Ultimate Glory

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays

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Those who enjoyed this essay, might like this one too: KID OF THE YEAR.  Which gets at the roots of my somewhat overdeveloped competitive instincts.

As for the essay below, I’ve been thrilled by the response.  At this point, over 32,000 of you have seen it, with the help of Longform and USA Today, and plenty of Ultimate players, including some who weren’t born when these events occurred, have told me that this echoes their own ultimate conversions.

ULTIMATE GLORY

A Frisbee Memoir

 

What you gave me you gave whole

But as for telling

Me how to best use it

You weren’t a genius at that.

Twenties, my soul

Is yours for the asking

You know that, if you ever come back

 

“To My Twenties” by Kenneth Koch

 

We labor over our big decision and big dreams, but sometimes it’s the small things that change our lives forever.  What could be smaller than this: It is the first week of my freshman year of college and I, looking for a sport to play, am walking down to the boathouse for crew, resigning myself to four years of servitude as a galley slave, when I see a Frisbee flying across the street.  The Frisbee, tossed from one long-haired boy to another, looks like freedom to me.  Then I notice that there are several Frisbees flying back and forth between a band of young men, all wearing shorts, with cleats hanging over their shoulders.  At the time I am quite shy but, uncharacteristically, I cross the street and ask them where they are going.  To Ultimate Frisbee practice, it turns out, and I am going with them.    

It is my first practice, and almost my last.  The college I am attending is Harvard but if I thought there would be plenty of snobbery at the boathouse, I didn’t expect it out on an open field tossing Frisbees around with a bunch of semi-athletic half-hippies.  But it’s here all right, mostly in the form of a tall, skinny preppie-nosed boy named Paul Edwards.  I’m not yet aware of the caste-like layers of the sport, not aware that Edwards has spent the last season playing for the soon-to-be national champion Boston Aerodisc and considers himself laughably above practicing with a bunch of beginners (some, like me, who can’t even throw forehands!)  But if I am shy during that first practice it isn’t because I’m naturally passive or subdued.  I might not say much to other people, but inside my head plans already broil, slights are carefully noted, and words wait to pour out.  By the third time Edwards criticizes the way I cut for the disc I am ready to storm off.  Who does this skinny prick think he is?  I played high school football and tennis, and am a decent basketball player, and though I might not know how to make the fancy little throws he can, I know right off that I’m a better athlete.  It’s true he can do almost anything with a Frisbee–on the sideline he very seriously sprays silicone on the disc (with the air of a doctor starting an IV) so that he can spin it on his well-trimmed nails–but does that give him the right to criticize me?  The next time he opens his mouth I storm off.  Fuck this, I think, and start walking back toward the boathouse.  Full of righteous indignation, huffing and puffing, I make it about fifty yards until one of the team’s captains catches up with me.  He is a small energetic man named Stuart and he gives me a pat on the back, acknowledging that Edwards can sometimes be hard to play with.  He talks me into staying.  As it turns out, he knows the right way to win me over.  “You’re going to be great at this,” he says.  Music to my young ears.

 

* * *

 

That was the beginning of almost twenty years lost in the world of Ultimate.  A friend of mine once said that our bodies are like credit cards; we get the bills later on.  I am forty now and have been paying my bills lately in the form of varicose veins, arthritis and a torn rotator cuff from almost two decades of playing that silly sport; I’ve become like an old sailor who can feel weather coming in across the Bay in my bones.  Not long ago, on a particularly achy day, I said to my wife: “If I were young again, I wouldn’t play that stupid sport.”  She looked at me the way she does sometimes.  “If you were young again,” she said.  “I’d give you a beer, toss you a Frisbee, and you’d chase after it like a border collie.”

Ultimate Frisbee, which when I started to play was barely ten years old, was invented in a high school parking lot in Maplewood, New Jersey in 1968, and is played seven men or women to a side, on fields 70 yards long with 25 yard endzones, the object being to advance a plastic disc across a goal line in the air.  But instead of running with the disc, players must stop, establish a pivot foot, and throw it within ten seconds.  If the disc is dropped or knocked down, play instantly changes direction, offense becoming defense.  There are no stoppages of play until a goal is scored.  Then the Ultimate equivalent of a kick-off occurs; the scoring team throws or “pulls” the disc to the receiving team, which waits to receive on their own goal line.

The sport is filled with running, jumping, and diving, but has the unfortunate distinction of being played with an object universally considered a child’s toy.  In fact cardiovascular studies have shown Ultimate, with its non-stop running, to be a match for soccer, but though teams often share the fields with–and often practice harder than–rugby squads, they can never quite escape the taint of the whimsical.  For those who devote their lives to the sport, it’s a little more serious.  For instance, the throws used to advance the disc are hardly the casual from-behind-the-hip flips seen thrown by old guys at picnics.  Long passes, called “hucks,” occasionally carry the full distance from end zone to end zone.  Players uncurl traditional backhands or flick forehands, but they also employ a varied arsenal of non-floating passes.  These include the spear-like overhead, where the disc is hurled in football style and can travel fifty yards upside down before turning back over and dropping into a receiver’s hands, and the “blade,” a knifing pass that describes an absurd parabola, and that the very best players slice surgically round the field.

When watching Ultimate the first thing that strikes the uninitiated is the way men and women throw their bodies around.  Often they do this on fields only a little more forgiving than the parking lot where the sport was invented.   And if Ultimate is a game of moments–of improbable dives and acrobatic catches–then these moments are heightened by two physical facts: 1) a disc is a hell of a lot easier to catch than a football or basketball, and 2) a disc hovers.

There’s a bumper sticker that reads: “When a ball dreams, it dreams it’s a Frisbee.”  Players make wild stabs or catch the trailing plastic edge, the disc seeming to stick to their hands.  Throws curve twenty yards out of bounds and then boomerang back in, and there are times the disc actually seems to wait for players to catch it.

For many, myself included, all this action can prove addictive.  The Ultimate world is full of people who, for reasons they can never quite explain, have given up the normal benefits of life to chase plastic, men and women brimming with the passion and impracticality of the cliched artist, a band of jock Van Goghs, painting on and on without the faintest hope of a sale.

Whatever the mysterious motivation, each year more innocents are drawn into Ultimate underworld, often leaving behind mystified parents wondering exactly where they went wrong.  After graduating from some of the country’s best schools, their minds are subtly warped, and, instead of putting their energies into sensible pursuits like law or medicine, they throw them into this ridiculous sport.  It’s kind of like a new LSD in this way: Turn on and drop out.  Suddenly Ivy league graduates are working at warehouses so that they can have time to pile in a van to drive down, stuffed in with ten rank-smelling teammates, to a tournament in Texas.  Meanwhile they live in warrens filled with other players, and drink beer and talk incessantly of Ultimate.  It’s enough to make parents want to call in the de-programers.

* * *

 

My own immersion began on that field Freshman year.  Soon I became friends with two of my classmates, Jon Epstein and Simon Long, and when the older guys put us on the field together they called us the “freshman death squad.”  Both Epstein and Long had attended Brookline High School, a progressive public school in the Boston area that had its own tradition of Ultimate, and they came into the game as full-blown players, complete with forehands (or, in Long’s case, an ugly but effective throw called the “thumber” in which the disc was launched from closer into the body with the thumb, not the fingers.)  While I lacked their skills, I made up for it through a kind of brutal effort, playing defense for the whole season in about the same mood I’d been in when I stormed away from Paul Edwards, and running deep to catch the passes Epstein and Long threw.

My hands were my strength as a player.  As college wore on I became obsessed with catching–“You are what you catch,” read a note on my wall–and this obsession, like most of mine, ran like a parent stream back to my father.  When I was nine or ten I loved nothing more than playing football with him on our front lawn.  He had been a scrappy high school athlete himself and would line up at quarterback, taking the imaginary snap, while I’d run patterns: buttonhooks and down-and-outs and square-outs.  I remember the square-outs best because they sent me directly into the front hedges.  He threw tight mean lefty spirals and if it was out of my reach I would dive for it, often ending up sprawled and cut in the bushes.  If the ball tipped off my fingertips he always said the same thing: “If you can touch it you can catch it.”  This was a phrase that stayed with me, sometimes resurfacing in my dreams.  Now, playing Ultimate at eighteen, I felt I could catch anything, however poorly thrown.

I loved running hard and throwing my body around and skying after discs, and I worked on my throws much harder than I worked on my classes.  After practice I would often head back to Simon Long’s room and drink beer and listen to Springsteen and talk for hours about Ultimate.  Like a lot of people who go to Harvard, I was unimpressed with my classmates as a whole.  I’d expected to be in the presence of “genius” and though they were a lively group, with varied talents and interest, I wasn’t nearly as dazzled by their intelligence as I’d imagined I’d be.  But Simon was smart.  Perhaps a little too delighted by his own raconteur’s wit, but smart.  Long’s favorite form of speech was the loud monologue which he, brooking no interruptions, could keep going for surprising stretches of time.  But if it was sometimes hard to get in a word edgewise, Long was a good and generous friend.  Already, he was playing the stock market and, one day, after a lucrative surge, he bought me a gift.  At first I’d played Ultimate barefoot, then in a pair of narrow Adidas cleats barely held together with athletic tape, but I was soon eyeing a new pair of expensive cleats in a local store window.  Long told me that if the stock market did a certain thing he would buy them for me, and when the market obeyed, he did.  I was ecstatic.  They were big black Johnny Unitas-style hightops with long plastic spikes that were painted silver so that almost everyone I covered asked the same frightened question; “Are those metal cleats?”  Not only were the cleats physically impressive, but they had a name which I liked.  They were called “Barbarians.”

 

* * *

 

“You’re playing what?” my father asked when I first told him what I was doing.  If he still held any illusions that his son would evolve into the reincarnation of Frank Meriwhether, this did them in.  Frisbee of all things.  Clearly a sport for long-hairs and druggies.

