Saturday, September 14, 2013

yo-yo #96: mini-motu

many of the most generous people i've had the pleasure to meet have been yo-yo players. it's pretty remarkable and, i think, one of the aspects of this hobby which has kept me hanging on for all these years. the tricks are rad and the toys are (often) shiny, but the people are the best. my friend (and now, teammate - whoa!) jacob jensen gave me this yo-yo as a gift.

the longer i play yo-yo, the more frequently i find i am assailed by fits of nostalgia. some days, i want more than anything to throw the purple fireball i used as a camp counselor trying desperately to relate to my boom-era charges. on others, i just have to channel the west coast sector_y revolution and nail yellow airplanes or pure 143 on my royal blue renegade. a few weeks ago though, i was aching for the inimitable feeling of my first "intentionally unresponsive" yo-yo, the yoyojam mini-motu.

by early 2005, i was really still beginning. i had played plenty of yo-yo, but i had never been "good", and the only unresponsive yo-yoing i was doing was the result of my stickers wearing out or bearings breaking in. i knew how to bind ok (actually i had first learned that on my thp raider years before), and i understood that playing a yo-yo that didn't snag offered some significant knuckle-saving benefits. however, i had yet to cave and buy one of the yo-yo's (mainly consisting of yoyojams, buzz-ons, and the prohibitively unattainable dif-e-yo's/oxys/hspins) which were clearly designed with low response in mind.

i'm not sure newer players understand the degree to which the yo-yo landscape has changed from year to year. guys like johnnie were changing everything through unresponsive play in the early 2000's, but it took time (years) for yo-yo's to start coming unresponsive out of the box. the wild success of the boutique market between 2005-2007 (bare bones, radian, peak, pyro...) really accelerated this phenomenon, but as of 2005, it was still tough to find a yo-yo for which you would need a bind right off the bat. and by the spring of that year, i was hot for one.

i drove up to rhode island to visit family and (i think) attend a wedding. as i made the 12+ hour drive, however, i developed a clandestine, yo-yo-based plan. one of the few brick & mortar stores of which i was aware was located just an hour from my maternal grandparents. surely, i could sneak away for a bit to check it out! andre boulay, yoyojam team captain and the wizard behind (the precursor to was based nearby, and the local toy/science store, A2Z, was rumored to have most of the company's models in stock.

my uncle insisted on making the drive out with me. i think he found it perplexing that i, a 20-something dad, would be willing to drive an hour to visit some shop because they sold... nice yo-yo's. the store turned out to be like so many small independent toy shops - totally jammed with product. a nice older dude, whom i later learned was the store's owner, jack finn (a yo-yo icon in his own right) was psyched to hear that i was looking to talk shop. [returning to yo-yoers' generosity,] i was amazed by how much of his own time he was willing to give up, going over the minute details differentiating each model.

he was more than willing to let me try everything. i probably spent an hour (yet again, totally perplexing my uncle) sampling every yoyojam available, including the record-setting, fixed-axle DJ, which appealed to my purist sensibilities but would have been a terrible choice. although jack produced and let me try what i think was a sweet prototype of the spinfaktor hg, the 3 i ended up deciding between were andre's dark magic, johnnie's hitman, and the diminutive mini-motu.

all of these had [fundamentally] similar guts, and all required my sketchy binding skills. this was the era when yyj's still had beefy o-rings and needed thick cardboard or metal shims to reach true dead-unresponsiveness, but those huge size-C bearings would break in within a few hours, putting you in the weird snag-zone common to tight gap/dry bearing setups. most serious players would either shave the o-rings with a razor. the high art of filling grooves with flowable silicone was only beginning to take root (thanks in part to doc pop's great "how to mod a bolt" instructions).

i ended up selecting the mini-motu because it was the most understated, not only in terms of size, but also its graphics and the color that was available (white). even the rims had a slightly more authentic, almost gun-metal sheen which contrasted with the shiny aluminum of the other models. upon getting my new yo-yo back to my grandmas, i was immediately vexed by a sudden and apparently total loss of response. the motu had gone narcoleptic in the blink of an eye. though i was prepared for this eventuality (expecting it over, say, a week or two), i had not banked on it going so abruptly from light tug-response to absolute rock-on-stringness.

above all other tricks, i was, at this time, desperate to have a yo-yo with which to emulate andre's thumb grinds. so, i tried to remove the caps that very night. i tried suction cups, duct tape, and even a cockamamie forum suggestion involving putting the yo-yo in the freezer in the effort to get the rims to compress. nothing worked, and in the end i had to extract them surgically (i think with my aunt's steak knife), ruining the first of many yoyojam caps in the process.

it's a funny thing to begin a journey. you hang onto details of the minutia which would just blend into the background noise further down the road. one of my seminal sessions is captured in the photo to the right. at the lake, the evening after buying it, the unrecognized potential of a huge gap and low response was made real to me, and i dove into the difficult truth that there are no creative barriers which are not self-imposed. i remember doing kwyjibo, along with gabe's trick "triangulation" and linking a few of my own tentative moves together. though not "mighty", it was an important session for me, and i've played yo-yo every day since. it's funny to recall that, given that some people think of me as someone who eschews modern yo-yo's, it was really that little motu which sucked me into my most recent (and least escapable) iteration of yo-yo obsession.

though it became a go-to in my growing quiver, that particular mini-motu died a protracted and (for me) agonizing death. i'm not sure how it initially developed, but the yo-yo caught that special flavor of black plague evidently reserved for yoyojams: nipple cracks. maybe it was precipitated by my ridiculous freezer antics on our first evening together. regardless, this condition is about as close to pancreatic cancer as a yo-yo can contract: once you find a crack in a yoyojam's hub... you know the end is coming.

not unlike the varied responses which develop from watching a terminally-ill loved one, yo-yoers respond to this condition in diverse ways. some try to conceal the initial crack and pawn the yo-yo off on some unexpectant forum member. some break out the superglue and hope for the best, watching the cracks irrepressibly metastasize over anything between a few weeks and a few years. some prematurely euthanize the yo-yo, breaking it apart to harvest the rims for the now nearly-defunct practice of modding. and some sail on along de Nile.

my white motu developed its initial cracks around 2007, and i threw it almost daily until it became a wobbly mess about a year later. at some point, i dismantled it and included the rims in some sort of trade. since that time, i really missed throwing this model, and when jacob produced this translucent blue specimen at worlds this year, i was ecstatic.

throwing it the other day, i noticed something which would have once been alarming: a small crack - about 2mm in length, right where the plastic meets the metal rim (click to enlarge). this yo-yo, too, is on borrowed time, but i don't say that with despair as i might have years ago. there may be many days and many throws before this gift becomes unplayable, or perhaps just a few. there may be sessions i will remember down the road, like that night on the lake, or just a few nice, anonymous throws. you cannot measure the joy held within a single throw, any more than takeshi can measure the serenity found in the sunrises he diligently observes, or ben mcphee can measure the glee arising from seeing a huge shorebreak wave swallow him. we all have only so many sunrises, so many waves, so many throws, but that which is immeasurable is, in a way, infinite. we're all cracking, sure; some of us gradually and some immediately. but that shouldn't mean that we can't enjoy what spin we have. we're cracking, but we're also smiling.

cracking, but always, always beginning.

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