Friday, November 24, 2006

New York: The True Genesis Revealed

I have been amused by the recent flap related to a certain team from California not qualifying for Nationals even though many of the team’s players had already bought plane tickets to Sarasota. Lest you should think that by mentioning it now I am in some way thumbing my nose at that team, I should point out that I was not so amused as to actually determine which team it was. My amusement actually comes from a memory this incident dredged up, a memory of an incident that was potentially far more humiliating than buying a non-refundable plane ticket.

In the weeks that followed the recent and untimely passing of Curtis Wagner, an original member of New York, Pat King hit upon the idea of getting the old crew together to mourn Curtis, celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of The Greatest Team In The History Of The Game, and pass countless hours doing the only thing we loved more than beating our opponents into submission: rehashing the beating of our opponents into submission. It should come as no surprise to those who observe the way the world works that we could very easily be planning to get together in celebration of nothing at all. If life teaches no other lesson, it teaches us that the line between success and failure, between victory and defeat, between the Greatest and the Stupidest is preciously thin. At the time when Pat King’s email was making the rounds of cyberspace it had been 20 years since an event that no one has ever celebrated, an event that mercifully faded into obscurity just when it seemed to be poised to become the most embarrassing moment in the history of a sport whose history would not be written for another 18 years or so.

To set the scene, the fall of 1985 saw the rise of the Chicago Bears, as one dimensional a team as ever there was. Behind a dominating defense, they charged to a title with a marginally talented quarterback and a behemoth of a man running the ball in goal line situations. Somewhere along the way they recorded the Super Bowl Shuffle, and the world learned that their meager offensive skills were in no way supplemented by artistic talent.

During that same fall, KABOOM!, another marginally talented team, finished a surprising second at the UPA Nationals, losing in the finals 21-19 to a significantly better Flying Circus squad. Over the following year those two seemingly unrelated events would come together to bring about another event that almost humiliated an entire team into early retirement, and indirectly gave rise to The Greatest Team In The History Of The Game.

In the spring of 1986, northeast colleges graduated a bevy of talented ultimate players with family ties in and around New York. For reasons that can only be guessed at, upon returning home they opted to form a new team, Spot, rather than join the established area powerhouse, KABOOM!. The folly of their choice soon became evident when they won that year’s Easterns (at the time a very prestigious tournament) while KABOOM! went down in a fiery quarterfinal crash. With Titanic a perennial juggernaut out of Boston and Spot threatening to become the top dog in New York, you would have thought the members of KABOOM! had reason to be worried. After all, this was before the introduction of wildcards, and there were only two spots available for those three teams. But the gap between how talented the members of KABOOM! were and how talented they thought themselves to be was a veritable chasm, and just when they needed to assiduously apply themselves to the task of preparing for that fall’s regional championships, they opted instead to do as the Bears had done before them. Yes, when confronted with the very real possibility that they might not even qualify for 1986 Nationals, KABOOM! recorded The National Shuffle. How’s that for hubris?

Liz Queler is a singer, songwriter, and musician who is talented enough to make a living at it, but back in 1986 she was an ultimate player who foolishly pledged her support to the misguided musical efforts of some fellow players. If she remembers it at all, it is probably when she wakes in a cold sweat from a nightmare episode of This is Your Life, with the entire professional music community learning with dismay that she once sang backup on The National Shuffle.

Patrick King is perhaps the most musically gifted corporate attorney you’ll ever meet, and one of the smartest people I know, so it was surely a low point when he hatched the brainchild that would become The National Shuffle. Still, we gleefully followed along. With Pat leading the way, and Liz providing talent, support, and a 4 track tape recorder, The National Shuffle was born.

As I remember it, Liz manned the equipment and Pat acted as what must have been passing for a producer, even going so far as to pound our more rhythmically challenged teammates on the back in time to the beat so that their portions of the song had at least some semblance of rhythm. In the meantime, I sat close by frantically writing and re-writing lyrics that were being recorded mere moments after I had penned them. At no time do I remember thinking that perhaps our actions might be seen as foolhardy. For reasons I can’t possibly understand, we were so sure of our imminent success at regionals and subsequent trip to Nationals in Texas that we even went so far as to give ourselves stupid “cowboy” nicknames. And you thought buying a plane ticket was bad?

That fall’s regional tournament was held on the Purchase College campus in Purchase, New York. Titanic and KABOOM! met in the winners final with Spot patiently waiting to take on the loser for the second spot to Nationals. As I mentioned previously, there were no wildcards at this time. There also were no games to 15 or ninety minute time caps. In fact, battles between top teams often stretched into multi-hour affairs that were more wars of attrition than displays of ultimate prowess, and this one was no exception. KABOOM! received the pull with the game tied at 21, double game point. Five turnovers later Titanic punched it in for the epic win.

We had the disc to win three times, but we couldn’t close the deal. Now we had to face a younger, more athletic, more talented team that had been watching us kill ourselves for the last hour of the game. Our front line players were exhausted, and our subs were largely untested. Oh yeah, and we had stupid cowboy nicknames and had recorded The National Shuffle.

A combination Spot victory and KABOOM! humiliation seemed inevitable. In fact, had someone been taking action on the game, I doubt anyone would have bet on us, least of all us. We knew better than that, although we hadn’t known better than to record that stupid song. But a funny thing happened to Spot on the way to their first Nationals appearance; they forgot to show up.

In a game whose outcome still has me scratching my head twenty years later, the fresher, younger, more talented Spot team lost to a demoralized and exhausted KABOOM! team 19-12. Why? Is it because we were motivated by the fear of the lifelong humiliation we would suffer when word of The National Shuffle got out? Maybe. Who knows? But what I do know is that if Spot had won that game the ultimate landscape in New York would have been dramatically different the following winter. With an Easterns victory and a Nationals semi-final or final appearance in their first year (we can assume they would have done at least as well as we did), would Spot have had any motivation to entertain the idea of a merger with KABOOM!? It doesn’t seem likely, and it therefore doesn’t seem likely that the dynasty that would become the Evil Empire would have been brought to life in a dingy bar later that year. And if there were no New York in 1987, what would have happened at Nationals that year and what would that have meant to the players in Boston? I guess we’ll never know, and we have The National Shuffle to thank for that. Our egos were just too big to realize how foolish it was to record that song, and our pride too overwhelming to allow us to lose once we had done so.

Perhaps that’s the problem with those guys in California. Maybe they just don’t have pride enough to back up their egos. Then again, all they did was buy plane tickets. Big deal.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Not Pretty

For those who have never enjoyed the experience, perhaps the most appropriate way I can describe having a catheter inserted is that it gives a whole new meaning to the expression “going in through the out door.” That and it hurts an awful lot. For me the procedure took place in the emergency room of Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, with my brother and a former teammate, Kevin Granath, waiting nearby. To hear them tell the story, they were listening to a doctor give them various details of my injury, prognosis, and the immediate plans for my admittance when, from behind a curtain, they heard a terrifying scream in a voice they knew was mine. Instinctively they turned their heads only to have the doctor admonish them. “Don’t look. It isn’t pretty.”

Fast forward two weeks. My blood count has stabilized allowing me to keep my kidney, my stay in the hospital is drawing to a merciful close, and it’s time to have said catheter taken out. Remembering what it had felt like going in, I’m not exactly looking forward to the procedure. Then in walks an angel.

I’m sure you can imagine the number of nurses one is likely to see over the course of a two week stay in a hospital. Considering my stay began in intensive care and I spent the first few days scared out of my wits, it’s certainly plausible that I don’t even remember half the people in whose charge I had been, but I would have remembered this one. She was beautiful, with an easy smile, dark brown eyes, and a soothing voice that, like a warm bath, seemed to melt all my concerns away. She moved with a practiced assurance that was professional without being insensitive, and almost before I knew what was happening she had done what she came to do. All I felt was a brief tingling sensation. She even cleaned me up with a quick sponge bath for good measure. I remember noticing at the time that her eyes had never left mine, a fact I found astonishing considering the task she was engaged in. As I have reflected on the moment, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps the catheter removal procedure is not all that challenging, and that, given the occasion, she probably could have done it with her eyes closed. Still, at the time it struck me as remarkable, and only added to her allure. That was 1984, and I still remember her name: Danielle Turri. Imagine that. I can still name and readily describe a woman whose only connection to me was that she pulled a tube out of my penis twenty-two years ago. Men are truly bizarre creatures.

