“I’m asking you nicely,” says Natasha. The outlaw warrior queen is on the phone as we drive into downtown Roseburg, southern Oregon, this crisp October night. “Just because I’m trying to avoid being that person,” Natasha says, “doesn’t mean I won’t be that person, so don’t make me be that person.” The woman on the other end is working a shift at a nearby motel. Natasha floats dropping by the office. “All I have to do is show my face and your boss is losing her shit. You’ll be unemployed tonight.”
I can’t hear what the woman says back, but Natasha is not soothed. “Are you kidding me?” she says. “I’ll kick your motherfucking door in and beat your fucking ass so fast it’s not even funny.”
When the call’s done Natasha Sherrae Beck, late twenties of no fixed address, glances at me and rolls her eyes. “We’re having drama,” she says.
“Somebody owe you something?
“No, they owe it to themselves to not need to go get a hospital bill right now,” she says. “That’s how I feel about it.”
I’ve brought a duffel bag full of boxing gear in case Natasha agrees to glove up. This buxom, raven-haired firebrand of an alchemic Mexican-Choctaw-Euro ancestry has a fearsome reputation, which I’ve heard of from all manner of folk, and I’m curious how she moves when it’s time to turn it on: how her spirit manifests in combat.
When I’d mentioned mixing it up with her, a big dude I know with his own past-and-a-half stared wide-eyed. “Tasha Beck?” he said, laughing nervously and then not laughing. “Don’t tell her you know me.”
Another guy whistled. Like a steam valve. “Judge let her smoke a cigarette in court,” he eventually said. “Only person they ever let light up in Douglas County Courthouse. Judge figured trying to stop her weren’t worth it.” Admiration spread over the face of the teller of this piece of Nastasha lore. “And she just sat there and smoked.”
Numerous people in these parts have a Tasha Tale. How much of the legend is true I don’t know, but even before I had heard of her, before I knew whom to credit, I saw a line of medical staples protruding from the inflamed scalp of one of the Umpqua Valley’s more skin-crawl inducing miscreants—a wizened ex-con with a predatorial reputation. In my earliest days here, before I understood that strolling the town’s scenic riverlines was best done with a 2A friend, this rabid leprechaun had approached me at pace, hissing and muttering, as I stood near his riverside encampment. He held a tomahawk in one hand and a knife in the other. When I asked who split his head open, all he’d volunteer was that he got jumped in a case of mistaken identity. And his assailant still hadn’t even said sorry, he complained.
Legend has it that Natasha single-handedly tolchocked eight people that night-the leprechaun and seven others-in a brutal masterclass of street justice.
I’d be keen to see the mighty Ms. Beck channel her warrior soul and train for UFC, so fearless she seems, or perhaps for an off the books, by the river, in the alleys, Pacific Northwestern circuit.
A friend has offered industrial space to box in should it come to that after a friendly chat.
Inside I crack a PBR, kicking back as Natasha reminisces about her schoolgirl days at Roseburg High. Her last fight there apparently landed her in unusually hot water—“although they also made a big deal about the midget”—but she assures me that the final incident was not the hate crime everyone made it out to be.
After the incident, “the principal said to me to get my mother, to call her and tell her to come here right now,” remembers Natahsa. “He says to me: “I don’t even want to look at you. You’re done. You’re outta here.’ And he goes in another room,” she says, chuckling.
I take a long swig.
“When my mom comes he throws his fucking paperwork down on the table and says, ‘You’re gonna have to give me a minute to collect myself. I’m so fucking disgusted with her.’ And I’m like, ‘Watch your fucking mouth. Don’t be fucking talking like that in front of my mom.’”
“The principal’s cussing?”
“He was mad. He was mad mad. And he’s telling my mom, ‘Your kid is something else, dude. There are kids that have been pulled out of this school, or their parents have pulled them out of classes with her because they are scared for their kids.’” And my mom goes, ‘I fucking don’t doubt it. But what’s up this time?’
Natasha takes a moment to draw on her smoke. I crack another beer. “What happened?” I ask.
“Well he’s like, ‘Today’s she’s crossed a line beyond all lines. I’m probably going to have half my student faculty taken from me. There’s a line of disrespectful, and there’s what she did today. People are going to be “Oh my God”’.
“You don’t spit on me,” says Natasha, blowing a long cloud. “I don’t give a fuck who you are. Spit on me I’ll fuck you up. I’m gonna fucking get you,” says Natasha, dark brown eyes locked on me. “So these twins came to Roseburg High from Oakland [California]. Black girls. The boyfriend of one of them was wearing my jacket—a big leather coat. Instead of asking me about it she comes up to me and spits in my face. I’m like, ‘Okay, well Maria.’ We’re not going to talk about nothing at this point, you know. So I grabbed her face and slammed it into the wall. Me and her got into it. Throwing punches. I pushed her on the ground and went to pull her towards me but her leg popped off. Everybody in the hallway’s dead silent.
And fucking I’m in shock, too. I’m fucking holding the leg – like what the fuck is going on? I didn’t know she had a fake fucking leg. So she starts kicking at me with her other leg and she spit at me. So I just start fucking her up with her fake leg. Fucking beat her with it.”
Spraying beer everywhere, I’m scared I’ve hit her with it—spat on her: oops—but Natasha keeps talking.
“When the principal is telling this my mom is laughing. She’s saying ‘It’s not funny; you’re in so much trouble,’ but she’s fucking laughing and laughing and when we’re in the car she’s still laughing and saying: ‘You: oh my God.”
After a hearty laugh Natasha agrees to box. I unzip my duffle bag, and Natasha chooses the red hand wraps. I go to help her strap up but she’s clearly done it before, so I leave her to it and wind my own hands in black.
The premises are crowded with heavy metal machinery so we head out into the alley behind. I rotate my neck, stretch my arms, warm up my shoulders, and stomp to check my legs are still firmly attached. It’s midnight and cold, but when I slip a mouthguard in, glove up, and the fighting zone takes over I feel nothing, am aware of nothing, outside the tight circle of now.
Until, that is, the person who opened the industrial space for us lugs a smoke machine into the alley, and as we circle each other in this scrubby back alley we begin disappearing from the ankles down.
“Go for it,” I tell Natasha, who seems hesitant to start unloading. I don’t want to spit on her to crank her engine, but I do jag in with some body checks, seeing her face up close as she seems to wonder what this is about. “It’s all right,” I say. “You can hit me.”
She unleashes a flurry of rips to the body and then hooks me. But she’s not in full war mode, and she’s not getting through. “Normally I kick, too,” Natasha says.
“Do it,” I tell her, adjusting stance for what’s coming.
And now in this dark alley her feet rise from the smoke to slam into my knees and shins as her painted eyes seem to dilate and her fists thud in from all directions.
I’m reluctant to punch her so again I step into a body check, frustrating her assault, shoving her, but she twists away and unloads at my head, my legs, at where I’m going.
And as we dance I get a sense of life in the sketchy riverbanks and streets of unmoored America not as a square challenge but as guerrilla war. Not as a fair contest but as cruelly contested from formation. As a battlespace in which all the moves, interruptions, incompletions, absences, betrayals, rage, and wastedness that sear so many from a tender age also instill the art of the ambush: the severe creed of there being no such thing as a fair fight.