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.