in 2002, i was teaching 6th grade at a mediocre charter school in downtown durham. stacy and i had moved to carrboro the year before (to accommodate her unc med-school choice), and i was commuting about 35 minutes into the city. the situation was not improved by the fact that i was working for a pittance and teaching every subject.
i had totally abandoned any kind of progressive yo-yoing (in truth i hadn't found it yet, though i thought i had). the only yo-yo out of cold-storage at the time was my custom mag predator (more on that later), and it banged around with spent staples and dirt-change in my teacher-desk. on a time, one of my students brought in an old yomega brain and spent recess trying to find his way through "forward pass" (though he called it "shoot the moon"). in the waning seconds of our time outside, i asked him to let me see it.
i've never actually been all that good at yo-yoing, and at this time, having fully picked the scab of the late 90's fad and discarded it (but for moments when i simply refused to grade things and searched out something else to do), the rust of years was evident. i fumbled to make a slip-knot (travis hadn't bothered or didn't know how), took two tries to "wind the dog", and missed several split-bottom mounts before nailing "split-the-atom" (which i knew as "atom bomb", having never heard the more politically correct "atom smasher"). i wandered through a theme and variations on "chain reaction" before the bell rang, and i handed the toy back to its owner.
the funny thing about yo-yo's is that you can be really bad, and even throw really badly by your own really bad standards... and people will still be absolutely amazed. during my self-indulgent yo-yo diatribe, i had not really noticed that the class had encircled me. only after i returned the yo-yo and asked them to line up did i notice that their starry-eyed slack-jawed stares. the were agog. they were astonished. they had been taught all year by a mutant yo-yo superstar from uranus, and they hadn't had any idea (well, about the yo-yo part). again, i was decidedly "not good", but to the uninitiated, even the banal and routine appear to transcend the limits of reality.
one girl, who had the befuddling name of "awnshawntia" (or as she explained on day 1, "it's pronounced enchanté. it's french.") actually asked me if it was magic. "do more magic tricks," she said. i had seen "ok" yo-yoing, and i was aware of my own mediocrity, but everyone feels bolstered by such praise. i pulled my mag out of my desk and frowned at it, having forgotten that my last bee-string had snapped, sending the metal toy dinging across the floor of the empty classroom on one empty morning. it stared up at me impotently, and i was consumed by the desire to find a new string.
that afternoon, between the bell and my first parent-teacher conference at 4:00, i went to the only toy store in town (a tiny, indy place next door to duke). i asked if they had any yo-yo string, and was met with a quizzical look from the proprietor. "no," she said, "but we have yo-yo's. do they MAKE just the string?" she led me to an aisle in the back, where i learned that, in point of fact, they had "yo-yo". singular. one yo-yo: a blue superyo renegade. in my blissful ignorance of the yo-yo world, i had never heard of it. i had never seen the sector y videos. the name of "escolar" was, as yet, meaningless to me. i was confused as to why this random offering was the only one in the store. the last time i had actively looked for aything yo-yo related was probably y2k, and in any given toy store, one was positively assailed by yo-yo's. it occurred to me that the fad had died, just as skateboarding had in the early-90's (i still remember trying to find a pair of vans, airwalks, or ANY skate shoes in 1997 to no avail). i didn't even blink before buying the renegade (which came with TWO strings - one for the mag, one for the gade - i'd be set for life!)
the yo-yo was royal blue and slightly translucent. at the time, i wasn't a big fan of butterfly shapes, because i had trouble looping them (my weak inside loops represented roughly 1/10 of my trick potential). i flipped it imperial, but hated it, and pagoda was just a crazy novelty, so i stuck with butterfly. it was super-responsive out of the box, which i loved. i could do exceedingly long combos on it (by my standards) and still have the snap to get it back to the hand. i went to one of the few yo-yo sites i knew of (yomania.com, god help me) and was pleased to find tons of glowing reviews. still, i remained fully ignorant of its uncanny potential.
i probably threw that yo-yo for 2 straight months. i made up tricks that i have since forgotten. i forgave its butterfly shape when i learned it enabled me to hit trapeze pretty much automatically. and then, inexplicably, i put it down; put it away. i didn't touch it again for 2 years. i blame this on three circumstances. 1.) i was still not the type to research my interests carefully on the internet. 2.) i was, at the time, totally obsessed with learning to surf. one obsession at a time, please. and 3.) i knew of zero yo-yo players within a 100-mile radius. as the boom had dried up, so the yo-yo population appeared to have evaporated. yo-yoing no longer felt like a "movement", so much as a "relic". it was amazing, but you can only be amazing in a vacuum for so long before people (and you, yourself) tire of your "same old crap".
if i had happened upon the boards; the culture that WAS out there, i would have found freehand. i would have found offstring. i would have realized how wonderfully FAR from the core of understanding i actually was, and i would have desired to keep searching. but, when you're alone in the world, it's difficult to question your own understanding. with yo-yoing, it never occurred to me that there was even something to understand. i never realized how far it extended.
so, when i hold this renegade, i think of the years i spent in yo-yo solitude; unaware of what could be done with it. had i ever seen what paul escolar, gabriel lozano, or spencer berry had done with it, i would have seen yo-yoing in the way awnshawntia had: as magic.
it reminds me that while i regret my ignorance, i recognize that it was (and remains, thank god) a substantial part of me.
i still play with this all the time. i feel as though do not truly know a trick unless i can do it on this yo-yo. the starbursts gave their last gasp years ago, and after trying a duncan sticker in it in 2004 (way too responsive on such a thin bearing), it was the first yo-yo i tried recessing on a dremel. it was the gnarliest, nastiest recess-job ever. it looked as though i had spun the yo-yo at 33 rpm and stabbed it repeatedly with a pit bull's tooth. in 2006, i had chris hicks clean it up for me with a thick dif pad, and it now resides comfortably in the realm between responsive and unresponsive.
the paul escolar sector-y vids remain my most transformative moment in yo-yoing; as if coming out of a tunnel and into a sunrise, and wondering where the color orange had been during all those dark years. the fact that that dude could use the same yo-yo as the one i gave up on to invent what he did still blows me away. in the last 4 years, i'm pretty sure that every time i've picked up this yo-yo, i've done one of his tricks first, as a sort of libation.
this is one of the few yo-yo's that, should i make it to 90, i know i will hold with the same reverence.