What followed was three months of bed rest, a period when, through the courtesy of the creatively challenged programming geniuses at WPIX-11, I saw every episode of The Odd Couple, Star Trek and The Twilight Zone several times over. It’s also when my father sat at the foot of my bed for a heart-to-heart for the last time.

It was soon after I had come home, and I guess he just wanted to make sure he understood what had happened. Not being one to beat around the bush, he got right to it.
“So that’s it for this Frisbee game, right?” When I replied that it most certainly was not it, and that as soon as I could I expected to be back on the field, he got very quiet. It was the kind of quiet we had all come to recognize over the years, a quiet that was always followed by something that, like my catheter insertion, wouldn’t be pretty. One time in particular such a quiet was followed by him hurling a glass ashtray against the tile wall in the kitchen. You might say my father’s temper is volcanic. On this day, however, his response was quiet, frighteningly so, and all the more effective for it. “Just so you understand, I will never come see you in the hospital again.”

If I had looked at the situation from his perspective, I might not have been so shocked. Although I took the injury in stride, the truth is I could easily have died. In fact, had the tournament taken place farther away from New York or Pat King’s father not been there to diagnose it, I almost certainly would have gotten into a car for the road trip home and bled to death internally on the way. Talk about a buzz kill. Surely somewhere deep inside my father’s emotion concealing titanium shell he had an inkling that he might have lost his youngest child, and it scared him. But there’s more to it than that.

Sent to military school at the age of eight, my father had spent his entire youth being forced to participate in sports for which he had no particular passion or aptitude. His boxing “career” is emblematic of what athletic activity meant to him. He fought 14 times, lost every bout, and was left with a nose that has been broken many times and looks it. It’s hard enough for people who enjoy mainstream sports to understand the mindless dedication of the ultimate athlete. But for my father, a man who sees little point in sports of any kind, it was truly impossible to understand why, having dodged a nearly fatal bullet, I would go back out and chase a piece of plastic around. Looking back now, I can’t really blame him.

At the time of course I had none of the understanding that comes with the wisdom of experience and maturity. I also didn’t believe him. Shows what I know. Just over a year later I blew my ACL in the semis at nationals, and was again admitted to the hospital following a tournament. This time it was Lenox Hill, on the east side of Manhattan, and this being in the dark ages before arthroscopy was widely practiced, an ACL reconstruction required a stay of a few days. True to his word, my father never came by, not even when, as a result of an infection, my stay was extended long enough to include my birthday.

So it came to pass that when I celebrated my 24th birthday in Lenox Hill Hospital my father was not in attendance, although Dan Weiss was. Having helped guide his Flying Circus team to a 21-19 victory over us in the finals, Dan had come to New York to see family. In a move that shows the kind of class Dan has in abundance, he stopped by the hospital to wish me well. My memory of the event is a little hazy thanks to the morphine, but it was the tail end of the party, and I seem to remember Dan hesitating when offered some birthday cake. It was an ice cream cake, and after a short time in a small hospital room filled with people, it had melted into a sweet, gelatinous mass that, like my father’s temper and my catheter insertion, wasn’t pretty.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Be Positive

From my room at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan, I could, if I craned my neck, see the lights of George Washington Bridge. Of course, bleeding internally and with a catheter inserted, craning my neck was more than a bit of a challenge. Still, I did it, and even now I'm not sure why.

As bridges go, the GWB is an engineering marvel and probably the most travelled of the Manhattan bridges, but it pales when compared to either the Brooklyn or Queensboro bridges for aesthetic beauty. But on a cool, crisp fall night in September of 1984, the GWB was all I had. Waiting to hear if the freak injury I had suffered earlier that day would cause me to lose a kidney and thereby end my playing days, I think seeing the bridge gave me hope. The twinkling lights seemed to draw my eyes across the Hudson to New Jersey, and though I had never then and still haven't ever thought of reaching New Jersey as an especially significant accomplishment, on this night the idea did seem inspiring. When my doctor visited me later that evening to tell me the news, he chuckled at my bed-ridden calisthenics. Though I returned a half-hearted smile, I was terrified.

As Doctors are wont to do, he said little and committed to nothing, telling me that it was basically a wait and see game. If my internal bleeding slowed by noon the next day, he'd let nature take its course, in essence allowing the kidney to heal itself. If not, he'd remove it surgically. In answer to my query about surgical repair of the organ, he again chuckled, explaining that trying to repair the fibrous tissue of a kidney would be like trying to sew closed the holes in a block of Swiss cheese. Making his way to the door, he made one more mention of my blood count and its need to stabilize. Nervous, alone and scared beyond measure, I asked a question so preposterous that even twenty some years later I cringe in embarrassment at the recollection. I asked him my blood type, explaining that I had never known what it was. He called the answer over his shoulder as he stepped through the door, and the answer seemd to hang in the air long after he was gone. B+ is what he said.

Shortly after that I called home. It was after midnight, and my father answered. I explained the situation, repeating what the doctor had said, and he asked how I was in a groggy, sleepy voice. I lied, saying I was fine. I felt no better after the call. I'm not sure what I expected my father to say to give me comfort the doctor himself hadn't been able to provide, but I lay there thinking that surely there had to be some reason to feel good. That's when I heard the echo of the doctor's last words: B+. B positive. Be positive. Somehow, in that fearful moment in that darkened room in that old hospital with no one there to provide solace, I found what I was looking for in a play on the words associated with my blood type. Such is the desperation of the injured who've been told by the best medical personnel available that there's nothing much they can do but wait and see. Be positive. Follow the lights of the George Washington Bridge to northern New Jersey. Gaze beyond the bridge to see the outline of the cliffs of the Palisades against the dark but sparkling water of the Hudson. Close your eyes and try to sleep, knowing you'll wake to one of two possible futures. I think back to that night and marvel not at how different my life might have been, but at how little I understood the significance of the moment. With the vaguely contented mind of a simpleton who smiles at a joke that is far beyond his powers of perception, I drifted off to a remarkably good night's sleep secure in the comfort provided by the misinterpreted words of a fatalistic physician. Be positive.

And I was.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Three Stitches in Time, Then Nine

The first true game of ultimate, with seven players to a side, that I ever played took place on the Sheep Meadow in New York's Central Park in the late 70's. Prior to that day my experience with the game was confined to three on three affairs played on a patch of Central Park dirt near West 93rd Street, the "field" defined by a an asphalt path on one side, a stand of trees on the other, and imaginary lines between lampposts at the ends. It was there that I first learned the thrill of out-jumping a taller player for a goal, or sprinting the length of the field to haul in another of my brother's beautiful throws. So when he announced one day that we were going to the Meadow to play a real game on a full size field, I was thrilled.

I realize now that what we were going to was a pick-up game, the kind of loosely organized, all are welcome event that I wouldn't bother with now on a bet. But back then, to me at least, it couldn't have been more exciting if it were being played between nationally ranked teams in a stadium packed with fans. Such is the folly of youthful exuberance.

It has been close to thirty years, so the details are hazy at best. In fact, all I really remember is that Andy Borinstein was there, and the first point I played was on offense. I use the term point rather liberally, because in truth I only "played" for about fifteen seconds, a period of time I spent sprinting around aimlessly at full speed. The field was unimaginably huge, and with no asphalt, lampposts or trees to guide me, I had no idea where to run. But run I did, as fast as I could and with no discernible purpose, right up until the point when I ran headlong into another player.

I note with some amusement that to this day I not only have no idea who the other player was, I don't even know if we were on the same team. I might have figured it out once I got my wits about me, but by then a crimson runnel was already flowing from my face. I made my way off the field awkwardly, bent at the waist and cupping handfuls of blood away from me so as to keep from staining my shirt. Once on the sideline I was relieved to see Brian coming off the field to check on me, knowing full well that my older brother would take care of me. In all fairness, he did place a reassuring hand on my shoulder as he examined the gash I had bitten through the left side of my upper lip on impact, but I'll never forget what he said next: "It's not too bad. You can make it home on your own, can't you?" Before I could answer, he was back in the game.

