Thursday, February 26, 2009

Note: Bravo captain Ted Tripoli attended Team USA's tryout weekend in LA in anticipation of the World Games, and after a little prodding shared with us his thoughts. —Ed

As a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this article are mine and of no one else.

World Games Tryout Weekend

Let me start by saying what I told everyone else and what I told Richter repeatedly by text over the course of the weekend: this was the hardest weekend of ultimate I have ever played, both mentally and physically. I won’t get into to many specifics of the weekend, so as not to ruin the surprises that await next weekend’s East Coast tryout team, but I do want to write about my experience.

My weekend begins with me packing Thursday night. I decided that I didn’t want to check my luggage, so I planned to pack everything into my backpack and cleat bag. I had it all laid out in front of my bedroom door, ready for when I’d leave for work the next morning. Friday morning arrives; I’m tired as is normal for me when I get up a little before 7:00 every morning to get to work before 8:00. I brought all the bags I had packed downstairs, ready to bring out to my car. The morning had gone smoothly. I remembered the lunch I made the previous night, loaded my car, and drove toward work.

I work in Commerce City, a small city north of Denver resembling Gary, Indiana. My office is probably 15-minute drive from the Pike’s Peak satellite park & ride. As I’m making the drive, my head is swimming in scenarios. What if I forgot this? What if that happens? What are my contingency plans? It was your run-of-the-mill paranoia surrounding a weekend of this caliber. The drive, although slow and stressful, goes fine. As I park my truck and head to the bus stop to wait for my ride to the airport I get a sick feeling in my stomach. Cleats! Look in my bag - nothing. Sprint back to my truck, hoping I forgot them there - empty. The worst scenario I had imagined, aside from forgetting my contacts, had come true. No cleats. First thoughts that go through my head are how do I get my cleats to Los Angeles, with my flight being the last one with players/UPA workers to leave Denver. I make some phone calls pursuing the next logical step, locating a pair of cleats to use in LA. After getting phone numbers of friends who live in the greater Los Angeles area and sending probably 50 texts within an hour’s time, I finally get a hold of Bert Kang, ex-Hodag, who lives in Arcadia. Several texts later he volunteers to pick me up a pair from the store. I end up getting a new pair of Nike Mercurial Talaria at a small cost of $106, and for karma gave Bert a few extra bucks for driving and going through the trouble of, essentially, saving my weekend.

Cleats On
My room of Colorado people wakes up at 7 am to get breakfast at the hotel and get the fields by 8:30. The World Games team hopefuls show up in groups from their respective city, aside from a small Bay area contingency that arrive a little before us. After the Colorado crowd, the remaining Bay area group arrived, followed by the Seattle group. My first impression was that no one is really nervous, but more overly excited about the opportunity that has been placed before them. I felt that Greg Connelly, or Coach as many of us had begun to call him, did a great job of assuring us that everyone who stepped onto the field would have an equal opportunity to make the team.

We begin with the warm up, only a taste of what Ron “The Curse” Kubalanza has in store for us over the course of the weekend. After running several basic drills to get our feet underneath us, we went into a combine-like atmosphere with four stations: an individual interview/speech about our role on the team by Greg; a shuffling/marking drill; timed 70 and 40 shuttle runs (there and back); and an overly exhausting shuffling drill with tennis balls (seen on an ultimate training video for coaches I guess). My first station was the interview. Greg told me I would be a cutter, no big surprise. He also told me that he knows I’m short, but have the capability to play big and he needed to see that over the course of the weekend. We parted ways, and my group of ~8 people moved to the shuffling/marking station, which proved to be the easiest and shortest one. It didn’t concern me at the time, but my lactic acid limits would be tested with the 70’s and 40’s. My legs felt tighter and tighter with the 2nd 70 and into both of the 40 shuttles. My training leading up to weekend had focused on straight, shorter sprints and lifting. My legs weren’t ready for that kind of distance, after all, it is the off-season. The tennis ball drill proved to be tryout’s hardest drill, and my group does it last. First time through hurts, my legs were tense but nothing too bad. I completed it in a decent 44 seconds. Half way through my 2nd attempt, my legs were cramping and I was struggling to place the tennis ball on the cone correctly, but I wanted to break 40s, which seemed to be the standard of excellence among all the groups. I ended up misplacing a tennis ball and running a 42 second time, which was ok, but this is the event I thought I could beat everyone on, so I was nothing but disappointed.