But as well as laughing at Frisbee, my father would feel its sting.  During my senior year he drove to Cambridge to tailgate at a football game.  The Ultimate team was playing in a tournament on a nearby field and so he decided to drop by to take a look at his son’s eccentric preoccupation.  I can see him chortling with the friends he dragged along, amused that such a foolish game existed (as he waited to get into a stadium where he could watch a sport played with an oblong ball made from a pig), while concerned that the wayward son sounded a wee bit too passionate about his strange new obsession.  It was nice of my father to come watch, but he was standing too close to the field, sipping drinks with his friends, and not really paying attention.

He should have been paying attention, if for no other reason than Nathan Salwen was roaming the field.  With Nathan around, there was always potential for danger.  Nate was a physics genius who dropped in and out of Harvard, taking a half-dozen years to get his degree.  But while Nate’s mind could soar and play subtly among quasars and string theory, he played Ultimate like the classic wild man.  He had thick veined plowman’s legs, a squat powerful torso, and wore his wild red hair long, with a frayed red beard and moustache.  When he tore around the field you could squint and imagine, without much of a stretch, that this was how Neanderthals looked chasing after deer.  Nathan was an “impact player”; he played passionate defense and dove at the slightest provocation and could run all day, but he also could make an impact in a less positive way.  His throws weren’t quite as developed or accurate as he imagined they were.  And his first instinct was to make the most difficult and, if possible, longest throw.  This instinct to punt the disc deep, an instinct that apparently could not be controlled, would cause his teammates to sometimes cringe and mutter when Nathan got the disc.  “No, Nate, no…” they would plead.  But the answer was always yes.  Nathan saw things that were sometimes there, sometimes not, and then he wound up and let ‘er rip.  As Simon liked to say, Nathan “had a notion.”

Nathan’s forehand flew like a dying quail.  Sometimes when he launched it Simon would look at me and say “duck full of buckshot” and then, after mimicking the motion of pumping a shotgun, would pretend to point his imaginary gun and shoot the wavering disc out of the air.  But Nate’s backhand was raw power.  He would curl around the disc and then uncoil, launching it with a fury, sometimes heaving it right out of the endzone.

When he caught the disc around half-field, on the sideline where my father stood, his defender left Nate’s ferocious backhand open.  Someone was streaking deep and Nate’s eyes lit up and we all knew what would happen next.  Nate had a notion and if my father had been paying closer attention, and had noted Nathan’s tendencies, he would have had a notion, too.  Something, some atavistic, primal instinct would have tingled and warned him that this was a dangerous man nearby, a hunter from another clan, a clan not like his own.  But at that moment my father, inebriated, oblivious, imagining himself safe watching a mere “Frisbee” game, foolishly ignored whatever subtle signals his brain or body was sending.  He stood there smiling, barely an arm’s length away from this wild red-headed troglodyte, as Nathan wound up, virtually coiling around his backhand, and then, his eyes glinting with notions, unwound himself in a violent, powerful jerk.

The disc traveled barely two feet.  It caught my father on the side of the head and knocked him to the ground.  The game stopped.  My father instantly went from one of the spectators to the main attraction.  A crowd gathered round him.  “Are you all right, man?” Nathan asked.  There was a cut and some blood, but my father was just dazed.  An old athlete himself, he tried to make light of what had happened and, after gathering himself for a minute, gamely climbed to his feet.

My father and I would joke about it later.  As would my teammates.  And it was funny, a comic moment.  But there was something else there, too.  Looking back, my symbol-making imagination can’t help but mold the incident into personal myth.  If I had more Robert Bly in me, I might be inclined to explore the idea of my father, authority figure and businessman, knocked to the ground by the team’s wildman, Id flooring Superego.  Which, as it would play out over the next decade, was pretty much what Ultimate would do to any traditional career plans or hopes of financial success.  It would be easy to say and not entirely untrue, that the wildman in me, in coming years, would beat the stuffings out of the businessman within.

As graduation approached my Harvard roommates worried about which companies to go to work for.  Meanwhile I’d secretly begun to wonder which of the great Boston Ultimate teams, the Hostages or the Rude Boys, to try out with after college.  By then I’d become completely wrapped up in the lore and the lure of the game, and it wasn’t so much a decision as an inevitability that I would continue to play after school.  Why?  It was simple really.  I wanted that feeling I experienced when I dove through the air and a disc stuck to my hand or when I jumped high and snatched one out of the air over someone else.  The simple fact was that nothing else made me feel so alive; nothing else gave me that sensation that Tom Wolfe, speaking of Chuck Yeager and the other young fliers at Edwards Air Force Base, called “rude animal health.”  Playing Ultimate was one of the few times in my young life when I felt potent, and I was quickly becoming an addict of that feeling.  Trying to describe the feeling now I keep coming up with words like “primal” or “tribal” and I’m afraid this might reek of the once-fashionable neo-primitivism of the men’s movement, but there was nothing contrived or literary about the feeling I was after, and I knew it to be real.  I had been inside of it, and if anything in my world was true and to be trusted, it was that feeling.  I was ready to follow it anywhere.

While I loved playing, from the very beginning I relished the stories about the sport almost as much as the sport itself.  In college, up in Simon’s room after practice, we would ride the buzz of endorphins, beer, and pot, acting giddy as we talked about Ultimate, barely able to contain our excitement.  Simon and I would analyze the Hostages and Rude Boys, blatantly hero worshiping great players and their best plays.  We’d also try to decide such weighty issues as who was the game’s greatest player–the 6’7″ Steve “Moons” Mooney of the Rude Boys was in contention, along with David Barkan and Steve Gustafson of the Hostages–and who would win at regionals and nationals.

Actually there was plenty to be excited about.  Within the city limits of Boston in 1982, we had, arguably, the two best Ultimate Frisbee teams in the world.  That season the Rude Boys would roll through the rest of the field on their way to taking the National Championships, their only serious challenge coming in the semifinal game, when they beat the crosstown Hostages.  The previous year had been even more exciting.  You couldn’t have invented more perfectly contrasting rivals than the Hostages and Rude Boys.  With Moons at the fore, the Rude Boys were the game’s uberteam, capable of sporting a starting seven with an average height of 6’4″ and overwhelming other squads with size, talent, speed, and depth.  And, if the Rude Boys blasted teams into oblivion like some sort of Frisbee version of Vader’s death star, then the Hostages were a scraggly band of rebels, fighting against all odds.  They’d taken their name during the Iran crisis and, since there were 52 hostages, everyone painted that number on their shirts.  While the Rude Boys wore more standard black uniforms with the team name emblazoned across their left breasts, someone on the Hostages had gotten the idea to put T-shirts up against a chain link fence and spray-paint them, leaving the shirts stained with strands of barbed wire.  To complete the uniform, players tied yellow ribbons around their wrists.  While the Rude Boys looked tall and handsome, like pre-med or pre-law students out for one more fling before getting this “Frisbee” thing out of their blood, the Hostages had a decidedly grubby look, with a minor punk rock theme running through the team’s general anti-establishment motif.

But it wasn’t merely sartorial differences that separated the two rivals.  There was a distinct Dudley Doo-rite element to the Rude Boys, and they trained as no Ultimate team had trained before.  Pushed by Moons, they attacked their infamous track workouts at MIT and ran double sessions in summer.  To some more groovy-minded Ultimate players this was unheard of, almost against the rules.  The Rude Boys didn’t care for grooviness: they wanted to win.  They were not only a large team physically, but their numbers were huge so that opponents had the sense of a swarm of players coming at them in waves.  By contrast the Hostages were a smaller team that intentionally kept their numbers low to insure camaraderie and tightness, with everybody getting a lot of playing time.  During warm ups, while the Rude Boys stretched as a team, the Hostages were in disarray, some players smoking joints or sipping beers.  One Hostage, Jimmy Levine, wore baggy sweats and unlaced workboots right until the game started, and indulged in his own particular psych-up ritual, the pre-game cigarette.  When the Rude Boys circled up before the pull there was the we-mean-business air of a football huddle with Moons outlining the team’s strategy.

Meanwhile the Hostages told dirty jokes and razzed each other, completely disorganized except for their one concession to ritual.  That was when, right before they took the field, they would stand in a circle and hook arms and repeat, in unison, “May our passes be linked as our arms are now.”  Many of the Hostages worked together as stock boys at the Ski Market Warehouse in downtown Boston, and lived together in warren-like apartments, and they seemed to have an almost telepathic communication.  Despite the fact that the Hostages didn’t stretch or prepare, their passes often were linked.  The Hostages were led by David Barkan, a manic whirlwind of a man who popped around the field on pogo stick legs and who, only 5’7″, provided every possible contrast to the more staid leadership of Moons.  Barkan would sprint wildly around the field, eyes full of fire, always ready to huck his backhand long or pump his fist or argue a call.  He was also a great thrower, and in this he was not alone.  Tommy Conlon, who played the game with the shambling nonchalance of a scarecrow, could, in his own casual inimitable style, do things with a Frisbee that no one before had ever tried.  Jimmy Levine, meanwhile, in cleats not workboots but still looking grubby and irritated, was developing into a virtual artiste with the disc, throwing overheads that would tail off backward into the hands of cutting receivers, so that one often wondered if he wasn’t growing concerned less with the throw’s effectiveness and more with its marks for creative difficulty.  At the opposite, more pragmatic end of the scale was Mark Honerkamp, who would hone his throws with the care of a craftsmen whittling wood, and was consistently effective (and jolly) when not sidelined by his occasional dark moods. The Hostages weren’t only great throwers, they were daring ones.  They took more risks with their throws, in part because they were a sure-handed team, and it the onus was on the receiver to make great catches.  The other reason they took more risks was because, against a team as powerful and consistent as the Rude Boys, they simply had no choice.