That was the day I learned the two most fundamental truths about ultimate. First, once you've learned the game, it doesn't take long for you to place it above family in order of importance. Second, it is a non-contact sport in name only.

Brian was right; I was able to make it home on my own. After cleaning up at a water fountain and being given some tissues by a kind stranger, I rode the M10 bus twenty blocks up Central Park West to our apartment building, then stopped in at the 14th floor office of Doctor Nora Gottschalk, a kind old German doctor whose family practice was located two floors below our family's apartment. She put three stitches in my upper lip and sent me home with the first of many scars I would receive over a nearly thirty-year career in the game.

In a strange twist of fate, Dr. Gottschalk would die senselessly some years later, run down by an M10 bus while crossing the street.

Over the years I would continue to bleed for the game, both internally and externally. In the fall of '84, I split my kidney colliding with Paul Sayles(?) after making a layout block on a Kevin Cande hammer at yet another meaningless Purchase tournament. The incident earned Paul the moniker "Trog-Buster" from his Static Disc teammates, and it earned me a trip to the emergency room of Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, where I might well have died from internal bleeding if not for the intervention of one Dr. Thomas King, famous father to the even more famous ultimate legend, Pat.

An amusing side note: Pat's father loved the game and often went to tournaments, both big and small. At '86 Nationals in Houston, Matt Jefferson suffered a dislocated shoulder. Accompanied by Dr. King to the nearest emergency room, Matty J was seen by a physician who had stopped reading Dr. King's book to attend to him.

Yet another amusing side note: While many believed that Matty J had suffered the injury while playing, he had actually suffered it the night before in an elevator at the hotel when a drunk and belligerent Nob Rauch, angry because Matty was wearing an opponent's t-shirt, grabbed him by the arm and threw him to the floor. Those truly were the days.

We played the following nationals without Matty (can you blame him?), but Nob still drank and I still bled. In a pool play game against Windy City, I ran down and caught a lead pass from Dan Weiss just before Ironman, on a futile poach block attempt, crashed into me head first. Fortunately for me, I had enough time to turn my head slightly. Unfortunately for Iron, he didn't. He came up from the ground with blood pouring from a gash that was rumored to take more than a hundred stitches to close (hence why he's not called Ironhead). I stayed in the game, threw a score, then walked off the field with a strange feeling of moist warmth running down my neck. Seems I had completed the point oblivious to the fact that my ear had been torn, an injury whose nine stitch remedy was, like me, paltry compared to Ironman.

Watching video of the collision later, I was struck not by the blow but by the sound it made, a hard, hollow, and sickeningly wet sound, like two coconuts colliding at high speed with a thick raw steak between them. Exquisite.

I played semis and finals the next day with a bandage wrapped around my head, looking like the fife player from the Archibald M. Willard painting, The Spirit of '76. Pat, in sympathy, wrapped his head in an (almost) equally bizarre manner. We won nationals for the first time that day, but for many years before and many years since, I've been bleeding.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


I've had a piece percolating for days now, and I had expected it to be ready this weekend. It was only a matter of sitting down and pouring it out. In my mind, it had everything: pathos, ethos and logos. It would cover my most recent experiences at regionals and how an inadvertent collision had resulted in a gash to my upper lip, a gash so reminiscent of one I suffered the first time I ever played that it bookended my career perfectly. That piece will have to wait. Curtis Wagner died, and a piece of me died too.

I can't say I knew Curtis well, because I didn't. We were teammates only briefly, and I expect we actually lined up on opposite sides of the field more than we did on the same side. I knew precious little about him personally, although I knew enough to think that his girlfriend and he were a perfect fit. Little surprise that they remained together all these years.

Of all of us on New York, Dave Mathison knew him best. He has written a marvelous memory that you may wish to peruse, although you do so at your own peril. It is that memory that has sparked the fires of my melancholia, and has me wondering what the hell happened. I'm sure my feelings are so familiar that they exceed even the most stereotypical crises of middle age in banality, and yet, because they're my own and unfamiliar to me, they sting deeply. Curtis Wagner died. He has been absent from my life for close to twenty years, so his loss is not one I should feel so deeply, and I suppose in truth I don't. What I feel, what cuts me so is what his death means. I look at a picture of us after our first nationals victory. We were so young, so bold, so confident. We believed in ourselves, in our greatness, in our invincibility. Over the years, whenever I've seen that picture, I still believed. But today, with Curtis gone, I saw it differently. Like a man who looks in a mirror and for the first time sees what he truly is and not what he used to be, I feel old. More to the point, I feel lost.

Several years ago, I embarked on an extensive renovation of my three-bedroom ranch house here in Garner, NC. Renovation doesn't even describe it. I completely gutted the place down to the frame and rebuilt it. The task compelled me to learn an entirely new set of skills and took far longer than I ever imagined it could, but eventually I managed to (almost) finish it. So now I live in a home that is light years removed from my old one. The differences are too many to recount, but the one that strikes me today is the loss of memories. Gone are the photos of old friends from New York. Gone is the picture of Pat, Blair and Crib from the post-game celebration of that first title in Miami, glowing with the satisfaction of accomplishment. Gone is the photo of Davey-Dave Mathison and me arm in arm, smiling broadly, standing in front of the scoreboard from the semifinals of Worlds the following summer, when our late game blocks had brought us back from the brink of disastrous defeat. Our smiles suggest we had it all along. We were young. We were bold. We were confident. We were full of ourselves, and something else to boot. But what ties those photos and all the others from that time together is the very thing that made us, makes all great teams, successful. We were one. No, we weren't best friends and we didn't always know each other that well off the field, but we were one between the lines.

Oneness. That oneness is what prompted me to put those photos up the day I moved into this house in December of 1998, even though the events they depicted were ten years gone by. Although I didn't know it then, the loss of that oneness is what allowed me to so easily take them down and pack them away when I began the renovation some years later. They remain in that box, in storage in my attic. Physically, they are a few yards away. Figuratively, the distance is considerably greater. Dave Mathison posted the group photo from nationals with his poignant memory of Curtis. I hadn't seen it in years. We were so young, so confident, so bold. We were one. Now one of us is gone. Some day, perhaps some day soon, there will be another. What will I feel that day? Will I be able to feel at all? Tomorrow is promised to no one. Nor is oneness.

Dave Mathison wrote that Curtis' passing makes him feel like going out and playing again. I have no such feelings. Instead, I want to go up into my attic and open up a box. I know I'll find some old pictures in there. I'm hoping to find something else as well.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

One More Time (Part III)

Saturday morning of the first tournament I've attended since Potlach more than three years ago (has it really been that long?), and who's the first person I see? Parinella. In truth I had actually seen him almost as soon as we got in the car, riding along next to us with his wife and child in the back. At some point he made a right and we went straight. Someone in the car (probably Bliss) suggested I follow him. I said nothing but went straight. Like I would ever follow Parinella.

So we got lost again and tried to call our teammates to no avail. But we did get Mick from Ring on the line, and although he was on a platform in NC waiting to catch a train he did offer some advice to help us get to the fields: "Keep going." Who said those Ring boys were a bunch of dummies? At some point we made a right (as in correct) turn and got to the fields just late enough to miss the pre-game drills but not so late as to cause a stir (in other words, right on time). We played a team in red with a name that might have included the word "tofu" but I can't be sure. Then we played a team in white named Luggage or Attache. They had a couple of guys named Scooter and Biff, and a girl named Brandi or Candi or Mandi or Sandi. They were better than the Tofu team, but we beat them too. And then things started to get weird.

