Wednesday, September 2, 2009
yo-yo #57: blue duncan fh2
it's a beautiful day outside. normally, north carolina in early september is still a hazy mass of heat and water, the latter perpetually oscillating between liquid and gas... all over you. but today is just lovely; sunny... around 70. it feels like wyoming; summer in the afternoon shade of the tetons. all of the windows and doors have been thrown open. in the middle of last night i actually felt momentarily chilly. i love the summer, but i think i love its death throes even more. perfect time to play yo-yo outside.
around this time in 2004, i went shopping at target for cupcakes on account of a teacher-party (i think a baby shower?) at school, about which i had completely forgotten. it was irksome, because i hate buying tasty-treats at big faceless stores like that, but forgetting had been my fault, and i had to bring something. it was my planning period, so i was in a big rush, but on the way to check out, i passed the rack of clearance toys. front and center were about 30 yo-yo's: about 10 hasbro fast 201's (powered by yoyofactory - lol), which sported a reduced price of $7.50, and perhaps twice as many duncan "freehands", marked down from $14.00 to $10.00. i couldn't remember having seen either at target before (which they both plainly were), but i also rarely shopped in the "boy toy" aisles, having only a 3-year-old daughter at the time. i picked up this blue freehand (i knew and trusted duncan, having always played midnight specials - lol), and considered it for only a moment before i tossed it onto the cupcakes and proceeded to checkout. the deciding factor was, of course, the spare string that was in the package. i knew my renegade string was old and gross (i had ironically also bought said renegade for the spare string, which i had put on my custom mag). i remember actually feeling bad for spending $10.00 on a yo-yo when i already had a perfectly good one. how things change, i guess.
when i got to school, i tossed it absent-mindedly and liked it a lot. i put on a little show for my kids, who were predictably awed by my mediocrity and 5-year-old tricks. i still played yo-yo sometimes, but hadn't bothered to learn anything new or interesting since the big boom (and bust) of the late 90's. my yo-yo collection at the time would have included a midnight special, a purple fireball, a purple brain, a pink saber-wing fireball, a thp glow raider, a turbo bumble bee, a custom mag predator, and la piece de resistance: a blue renegade, the starbursts of which had long since worn to vague, dull, nubs. by the end of the day, it occurred to me that yo-yo's had actually IMPROVED in the intervening years. duncan, which had been kind of a punchline when i quit playing, had put out a yo-yo that seemed to outplay my gade out of the box!
bear in mind, i had never played (or heard of) the fh1. i had completely (blissfully) ignored the online yo-yo community, and felt totally self-sufficient. i had bought about 25 bee strings (relics from 1999) from a closing 'hobby lobby' in or around 2003, and since i didn't play much, and really only changed them when they became unplayably kinked and gnarled, they had sustained me through almost 2 years. *want to know something funny? i've STILL never played a freehand 1. never. at this point, obviously, it's not because i've never been exposed to them. i've had dozens in front of me over the past few years. some of my best friends still swear by them, but it's kind of become a game to me. "when will i actually submit and play a freehand 1?" maybe tomorrow; maybe never. i've never finished toni morrison's book, beloved, either. on purpose. same kind of thing.
when i got home later, i dug out the string from the packaging for my appreciative renegade, and in so doing remembered that the fh2 came with a cute little mini-video-cd-thing. i was kind of curious, so i popped it into my laptop's tray and waited for it to load. when it finally did, all my illusions were destroyed.
i had thought i was a pretty good yo-yoer; not like "dominant" or "innovative" or anything... but somehow, i had totally forgotten that those words could even APPLY to yo-yoing. i had been quietly rehashing the tricks i had learned or invented in 1999 for years and years, and it had never occurred to me that during that time, though yo-yoing had not been "everywhere", it had still been quietly evolving somehow, and without MY help?!?!
i don't recall all of the details of the video cd. it featured a brief clip video, and some basic trick tutorials. the clip vid was what really struck me; it had been filmed very much in the style of a skate video, with which i was plenty familiar. it featured crew members (which, at the time would have included steve brown, jack ringca, mark mcbride, spencer berry, takeshi, paul escolar, and seth peterson, to name a few - an effing dream team if ever there was one), and their post-newschool, post-1a-revolution yo-yoing were light years ahead of what i could comprehend. the whole video cd couldn't have been more than 8 minutes, but that was all it took to reset my "yo-yo hubris" to zero. it also precipitated a cursory internet search which yielded howtoyoyo.com and by proxy, dr, popular, whose "glass lab experiment #4" proved to be the straw that broke [my pride's] back.