As might be expected, the Rude Boys and Hostages played entirely different defenses.  The Rude Boys relied on their long legs and numbers to wear teams down with an aggressive man-to-man d.  While the Hostages might be just as fast, their small numbers made them tire sooner, and if they tried to cover the Rude Boys man-to man they would open themselves to severe height mismatches.  Instead they played a zone defense, that they tightened like a vise around increasingly nervous throwers.  The zone was grounded by the rock solid middle position of Neil Lischner, and aided by the hyperactivity of fronts like Jeff Sandler and the more stolidly active Roger Gallagher.  At the center of this communication network, playing deep in the zone, was Steve Gustafason.  While Barkan was the team’s catalyst and Conlon, if the spirit moved him, could take a game over, Gustafson was the Hostage’s best player.  Barely six feet he would, as a deep, be required to cover huge distances and engage in sky battles with the much taller Rude Boys.  He played the game with a cat’s quickness and his throws were absurdly creative and ballsy.  Later, at a reunion tournament, one of his teammates would nickname him “Elvis,” because he’d become bloated by weight gain and had the has-been look of the King during his suede suit Vegas years.  But during those early years he was Elvis in his prime, handsome sleek with a cocky curl to his lip, possessing a predatory charisma.

1981 was the first year of both team’s existence, and Simon and I watched each battle between the two with a connoisseur’s delight.  It was, we told each other, like having free front row seats at Celtics-Lakers games.  Though our natural instinct to root for the underdog made us favor the Hostages, the Rude Boys were dazzling in their skills, throwing the disc upside down and at sharp angles with great accuracy, and as a whole were better sportsmen than the prickly Hostages.  They traded games through the season but at the Sectional finals the Rude Boys won handily and, going into Regionals, they seemed so strong and well-prepared that they were almost prohibitive favorites.  Only one team would emerge from Regionals to go on to Nationals that year, and Simon and I were pretty certain that would be the Rude Boys, a feeling the Rude Boys themselves obviously shared as they had already bought their plane tickets.  Harvard had been eliminated before Regionals, and so, for the first time that year, we wouldn’t get to see the two teams clash.  We considered driving out to Amherst to watch the game, but figured, with the Rude Boys peaking, it might be lopsided and not worth it.  Later we’d wish we’d made the trip.

When the reports came back, we could barely believe it.  It had been a windy day and the Hostages, making confident throws in the gusting wind, had somehow pulled it off.  The game’s most talked about moment had been when David Barkan, at 5’6″ over a full foot shorter than Moons, had supposedly sprung into the air and skyed over the taller man.  It was a dramatic victory that Simon and I, back in Cambridge, hooted over, listening to friends who had seen the game and then re-creating it with our own words.  Even better for the legend, the Hostages characteristically blew off practices in the weeks after their win, drank too much beer, and fell on their face at Nationals.  The next year two teams from our region were invited to Nationals, and the Hostages made it to the semifinals.  But it was the Rude Boys, methodical and dominating, that went undefeated in winning the National and then the first World championship in Sweden.

 

* * *

 

Sometimes I think we choose the things we spend our time doing just because of the difficulty and pain they cause us.  A positive way of looking at this might be to say we like to “test ourselves,” while a more cynical view might hold that we are all, to some extent, magnificent self-torturers.

I’m pretty sure that I chose to become a writer at least in part because I hated to be criticized and rejected.  This hatred was due to living with my father, who, for all his good qualities, was a ferocious critic, both in the form of teasing and outright reproach.  It was from living with him that I learned to be self-deprecating, a habit that I used as a kind of pre-emptive strike, beating him to the punch by mocking myself before he could mock me.  Anyway, given this, you might think I wouldn’t choose a profession that would lead to years–decades really–of outright rejection.  You would, of course, be wrong.  In this light, my choice to try to become a writer seems equal parts inspiration and masochism.

If possible Ultimate Frisbee might have been an even more perfect instrument of self-torture.  What better way to inspire loathing in my father (and self) than to choose as my other passionate pursuit a game that was considered by most, if they considered it at all, to be on par with tiddly winks and hula hoops.  “Is that the thing you do with the dogs?” was a question we got constantly when we tried to explain to people in the normal world what it was we spent all our time doing.  That it was a running sport that required real athleticism didn’t fly.  To go to my father after leaving school to tell him that I was committed to Ultimate was akin to telling him that, having graduated from Harvard, I’d decided to forego traditional careers like banking and medicine and, instead, planned on focusing all my time, passion, and energy on competing in hopscotch tournaments.

In fact, my choice to stay in Boston after graduation to play Ultimate must have seemed almost completely insane to my family.  It did to me.  But I did it anyway.  My literary and athletic priorities set, I left school in June of 1983 for the world my father liked to call “real.”  In that world one of my college roommates, Dan Stern, a good Harvard boy, immediately made $300,000 a year working for some rich Texans called the Bass brothers.  Meanwhile I, instead of heading off for Texas or L.A. or New York, moved into a cramped apartment in Somerville.  I played Ultimate fanatically while also making elaborate vows (and a few outlines) about the novel I would soon start.

There was of course the immediate problem of money.  I found a job as a bike messenger, but that job lasted less than a day, when, on the way to report to work, I was buffeted by the wind of a truck and slammed into a curb.  The next week I took a job as a security guard in a telephone store in Kenmore Square, which, despite the position’s name, was decidedly less dangerous.  I sat by the door for eight hours in my guard uniform and watched people shop for phones.

But if my working hours were dull and my writing hours still nonexistent, my Frisbee hours were vital enough to lift my life.  I was getting better and stronger, my throws sharper, and later that summer I was asked to play on a pick-up team made up of players from both the Hostages and Rude Boys in a tournament in Santa Cruz, California.  Usually the two teams treated each other with the type of distrust and suspicion reserved for feuding hillbilly clans, but for some reason they had decided to get together for this one tourney.  When they asked me to come along I was thrilled.

The drive to California was great, my very first glimpse of the West, but the tournament itself was even more exhilarating, allowing me, for a while, to leave behind the confusion I felt about my life and my future.  Of course I considered it a great honor to play next to the men whom I’d long rooted for.  Our makeshift squad was named FRAC-49, after the license plate on a team member’s van.  I played well the first day, and, the next morning, had an even greater honor conferred on me.  David Barkan of the Hostages asked if I would join his team.  I didn’t say yes right away, and, after our meeting, as I walked around the fields to mull my decision, Steve Mooney approached me.  He asked me to play with the Rude Boys the coming fall.

I circled the field again, bursting with pride.  My roommate Dan might have turned down Shearson Lehman to go to work for the Bass Brothers for $300,000, but had any young man ever gotten two such prestigious offers in one day?  And, even as pride came over me in waves, I knew that my decision was no decision at all.  If I had previously been unclear about my feelings regarding the two different teams, in that moment everything crystallized.  My walk became a jog.  It was obvious.  I would turn my back on the sure thing, the defending National Champ superteam, the Frisbee equivalent of corporate success, and I would play with the scrubby underdogs.  Of course, a small ambitious voice nagged.  If my father had cared enough about Frisbee to give counsel, he might have reminded me that the Rude Boys represented a better chance for achievement, for fulfillment of my goals.  But a louder voice drowned out any nagging, and I didn’t hesitate for a second.  I would thumb my nose at Moons.  I would be part of a gritty band of rebels taking on the powers-that-be.  I would become a Hostage.

 

* * *

 

Fall was–and is–the most important season for Ultimate club teams.  That fall, my first as a Hostage, I moved out of my dingy Somerville apartment, and down to Cape Cod.  That meant I would have to commute for Ultimate practice and tournaments, but it also meant I could work as a carpenter on the Cape and train for Ultimate on the beach.  The beach would later become my classroom, observatory, and muse, but that fall it more plainly served as gymnasium.  I vowed that I would get in the best shape of my life.  Before the trip to California with Frac-49 I’d read an article about Herschel Walker, the Georgia running back, and the sprint workouts he did.  Walker figured if he worked harder than any of the other players, he would be better, and that made sense to me.  I copied his workout exactly, and then did sit-up after sit-up and jumped rope.  Better yet I ran the beach, sprinting repeatedly up a high dune near Corporation Beach, sometimes with a large piece of driftwood strapped on my back for added weight, and then running intervals on the hard flat sand of low tide.  Out of an old Dunlop tennis racket cover and some rope I fashioned a quiver, in which I kept my trusty Frisbee.  On the way home I’d toss it into the wind and run it down, or float it out in front of me and dive after it.  “First be a good animal,” said Emerson, and those words became my motto.  I fancied myself a noble savage.  When my workouts were done I’d cool down by plunging into the icy fall water.

Just as my dune work-outs were environmentally inappropriate, so were the ways I occasionally honed my throws, using shorebirds and rabbits as targets.  I have no idea what I would have done if I’d ever actually hit a rabbit.  Run over and plunged my teeth into its fur?  More likely I’d have burst into a sobbing fit of apology.  Fortunately, my subconscious screwed with my aim and I never found out.  As it was, there were plenty of times my deepening love of nature combined happily with my work-outs.  Sometimes, to vary things, I’d fly around East Dennis on my old ram-horned tenspeed bike, chasing the mobs of starlings that I didn’t know the names of yet, a hundred bird-shadows pulsing across the road below my tires.  I realized that just by chasing the birds, I could push the shadow mob around over the street and beach and bog, controlling them, painting the land with their shadows.