By the time my group had finished the station, the other three groups had been done for 10 minutes or so. It was time to go on to our first scrimmage, and I happened to placed on a team that was savage for guys. Normally, when you think of scrimmages you can try to take a point or two off when you guard someone that isn’t as good, or as smart. Every team has them, but not this weekend. Point after point tested our ability to stay focused, get open in a somewhat unfamiliar atmosphere of coed ultimate and stay with your guy. These scrimmages pretty much rounded out the Saturday morning session which couldn’t come quick enough for me.

Back To It
After a Panera lunch, without hesitation we swung into the afternoon session with a short warm up. It started with a few more drills to test many aspects of the game, from cutting and throwing to marking. During the marking drill is when the nightmare began for me. I stepped out like I would for any other break mark throw, and the back spasms I’ve been unsuccessfully running from caught up with me. For the remainder of the day, you could see me lying on my back with my knees pulled to my chest when I wasn’t out on the field. The back spasms where making it nearly impossible to take deep breaths, I sounded like a K9 German shepherd after a drug chase. Short, quick breaths were all my body could handle. I did my best to keep up with the best in the game, but I’d say that effort was less than anything Team USA would consider. As the afternoon session wore on, I wore down, to the point where I was beginning to lose a lot of strength. With the day almost done, Ron got one more crack at us. Exercises with 40 yard sprints in 45 second intervals, which seemed to last 15 minutes, but in hindsight was probably more like 7 or 8 minutes. I sat down, barely able to move with knees pulled close to chest stretching my back so I could breath somewhat normally, and looked and Mac. We were both in agreement; that was the most tiring day of ultimate we had ever been a part of, but also one of the best.

Surviving Sunday
After spending much of Saturday night relaxing my back or doing Tina-prescribed stretches, my back was still tight as an E string, but feeling better. After Sunday morning’s warm up, my back loosens and is no longer a factor. This day’s main focus is winning one-on-one match ups. Both in drills and scrimmages, we were challenged mentally and physically by our teammates to win the matchup we were assigned on that point. All our drills and scrimmaging focused on that one goal: win your match up. My day is progressing much better than Saturday. I’m able to cut normally, and for the first time in 6 months I was able to jump normally. My ankle was messed up for a while, and was a very limiting factor in what I’ve been able to do over the past months. I was on cortisone for this weekend. And it felt great. The day would wind down with scrimmages and one more running drill at the end. They knew our legs were dead, and our minds were tired, but wanted to see how we would react against a set of long sprints and jogs. I’d say just about everyone reacted the way the coach wanted to see us. I believe Greg just wanted us to give 100% effort, whatever that might be at this point. The weekend was good and everyone definitely showed themselves as one of our sport’s elite.

In Reflection
After thinking back to Saturday and looking in on Sunday I realized there were only 3 or 4 layout D’s in over 6 hours of scrimmaging over the course of the weekend. I finally came to the conclusion, through pep talks by Coach and through observing the best in the game, that better decisions by throwers and the willingness of every player to always win their matchups on D were just not allowing tight D-able throws. You were either open or you weren't. A smart thrower wasn’t going force the issue when they have another superstar getting open at the same time. There was never a reason to throw something that wasn’t 100%. Most turnovers weren’t cause by D’s, but by poor throws or drops. The weekend’s mental and physical pressures began to wear down on everyone as the weekend wore on, and you could see decisions and execution suffer.

At the end of the weekend I felt euphoric, my dream of getting the chance to play for a team to represent the USA had come true. Though I thought my weekend could have gone better, I was happy for the chance. I never thought, through my years of playing hockey and soccer, that I’d ever get the chance to earn something with the letters USA on it. But I believe there is a sport in which everyone has at least a chance at greatness, and ultimate is mine.

