Friday, July 24, 2009

yo-yo #49: red imperial

it only took me 49 yo-yo's to get to the imperial. so what? not like it took me 50 or anything!

beloved yo-yo icon steve brown just posted a link to his facebook today: wired magazine's 100 things your kids may never know about. reading through the list was pretty remarkable. i rarely pause to consider just how much has changed since i was a kid. from the way i access and learn information to the way i express myself to the food that i get and how i prepare it... so many facets of my childhood would seem totally primitive and foreign to my 6-year-old daughter. obviously, every generation can say as much. (i used to love being regaled with my great-grandfather's stories about life in massachusettes at the turn of the century. he provided for his family as the proprietor of a vegetable cart, and would push it along the winding streets for miles, greeting his customers by name. eventually he saved up enough to open a market, and was able to put his kids though college. can the american dream still be lived in such a way?)

anyway, this list made me think:
remember when yo-yo's came back up?
remember when you couldn't take them apart?
remember when a 10-second spinner felt like a serious achievement?
remember when you bought them on a whim at a toy shop or drugstore for $2?
remember when, if you played sloppy or carelessly, they'd whack you in the knuckles?
remember when no one gave a crap that you were really good with a yo-yo? ... oh wait.

what's the saying? "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

i bought this imperial at a local k-mart just a few years back. there was a thread on yoyonation that essentially dared people to make a video of themselves playing with imperials, and i thought that idea was just the coolest. i've never watched a ton of yo-yo videos (even now i mostly watch friends or offerings i'm pretty sure i'll like), but i get so tired of vids that don't do anything to really set themselves apart in some way. this was at least an opportunity to make a video (a craft i had only just begun to learn) that was different at its premise.

making this video catalyzed my desire to play more fixed axle, which led me to no jives, which set me in the direction i'm on now. still, every time i look at this video, i'm embarassed by it. i feel it's one of just a few i've done that are truly terrible, and that i should go back and do over. the tricks aren't the issue so much as how i perform them. nothing looks smooth or clearly-intentioned at all. it LOOKS like someone who's not at home playing an imperial - which i guess i wasn't. oh well, i guess it's important to document ones' amateur rattle (though probably NOT one's pseudo-mullet or hideous goatee).

i talked to steve about imperials a few years back. having been mr. duncan-guy, i kind of expected him to say "they're awesome. classic." he basically told me they're total crap - butterflies, too. the gummy, low-quality plastic, a design that can survive only a few light bumps, and mediocre-at-best looping ability really seemed to infuriate him, especially compared with russells (which are probably the only yo-yo that are more numerous than imperials worldwide). he said he'd asked duncan/flambeau repeatedly to revisit and improve them, but if it "ain't broke" (here having the meaning of "still sells") the company saw no real need to fix it. it occurs to me that i've pretty much never talked to an old-timey yo-yoer (at least one who was worth a damn) that really prefered the imperial. larry sayco also told me he despised it, and vastly preferred both the "super" and "professional" models.

regardless, i like this particular yo-yo. if the atomic-zombpocalypse hit tomorrow, and i survived in a sewer eating rats for 6 months before emerging... and if the only yo-yo left to be found was this red imperial, i'd be ok. i'd be just fine. i love the translucent red against the gold stamp. it doesn't play well by the standard i hold (which is not high in itself), but at least it's held together. i started on midnight specials growing up, so every time i throw this it feels a bit like coming home. i tried to hit spirit bomb on it earlier today, but no dice whatsoever. my no jive practice has not refined my technique to that extent, evidently.

it also makes me think of "good yo-yoing". like i said before, every generation looks back at the previous ones with a bit of wonder and maybe superiority. "how did you even SURVIVE without ipods?" my old students would ask me. and admittedly, if i could time travel and talk to my 12 year-old self as i suffered through long hours of making "mix tapes", saying "in 20 years, every song you have ever owned (and some movies) will fit in a 3x2 inch casing and will be able to be accessed instantly"... well... i probably wouldn't have finished said mixtape.

we yo-yoers do it too. we mostly operate under the assumption that the stuff we're doing now is somehow grander than all of the stuff that came before. to the kids in the community now, pre-webforum yo-yoing is like the dark ages, when in fact... blissfully ignorant or not, our tricks cannot be effectively detached from those of the people who spent long years refining and teaching the basics. they're the reason yo-yoing is burned into collective american consciousness; why yo-yo's are identifiable at all. and though they are in large part obscure to us now (just as we will be to later generations), we're foolish and forgetful when we neglect to honor yo-yoing's history. our yo-yo's aren't that great and our tricks aren't that incredible. i mean... they ARE... but not to the extent that they grant us license to deride the past. "good yo-yoing" is just yo-yoing that is relevant and meaningful in its moment.

this yo-yo (by which i mean imperials in general) has survived, like alligators, sharks and cockroaches. although the plastic sucks and you can't do "soiled panties" on it (whatever that is), the imperial has never broken in the long term. for all its flaws, i like that i can go buy one at a store and feel connected to [a part of] what yo-yoing was 50 years ago. would i mind if yoyofactory (or someone else) were to reset the standard someday, and another yo-yo occupies the imperial's hallowed space? not a bit. i DO think there should be a better "standard" out there that the uninitiated first associate with our art.

but before you scoff at the imperial, consider: how many yo-yo's will still be relevant 5 years from now (let alone 50)? and how many thousands have seen their first (or only) glimpse of yo-yoing through the imperial's plastic prism?

where the yo-yo's and yo-yoers of today seem to immediately alienate passers-by ("oh, i could never do that in a million years"), the imperial invited us all to try to "make it come back up to our hand" that first time... where now we try to burn through categories like "advanced", "expert", and "master", shedding them as if they carry a disease, the imperial told us it was ok to just enjoy "gravity pull" or "forward pass" in the beginning... that HAVING a "beginning" is, in fact, worthwhile... and where the yo-yo's of today are engineering feats in themselves, masking our ineptitude with their remarkable technology, the imperial taught us that when we fight through frustration and learn to use it, the skill we develop is truly, undeniably, and forever our own.

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