If it sounds like I’m romanticizing that time, the truth is I romanticized it even as it was happening.  I was twenty-three and my moods fluctuated between supreme confidence and deep insecurity, the insecurity perhaps due to the fact I didn’t know what the hell I was doing with my life.  To purge my insecurity I’d work out even harder.  “Exorcise through exercise,” read a note I’d scribbled on a scrap and tacked to my wall.  When I felt afraid, I simply turned around and did hundreds of push-ups and then flexed alone in the shower, admiring myself, cranking the Talking Heads on the boom box while the water burned my scalp.  I showered at least twice a day, listening to “Burning Down the House” or “Girlfriend is Better.”  My hands had never felt more sure and I would toss the soap up in the shower and try to catch it between my thumb and forefinger, like pincers.  I wrote myself a note that I still don’t understand.  “Bodily fluids are crucial,” it said.  During that fall I had my first “fling” with a girl who came up to me after a tournament.  “The world doesn’t revolve around you,” my father had always said, but now I wasn’t so sure.  It certainly seemed to: the wind, the salt, the sand, the sex, the leaves, all of it rustling and churning and gyrating and pressing in.  Maybe I brag too much, I wrote in my journal, but why shouldn’t I brag?  I began to hear messages in the crow’s cawing at the beach.  “The crows of hope,” I called them.  Perfect that I could understand the animals now.  I was the Tarzan of East Dennis.

 

* * *

 

The Hostages would rise up to have a spectacular fall, suddenly casting ourselves in the favorite’s role.  Though Steve Gustafson had quit, we had added several other players, and many thought this the strongest Hostage team yet.  After a slow start, we began clicking and soundly thrashed the Rude Boys in the two tournaments building up to the all-important Regionals.  I loved having fourteen new friends, loved being part of a tribe and pouring my entire self into becoming a great player.  The Hostages prided themselves on the number of college drop-outs on the squad and they teased me about Harvard, which, in this Looking Glass world, was a badge of shame.  But the teasing itself was just part of the fun of my new life, part of belonging to my new instant family.

I added notes about Frisbee to the rough journal notes I’d begun keeping about birds and plants.  Pompous vows about how I would learn to play a “churning, sprawling, wild, unkempt, pounding, relentless game,” a game of “raw brag,” a game fit for a Hostage.  I was still reading Thomas Wolfe at the time and his exaggerated characters had always walked with “earth-devouring strides” and that was how I wanted to run.  During the last few weeks before Regionals my world sped up.  It had taken me a while to break into the offense, but now that I had I was playing better than ever.  On defense I replaced the retired Steve Gustafson as deep in the zone, a position that would require air battles with the tall Rude Boys.  Gus had had a predatory charisma and a cat’s quickness, and, like Barkan, had been a college hero of mine, but my own style was more direct and physical, less graceful.  Just 5’11”, I’d managed to jam a basketball earlier that year, another feat that filled me with delusional glee.  I had several flying dreams that fall and once, jumping on the beach with a strong tailwind, thought I might have gotten some lift.  It didn’t seem entirely out of whack with the way things were going that I might actually learn to fly.

Then, at a party one night, one of the Rude Boy’s best offensive players, who I’d been assigned to cover, approached me.  After joking around for a while, he turned serious.  “I shouldn’t tell you this,” he said.  “But the other night I had a nightmare about you guarding me.”  That pretty much sent me over the edge.  I was invulnerable!  My already substantial ego stretched even larger.  I glimmered with a near megalomaniacal confidence.

These delusions were no doubt aided by the mushrooms I ingested fairly regularly at the time.  The residue of those trips–during which I felt I got down to the essence of my animal self, sweating, running, drinking, pissing–spilled over into my so-called normal life.  I lived inside a fever that fall.  Now, the fever so long past, I see myself for what I was: a scared little boy playing at life.  Humans can be narcissists at any age, but there is no narcissism like that possible in one’s twenties, particularly one’s early twenties.  With time even the dullest of us gets at least some wisdom pounded into our brains, but there is pleasure as well as pain in the time before wisdom.  What I really had going for me that fall was the advantage of inexperience.  With writing, for instance, I hadn’t yet begun and so could still live fully in the fantasy that what I wrote would be brilliant.  Unlimited possibility still seems possible before we begin a thing, and before we realize that our bonds define us, that without constraints we have no shape, without limits there is nothing.  But the illusion of limitlessness is a drug beside which mushrooms pale.

But in the end all this moralizing won’t do.  It’s the feeling I remember from that glorious fall, a feeling I have never felt since and am quite sure I’ll never feel again.  I was full of sap and muscular and strong, and, of course, quite deluded.  A young Icarus with enough literary training to be pretty sure of where all this was heading.  It was hubris plain and simple, but one thing they don’t tell you about hubris is how good it feels.  In fact in some ways, though I now know what it will lead to, I still think of that fall as the high tide of my twenties.  In some ways I still think of it as the high tide of my life.  Though a happier and better man now, I still miss that time and if there were a way, if granted a wish, I can’t pretend I wouldn’t run right back and crawl inside that lunatic’s skin.

 

* * *

 

Of course, the Hostages lost at Regionals.  Lost in spectacular choking fashion.  If the world of Frisbee had become my personal mythology, here was the classic fall from grace.  On Saturday we went undefeated, the best team at the tournament.  On Sunday our usually sure hands deserted us, and the daring that had been our trademark was replaced by a frightened caution, occasionally punctuated by desperate ill-advised throws.  As things started to slip away I felt the icy fear and cowardice only the choker knows.  My limbs no longer operated with the confidence that they had all fall; the magic juice no longer flowed through me.

I lurched back to Cape Cod in late October, depressed and defeated, an animal back to its lair.  The eel grass had turned the color of wheat and the ocean was grey and frothy.  During my career I have had some painful losses but still nothing to compare to that defeat.  The megalomania of fall came crashing down into a winter where I came as close to madness as I hope I ever will.  Doubt began chewing into my early certainty about what I’d chosen to do with my life, hollowing out my commitment to Ultimate.  Why was I wasting my time playing this stupid sport?  It was just too painful, the thought of committing again only to potentially be burned, of rising that high only to be slammed that low.

The Hostages staggered on for another season, but that loss effectively finished us.  We’d always been jokers, sardonically mocking our own sport, but the next year we became pure clowns, pretending not to care.  We drank more at tournaments and though we still won some big games and even a couple more tourneys, we were never the same cocky bunch again.  A year and a half later the team broke up for good.  Most of the players retired, content to look back on the 1981-1982 seasons as the peak of their athletic lives.

But I wasn’t done.  I still had a quest to fulfill.  I wanted to win the National Championship, something no Hostage had ever done, and I pursued this goal with only a little less seriousness than I’d begun to pursue writing, training for the better part of the year.  In fact, over the next decade it was usually left to Ultimate Frisbee to provide what writing couldn’t.  Working at a series of bad jobs and writing alone at home, I felt, quite frankly, glory-starved.  Glory, as my old teacher Walter Jackson Bate has said, is the attempt to “fill the minds of others,” and so doesn’t exist without an audience.  No one cheered me on while I sat scribbling at that stupid little desk or smashing sheetrock with a sledge hammer or, later, ringing up customers as a clerk in a bookstore.  Ultimate gave me the juice I needed.

I wasn’t alone in this.  Though Ultimate players sometimes wore beads and funny hats and grew their hair long, I slowly began to understand that there was something else, something decidedly less groovy, going on on those fields that most didn’t acknowledge.  It may sound strange and oxymoronic, but there was such a thing as “Ultimate ambition” and I felt its pull.  Clearly people who played the sport wanted not only to win, but to be considered great at what they did, not just in their own eyes but in the eyes of other players.  It was the pursuit of fame, really, though a fame closer to the ancient Greeks than People magazine, existing only among the bands of players from around the country who, re-telling stories of great players and great plays, created the oral tradition through which the sport was remembered.

Part of the appeal of playing serious Ultimate was that life took on the simplicity of quest, a little like stepping inside of a good science fiction or fantasy novel.  There were heroes and villains and wizards and trolls and even a few princesses to impress.  There were arch enemies like Kenny Dobyns of the evil New York teams (who else gets to have arch enemies these days?) and beautiful exotic lands to travel to, and, to top it all off, Nationals, a great annual quest for the Grail.  My father was right when he said it wasn’t the “real world.”  Instead it was like a game of Dungeons and Dragons and you were in it–right inside it–complete with your weapon and your own special magic powers.  A secret world where you were part of a secret tribe.

To keep going as a writer I needed to pretend I would one day be great at it, but the truth was the evidence for that was slim.  Here was something I was already great at.  Something that made me feel full of power and confidence.  In the rest of my life I was impotent, a struggling apprentice, but in Ultimate I was accomplished.  I worked year round to stay in top shape and loved nothing more than ripping around a field in my cleats.  My best weapon was my forehand, which I could throw eighty yards of so, end zone to end zone, in wide parabolas.  But my favorite, if not most trusty, throw, was my overhead.  The overhead was where the disc was thrown upside down, like a spear, before, hopefully, turning back over and dropping into a receiver’s hands.  When my overhead was cocked I, like my old teammate Nathan, had a notion.

If the results were erratic then the truth was that sometimes results weren’t as important as the sheer thrill of the thing.  One year Nationals were held on the grassy common in front of the Washington Monument, and, getting psyched for a game, I wandered over to the Museum of Natural History.  Inside the museum, I was captivated by an exhibit of a Neanderthal hunting with a spear, and, with that vision still vivid in my head, I went out and threw a half-dozen overheads during the next game.  If the results were, again, erratic, the feeling inside me was consistent.  For a brief period I felt ecstatic, confident, and strong.

 

* * *

 

Our old rivals, The Rude Boys, had also broken up by 1985.  As expected, many of Steve Mooney’s teammates were finished with the sport, off to careers and law school.  Moons, meanwhile, was busy making a new team, gathering together the best remaining players in the Boston area.  I joined that team but felt uneasy lining up next to Moons.  After all, wasn’t he just a big phony, like the Hostages had always said?  Moons was clearly the authority figure on the team, and from the start we had a kind of father-son tension between us.  I wanted the team to be called “the Primadonnas,” mocking the fact that we were a kind of hand-picked all-star team, but Moons had prevailed with “Titanic.”  I hated the name, and because I knew it irked Moons, made up a cheer that I yelled out before each game:  “Titanic, Titanic, our dicks are gigantic!”  On Titanic everything was more structured and less relaxed than with the Hostages; for instance, people frowned not just at my crude cheer but if I sipped a beer before a game.  Rigidity replaced wildness, and, reacting to this, I would play my old role of rebellious son to Moon’s strict father.

