in 1985 (as far as i can reckon, that is), my dad came home from a trip to fall river with a special gift. he's a doctor, and growing up, he would regularly bring me presents after being away. he was away a considerable amount, which accounts for my impressive (but well-played) star wars collection. the gift was a yo-yo. i had never yo-yoed before (i may have had a few junky ones from party favors or something). the yo-yo came in an impressive clear plastic box saying something like "yomega - the yo-yo with a brain". the yo-yo within was also transparent, but for a weird pair of yellow plastic parts that each seemed to enclose a ball-bearing. i remember being impressed by its heft, but i actually kind of thought it was ugly.
i threw it down with my sorry little-kid throw, and it stayed down. i yanked, and it stayed down. then, apparently spontaneously, it snagged and climbed back up the string. although i thought this was pretty neat, i got tired of it quickly. gravity pull was my best yo-yo trick, and i couldn't perform it well with this "intelligent" yo-yo. i preferred my "dumb" yo-yo's that i was able to make bounce on the string and occasionally sleep (usually by accident). sure i could "rock the baby" with the brain just by letting it go, but that didn't really sit well with me. i think that i didn't like knowing that this "sharper image" yo-yo was giving me new abilities to which i felt i had no right.
i took the brain to school with me and my classmates were all WAY more impressed with it than i was. few of them could throw much of a sleeper at all, and i was getting a solid 15 seconds out of this thing! by accident! one kid, darrell i think, offered me a deal. he had a new, black duncan midnight special (he showed it to me with a nervous, clandestine posture as if he were revealing some contraband). he would trade me for the brain straight up. i didn't know yo-yo's then, but i knew duncan. it was the only brand i knew.
what struck me though - the dealbreaker - were the stars. the midnight special was just a duncan imperial, but it sported beautiful shiny silver stars which shone in relief with the yo-yo's black body. i just thought it looked so striking and classic. i asked to toss it a few times to make sure he wasn't tring to stick me with a lemon or anything. showing off the brain had improved my "power throw", and i remember being impressed that i was able to make the yo-yo sleep (albeit for not as long as the brain), but i could also content myself with the typical up and down i associated with yo-yoing.
i made the deal, and i went home with a smile on my face, wondering how i could have gotten so lucky. the yo-yo broke a week later. i smashed it to pieces on a hard sleeper trying to walk the dog. it positively came apart, all 4 plastic pieces removing themselves from the axle, which dutifully clung to the string (which i found hilarious). needless to say, i was disappointed whenever i saw darrell with his brain throughout the remainder of the year (if memory serves, it was stolen from him by a bully in late spring, and i'm guilty of having felt somewhat vindicated by this at the time).
the yo-yo's destruction did nothing to embitter me toward buying duncan, in fact, during the next few years, whenever i saw a midnight special at a toy store, i bought it. i'd play it for a week or a month on and off, and then break it or lose it and buy another. i was a "midnight special player". if someone asked me what kind of yo-yo i played, i'd answer "duncan. duncan midnight special." it wasn't until the boom that i gave yomega another chance and i realized their considerable potential.
in some ways, i look back on this, and i recognize that, in trading the brain for the m.s., i probably hindered my development in some ways. it took me forever to learn breakaway, and later trapeze on it. i "invented" braintwister with it over a period of months in the early 90's, but referred to it as "whirligig" (god help me) until i was disappointed by the revalation that braintwister was actually an old trick during the late 90's boom. since imperials really aren't good for looping, i could never manage more than a single loop-the-loop with it.
if i had stuck with the brain, it might have made me a better player by some standards, but the fact that i didn't kind of speaks to some important truths about me:
1.) i'm less interested by the prospect of improvement than i am by "shiny things".
2.) i've always wanted to "yo-yo simply" and "simply yo-yo". the midnight special allowed me to do that.
3.) since the 80's, i've been aware of the idea of "cheating" in yo-yoing. part of the reason i rejected the brain was the fact that its transaxle clutch made it feel "unnatural". i don't speak out against bearings now or anything, but i've always preferred the feeling of a fixed axle yo-yo.
i WISH i still had the pieces of that original midnight special, but alas, they're scattered to the 4 winds. i've procured some from good friends, and i actually enjoy playing them. few things are more satisfying than nailing behind the head eli hops on a yo-yo like this. filtering the modest skill i've developed with "better" yo-yo's through the one i started on is a joy, which to me remains what yo-yoing is all about.