Monday, January 26, 2009

yo-yo #22: duncan midnight special

sweet nostalgia.

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.


Anonymous said...

hey ed. i am a 35 year old father of three who picked up this hobby/obsession in the last three months. thanks for sharing your memories and obvious passion. keep it up.

(that last part about keeping it up is kinda selfish, i'll admit...)

kinopah said...

right ON, man.
always good to meet a fellow yo-yo dad! hit me up if you need anything, even if it's just a shoulder to cry on when your old-guy knuckles are beat and your family won't talk to you.

;) e

Anonymous said...

hahaha. thanks ed. so far: support from the wife. she's actually been trying the sunset trajectory. my ten year old daughter thought i was weird before this with all of the sword collecting and weapons around, so no real change there. thankfully, in the eyes of my boys, i can do no wrong...they aren't old enough to know better YET. hope to see you around as i will be attempting to witness firsthand some of these contests everyone talks about. i attended my first "meet" this past weekend here in nashville,tn. brandon jackson and all of the guys here were great...and patient with my questions and spastic fumblings.

Joey F. said...

I love the appeal of the Midnight Special. I remember buying one along with a Tom Kuhn pocket rocket in early 03. It's still with my yo-yo collection:)

Anonymous said...

Memory sure is becoming cheaper these days. I wonder when we will finally hit the rate of 1 cent to 1 Gig.

I await the day when I will finally be able to afford a 20 TB harddisk, lol. But for now I guess I will be happy with having a 32 GB Micro SD Card in my R4i.

(Submitted by NewPost v2 for R4i Nintendo DS.)

Tony Wilson said...

So, today at... well I'm embarrassed to endorse the shabby hobby chain my family drafted me into...

Ok, so today I see a cheap green imperial. I was already in line so I asked my daughter if there was a red or blackone in behind it... Purple.. no red.

Still, my oldest wanted one, and I agreed... IF I could play with it today.

So, I threw it a few times... 70% of my old skill came back so fast. It took the day to get back to 80%.

So, I've been looking for a new Yoyo. A nice one.

And all of them are being measured in my head, against my 1rst love. My old Duncan Midnight Special.

I've owned 10 other imperials, none of them as well balanced and predictable as that Midnight Special.

So, I'm with you...

It just 'felt' better.

smelly said...

Hey I agree with you, those yoyos with a "brain" aka clutch, they can LOOK very cool but they actually are "cheating." And if you do know how to sleep a "regular" yoyo & get it to return, then all a clutch yoyo does is mess you all up! They are meant to give newbies confidence, and they can be a little fun if you are experienced, but for the most part they are more of a hindrance than a help.

I am 42 now, and I first got more seriously into yoyo-ing about 13 years ago. Coincidentally, my first 2 yoyos were a Yomega "X-Brain" and a Duncan Midnight Special! The X-Brain attracted me with its interesting inner gizmo, and the Midnight Special I bought purely for the cool silver graphics. The yoyo I learned the most with, though, was the Duncan MS because I had to figure out how to make it sleep & return with skill, not just rely on the automatic clutch system.

Now I have around 50 yoyos in my collection, the highest I've ever paid for one was $35. I actually prefer the cheaper ones because of their performance. Just because you get one made with airplane grade aluminum doesn't mean it will literally fly! LOL. I have seen some yoyos go for over $800 (seriously!) but the truth is, a skilled yoyo-er can make a $3 perform just as well as a $300 one. Some of the high tech ones are cool but all my favorite yoyos (based on looks and performance) are the $5-$10 range.