It was a role I would perfect over the next few years.  When not fighting beside Moons in an effort to win Nationals, I would fight with him in my role as the team’s resident adolescent.  In keeping with Hostage tradition, I excelled at idiocy.  During my last season with Titanic, after a bitter semifinals loss to New York, I, blind drunk, decided it was necessary to get hold of the microphone that was being used to announce the finals.  I merely wanted to serenade the New Yorkers, who were winning handily on the way to their third championship, with a rendition of “We Are The Champions,” a graceful and touching concession of defeat in my mind.  But the announcers resisted, in part because they had foolishly let me get hold of the mic the year before and I had bellowed my “Titanic, Titanic…” cheer.  And so a plan was hatched.  The game was being announced, not from a booth, but on the grass beyond the endzone, clearly not a defensible position.  There were only three announcers around the mic, so I put together a small war party, made up of Bobby Harding, my old Hostage teammate who had now joined Titanic, and two other friends, and, after a drunken Patton-like speech, convinced them to storm the microphone.  Or thought I convinced them.  Half way through my charge I looked back and found myself alone.  I could have quit of course, called off my raid, but what was this if not a chance for another stupid, futile quest?  So of course I charged ahead and tried to wrestle the microphone from the announcers on my own.

Three UPA (Ultimate Player’s Association) officials and a policeman grabbed me and pulled me away.  I was not arrested however.  Things did not work like that in our Dungeons-and-Dragons world.  Instead I was henceforth banished from ever playing Frisbee again in the Washington area, an edict which holds to this day.  In the official letter that Eric Broderick, the local representative of the UPA, sent to Steve Mooney, he charged Titanic three hundred dollars for damage done to the microphone.  He also said that though he understood “that Steve personally tried to help give Ultimate a clean image,” this sort of behavior reflected poorly on the team.  “This person,” Broderick wrote, “who I know only as ‘Gessner’ was obviously drunk.  I’m sure he will greet this letter with howls of arrogant laughter, but this is a very serious offense.”

I wish I could say that I was properly chastised, that I began, then and there, to finally grow up, but I’m afraid the truth is I greeted his letter just as Mr. Broderick had predicted I would.  Over beers, I showed the letter to my Hostage friends and we howled with arrogant laughter.

 

* * *

 

If I didn’t take Broderick’s letter to heart, then the events of the next few years would prove a more serious warning shot across my bow.  Cancer invaded my family, a cancer I’ve written about elsewhere ad nauseum, and so won’t go deeply into here.  The cancer would first scar me and then take my father’s life, but, even before I got sick, I began to suspect that it was time to “get serious,” a course of action my father had been urging on me for some time.  Ultimate had been a big waste, I decided, aiding if not solely responsible for my arrested development.  As proof of this I had only to look at my college roommate, Dan Stern, who was by now making over a million dollars a year.  In contrast, my life was a shambles.  Working as a substitute teacher and part-time carpenter, I was fortunate that debtor’s prisons no longer existed.  Bills provoked panic attacks, and at one point I’d borrowed 1000$ from Dan, money I likely would never pay back.  I could only nod in agreement when my father muttered about how I’d never learned to live in “the real world.”

There was no choice but to admit he was right: to step into that real world and out of the Frisbee world.  I quit playing for Boston in 1990.  My girlfriend moved to Worcester, Massachusetts to attend medical school at U-Mass, and I tagged along.  It was time to put away childish things.  By then I had finished a novel which had been rejected by several publishers, and was almost done with a second book.  That fall, instead of playing Ultimate, I got a job as a counselor in a homeless shelter and applied to graduate schools in creative writing.

My plans were interrupted, however, by an unexpected event.  In March of 1991, a week shy of my thirtieth birthday, I was operated on for testicular cancer.  A few days later I got the good news that I had a stage 1 seminoma, my girlfriend asked me what I wanted to do for my thirtieth birthday, which was the next Saturday, exactly a week after the operation.  I said I wanted a party.  “Should it be small?” she asked, concerned.  “Big,” I said.  I wanted to celebrate.  I asked her to invite all the Hostages and my college roommates and old carpentry friends.  She did and they all came.  The house was packed.

I knew most of the people there through Ultimate Frisbee and, looking around the room that night at all the Ultimate players, I felt better about all the time and energy I’d put into the sport.  Maybe it hadn’t been, as my father once contended “a colossal waste of time.”  Many of the old Hostages had come, and so had Moons and dozens of players from other teams.  While I hadn’t achieved my purported goals in Ultimate, I’d gained something else while I wasn’t paying attention.  I had become part of a second family, part of a tribe, and now my tribe was rallying around me.

For the sake of this essay I could say that it was that night that I started to see how much the sport had given me, like learning the true meaning of Christmas.  But the truth is that in the decade since I have only gradually come to see the enormous role the sport played in my life.  Frisbee may be a silly word–like boing or poodle–and the sport may not be taken any more seriously than tiddly winks.  But that didn’t–and doesn’t–matter.  It’s not the object so much as the passion poured into it.  What’s more I had gained the strength of working long and hard at something that others considered ridiculous.  It was a little like writing in that way.  Something we tend to forget, or belittle in our corporate age: that certain muscles can only be built through nonconformity.  So what if no one knew what the hell Ultimate was?  When NBA players say they “love this game,” they also mean they love the money, the attention, and the perks.  I loved Ultimate despite the fact it had nothing like that to offer.  I loved the pure play of it, the great moments, the camaraderie, the stories we told after.  And as silly as it sounds, it is true: Frisbee helped make me.

Which I was just starting to understand on the night of my thirtieth birthday.  The party went late with Simon Long, my arrogant Harvard friend, gloating about schooling some players from a team called The Popes in Scrabble in the TV room.  Their game wouldn’t end until 4 A.M. when Simon fell asleep, drooling right on the board.  These were the same Pope players who had once stolen a stuffed deer from a Natural History exhibit while we were playing a tournament in upstate New York, tying it to the top of their car like hunters.  Now, before driving off, they took the Scrabble letters and spelled out “Simon is a Greasy Wanker” on the board where Simon slept.

Meanwhile two of my Hostage friends and I sat in a circle in the living room passing around a bottle of tequila, a beer, and a joint.  Each of us would take a hit of whatever was in front of us and pass it along.  Sometimes someone would mutter “cannonball it,” the silly Bill Murray line from Caddyshack.  It was crazy to be doing this right after being cut open and losing blood but if crazy it was also an appropriate way for my twenties to end.  Forget that I still had weeks of radiation ahead or that the prospects for both my health and career were uncertain.  For one night it didn’t matter.  Spring was only a week away and it looked like I wasn’t going to be dying any time soon.  In fact within a week I would be walking out at the reservoir, within a month running.  This was spring at its most pagan then: Persephone gone to Hades and returned from the underworld.

And on my 30th birthday my cause for celebration was the most elemental of all.  I was a strong animal.  I would fucking live.

 

* * *

 

Which would make a neat and happy ending except for the fact it wasn’t over.  A month after my operation, in the midst of radiation, I got into a graduate school in Boulder, Colorado.  Boulder was the scene of one of my happiest Ultimate memories.  My last highlight for Boston had come two summers before when we won the prestigious fourth of July tournament in Boulder, against a field of teams every bit as strong as Nationals.  In late June I took a trip out to Colorado to look for an apartment where I could live the next fall.  I found a funky blue cabin below the spectacular cleaved canyons of Eldorado Springs, a town outside of Boulder.  I also played in the Boulder tournament again, picking up with my old enemies from the New York team.  Since I had always played well against New York, they expected a lot of me.  But while we won the event, I was a shell of what I’d been, and didn’t contribute much.  Still, being able to run and dive at all was a victory, coming as it did only three and a half months after my operation and only a month after radiation.  I could feel myself getting stronger with each passing day.

The next fall I moved West. In my cabin in the mountains I felt like a snake that had shed its old skin.  Though I hadn’t published anything yet, for the first time I defined myself as a writer and not an Ultimate player.  I attacked a book about my cancer, writing the first draft straight through.  All my efforts before had been halting.  The novel I’d tried to write in my twenties came in fits and starts, but this thing, whatever it was, came whole.  I began to type as if taking dictation and I didn’t stop.

Ultimate had served its purpose you might think, and it had, believe me, it had.  It seemed I’d finally managed to put aside childish things for good.  There was a small problem, however.  To get to school from my home in Eldorado canyon I had to drive past the high school playing fields where the Boulder Ultimate team, called The Stains, practiced.  During those days of hard denial I had no way of knowing that I would play Ultimate “seriously” for five more years, soon numbering some of my Boulder teammates among my closest friends.  And I had no way of knowing that I would have a Frisbee afterlife, that while I no longer had the Hostages as my tribe, soon I would have the Stains.

For a week or two I didn’t give in, driving by grim-faced, thinking about my novel, trying to ignore the plastic discs describing parabolas or the people running up and down the fields.  But by the third week I had a notion, and the notion couldn’t be stifled.  On the way back from school I pulled the car over at the fields and dug my cleats out of the trunk.  I walked up to the fields casually, cynically even, sure that I wouldn’t be suckered in again.

I don’t remember which of my new teammates threw me the Frisbee, but I do remember that they overthrew me.

I chased after it like a border collie.