The next team had names on their jerseys. The girls had names like Randy and Chesty and Eager while the guys had names like Grumpy and Flaccid and Incontinent. Before the game their captain asked if he could flip with me, as though it meant something to him. I declined. I think his name was Doofus. Then we started to play the game and they started beating us. At first it was just a little beating, like getting spanked by your dad when his heart isn't really in it. But pretty soon it was more like inmates during a prison riot taking advantage of the table turn by getting a 25 to life's worth of licks in on an especially sadistic prison guard. At some point we called timeout, and I suggested a change in strategy only to be shot down unceremoniously by a guy 20 years my junior. It was an odd feeling, having some know nothing out of nowhere cut me off and dismiss my input as though I had just stepped out of a Chevy Impala with a hamstring injury and no significant wins in the past 12 years. Stranger still was what happened after we stepped back on the field with the time honored admonition to "play harder" still ringing in our years. We got humiliated, with no fewer than eight people, including the Huddle Hun himself, dropping passes that hit them right in the hands. We lost by a bunch which meant we had to wait two hours to play a pre-quarter. Oh joy. So Bliss has the brilliant idea to go get some lunch and coffee and I figure that sounds great so I grab my bag and as I'm walking to the car I watch her back out and pull away.

Is there anything more heinous than a two hour bye on a cold, windy field when you could be having a nice lunch and drinking coffee but instead you're eating a cold sandwich on soggy bread sold to you by a clarinet playing kid with acne raising money for his high school band? And all the while you're asking yourself "What the hell was I thinking?"

So, the pre-quarter is against the Annapolis All-Stars, (as if there were enough quality players in Annapolis that they could actually field a team of all-stars) and by then the wind had really picked up. Our field for this one was upwind/downwind, which had an old, slow guy like me figuring I'd get some minutes because, well, wind tends to make throwing more important than running. Little did I know I'd get almost all my minutes on a single point.

It was early, and the all-stars had already notched one upwinder to give them an early lead, so we were trying to answer back with an upwinder of our own. Trouble is we were flat, and the deer-in-the-headlights look that had accompanied the flurry of pathetic drops in our previous game was popping up all over the place. The prospect of playing for ninth place was starting to look very likely, and I felt certain I'd be getting very drunk very soon. And then we played the point.

An accurate count is not available, but I'll bet there were 24 turnovers PER TEAM. We were looking to throw enough short passes to get a good look deep, and then heaving it into the by now howling wind and hoping for the best, so it wasn't surprising that we were turning it over. I have no idea what the "all-stars" were doing. I mean, they were going downwind for chrissakes. Fortunately for us they couldn't convert any of their two dozen chances, and with most of us ready to start puking or feign injury, Alan Hoyle launched one last prayer that I managed to chase down for the score. And while it's rare in ultimate that you can point to a single goal scored (other than the final one) and say it decided the game, this one surely did. We rode it and the subsequent momentum to a comfortable win, and the fall-stars moved on to dominate the 9th place bracket (or at least I hope so for their sake). But before we file this game away, let me tell you a little story.

Annapolis going upwind and some dude fires a forehand to YoYo streaking (or as close to streaking as she gets while clothed). As a group that includes YoYo, her defender and a few others gathers under the pass that is now floating about midfield, I watch an Annapolis guy sprint from near where I'm standing on the sideline a good 25-30 yards, take a running leap, and hurl himself into the group at close to full speed. The play was utterly reckless, totally dangerous, and sent the two women in the group crashing to the ground. As YoYo calls foul, I hear an Annapolis player (who coincidentally is YoYo's boyfriend) cry out from the sideline, "nice bid!" Can you believe it? Nice bid? Later on the same point, the same guy attempts to get a poach block by laying out into the path of our own Princess Liz Mahanna, clipping her in the side of the knee and sending her limping to the sidelines. Questioned about the wisdom of playing so recklessly, Mr. Nice Bid replied, "I didn't see her," a fact which surprised no one since it was clear he hadn't looked.

As a former club player known for hurling his body around on a regular basis, I make a conscious effort to tone it down when playing mixed gender ultimate. You simply have to. In most instances, men weigh more, run faster, and are stronger than the women we're sharing the field with. It is incumbent upon us to play responsibly and let certain plays go because to do otherwise is to risk causing a potentially serious injury. Ultimate is non-contact, but we all know unintentional collisions happen all the time, and their unintended consequences can be devastating. As a member of the Raleigh Llama at '99 Nationals, I watched a teammate get carted off the finals field in an ambulance unconscious as a result of a play that couldn't have been avoided. It was terrifying, but that shit happens. What shouldn't happen is people who ought to know better putting others at risk making "nice bids" that are anything but.

So, the scare with Princess aside, the day ended well, and for the first time I was actually starting to enjoy my farewell tour. We packed up our bags, and I actually found myself eagerly anticipating spending an hour or two at the fields, drinking free beer and chatting amiably with Jim, the Count, O'Dowd, and the rest of the dozen or so people at the tournament I actually knew. Sadly, it was not to be. In my time away from the game things have really changed. Today's player does precious little partying, and rarely does one get a whiff of kind bud while walking the fields during a bye. While I was ready to treat the tournament as a cocktail party, pressing the flesh while I sipped the suds, my teammates couldn't wait to pile into the cars and get back to the hotel. So, in a moment that suggested that perhaps the world had shifted on its axis, I found myself reluctantly leaving a frisbee party, and lamenting the loss of an opportunity to spend a few more minutes chatting with Alex DeFrondeville. Yes, my farewell tour had finally begun to be enjoyable, and in so doing had taken me into some truly uncharted waters. I left the fields glancing wistfully over my shoulder at the gathering of players huddled around the keg, the Count clearly identifiable among them. Somewhere, Blair O'Connor must have felt a strange and inexplicable stinging sensation.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

One More Time (continued)

At one point in my young life my family moved every couple of years, a natural byproduct of my father's employment in network television news, a field where climbing the ladder generally means being sent from one miserable assignment to the next, ostensibly to hone your skills but more likely to see if you've got the stomach for what is surely one of the harshest careers out there. One such move landed us in Highland Park, Illinois, a place that is, like Naperville, a suburb of Chicago. I don't remember all that much about Highland Park. We lived on Summit Avenue, my best friends were Joey Bernardi and Herman Moriano (both from the wrong side of the tracks town of Highwood), and somewhere across those tracks was an abandoned house that, in my memory, had an inexhaustible supply of windows to break with rocks. Yet even those meager memories, dim and distant as they are, are a heck of a lot more compelling than anything the current town of Napervile has to offer.

I have now been to Naperville at least a half dozen times, and I can not name a single distinguishing feature or identifiable landmark. In fact, so indistinguishable is Naperville's seemingly endless succession of strip malls from those encountered in any other sprawlurb I've ever visited that it is entirely possible that, like the Apollo 11 astronauts, I've never actually made the trip. And while the thought of being the victim of such a hoax might be galling to some, when confronted with the possibility that I have never actually seen the real Naperville I can only say, would that it were so. But no, I have been there, not once but twice thrice, and like Native Americans who believed that still pictures took a piece of their souls along with the image, I feel somehow lessened for the experience. And though it's true that the time spent in that vacuous void is a chunk of my life I'll never get back, I can temper the pain of that realization somewhat by vowing never to return. So it is perhaps the first positive development in the farewell tour of glory gone awry that I can safely say that although a poor decision made in haste has forestalled my farewell to ultimate, a wise decision made with certainty has precipitated my farewell to Naperville, and not a moment too soon. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

When last we left off I was lugging Bliss' bag around while she tried in vain to lead us from the Midway Airport reantal counter to our car. To say that Bliss is directionally challenged is putting it mildly, and circumstances are not improved by another of her odd little quirks, an inability (or unwillingness) to listen to, hear, or remember spoken directions when they're given to her. Add to that her refusal to even look at a map, insistence on sitting in the co-pilot's seat, and the delight she takes in pointing out every wrong turn the driver makes, and you begin to get a picture of what I was in for as I settled into the driver's seat of our rented Chevy Impala for the drive to Naperville. Oh yeah, and I wasn't wearing my contacts, which means I couldn't read a sign until I was so close as to render its information useless. Like I said, good times.

Remarkably, finding the hotel was really quite easy, after I had made no fewer than three wrong turns within a mile of the airport, each met with a smugly satisfied "Good job" from my altogether useless co-pilot. We pulled into the Holiday Inn sometime after midnight, and the parking lot was crawling with ulti players tossing the bee. I parked as far away as I possibly could and entered through the side door. Then came the best part about playing coed, and what is at least for now the absolute high point of my farewell tour; I was sharing a room with three women. How cool is that?

