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.