 



  1. Jane Rombouts writes:

    Hey Dave;
    I was visiting Mary Teruel recently. While I was there, your name came up. She mentioned you had written some books. “Really…” When I got home, I googled you up and found this.
    A great piece that made that era come roaring back to me. A major knee injury 15 years ago took me out of the game. These days, with two knee surgeries behind me, both of my knees hurt quite regularly. I also sometimes think “Why did I spend so much time playing Ultimate? Why didn’t I go into the Peace Corps like I planned?” This brought that period back oh so well. It was so crazy, intense, and fun! Reading it reminded me why I spent so much time in the Ultimate World.
    I started out as a Fishead (see ‘crazy, intense, and fun!’). From there I ended up playing in Boston, the Bay Area and finally in San Diego. I loved reading all the comments from many frisbee friends and acquaintances. I laughed when I read one from Danny Weiss: “uh oh”. If Gessner gathers stories and memories from others, then “uh oh” indeed Mr. Weiss. But hey, you’ll have lots of company! Maybe Dave will change names to protect to the guilty… but don’t count on it.

    Oh. The book thing. I read a few. Nice work!!

    • Dave writes:

      Thanks Jane! Glad you like the books but of course for our purposes it’s the essay that counts. Hope your knees aren’t too creaky.

  2. Pip Thibeaux writes:

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, I played for B.U. from 1980 until 1982. I remember the ferocity that Nathan played. I think we referred to him as “Animal”. I had the pleasure of playing with Dave Barkin my freshman year. He was affectionately referred to as one of the “Gods”. I transferred to University of Florida in 1982. I was blessed to compete at the Nationals twice with the “Fat Women”. First in New Orleans in 1983. We lost mightily our first game to the Rude Boys. The weekend belonged to Windy City. Joey at the ripe age of 18, dominated the back corner of the end zone catching every hammer thrown at him by John Conway and company. We also played at the 1984 nationals won by “Flying Circus” lead by Danny Weiss. The friendships I made in ultimate have lasted long past my playing days. I still miss the camaraderie and competition of my years playing the game. Thanks for taking me back!

  3. Lemmer writes:

    What a rush. Our lives parralleled each other’s, although I can’t say as we ever met one another. My disc career started in Boston in 1981, albeit briefly. I didn’t really become part of the tribe until ’82 in Florida. I felt as if I were reading my own story; so much of what I experienced In my 20’s & 30’s I just had a chance to relive while reading your article. You capture so much of the passion, the dedication, the commardarie, the wildness, the search for recognition amongst your peers, everything you spoke of rings so true to me. I’ve just shared this with many of my own tribe of Fat Women/Vicious Cycle breatheran in hopes they know how special they are to me. Thank you for sharing our story so eloquently.

    PS: if we did meet each other in that long strange trip (and it is quite possible, as I had a brief stint in the Northeast for a summer and became acquainted with some of the guys whose names you mentioned, as well as a stop in Boulder in addition to numerous regional tournaments, nationals and worlds I played & partied at) and you, by chance, remember me, please forgive me!!!

  4. TayFitz writes:

    Dave,

    As an ultimate player who has just freshly sprouted in our Ultimate world compared to your years, I can whole-heartedly say thank you for this. Not only did it give me the passion for getting out of bed and go throw to get ready for spring season practice to start back up, but it lets me know how I can look back and cherish Ultimate in the years to come.

    Cheers,
    Another relentless Border Collie.

  5. Rick Conner writes:

    Dave,
    Great read! Have to say, I have had the chance to take the field against pretty much all the Studs you have listed. Starting my career in high school, 1976, with the foundation of the boys that created the Dallas Sky Pilots. Whom to this day, I feel were some of the greatest players to ever step onto an Ultimate field to throw and catch a disc, but failed to ever win a National Championship solely because of our huge egos and tempers. You, however; were able to describe so beautifully exactly what must have driven us all to disc heaven. Now soon to be 55 and still love to get on the Goaltimate pitch and throw precision 2pointers to the border collies that we’re not born when the love of the “Frisbee” was ingrained into my soul forever! I hope you are well and would so enjoy talking with you over a brew in San Diego and describing what lead me to launch Herrick’s and my passion of Ultimate’s hybrid sport of Goaltimate!
    God Bless you Mr. Gessner…

  6. William writes:

    Great writing! I couldn’t stop reading it, and was disappointed when it did! Been playing disc since ’89 in Washington, DC. Still happily “addicted” to the sport…even play indoor with the twenty year old youngsters locally when not braving cold, or sun outdoors. Please keep writing. What books have you written?

  7. Jeff Landesman writes:

    Dave,
    That was really great. I started playing in high school in NYC and have continued my whole life. I still can’t get enough. I have played with and against so many of the folks in your article. Played against Frac-29 in SC with NE7. Then so many games against you when you were in Colorado. Seems like my career was mirrored on the West coast in your article. Now coming full circle with my relationship with Barkan as we have worked at Ultimate Peace together. I really had a great time reading this, and also reading the comments by so many people I know. Great job. Hope to see you again some time.
    Jeff Landesman

  8. Jon Gewirtz writes:

    Great read Dave. Captures the essence of how we loved the game, the people in it and how we sacrificed for it, yet got so much in return.

    Hope to read those memoirs someday, no matter how much of a jerk you make me out to be ;)

    Happy New Year!

    Jonny

    • dave writes:

      Thanks Jon. Means a lot. I’ve actually been thinking about it recently as a book. Might have to get to work….

  9. Carey cag Goldenberg writes:

    well well, as it turns out there so many of us with so much in common. I started two teams, one in 1975 in a small michigan school (Grand Valley) and then the Windy City team in Chicago. When we won in 1983, i too was suffering from testicular cancer. “Hey how come you aren’t running sprints?” I didn’t know why. It was detected by me in April, but diagnosed by tests in November ‘after’ nationals.
    I survived (no chemo or radiation) and went to Switzerland to win the Worlds (gotta get it back). Got back on stage with the Second City too. Life treats us with tests that g-d knows we can handle. playing against so many of the early greats and being lucky enough to play at nationals in 2003 with a Chicago based Grand Masters team (Chronic) gave me such pleasure and perspective. but the greatest thing has been to turn on so many others with Juniors ultimate. I am pretty sure we played on the same field, but spiritually we are on the same team. thank you brother. hope to see you again sometime and hug.

  10. Matt writes:

    Thanks for a great piece. I played for about 10 years (college and club, and about 15 years after you started). It’s very difficult to explain to non-players the difficulty, satisfaction, frustration and complete addiction that this sport engenders.

    Oh, and my now chronically creaky ankles were totally worth the sacrifice. I would give more than anyone could understand to get just one more day on the field.

  11. Crash writes:

    Thanks for writing this Dave. Your narative really brought me back to a time and place. I started out in Eugene at about the same time as you did and am about to start my first winter league in a few years. The game still feels amazing to play and while my body complains a lot more than it used to, I wouldn’t trade this for anything.

    Here’s to old friends and border collies!

  12. Bronwyn Ryan writes:

    I just got this link today and was tugged into the essay as it mirrored many things about my own life and the role that ultimate played in it. It was entertaining reading about players I knew both casually and intimately. terrific read- thanks!

  13. adavies writes:

    Great read! I played for the Low Flying Ducks (Oregon Club Sport team) in 1979-80, formed by none other than the late great Henry Callahan. This took me back to those days of the inexplicable fervor that is Ultimate.

  14. Keay Nakae writes:

    Dave
    First, congratulations on your success as a writer. I really enjoyed reading your essay. You superbly captured the frame of mind that drove our passion and obsession for this game. I especially enjoyed your narrative about the Hostages and Rude Boys. All the way across the country in Santa Barbara, we too had heard 3rd and 4th hand accounts about the Hostages incredible victory over the Rude Boys, and they were the team we were most psyched to faced at Nationals in 1981. We met them in the final game of pool play in what essentially was a semi-finals. I think it is fair to say that the rigors of the tournament up to that point had taken a greater toll on their 14 man squad, as we crushed them. Badly. Heading into the Fall of 82 we eagerly awaited the opportunity to defend our title. Our confidence was high as we had only lost 1 or 2 games all season and we expected that we would need to take down the Hostages and/or the Rude Boys in order to repeat. Unfortunately, we never made it Nationals that year, suffering our own painful failure at Regionals. The 83 season could not come quick enough and we jumped at the chance to play at Easterns in the Spring. We had something to prove to the Ultimate world, especially the East Coast intelligentsia who believed that because they had invented the game, they knew how to play it best. One of the funnest days I ever had playing Ultimate occurred before the tournament, which was an afternoon of pickup Ultimate with the Boston players (which I think took place at Harvard) and then hanging out with them that evening. The tournament unfolded the way that we had hoped for, pitting us against the Rude Boys in the finals. The game was closely contested the entire way, but as a lightning storm rolled in, Moons, who as the tallest player on the field was the person most at risk, strongly suggested that we should call the game. At the time, I thought that this decision was overly cautious, but I changed my opinion several years later upon hearing that some Ultimate players were killed in exactly that same situation. I somehow ended up in possession of the first place plaque that someone had made for the winners of the tournament. While the walls of my bedroom were adorned with numerous tournament posters, pictures, and frisbees (including the requisite 1 or 2 that were cracked or scuffed up from too much street play) that plaque never made it up on the wall and was eventually thrown into the trash along with other worthless stuff that had been held onto for far too long. We finally met the Rude Boys in a game that was played to completion at Nationals in 84. This was another closely contested game in which we were able prevail at the end. An important victory for sure, but less than it would have meant 1 or 2 or even 3 years earlier. An amazing amount of memories despite only playing 3 games (OK 4 if you count the game against Frac 29 at Santa Cruz) in 4 years against these storied franchises.
    Keay (A proud member of the Liquor Blockers, Boulder 94)

    • Dave writes:

      Thanks for the great reply! And I must have played against you with Frac in SB that summer. Liquor Blockers forever!

    • Tommy writes:

      Keay, congratulations on your induction into the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame. It was great to see you in Frisco this year!!