Before you let your minds run away with you, let me make it clear that this is not about hooking up. Rooming with women means the room smells nicer, stays cleaner, and every waking moment won't be accompanied by the SportsCenter soundtrack. It also means that someone will probably bring you coffee in the morning, and when you're winding down in the evening by doing some quiet reading, there's a good chance someone will be doing something craftsy across the room. In truth, it's not like being at an ultimate tournament at all, except for two telling factors.

First, there's still a good chance that your restful night's slumber will be all but ruined by snoring so loud you'd swear it came out of a 300 pound longshoreman. Second, you still need to get into the bathroom first or not at all after breakfast. Wives and girlfriends swear their husbands and boyfriends to secrecy on this one, but seeing as how I'm neither I can tell you without equivocation that women lie, and their shit really doesn't smell like flowers.

Friday, September 15, 2006

One More Time

A few years back (probably more than a few, really) I hit upon the idea of having my own farewell tour to ultimate, something like what Kareem did but without the rocking chairs, cars, and thousands of adoring fans. My plan was to hand pick the tournaments and teams, and enjoy a leisurely, long goodbye to the sport to which I have given so much of my life. At the time I think I might have even scratched out a short list of events on the back of an envelope, a list which no doubt included such Northeast classics as Hingham and Clambake, the Mid-summer bash they call Potlach, and perhaps even mentioned Poultry Days. If memory serves, at some point I revealed the most important element of my farewell tour plan to former WSW'er Corey Sanford in an email. That most important element, an element that is critical to all retirements on the planet, is timing. How do you know when it's time to walk away? For me it was easy. I wouldn't leave on top, nor would I leave after dragging my aging carcass around at Open Nationals in one last, vain attempt at recapturing glory. No, I would leave after spending a year trotting around at a series of primarily coed and singularly entertaining events while wearing my age on my jersey. In other words, I would leave at the end of 2006.

Well, that was the plan, and at least a few elements of the plan worked out. First, and most importantly, I lived to see my forty-fourth year. Second, I remain healthy enough to at least play at playing in a somewhat reasonable facsimile of what accomplished players do. Finally, I have taken enough time off recently that I am not so sick of the game that the thought of going to a tournament makes me want to vomit. So what happened? How did my farewell tour of glory turn into my worst nightmare? Well, the truth is I'm still trying to piece together all the details, but I'm pretty sure it was my sister-in-law's fault, that she and my brother were co-conspirators, and that the whole thing was pretty much doomed from the get go.

For starters, the tour began at Winter League, when Bliss' half-baked plan to get me on her team instead landed me on the GeeWhizMan's roster. For a brief snippet of the special brand of misery that experience entailed look no further than the story of Sausage Boy and the Travel Callers. I suppose I should have known then that things would get worse before they got better, but what could I do? Cut and Run?

The next stop on the tour was Cape Fear Spring League (like I said, from bad to worse). Although things looked promising when I was picked by the legendary Tully Beatty, I soon realized that every other captain at the draft must have been on crack. Beatty managed to get a team that included me, Mike and Amy Gerics, Leah Rehill, Kevin Rhodes, and about 27 other people. Which meant that my two hour drive to games usually netted me about 8 points of a blowout victory over a bunch of guys who drink better than they play (and don't do either particularly well). I would call the whole thing a complete washout if it weren't for a blast from the past, Ben Baldwin.

I had the opportunity to coach Ben when he played for the SUNY Purchase Atomic Dogs in '89-90. Ben was a hard runner and very enthusiastic, but his forehand lacked touch. Still, he is most remembered for having to sit out a big spring break tourney in Wilmington because he had his flick finger smashed in a hotel room door by a teammate who took exception to Ben peeping in on him and his girlfriend. Sixteen years later, Ben's flick still lacks touch. I did not, however, ask about his hotel habits.

So there I was, two tourneys into the farewell tour of glory, and what did I have to show for it? GeeWhiz and Peeping Ben. How the mighty had fallen. Undaunted, I signed on to play next with a newly formed and as yet unnamed coed team in the Carolina Kudzu Classic (an event which employs a rather liberal definition of the term classic). We matched up in the semis with a combination Backhoe/Ring squad that was certain to pummel us, an outcome made all the more enticing by the delightful weather and the bottle of Maker's in my cooler. Just when it seemed the farewell tour was about to hit stride, one of my many turnovers was greeted by the overzealous heckling of one TJ Cawley. I say overzealous not because he was loud, obnoxious, or even funny. No, I say overzealous because he violated the prime directive of heckling; he was serious. Later, after the game, he confided that the reason he finds my turnovers so appalling is that he came into the game looking up to me but he can't abide the sheer volume of turnovers I produce. He earnestly explained that I could give so much back to the game if I would just play a more conservative game, the kind of game he plays. Did I mention his name is TJ? 'Nuff said.

Three events, three disasters, and with no money in the bank to sport a ticket to Potlach or the gas for Poultry Days, no reasonable expectation for things to get better. And with Bliss cajoling me to sign on for the fall, and that little voice inside my head saying, "You must be out of your effing mind," I made the fatal mistake. I signed on for the fall.

Which brings me to the second Friday in September at Midway Airport in Chicago where earnest, young ultimate athletes are tossing the bee at baggage claim and I am fighting a profound urge to launch my lunch. It's nearing midnight, we're waiting on bags, teammates, and a rental car. We have a room somewhere but no directions to it, and my sister-in-law, who is to blame for it all, has a bag the size of a small car packed to bursting with beads and jewelry making apparatus, the better to pass the time between games with. What am I doing here? I'm forty-four years old. More to the point, I'm old enough to know better. What the hell am I doing here?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

So I lied. So sue me.

Yes, I lied. I said I would post during the summer, but I didn't. And now the summer is gone, school is back in session, and I'm back to working like a dog. (Although truthfully, my dog never seems to do much other than sleep and eat. In fact, he's sleeping at my feet right now.)

At some point somewhere back in the distance, someone (is that vague enough for you?) mentioned that I should write more about my experiences as a teacher. In fact, I have done so on many occasions for the Raleigh News and Observer. One of them can be found here, and by clicking on the offerings in the right margin you can see a few more. If you prefer to listen to similar pieces I've done for our local NPR affiliate, you can find them here. I'm rather partial to the Mule Days piece, and the one on the Dress Code has a certain quality, but in truth they all pale in comparison to the real thing. I don't mean Coca-Cola, of course, but classroom teaching. If you've never done it, you can't possibly know what it's like. During my only ultimate podcast (which was lost as the result of severe technical incompetence) a fellow podcaster suggested I should be coaching ultimate. When I replied that I prefer to focus all my energies and talents on teaching, it was suggested that pretty much anybody can do that, but I am "uniquely qualified" to coach ultimate. I still smile when I think about the comment. The truth is that just about any bozo with a PE degree can take the UPA's coaching package and turn two dozen marginally skilled teenagers into a passable high school ultimate team in a fortnight of practices. Classroom teaching is another animal altogether, and I have little doubt that when it comes time for my fellow podcaster's little ones to begin their formal education, he will come to realize the folly of his comment.

I am now 6 days into my fifth year as a high school English teacher at West Johnston High School in Johnston County, North Carolina. While teaching is my primary responsibility (and the only one I am paid for by Johnston County Schools) , I am also the Director of our Freshman Academy, which means that I am in no small way responsible for everything that happens with (or to) our incoming class of freshmen, the class of 2010. As of Friday, that group numbered over 660, and was growing every day. I have learned more about public education in four years than I could ever share, but if there is one, all-important thing I have learned it is this: in public schools, the difference between a great education and a virtually worthless one can be as simple as who is standing in the front of the room. The dearth of available teachers coupled with the phenomenal population growth in our area means that we're pretty much looking for any warm bodies we can find to put in our classrooms. When you add tenure to that equation, you get the regrettable reality that any classroom you walk into might present a marginally qualified long-term substitute, a painfully jaded veteran counting the days to retirement, a wet-behind-the-ears but earnestly eager first year teacher barely staying afloat, or someone like me. If you think that the students in those classrooms are getting the same education, you must be on crack.

So, why do you care? Well, you may not, but those of you who have been patiently waiting for me to begin posting again can blame public education (and my unwavering devotion to it) for my prolonged silence. When I wasn't working full-time in the NCSU Forent Entomology lab over the summer, I was putting in volunteer time at WJHS, trying to get things in order for the upcoming year, a year which is now fully upon us in all its chaotic glory. Now that we're in session, I work 12 hours a day, five days a week, while continuing to put in 30 hours a week at NCSU on nights and weekends. It's a grueling schedule, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love what I do, and it never feels like work. In fact, I believe it's what I was meant to do. I bring the same passion, intensity, and indomitable spirit that I brought to ultimate into my classroom, although I rarely spike my textbook. Still, when my students look into my eyes I have little doubt that they see the same thing my teammates once did, and what they see helps them to believe in themselves. The funny thing is, for four years they had no idea about my ultimate past, that I was once as passionate about a piece of plastic as I now am about their futures. Of course, that was before ESPN classic.

I first heard about the program from a fellow teacher who called my cell phone. That night a friend called while watching it. Do I need to tell you she was in hysterics? Soon my email inbox was overflowing, and the furor has still not died down. Copies on DVD now regularly make the rounds at school, and hardly a day goes by without someone in the hallway whispering with mock curiosity, "Whatever happened to Kenny Dobyns?" Although several people have promised me a copy, I have yet to see it (I don't have cable), but I expect I'll have a good laugh at my own expense when I do. I deserve to be ridiculed. I was over the top, out of hand, and preposterously self-obsessed. Still, I don't shy away from it. It is an accurate depiction of what I was, of what I felt I had to be in order to be successful. I may have been wrong, but we were successful. And now, all these years later, I'm just as over the top, just as out of hand, and just as obsessed. Thankfully, though, the focus of my efforts is no longer self-aggrandizement nor ultimately hollow victories. Now my opponents are apathy, indifference and ignorance, and while their names might lack the cachet of Windy City, Tsunami, or Titanic, they are significantly more formidable. And although I'll never again hoist a trophy in victory, there are days (quite a few of them actually) when I feel similarly elated, and significantly prouder for the accomplishment.

So, the question stands: Whatever happened to Kenny Dobyns?

He grew up. Finally.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

long time no...

Yes, it has been a while. The previous flurry of activity on my blog coincided with my winter break from teaching high school. With our first end-of-year exam scheduled for tomorrow, it won't be long before I will once again be hunched over my keyboard with a bottle of Maker's Mark close at hand, pounding out prose for the proletariat, throwing pearls before swine, at once exasperating and exhilirating any and all with time and the inclination to waste it. My heart's aflutter at the prospect.

And yes, for those of you with whom printing conventions carry undeserved significance, I will endeavor to make more judicious use of the shift key.

Until then.

Monday, January 16, 2006

you can't take it with you

every year's end, the new york times publishes an exhaustive list of all the national champions in just about every sport in the sunday edition that falls closest to new year's day. for all i know this has been going on for many years, but it was not until the the late 80's that i began to take notice, an expansion of my world view that coincided with new york's run of championships that began about the same time. i must admit to some small sense of satisfaction at being included in a publication of such stature, and that the times recognized our accomplishment once a year did, at least for a day, lend us an air of legitimacy that we lacked for the other 364. ultimate was still unrecognized by, and unrecognizable to, just about everyone we knew who didn't play, and therefore we were still the lowly peasants of the sporting world. but we were kings for a day, and that, as they say, beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

one year, however, the times made a decision that had the potential to vault us from obscurity to celebrity (or some facsimile thereof). they decided to run a sidebar in that year's list of champions highlighting the accomplishments of local champions who were all but unknown to the world at large despite being legendary in their respective sports. i have no idea how the decision was made, who was involved, what the connection was or even the year in question, but i still remember, and will so long as my faculties remain with me, which local champion shared the sidebar with us: one wall handball champion joe durso of brooklyn.

researching the sidebar, the writer contacted me and joe and asked us some standard questions. what's it's like to be so successful and totally unknown? do you long for recognition and exposure? the usual fare. i was interviewed first, and i basically said it didn't really bother me because i hadn't gone into ultimate expecting to be famous. interviewed second, durso not only said that he wished for and deserved widespread recognition, he also took a swipe at ultimate by saying something to the effect of "hey, i'm an athlete. i don't play a sport with a limited skillset like frisbee." wouldn't you know the times ran that quote.

when the piece came out, several of my teammates were upset. one in particular, amos himmelstein, was incensed enough to write a strongly worded letter to the paper. i, on the other hand, didn't really care. over the years we were written about quite a bit. some of it was accurate, some of it less so, but none of it ever really made all that much of a difference, and i had long since stopped caring what people thought about us. i put the piece out of my mind, and because i didn't keep a copy, assumed i would never see it again. i was sorely mistaken.

while coaching the suny purchase atomic dogs in 1989 and 1990, i had the pleasure of having one arthur a. aidala on the team. artie was not much of an athlete, and he was most definitely not an ultimate player. what he was, however, was the most highly motivated, coachable, infectiously enthusiastic player i have ever been around, and an instrumental member of the team. he came up with many of our cheers, never got down no matter how little he played, and roamed the sidelines keeping everybody pumped up throughout every game. in fact, he can be seen in the video of the 1989 open national finals game between ny and tsunami, stepping onto the field to congratulate cribber (a former purchase teammate) after a goal.

i liked artie from the start, and in a strange piece of foreshadowing, i knew from the day i met him that we would be friends for many years. we have been. we still are. in fact, whenever i make a return visit to new york these days, i stay with artie. it was on such a visit that artie arranged the encounter that will tie all of these memories together.

it was christmas, and arthur is a social creature, beloved by all who know him in his bay ridge neighborhood, so spending the holidays in his company required me to accompany him as he "made the rounds," as it were. most of the visits took place at delis, pizzerias, restaurants, and many other local establishments arthur has been frequenting for years. the encounters were brief, filled with warm feelings, and evocative of a time that, for those who have not lived their entire lives in the same ten square block area of bay ridge, has all but disappeared. as one who lives in a part of semi-rural north carolina where walking onto a neighbor's property in search of a stray dog once brought me face to muzzle with a loaded gun, i rather enjoyed the experience with arthur. so when he asked if i minded stopping by a friend's apartment, i said no without hesitation.

the apartment was a small, one bedroom affair with a view of new york harbor and the verrazano bridge. while arthur and his friend exchanged hugs and loud, profanity-laced greetings, i looked around. one wall of the living room was covered floor to ceiling with sugar bowls arranged meticulously on a series of mahogany shelves. two other walls were covered with "art photos," framed photographs that, had they not been shot in black and white, would be called pornography. the rest of the living room was a cluttered mix of bric-a-brac of predominantly asian origin with an occasional african piece thrown in. it was while i was panning across the room taking it all in that my eyes landed on a collection of trophies, plaques, medals and laminated newspaper and magazine articles arranged in an alcove that could only be described as a shrine. stepping closer i noticed that all of the trophies were for handball competitions. looking even more closely, i noticed that one of the laminated articles was from the new york times, and that my name appeared in it. arthur's friend was none other than joe durso, the one wall handball champion who had disparaged ultimate as a limited skillset sport in the new york times some ten years earlier.

what followed was a somewhat awkward and altogether surprising series of revelations. although a frequent visitor to joe's apartment, arthur had never looked closely enough at the article to notice my name. because joe held every other athlete on the face of the earth in contempt, he had little recollection of having cast aspersions on me all those years ago, and seemed entirely unremorseful once reminded of it. taking the high road, i assured him i held no grudge whatsoever, but allowed as how he was in serious need of an interior decorator's assistance.

we spent the better part of the evening at joe's, and on subsequent visits i have seen him at arthur's place or out on the town. in the years since the times article was published he has lost none of his bitterness. he still laments his fate as an obscure champion, and sincerely feels that he is in every way deserving of the kind of recognition michael jordan once received, arguing that he is an equally talented athlete. given the slightest provocation, he will haul out and display every article ever written about him. asked about the current crop of handball greats, he sneers that he's better than every one of them. listening to him go on about his past success, the misery of his obscurity, and the unfairness of a world that still refuses to recognize and adequately reward his greatness, i am struck by the futility of his endless quest for respect, and i pity him. imagine being so concerned about what others think that you allow yourself to experience so little lasting joy in what you accomplish. talk about a living hell.