indirectly, the purchase of this blue freehand sent me into an immediate and beautiful spiraling depression. the yo-yo (in general) was SO MUCH COOLER than it had been when i had effectively set it down. there was so much more to learn. i wanted to see what was out there, and the terrifying vastness of that realization was especially disturbing, because i had not been IN on any of its creation. i like to participate in the construction of "awesome" in the world, and i had missed my chance to help make yo-yoing into this incredible, dynamic tapestry. or had i?
the upside to completely annihilating any sense of pride in one's crappy yo-yoing... is that if you dare to accept the truth of your legitimate mediocrity, then you GET to start learning the new stuff. and you get to start doing it with an "empty cup"; free from the burdens of your own skill, preferences, and expectations. the aforementioned depression only lasted a few minutes; after that i was too busy immersing myself in "shockwave" and "nanda kanda" to be depressed. yo-yo people always strike me as so anxious to shake off their beginnings; as if it's this big race, and you don't get to pause and appreciate the scenery until you're an "expert" or something (though people like that tend to burn out long before that anyway). the poet cesare pavese once said, "the only joy in life is to begin". i feel i've had the pleasure of "beginning" yo-yoing several times now; as a small child, during the boom, for a few weeks when i bought my gade, and yet again, as precipitated by this little blue fh2.
this last time has really stuck. i've played yo-yo every day since making this purchase. i went back to target a bit later, found all of their remaining stock of freehands AND 201's (which i also came to love) discounted to a ridiculous $1.50 and $1.33, respectively. i bought them all, and spent the next 2 years strategically distributing them among to students, family, friends, and random passers-by.
not long after i ran out of them, i became irritated with duncan, and got "stuck" with a bunch more fh2's to give away. steve brown (one of the only yo-yo players i had heard of in y2k), had famously stormed from his positions as head of marketing/design, and duncan crew leader. the firefight between he and the flambeau executive, jason sauey had spilled over onto the internet, which resulted in a curious edict from duncan, when i asked if they would sponsor nc states: "Sure, we'll sponsor. I just have to confirm that you would not be having Steve Brown involved with the contest in any way."
i found that really depressing, because, even though i knew he had a prior engagement, if i COULD have conned steve into coming down to judge or participate in the contest, of COURSE i would have. i felt that was just too much experience to try to blackball him due to a personal grudge. i told duncan that i couldn't accept their sponsorship under those conditions, but they had already sent me half of their package: 15 yellow fh2's, which mike burke told me not to bother sending back. rather than injecting them into the overfull prize pool (other companies had really stepped up for us), we used the fh2's for the beginner corner, and after the contest, i went about playing johnny appleseed again, giving them away to semi-random, well-deserving people. i think i sent the last one off to a former student this past january.
it's not my favorite yo-yo in terms of play. it feels a little too round and "gushy" to me. i play mine stock, unrecessed, with one duncan sticker and the thin spacers. it's not beautiful or rare or impressive... and yet i'll never get rid of it. every yo-yoer has one yo-yo they cam point to as "the one that put them over". after i bought this yo-yo, i discovered the badass duncan crew. i discovered dr. popular, the glass lab, and eventually, sector_y. i discovered dave's skill toys and yoyoing.com. and by spring, i had finally discovered the value of communicating with other yo-yo players on web-boards, through which i eventually met and befriended some of the titans listed above (though part of me, still overcome with awe, will probably never feel that i deserve to be in the same room as them).
the last few years, i've really been all about playing yo-yo, i guess. there's other stuff i do, of course, and i try to sustain my other interests. but i spend a lot of time playing yo-yo. many of my best friends are yo-yoers. it's become something much more than a hobby to me. and undeniably, my life would be very different now had i just remembered to make treats for that baby shower... it's funny to ask myself: if i could go back, with the understanding of how deeply i would fall... of how fully the toy would take hold of me... of how much time and energy i would invest in it... would i buy it all over again? or go check out with just the cupcakes?
this wasn't my first yo-yo, but it was probably the most important to my development into the player (and, since they are inseparable, the person) i am today.