  15. Steve D writes:

    I believe this video is of the 1982 Easterns will put a lot of faces to the names noted in this great essay.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK3Y0Z_Bb5w

    And here is a “before” shot of Nate probably in the era of this story. Not my photo, found it someplace…

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4791280664894&set=a.1281949453807.127340.1382213912&type=3&theater

  16. Dave writes:

    I just added a photo of the infamous “second microphone” incident. Please send more photos along if you have them.

  17. Maurice Matiz writes:

    Gessner (I don’t think I have ever used Dave), you had me by starting with a quote from my old teacher, Kenneth Koch: “What part have you played?/You never, ever, were stingy.”

    The thing about this former life is that so many of us were never stingy with our passion to be part of this tribe— all playing different parts, all with complex stories wrapped around our superegos. So glad you expressed it so well and allowed us to peek into your complicated story.

    Yes, we served that “Ultimate ambition” that often led to heartbreaks, that still torment today. The paragraphs on that debilitating Hostage loss was a reminder that the competitions were a zero-sum game: most of us piled into cars on Sunday nights unhappy.

    I joke with my wife that we never seem to make lasting friends with those who didn’t belong to the tribe at one time or another. I euphemistically say to her, as an excuse for my unwillingness, that only ex-Ultimate players know how to “chill.” But that’s for another discussion.

    I recall the travel, the games, and even individual plays that repeat over and over in my head. I sometimes wonder what some former players do now. Using one of the indelible and vivid images from your piece: does Levine show up for work in unlaced workbooks and a butt hanging from his lips before putting on his wingtips?

    My circle of close friends includes Jerry McManus, who yesterday sent me the link to your story and initially plays the role of Stuart in my story, and the Phillips brothers, two of your former Hostage teammates: New York youngsters taken hostage by your Boston team, as far as I was concerned. We re-tell the same stories year after year, not unlike countless others of the tribe. The history is so ephemeral — not captured on Facebook or some other medium that would surely diminish the embellishments and the puffery of these tales. Aside from some rare photos, such as your team picture featuring Tommy’s suitcase, it is truly an oral history sometimes punctuated by a splendid introspective narrative like the one you shared. Thanks.

    • dave writes:

      What a great comment. Thanks for this. I’m writing a book right now about the American West. But after that I am going to blow open this essay and turn it into a book. Lots of funny stories untold still.

    • Tommy writes:

      Maurice, I had no idea you were so eloquent, that you wax so poetic, great comment, you also put well into words what so many of us feel. But more importantly, Barkan tells me you’re working to put together a Columbia event with “Ultimate Peace” – AWESOME!!

      As for Jimmy (Levine), there’s a recent photo circulating (a month or two ago) of him and Andy Borinstein (HOF member!) embracing (Embracing, can you believe it?!! It almost made me gag!) next to what looked like a hocky rink in Central Park. Each had a son playing in it. Neither appears to have aged much which kind of pisses me off. Oh, and Craiger ran into P.K. (Pat King) somewhere on the peninsula last fall, Palo Alto?

      Great memories, Maurice, thanks for sharing!!

      (Everyone else – google Ultimate Peace, and get on the band wagon! DO IT!)

  18. Alan Siegel writes:

    What a phenomenal piece! It really took me back to the day and captured exactly how I felt during those wonderful times.

    I played against the Hostages(and the Rude Boys) with Michigan State U.(a very under appreciated part of Ultimate history)(in fact MSU split into two teams during an Easterns one year and one team had to play the Hostages simply to play in to the bigger tourney. the Hostages beat our first team in a great game to qualify and then went on to win the tourney beating our other team in the semis).I also enjoyed many great games against you folks as a member of the Flying Circus. I was called “Frisco” during my time with the Circus.

    thanks for some wonderful memories.

  19. dan weiss writes:

    dave,
    thoroughly enjoyed this!
    thanks for putting the magic into such eloquent words.
    dan weiss

    • Dave writes:

      You are very welcome sir. I’ve got to finsih the book I’m working on right now, but then I think it’s finally time for me to write a full Frisbee memoir. Not just about my time and my team either……want to talk to lots of other folks, including you of course.

      • dan weiss writes:
        • greggo writes:

          Great article, The twenties are a time of finding great discoveries and barely surviving them.

          I remember talking with Dan and others after a Circus game, sharing the beer, pot and stories. We were opining what Ultimate would look like in the next century, a full other half of our lives away. Olympics, Pro, the sky’s the limit.

          Dan asked, “Why don’t we stay like this?”

          I don’t know or remember if he was being a situational contrarian, or being true to the roots of hippy Ulti. Or maybe he just wanted to stay in his 20s.

  20. Steve Courlang writes:

    Hi Dave,

    I think we played against each other a couple of times. Irwin (Oregon legendary player) sent me your fine essay a few days ago. Besides enjoying reading your story, it brought up my own memories of how I began playing this game we love. I then emailed your essay onto a few old Flying Circus and Tsunami teammates and other Ultimate Friends. Thanks for putting into words your experience which reminded us of how Ultimate helped form who we are.

  21. Donna writes:

    Dave,

    A non-frisbee old friend of mine happened upon this writing and just sent it to me. Each and every story came back to me as vividly as it was just yesterday. Thanks for your beautiful writing. I do hope that life is treating you well.

    Best,
    Donna

    • Dave writes:

      Thanks, Donna. It has been strange to have this piece come back to life….like another life i lived long ago. Hope you are well.

  22. Marcia Gregorio writes:

    “My father would feel it’s sting”??? Ouch, buddy. Awesome essay, but no apostrophe in “its” in this case. Come on, Harvard grad — it’s means “it is”; the possessive you want is “its.” But that aside, this essay is brilliant and I loved it.

  23. free edit writes:
  24. Guido writes:

    Dave,

    Good to see you at your reading in Concord last fall. You’re such a hot shot now. Who was doubting you back then?

    Brilliant piece, and still find myself stirred by the intensity of the Rudies-Stoogies rivalry as I read this. FRAC-29 does really show how much air came out of that balloon if members of the two teams could co-exist in ’85.

    A few more reactions. IMHO, the zenith of the Hostages was the ’82 Easterns finals vs the Rudies. Both teams were in a sort of re-forming (not reforming) mode for the next fall, but in that game the Hostages did what they did best – as you say – daring throws that challenge receivers… and boy oh boy, did Smitty ever rise to the challenge. He had at least 2 that I can still see in my mind’s eye that were as brilliant as they were backbreaking. He doesn’t make either of them and the game might have gone the other way. All we could do is tip our cap and wish him well in the Peace Corps. What a way to go out.

    The Rudies loss in 1981 was by far a bigger choke than the Hostages in ’83. Frankly you guys weren’t as good without Gus. (he paid me to write that). And I can’t believe you fell for that “I had nightmares about you guarding me” BS that we were spewing!!

    The first of two quintessential Hostage moments for me was at a regionals (83?) in Amherst. It was one of those awful cold rainy days, and you guys were playing the consolation game against WPI for 3rd place. You drew straws and sent 7 guys out there to receive and turf every pull to lose as quickly as possible.

    The second was Fools ’87 (I think) when defending champs Hostage Classic were in the finals and on game point, you guys called three consecutive time outs to extend your reign as champions. Aptly, named – classic.

    One final story about two people mentioned here. When the Rude Boys split at Fools one year – forming WesWill and Leif and the Coconuts, we at WesWill were walking by (and heckling) the Coconuts/??? game where Nathan was playing for ???. A long pass goes up to Nate. Jimmy Herrick is covering him. Jimmy goes up and, makes the block, and Nathan comes down indignant that Jimmy skied him, and given how physical Nathan was, there clearly was some contact on the play, but truth be told Jimmy just plain beat him. There was a moment right after the play where you could see a battle between emotion and rational thought in Nate’s head about whether to make a call. At which point, Jimmy picks up the disc and throws it back to the thrower. Nathan looks kind of puzzled and he and Jimmy chat for a second. Somebody on the field asks, what’s the call. Jimmy says, “I call a foul on myself and contest it.”

    One final, final comment on Nina’s comment. On Father Throws Best (or Daddy Fat Guns as were we affectionately know), and even poorer collaboration between former Rudies and Hostages, we eliminated the Frisbee and just hucked you a case of beer, which – true to her astute comment – you dove after like a border collie.

    All the best (maybe see you in Dennis this summer? over the 4th?).

    Guids

    • Dave writes:

      Thanks, Guido. Passed some of this along to the Hostages. Said it came from an unreliable source. Hope to see yout this summer.

  25. Sludge writes:

    Exquisite essay! Thanks for sharing. Ultimate is truly a glorious game.

  26. Paul S writes:

    Great stuff Dave. Those were good times [except for the cancer part]. A quick point of clarification if I may. I wouldn’t exactly say that Simon “schooled” us in Scrabble, although he was definitely a Greasy Wanker.

    • Tommy writes:

      Didn’t you once almost get arrested for sleeping in a park at a tournament on Martha’s Vinyard?!! (summer, 1980) :-) I suspect you had something to do with that damn deer in Ithaca, too.

      • Paul S writes:

        Well, yeah. We did get arrested for sleeping on the fields. They took us all in and called our parents, one by one. So humiliating. My mom yelled at them. The best was Jerry Johnson’s mother. He had been out west for a while, and came back straight to the Vineyard for that tournament. They called Mrs. J, and she was so delighted that he was home. “Oh, you have my Jerry there? Wonderful! How is he? I tried to call him yesterday but I couldn’t get through…” Classic.

        • Tommy writes:

          It was 7 am (summer of ’81), and I remember suggesting you offer to take the phone out of the seargent’s hand before you ended up being put in jail. Meanwhile Gus fumigated the whole station with some volumous non-pleasing emissions, that had most of the blue coats heading for windows and doorways!

        • Gerry Johnson writes:

          My mom just turned 90 and is doing great. I remember we called the Martha’s Vineyard cop “Barney Fife”. Great piece of literature..I still hobble around the ultimate field a few times a week on Maui.