i was reminded of all of this recently when two things occurred, both of them somewhat loosely connected to ultimate and rsd. the first was jeff brown's mention of a prized photograph of him and me in usa today where through some mistake our names were jumbled. the other was a comment made during a podcast where someone suggested that it must be strange for me to teach at a school where no one has any idea about my illustrious frisbee past. it occurred to me then that while joe durso is an extreme case, many champion ultimate players suffer from the same melancholy. in the absence of mainstream acceptance, they cling to scraps of fleeting fame, seek out the company and comfort of those who recognize the significance of their accomplishments, and dream of a day when the world at large will recognize their greatness. i can't say i know of a sugar bowl collecting ultimate player, but i have seen many a shrine to past glory, and i'm quite certain that it wouldn't take much in the way of provocation to bring out the scrapbook, if you know what i mean. i just don't get it.

during our reign, i lived and breathed the game, and i truly believed that was necessary for us to be successful. looking back i'm not so sure, and i am more than a little embarrassed by some of the decisions i made, some of the family events i blew off for tournaments, and the utterly skewed value system i had at the time. but i'm older and wiser now, and while i can't go back and change the decisions i regret, i can be thankful that i've lived long enough to make up for lost time. i have no trophies, and no frisbee pictures adorn my walls. my past glories exist only in my memory, and were it not for a pair of misguided authors, they would have died there with me. i'll pay them back if i get the chance.

it's true that neither students nor faculty at my school have an inkling of who kenny dobyns is. in one of the more bizarre comments i have ever heard, my fellow podcaster said, "but they have no idea who you are." in fact, they know exactly who i am, although they don't know who i was.

so what?

Monday, January 09, 2006

20/20 revision

so, another quarter is heard from, as jeff "dick" brown brings his considerable acumen to bear on the thorny issue of history, or, as he calls it, revisionism. seems jeff was sick and tired of reading what i was writing, so he decided to do something he never does (because he hates rsd) and reveal the truth. and after we had already wasted all that time on lies.

yes, friends, jeff was standing "right there" when it all happened back in 1993, and he was quick to reveal that in truth i struck the first blow (surprise, surprise) and that he thinks i'm a prick (no surprise, no surprise) and that everything that happened to me was warranted because i had started it all. he added a few jabs at our style of play (cheating) and how they were sick of being pushed around (justifiable response to unspirited behavior) so steve didn't back down when i hit him first and jeremy gave me what i had coming when i retaliated at steve for not backing down when i hit him first (yes, the logic does seem to break down a little in that section, but i think by then jeff was in over his head and simply grasping at whatever was out there that might keep him afloat). as a final tip of the hat in the spirit of fair reporting and fair play, jeff allowed that joey deserved every bit of cribber's head butt. what a gracious jeff that dick is.

not that we really need to go over it in too much detail, but jeff is, not surprisingly, totally mistaken. when i pointed that out to him in an email, even detailing the scene when, bleeding from the lip from jeremy's blow, i insisted that steve tell jeremy that he had started it all, jeff had an interesting reaction. "whatever," he wrote, sounding much like the fourteen-year-olds i teach when they discover that they're wrong. he added the question, "so, what? steve whispered it to jeremy or did the whole o line know?" i got the feeling he wasn't really interested in the answer when he added "i just thought it would be nice to say hello, but i was wrong." and not for the first time either.

what i'm still trying to figure out is precisely where in the i'm sick of your revisionist version of events because the truth is you hit him first which makes you a liar and your team a bunch of cheaters communication i was supposed to unearth the "hey. how're you doing?" i've looked several times, but i'm still not sure.

so let's give that horses' carcass a break, but not before we ask one question: if jeff, who was a member of the team and was standing "right there," never heard from moons that he had started it all, then how many of his teammates did moons allow to leave that field believing that he (moons) was guiltless and we (ny) had showed our ugly and evil nature by precipitating a brawl that deprived them (boston) of their right to a good, clean spirited game in which they would surely have been victorious?

while we're pondering that one, let's speculate as to just how joey giampino feels about this latest (jeff's) attempt by a former teammate to throw him under the bus. for years after that ill-fated contest, you couldn't throw a rock at a frisbee party without hitting some member or former member of the boston ultimate scene who was all too eager to blame the whole 1993 debacle on joey and his misguided efforts to bring toughness to beantown. they were, of course, singing a different tune when they beat us at regionals that fall by 7, but we never really did our best cheating until nationals-everyone knows that. still, the treatment joey received courtesy of his former comrades in arms was reminiscent of what happens when, waking up in a haze after a night of heavy drinking, you roll over to discover you're lying next to that not very attractive girl who looked a whole lot better when you were drunk. then, as you begin to slide quietly out of bed to make your getaway, you realize with a start that you're in your own bed.

yes, joey got the "i really have to be going, my nephew's fifth birthday party is today, i have to go to church, my niece's baptism is in an hour, leave your number and i'll call you, yeah it was great, i had fun too whatever your name is, don't bother freshening up, you look great, don't bother waiting for the elevator the stairs are faster, please don't tell anybody where you're coming from on your way out, bye" treatment in a big way. and you always read that boston is such a friendly town.

guess you can't believe everything you read.

so parinella gave me a chuckle when he said that joey teammates' hadn't rushed to joey's defense because he was the instigator with crib. perhaps that's what jim was thinking. lenny, however, had a different reaction, as he jumped in with both horns and insisted that cribber had to be thrown out of the game. never mind that there were no observers, no yellow/red card system, and no precedent for making such a decision. "cribber's gone," he yelled. realizing that in fact crib probably was, for our purposes, gone, i called his bluff.

"fine," i said, but jeremy's gone too." to no one's surprise, he rejected the offer, and the game continued.

and you're telling me you'd really rather read that history book? whatever.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

notes from the fallout shelter

my newsletter came in today's mail. i only recently started receiving it again even though i'm a lifetime member. seems they lost track of me when i moved seven years ago and stopped sending it. guess it took me a while to notice something was missing.

so anyway, i flipped quickly through, glancing at the pictures (of course, there were none of me)before settling down to read it over a dinner of roasted pork loin and winter root vegetables in a maple-mustard glaze. sadly, i found but one article that i was even remotely interested in reading. it was kyle weisbrod's piece, which made me aware of the situation involving the names of coed teams (i'm sorry, mixed teams) at nationals and the upa's request to have them changed. as a founding member of we smoke weed, this was a topic i found interesting. of course, after finding that kyle never reveals what the names of the teams were before they were changed (perhaps he assumes we all know? nah.) i quickly lost interest. besides that, all i did was look at the pictures, and then only briefly.

boy am i glad i have a lifetime membership. it would suck to have to pay for this thing.

so, am i the only guy out here who looked at the kati halmos poster and noticed her athleticism right up until the point when i realized it was a centerfold, and then started to check out her butt?

so that got me interested again and i read the pufahl award interview. what does spirit of the game mean to kati? patting your opponent on the backside and sharing ass pats with your teammates.

i took her poster down.

check this out: of the 38 players listed on the rosters of the teams in the mixed finals, 23 shared this amazing stat: their turnovers equalled or exceeded their goals caught, goals thrown and d's combined. and that's even with two stellar players having double digit turnovers, which would seem to leave very few for the rest of the players to share. nope. talk about a swillfest. (interesting aside here...although the numbers seem to tell a different story, the reporter for the finals writes "Brass Monkey played their best game in the finals.") in defense of the players, i've heard it was windy, and perhaps the conditions are to blame for the turnovers. after all, i have it on good authority that when it's windy your teammates seem very far away.

speaking of which, how about getting discraft to print a warning on all discs like the one that appears on rear view mirrors in cars: warning-in high wind your teammates are closer than they appear.

but here's another angle: maybe it wasn't the wind at all. maybe the reason they put on such a shameful display in the finals was because they had been forced to change their names by the upa. maybe it was an identity crisis that led to a crisis of confidence. thinking i might have something here i did some digging. it turns out that a groundbreaking research study done at a prestigious university at some point in time revealed that baseball players whose names were removed from their team jerseys immediately prior to playing a game recorded significantly lower batting averages and in turn reported that the baseball seemed very small. a follow-up study has yet to be completed. hmmmm.