For those in this weekend’s tryout, some friendly advice: take care of your body!


Monday, February 23, 2009

"Once you lose someone it is never exactly/
the same person who comes back."
- Sharon Olds


Riley and I sat across from each other on worn leather couches in the upstairs lounge section of our neighborhood Borders Bookstore. We were discussing our lives in the months since the end of the club season, and characteristic of our conversations lately, it was an open and frank discussion. We each took turns opening small doors of ourselves for the other to appraise objectively and comment on. In a lull our conversation turned toward friends and our worries about them. As if on cue, my phone rang and the screen lit up with Muffin's name. I took the call. It was 9:30 in the evening.

"Yo Muff, what's up?" The usual intro. He'd planned his evening apart from us that night, both Riley and I were actually surprised to be hearing from him.

"Hector, my sister's missing."

"What are you talking about? What do you mean, missing?"

"Like, missing missing." He began to race through a series of details. His younger sister Jessica, a freshman at UW–Milwaukee, had not come home the night before, and no one had seen or heard from her since 1:00pm Tuesday, as she said goodbye to her roommate and left her suite on the way to class. Wednesday at 5:00pm, after receiving a call to the suite from her bank reporting suspicious activity in her account, her roommate called the police and sounded the alarm. A friend who she was supposed to meet on Tuesday night reported that she never showed up or contacted her. No one knew where Jessica was, and no one had a clue.

Muffin's mom had received the call shortly after the missing person report was filed, and for the next 3 hours tried desperately to reach Muffin and tell him the news. Muffin's surgically repaired foot is weeks from supporting any weight, however, and this makes little things like finding your phone and answering it epic tasks that require planning and motivation. When he finally got the news, hours of motherly hysteria had already ticked away. Now here he was, on the phone with me, unable to process the situation or its implications and asking me what to do. I took it as no small coincidence that Riley and I were together when he called, so I told Muffin to meet us at my house in Middleton where we could relax and better grasp what exactly was happening. I hung up, and Riley and I quickly gathered our things and got in my car, driving with a focused speed back to my house.

It had been almost 24 hours since I'd hung up the phone with Feldman on Tuesday night. A B-teamer had not paid his way on the chartered bus the Hodags and Belladonna had rented to drive them down to Mardi Gras, and the 55th and final spot on the bus was now open. The captains offered me a free ride and room in the hotel so that I might help them out during the weekend. Although it came on short notice and would still cost me, once there, more than I cared to spend, the offer had its appeal. Muffin's spot was already reserved, and I liked the idea of being able to revel with him on Bourbon Street one night and help the Hodags positively from the sideline all weekend. It's still very early in the season, and I wanted to be able to observe the players in a full weekend of play so that I could offer them better feedback about their strengths and weaknesses. I accepted the offer, and we made plans to touch base Wednesday to solidify the details.

But the next time we spoke it was to tell me the truant B-Teamer was claiming he paid, and so the spot on the bus they'd offered to me didn't exist. After a night of wrestling with my decision and finally making my peace with going, even allowing myself to get excited for the trip, I was pissed that now I had to redefine mentally what my weekend would be. I let Feldman know my displeasure at how this whole thing was going down.

"Let me work on it. Most likely someone's gonna oversleep and miss the bus Friday, so you should still pack your bags and I promise someone will get left behind." I knew he was likely right. Still, I wasn't in the mood to wake up at 5:00am in the hopes someone might oversleep, and told him so. He again repeated he'd look into what he could do, and hung up. Twenty minutes later Muffin called me at Borders, and now nothing about Mardi Gras mattered.

At my house, I peeled the foil off the cap of a bottle of 12 year old Chivas Regal and poured us each three fingers into distinguished tumblers of frosted glass. Saying we were unnerved would be an understatement; the moorings of our normalcy had been cut, and our minds were cast adrift.

Except for the moment when he called us to drop the news, Muffin had been on the phone with the UW–Milwaukee police, offering advice on leads to follow, people to talk to, questions to ask, and grilling the detectives about every last bit of information they had at that point. However, since the report wasn't filed until 5:00pm, the end of the business day, their ability to do anything substantive was limited. In the morning they would follow Muffin's recommendations, and look at her cell phone records and try to see if they could track down any ATM transactions that might have occurred. They would talk to classmates and look at professors' attendance sheets. Until then, we had only ourselves to deal with, and outsized worries our only company. I reached for a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo and uncorked some calm. Muffin and Riley played a game of chess, and despite dominating early, Riley's queen was captured after a careless move and Muffin picked him to pieces. In chess and life a moment of carelessness can pass without notice if one is lucky, or it can precipitate the endgame without mercy.

Muffin, for moments in those few hours, thought of something other than his missing sister. I could not. The first thing I'd done after he'd broken the news was call my own sister, a sophomore at the same university, and warn her to lock her door and not travel alone until we could find out what happened. I didn't have to stretch my imagination much to empathize fully with what Muffin was going through. Still, it was late. The futon awaited Riley; my bed called to me. Muffin left my house at 1am and drove the 40 minutes to his home so he could be there when his mother woke up, and immediately begin the search again. As I finally found sleep that night, I couldn't help trying to calculate a mathematics that didn't add up: one missing sister, zero contact, and now, with me warm and safe under my blankets, two nights where Jessica's own bed laid empty. 2am found me in a fitful sleep.


Riley and I woke up shortly after 6:30, tired but alert. Concern has a way of cutting through fatigue to energize you. Over coffee and breakfast I called Muffin, hoping the sunrise had illuminated Jessica's whereabouts and we could all brush this off as a case of misplaced panic. Resolution would not come so easily. Muffin had taken the morning off to work the phones and get the latest information, but nothing new had yet come to light. I asked him to call me if he found out anything, and Riley hopped into the car with me on the way to his work. It was a still morning with a warming sun inside my 4Runner; outside it, cold winds dropped the temperature and burned your cheeks. I left Riley at his office and went about my own day, with Jessica trailing my every thought closely.

When I finally heard from Muffin it was close to noon. "Hector, when I got to work today the elevators were broken. I had to hop up all eight flights of stairs. The world is trying as hard as it can to break me. I won't let it yet."

He then broke down the latest, a piebald collection of clues that got us no closer to Jessica. Her bank accounts were intact; apart from a deposit cleared on Tuesday her account had been largely dormant. A cell phone had been found in her room, its SIM card missing. Her boyfriend had called her Tuesday at 3:30, and the call had been picked up, but all he could make out were ambient background noises; no one spoke. He hung up and called again; no one picked up. Another attempt a half hour later was sent straight to voicemail. She had missed her classes.

The outside world was also mobilizing. A Facebook group was started to get the word out, quickly snowballing past a hundred members. The university sent an email to all students with Jessica's description and last known whereabouts, and her friends printed out flyers and wallpapered the dorms and streets with them. On the home page of the police's website, a picture of her accompanied the phone number of a tip hotline.

Muffin sounded rightfully stressed at the end of our conversation. Jessica spoke to their mother almost daily, he said, and skipping town without telling anyone would be extremely out of character. Think of Occam's razor, I told him; the answer that made the most sense was that she was with friends somewhere and we'd hear from her soon. I did not, of course, mention the elephant in our conversation, the unmentionable thoughts that had gripped my mind and held it in a vice since I'd first heard about this whole thing; that something had gone horribly, horribly wrong on a cold Tuesday in Milwaukee and Jessica was hurt, kidnapped, or dead somewhere, and it was only a matter of time before we received the call that would confirm all our morbid fears. Instead, I told him to keep his head up, hold out hope, and assume the best.

When I hung up the phone I stayed for a moment parked outside my credit union, and exhaled. For many reasons, these last 3 months have been some of my most atheist. Still, I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and said a prayer. "God, if there is any way this can turn out well, please make it happen." I drove to work distracted.