  27. Suzanne Fields writes:

    Troy & Cat & kids are visiting Maui and spent sometime at my house…Troy shared the link to Ultimate Glory and it’s incredible…a perfect telling of the times! I agree with Tommy….your “Nathan” is by far the most incredible vivid portrait of the unconventional person he was….and likely remains so today! And I agree with Tommy again about Herrick! Tommy….how can we be in such close agreement?
    Cheers to you, Dave!
    Suzanne

  28. Gus writes:

    Very enjoyable read! My only criticism from a literary point of view is that the most intriguing character in the story was that Gustafson fellow. The story would have been far more entertaining if he was the central character instead of the author. The one other correction I would make is when you write “while I no longer had the Hostages as my tribe”. Once a Hostage, always a Hostage. You have always had, and always will have The Hostages as your tribe. In all sincerity, the one regret I have about retiring from The Hostages when I did is not playing on the team with you. I can’t imagine how fulfilled your life would have been to have played on The Hostages alongside me. For this I apologize.

    • Dave writes:

      I will admit to cringing a bit upon seeing the words “Comment from Gus” in my inbox. (Similar but slightly different from the way I cringe when I see the words “Comment from Tommy.”) But as I read your comment I found it funny, generous and then for moment even uplifting–“In all sincerity, the one regret I have about retiring from The Hostages when I did is not playing on the team with you.”
      Alas, I had fallen for an old Hostage trap. Nicely done!

  29. john lane writes:

    Great piece. Thanks Dave.

  30. Ken writes:

    Nathan’s been playing on the Harvard alum team at Fools Fest the past several years (would love to see you there, Dave). Or at least he plays on the Harvard alum team most of the time; once during a game I glanced one field over to discover that Nathan had picked up with another red-jerseyed team for a point to stay warm. I think last year there were only three other guys on our team who were born before he graduated from college.

    Here are two great photos of him catching the winning goal in our final game last year and celebrating with a glint in his eye.
    http://www.ultiphotos.com/p114556650/h3d370f43#h3d370f43
    http://www.ultiphotos.com/p114556650/h3d370f43#h25f8d68e

  31. luke smith writes:

    Dave,
    I don’t know if i played with you for one (1) game at boulder 4th one year on a Mooney led team in… 94? But this essay is great, and sounded like my own voice to me at times. You really caught a zeitgeist? about ultimate for many of us. I wonder if it’s still the same. I’ve visited your site before: the skiing on the beach appealed to this Southerner now in the mountains of Oregon. I’ll look to read more of your writing.
    Cheers.
    Luke

    • Dave writes:

      Dear Luke (and Cam),

      Thanks for your comments. They mean a lot. I got some flack from old teammates for it being about me, me, me. But you describe exactly what I was trying to do. That is to get at what it was like to be inside that feeling, including the narcissistic element of the sport. With no coaches (or media) to hold down egos, everyone thought they were the greatest. So when I said I was “the greatest of all time–by far,” I was partly being over-the-top boastful, in Ali fashion, but partly parodying what all ultimate players acted like.
      Thanks again, David G.
      P.S. Yes, Luke, the team was called The Liquor Blockers and I drew the cartoon on the shirt that looks a lot like our Bill and Dave’s masthead.

      • Luke writes:

        an old friend of mine (tina mcdowell) posted a link to this– i greatly enjoyed re-reading it. I hope you’re well. And, in regards to your comments, yes, in how ever many years I played, with chain, with sockeye, with varying club teams, with pickup teams– i was always the ‘best’ player. No matter the fact that ‘they’ didn’t get it, and I didn’t get my props.

        So, yah, brah, narcissism. And, own that with no shame.

        That tournament, with the liquor blockers, was a seminal moment in my frisbee career. I played one game with the blockers, lost to the WSW team, lost the rest of my games, and watched y’all (us?) lose in the finals.

        Pragmatically, I neither cost the blockers the game, nor did I drag WSW down for the rest of the tournament; but, I, for lack of greater talent, decided that ‘team’ was the key component to the sport. In all honesty, me changing teams probably affected the end of the tournament not a whit; but it affected me.

        I’m glad to revisit your writing after a year. It’s stellar. And I wish you well.

  32. Cam writes:

    like others have said above, this really articulates things i’ve been thinking about ultimate but had been unable to articulate, and had no idea that others were struggling to sort out too. really a great piece.

  33. Caryn writes:

    A friend pointed his friends (me among them) to this link today. Part of this essay appeared in the UPA magazine while I was A) still a member B) (by proxy) younger & spry (er) & C) suffering through a year and 3/4 too many at “The” Ohio State University.

    The long and the short of that is that also attending OSU was a particular red headed guy, much older now but still matching the description who befriended me and offered to help me restart & coach a women’s Ulty team at OSU.

    We were long on hair, short on talent. We stood in the quad and grabbed any quasi athletic looking woman walking by and tried to sell her on the sport. Turns out there are too many activities at OSU and most people were already engaged. We ended up with three of us who had ever played before, an ice skater, two softball players who bailed on us once they made the softball team, a few others who had some sport experience, and Maxi, a German recruited to row for OSU. She was great if you faced her in the direction you wanted her to go, but her side to side (i.e. cutting) muscles were somewhat underdeveloped. We were a motley bunch, especially with Nathan at our helm.

    I always joked that Nathan helped invent ultimate. But really, he just had a passion for the game that was at times frustrating (like when he would argue on the field) and at times awe inspiring. That 40 something man showed up in the rain, ice and snow and taught me to huck and pivot around a lacrosse goal.

    I last saw Nathan in my Alexandria, VA apartment, where he showed up literally out of the blue and asked to crash. He had driven many hours to join a peace rally in DC. I wasn’t in the least bit surprised.

    Other than being responsible for my throwing development (get that elbow up), Nathan Selwyn taught me that to meet people, I should ride public transportation without a book or headphones (not true) and that finishing a NY Times Sunday crossword IS possible (true!).

    I wonder where he is.

    • dave writes:

      What I don’t mention in the piece is how important Nathan was to me in college. Nonconformity isn’t easy. He was a model.

      • B writes:

        Nathan’s still playing. Up in Montreal playing 40+, down at Fools, he’s still runnin’ and gunnin’.

        • Tommy writes:

          If Nathan’s still playing, his 40+ years is got to be a lot closer to fifty than forty, like 48 or 49!

          • fin writes:

            Nathan’s definitely still playing. I had a good long sideline chat with him just a couple years ago at college nationals (in Ohio) and then ran into him again in May of last year in Boulder, at college nationals again. We had a couple beers on the sidelines of the finals, with cans very poorly covered in dangly dirty socks.

            Then just earlier this year, i got word from my younger daughter, who had recently moved to NYC, that there was an old red haired neanderthal guy on her coed league team that claimed he knew me. Apparently he’s still able to contribute on the field pretty well.

            —–

            very cool essay, btw … although a bit of clarification might be in order. that offer from Moons got voted down by the team. i wasn’t privvy to the vote tally, but i was pissed and argued strongly to add you to our squad, but apparently others weren’t so impressed. coulda been fun.

  34. Allan Peterson writes:

    Thanks for putting into words a lot of those feelings that will never go away. A old Hostage named Herrick invented another addiction, Goaltimate here in the 80s and I sit at my desk sore from playing Saturday. And this was a very nice way to start the week.

    • dave writes:

      Some would object to Jimmy H. being called a Hostage, since we played for our enemy The Rude Boys. But if ever there was a Rude Boy Hostage it was Herrick. I actually played with him in San Diege for the first annual Goaltimate Tourney. We were old and we sucked!

      • Tommy writes:

        Herrick was on FRAC 29 in Santa Cruz with you. But a Hostage-Rude Boy?? I can’t make sense of the words. He was always a class act and a true sportsman, even if he was a Rude Boy. I’ve long believed your Nater narrative in this essay is one of the best character studies I’ve ever read. It’s of note that at least two of your contemporaries mentioned in this essay are now enshrined in the (virtual) Ultimate Hall of Fame!!

        • BOB writes:

          12 years of relentless pursuit and dedication yielded a marginal player with great passion that was always a little over my head when I got into a top tier game.
          So that’s me …in the chair …looking, with mild interest, at the microphone kurfufle. My love of the game made it impossible to resist watching the very best play the game I loved. So I rarely missed a Nationals. Many of my very best friends in life and surely many of the most memorable moments of my life sprang from the Ultimate life.
          In the van, on the way back from the Finals in Austin… amidst great laughter and glee, Jimmy turned to Moons and said “NOW can we change our name??” … and Moons replied (in his inimitable manner) “What do you wanna be Jimmy, The Polite Boys?”

          Class act, true sportsman, very first recipient of the “Spirit of the Game” award (World Flying Disc Santa Cruz 1982) … AND a climber.

          Jimmy was a climber. that’s a fact.

          Thank you ALL.

          • Gerry Johnson writes:

            You maybe…. But I refuse to believe that Herrick now is old and sucks

          • Tommy writes:

            I watched Jimmy Herrick throw and catch with some other greats, and up-and-comers on the side-lines between games at Nationals this year, and I’ve got one word for you: border collie. Also witnessed a cross field huck from TK in a third floor press box to Herrick that rivaled any MTA ever thrown. These guys “still got it”!!

  35. Peter Peteet writes:

    “First be a good animal,” and if a Border Collie is not that,what is?Within the pack and striving for control of a herd,aware of the “minds of others”and your existence there,that is the most addictive of states.Every morning I walk past a Ford Escort with half of a back bumper which sports a sticker proclaiming “Play Ultimate or Burn for Eternity”-and of course think of you.”It was a little like writing in that way.”Yeah,fine toss/essay.

  36. George de Gramont writes:

    Wonderful essay. Hope it does well. You could convert it into a movie script.