thrilling and by the end of the game you the reader will feel the bumps, bruises, hits and strikes as the jammers and blockers take the rink and the final point is scored when the jammer puts his/her hand on his/her hips. This is a true story of the courage; faith, hope and survival of someone who loves life and I hope will share more roller derby stories and his life experiences with readers. Told from the heart!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine