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Melding the Beats of Two Drummers

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Melding the Beats of Two Drummers
At home with DJ Stridenasty
Chelsea Yarbrough

It's eleven on Thursday morning when I call DJ Stridenasty's work phone line. It goes to voicemail after ringing a few times. Five minutes later, I get a text message from his professional Pesterchum handle: just finishing up a set at Tabrenach. Can you come within the next hour? Will be out of town next week.

I'm there twenty minutes later and end up in a corner, watching. I'm one of about three humans in the room; the rest are trolls anywhere between nine and fifteen sweeps, enjoying their daytime hours before they head to bed. DJ Stridenasty, real name Dave Strider, is pale, gangly, and human, and he's wearing sunglasses even in the poorly-lit club. He handles the equipment with the confidence only long years of practice can bring and everyone in the club thrums with the energy of the music he chooses. After the set winds down and he starts packing up, he waves me over.

"Saw you in the corner," he says. His voice is slower than I expected, with a faint hint of a Southern twang shaping his vowels. "Let me finish packing this and we can pick up some coffee. Did you drive or take the bus?"

Bus, I tell him.

"Mind if we do the interview in my apartment? The babysitter needs to go home. I'll drive."

At the Starbucks on the corner, his order is placed with such detailed instructions the barista has to write it down. He catches a look at my face as we wait for our coffees, and he throws over his shoulder the remark, "Coffee machine broke last week, otherwise we'd've gone straight to the apartment."

How did it break?

"The pot exploded."

What?

"Sopor slime plus coffee equals explosion. Basic xenochemistry."

Strider and his family live in an apartment on the fourth floor of a modest residential apartment block, and he hints, broadly, that I should help carry equipment up to the apartment. I obey.

Inside the apartment, a violet-eyed troll is sitting in the kitchen, wearing purple pajamas and clown face paint, reading a book and eating what appears to be a sopor slime pie. We enter, and he gazes at us with perfect equanimity, licking green goo off his fingers.

"How're the kids?" Strider asks.

"Tiny miracles," the troll answers, slow and deep. "Sleeping like the chloroformed."

Strider takes this in, well, stride, goes to another room to check on 'the kids,' and comes back to see the presumably-babysitter off. Once said babysitter is out the door, he sits down at the table, shoving the sopor slime pie out of the way, and chugs the remainder of his coffee before telling me to start popping questions, though not the big one, if I don't mind.

Strider was raised by his brother, who is more than a decade older than him, after an accident involving their parents that he tells me not to ask about. It's clear that Strider still admires his brother despite being well out of childhood at 27. He tells me in tones of reverence that his brother raised him on "swords, puppets, and irony." Strider still does Japanese iaidō, solo swordfighting with live blades, recreationally.

"I tried fencing at school," he says, "but I kept accidentally being realistic." His brother, who lives nearby, visits frequently, often with an unsheathed blade in hand, though Strider is quick to add, defensively, "We don't do it inside anymore, though. It's not safe."

Strider started doing DJ work in high school for fun and to earn spending money. By the time he graduated from community college, he was well-known in both troll and human circles, so in demand that he started doing it professionally. It shows in his performances. He has an expert's skilled hands and intimate knowledge of his equipment, but a young man's enthusiasm, irreverence, and willingness to put the uncoordinateable into his mixes: at one point I heard Greek dances in bizarre time signatures as the background to an Alternian Top 40 radio song; somewhere else I thought I heard Tuvan throat singing. He tells me, while pouring himself a glass of apple juice, that I'm right; he's been experimenting with using human folk music "because, you know, this is music that most of these trolls, and the humans too, would think was too uncool for their über-cool selves. But I make them like it, without even knowing they like it. Keep the umlaut on über, by the way." Even so, his signature style is the unselfconscious use and unification of troll and human music, interspersed with cutting musical commentary on what he sees as the rising tendency in human society to adopt xeno-Orientalist views towards Alternian society.

Strider plays for troll clubs almost as much as he does for human ones; there are few troll DJs, and even fewer who have the experience to play even semi-professionally. But he waxes enthusiastic about his future competitors: "Those young trolls, you know, the ones who are growing up in mixed society, I want to see what they'll do. Especially the lowblooded ones, who are more equal in human society than they are in troll society, I think they're going to be the ones to watch. The bluebloods will stay insulated to protect their privilege, but the rest have nothing to lose by coming to this side of the warp.