so, after a few days without posting to rsd, the furor seems to be dying down. it's a good thing too. i don't think i could stand seeing ad hominem one more time. looking back i have to say i'm quite pleased. the four posts over two days generated a total of 90 some posts before a week was out. if you subscribe to the theory that for everyone who posts there are 100 who read but don't, that's an awful lot of people with nothing better to do. of course, there's no justifiable reason for subscribing to such a preposterous theory.

more amusing even than the number and passion of posters was the volume of email i received. the highlight of that wasted bandwidth was one of the history book's writers taking time out from his vacation in st. martin to inundate my inbox with messages that questioned my loyalty to him, ultimate, humanity and the yankees. in one especially impassioned moment, a four line paragraph called me cruel, harsh, weak, and cruel. clearly, after all that writing for the history, he was running short of adjectives.

i won't violate the spirit of the game and post a private email, so i'm afraid you'll just have to imagine how good the rest of them were based on that brief snippet. and again, in case you forgot, he could have been on a beach in st. martin.

speaking of spirit, or more accurately etiquette, is it customary to find readers copying your blog and posting it onto rsd, rather than simply directing people to the blog? i'm new to the game, so my inquiry is sincere. it seems a little shady to me.

guess that's all for now. with school back in session it'll be hard for me to find the time to keep posting regularly (either here or on rsd) but i'm having so much fun i'm going to keep it going as long as i can. it won't be easy, but i think i owe it to the sport.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

it ain't easy being me.

i can't remember the exact year, but it had to be early 90s. i went to fools to play with the dwarves because, well, i'm kind of a stubby little guy myself. still, most of the dwarves were stubby guys i had always played against, and arriving at the fields that first morning i was a little nervous about what kind of reception i might get. but i had a good gameplan, which was to have fun, fit in, be short and laugh a lot. well, it seemed good at the time.

i hadn't been at the fields for more than five minutes, hadn't even put my cleats on yet, when one of the original dwarves (taco?) saw me and said enthusiastically, "we've got dobyns. now we're definitely going to win."

fast forward to fall 2005 in raleigh, nc. after a three year break from winter league (and a 28 month hiatus since i last threw a disc) i decide to put my name in this year's draft. in truth, my sister-in-law had concocted a good plan. she suggested that, as she was a captain, i should sign up saying i would only play in two games and couldn't make the season ending championship tournament. she was sure she would be able to pick me up in a later round and i could play with her and my brother. well, it seemed like a good plan.

i was chosen in the first round, the fifth overall pick.

in a post to rsd today, eric zaslow unwittingly made a very shrewd and timely observation. he commented that i'm clearly concerned with my ultimate legacy, a comment that, as he meant it, is totally false. i couldn't care less about my ultimate legacy as he describes it, the collective opinion of a vast and faceless majority who don't know me and never will. (on a side note, if i really were all that concerned about how history sees me don't you think i might have bristled at the description of me in the history: a comical napoleon?) i am, however, concerned that the legacy of having once been great will dog me to my dying day, and that the one thing i really want to do when i go out on the field these days is the one thing i might never be able to do-have fun.

at our most recent winter league game we were involved in a close game for a change (we had won our previous two rather easily), it was a beautiful day (although the fields were a little sloppy) and i was having fun. after catching a short pass near the sideline, i wound up and threw an absurdly big backhand fake and heard the call: "travel." i turned to my defender, and i was probably smiling when i did so because that's always been one of those calls, particularly in league play, that i think is kind of absurd. noticing that a big glop of mud had splashed up onto the rim of the disc, i reached out to a teammate on the sideline to wipe it on his shirt. at that point my defender says, "why don't you wipe off your ego while you're at it, old man." i turned and for the first time really looked at the guy. he was my height, portly, with a beard, wearing a visor, and obviously very fired up about something. and then it hit me; he was fired up about covering me. all i wanted to do was have a little fun, not get hurt, and get back home in time to cook an almond torte i was taking to a friend's birthday party that evening, and this guy was out for blood, and willing to talk trash to get it. in winter league.

so, why the pity party? why now? well, the recent reactions to my rsd posts have ranged from the "you're unnecessarily harsh," which i deserve, particularly as it relates to my post about jessi's research, to "you owe more to the game considering your stature and reputation," to which i say nonsense. after two hospital stays (one in intensive care), two knee surgeries, and countless cuts contusions, bumps and bruises, i owe this game nothing. it's one thing to say a professional athlete who has parlayed a playing career into a tidy living owes a bit of respect back to the people who lined his pockets, but all ultimate ever provided me was a place to compete. in return, i brought everything i had to the table every time i played. if you ask me we both kept up our end of the bargain. we're square.

so now, nearly 30 years after i first played 3 on 3 in central park, i occasionally sit down at my computer and post some comment on rsd for the sole purpose of amusing myself and the small handful of like-minded people out there who read along. so what? i like to go out to winter league and haul my aging carcass around while throwing at what must surely be about a 50% completion rate. so sue me. i ruffle some feathers and poke some fun and tweak some noses and never take myself any more seriously than i take anyone i'm making fun of. sew buttons on your underwear. is it really such a crime? and why shouldn't i do it? because once, long ago i was great and my team won and people looked up to us (or alternately hated us and wanted to see us perish in a fiery car crash)? i'm not buying it. zas and zags and tony and joe may be selling it, but i'm not buying it. not even if they throw in a free copy of their book(s).

Sunday, January 01, 2006

to flame or not to flame

recent rsd post references world games team member and backhoe player jessi witt's doctoral research in cognitive psychology. seems she's looking into the effect perception has on athletic performance, specifically how much bigger the ball seems to good hitters in softball (and, one would assume, baseball). the post contains a quote from a article posted on in which witt likens the effect to her own experiences as a world class ultimate player. she goes on to explain that when she's throwing against the wind her cutters seem far away, but when she's throwing with the wind her cutters seem very close. am i the only one who has a problem with this? how did it actually get published in anything?

what jessi is talking about has absolutely nothing to do with perception. the truth is that it's harder to throw into the wind and easier to throw with the wind. she is probably neither strong enough nor skilled enough to reach the cutters when she's throwing into the wind, so they are, effectively, farther away. by contrast, nothing about the environmental conditions makes the softball any easier to hit for the good hitters. therefore, jessi's comment is totally beside the point, and the fact that she thinks it is relevant suggests she doesn't really understand her own research. so, do i post this on rsd?

and while i'm at it, do i also post that pretty much anyone on the team other than jessi will tell anyone willing to listen that jessi was easily the worst player on the team and really had no bisuness being on the team at all? talk about coming back with a bang, not to mention pissing in your own pool, figuratively, of course.

not that i've ever really cared what the people around here think. besides, i rarely swim.


in the winter of 1994, judy fisher, my then girlfriend, alerted me to an item on a frisbee newsgroup that purported to have been written by a member of my ultimate team, cojones. the post was rife with misspellings (a facet i later learned had been affected deliberately to lend the piece authenticity) and generally trash-talked its way to a prediction that we (cojones) would beat boston's dog in the coming national championships. we did not, and it turned out that the post was actually written by a member of dog as a ruse to psyche his team up. what is funny is that at the time no one on cojones knew about the newsgroup, we were not nearly so techno savvy as the boston bunch, so they had been able to concoct and execute this elaborate ruse without us ever knowing about it. it was only judy's keen eye (she was also from boston) and her divided loyalties that allowed the ruse to ever become known.

some years later, i began to post to rsd with relative frequency, and eventually became a habitual poster of some reknown. in other words, i followed a trail blazed by boston some three years earlier, and i freely admit it.

this morning i found parinella's blog, read it with some amusement, and noted that he had written about me with a seemingly sincere certainty that i would never see it. i did see it, i did respond, and in turn i did set up this, my own blog.

having noted that jim has been blogging here since august of 2004, i have shrunk the time it takes me to follow in jim's footsteps from slightly more than three to slightly more than one year.

in the words of p-funk, gaining on ya.