"I mean, look at Terezi," he adds, referring to Terezi Pyrope, the first troll to be admitted to the bar, and who now lives elsewhere in the city, working at the office of the U.S. District Attorney. Strider is Pyrope's moirail, a role that brought him notoriety during the media furor surrounding her when she passed the exam.

Part of Strider's appeal for troll clubs, besides his political beliefs, is his well-known fondness for adopting and reinterpreting aspects of troll culture. He's thought of his affections as falling "in quadrants" since middle school. "I liked the irony of being human, completely human, and yet having the troll relationship mentality, which felt like a good fit for me. It was about the same time I realized that sexual orientation as a concept was restrictive. It's a piece-of-shit car with an accelerometer in the passenger seat and a test dummy for a driver. It needs crashing."

Is he bisexual, then?

"If that helps me fit prettily in your boxes. It doesn't matter. My friend, he's human, at one point a troll tried to confess kismesissitude to him, and my friend said, 'Sorry, but I am not a homosexual.' And once the troll found out what the word means, he said, 'Why is that even a thing?' Because it doesn't matter. Humans only care because we used to only be able to reproduce heterosexually and our culture hasn't adapted to it yet."

What about his children?

He shushes me. "If you refer to them they'll wake up and we –"

A hiccoughing clicking sound starts coming from the back room, and he apologizes and disappears for a few moments, reemerging with a bundle of baby in his arms. I realize, once he sits down, that the child is actually a troll grub.

Glancing up, and probably seeing my expression through his ever-present sunglasses, he says, "Ms. Yarbrough, say hello to Hasa, also known as Crawly and 'It's four p.m., your genetic material, your turn to refresh the sopor slime'."

While I'm recovering from the implications of that, the doorknob rattles, and a very tired-looking troll with enormous horns lets himself in. Sideways.

In the introductions that follow, I discover that this is Tavros Nitram, Strider's matesprit. Nitram quietly and nervously points out that they're registered legally both as troll matesprits and as human spouses, partially for the tax benefits but mostly because the legal hurdles of human Strider adopting their troll offspring would have been insurmountable otherwise. He has the particular throaty accent of trolls raised on Alternia, but a small stammer cuts the impression given by his otherwise-intimidating physical presence.

He apologizes and excuses himself to take a shower; Strider makes no such apologies for what comes next.

"Do you like troll grubs?" he asks.

I confess that I have never met one before.

"Neither do most trolls, after they grow out of grub stage. You aren't a carrier for the troll varieties of rhinovirus, are you?" I confirm I am not, and he deposits his daughter in my arms.

He pours us both glasses of water while I hold Hasa, hoping that she'll stay quiet even though I am not either of her parents. She has jagged crests for horns, rising from the very front of her hairline, and seems to have just lost her middle pair of legs, which puts her at something like three months old. She yawns adorably, showing off tiny serrated teeth, and wriggles affectionately.

"Oh, good," Strider says, putting the water down on the table and taking her back. "For a while she was trying to eat unfamiliar humans. Glad to know that's over."

Doesn't that make him nervous, being human?

He glares at me through the sunglasses. "I'm her father," he stresses, and strokes the sharp line of her nose. She chirrups and curls up.

Is fatherhood difficult to manage, when trolls are used to lusi?

"Both the kids have lusi," he says, then, "Here, she's asleep, let me put her back into her re'coon." He does so, and returns talking. "No, I mean, parenthood is bizarre for me, too; my parental model isn't that much older than me. So we don't conflict on what parenting should be. We don't have a clue."

Does that frighten him?

His answer is long, fairly open about his sex life, and unprintable, but it boils down to 'no.'

Nitram reappears fresh from the shower, wearing flannel pants and a t-shirt with the Taurus zodiac symbol on it. "Are you going to be at this a while still?" he asks.

"One P.M. already," Strider remarks thoughtfully, makes sure I know his Pesterchum handle, and shepherds me out. Nitram apologizes, explaining that they keep nocturnal hours to make things easier on the grubs; Strider doesn't, but he does call the elevator for me.

Outside, the sun is shining, daylivers are just returning to work from lunch, and four nocturnal trolls in clubbing gear are staggering back from the bus stop, more than ready to go to sleep before waking to go to their night jobs as IT specialists.