Dinner came and went that Thursday night without an update. Muffin's sister was as lost as she had been before work. Pre-disappearance, Muff, Anne, and I had made plans to kick back in the evening at the frisbee house. I didn't know how relaxed I was going to get that evening with Jessica still unaccounted for, but Muff looked ready to take his mind off his search — for a little while, at least. We drove to the liquor store, where Anne and I each selected a six-pack of beer, and Muffin purchased a bottle of SoCo. The bottle was for the drive down to Mardi Gras on the bus, Muffin informed me, and as it was 9:00pm, I informed Muffin that the bus left in nine hours and his sister was still unaccounted for. He wouldn't hear it.

I wonder, now, what Muffin was thinking at the time. When we returned to the frisbee house and cracked open the first round of beers, I asked him if he was still seriously considering going.

"What can I possibly accomplish by staying? If I leave and they find her, then it's good. If I stay and they find her, same thing." He talked now as if strengthened by some internal certainty. I left my own questions unasked, though they played loud enough inside my own ears.

What if they find her and she's not fine? What if you're down in Mardi Gras and your mother is left alone to identify your sister in some Milwaukee morgue? I couldn't get these questions out of my head, and strangely they seemed to hold no purchase inside Muffin's. Was he thinking this, too, somewhere deep inside, and was eager to escape what would undoubtedly be his breaking point in his wrestling match with the world? Or, more likely, had he stoned himself against that reality, and had willed into his mind only one outcome, a miraculous return by his sister in the 11th hour to make this whole mess right?

You see, Muffin, more than anyone I know, has the ability to let the primitive id control his action and thought. This drive is what makes him frustratingly stubborn at times, overconfident of his reasoning. It's also the force that propels him to excel and meet every demand that he places on himself, so that any goal he sets is met without fail. In his head he had decided that his sister was safe, that all would end well, and since he believed so, it would soon be true.

These are all things that I came up with afterward, unpacking the stress and strain of these days. In that moment my mouth and eyes conveyed a shocked disbelief. On the couch there, I looked into Muffin and drank my beer.

My concentration broke. In a measure of silence, Jake entered the living room and in his traditional deadpan delivery addressed us, "It says on Facebook that they found Muffin's sister."

What? Stunned, I refused to believe it at first. I wanted it confirmed. Jake went back to the room and came back moments later. "Yeah, it says on the police website they found her."

Muffin, meanwhile, hadn't moved. He hadn't flinched when Jake spoke and he hadn't hesitated as he brought the bottle of beer to his lips and took a casual gulp. He continued on the couch as if nothing had happened except what he already knew would happen, lacking any surprise that his belief had been confirmed. The world would have to wait to break him some other time.

Six hours later, in the darkness before sunrise, Muffin threw his hung-over ass into a bus with 54 other people, and it departed for Baton Rouge. I stayed sleeping, warm and soundly this time. Mardi Gras, ultimate, the humdrum of our daily lives, all of it was relevant again.

Even now, I'm not exactly sure where Jessica was those long hours. I only know she's back, and she's ok. I am left to imagine what happened, and how loved she might feel, right now, knowing that in 36 hours hundreds of people broke from their routine to do everything they could to make sure she was safe.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Just kidding friend, don't worry. Last night, my nuanced, detailed, and at times frighteningly accurate breakdown of your mind's inner game will be a moment in both our lives that I will remember for as long as we're friends. But as far as your emotional undressing was concerned, where on the couch in front of a gaggle of increasingly drunker beer pong players I removed from your person the social fabric you cling to and hide behind, that's for us to remember and enjoy.

Let that couch then, and our minds in that moment we shared, be a little like Vegas, and have that memory stay there. At least until I option out my memoirs and flesh the night out into a whole chapter. Because there can be no denying this: the last 24 hours have been an intense emotional roller coaster.

But that is a story for Monday's post.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's now been a complete decade that I have defined myself as an ultimate player first and student/teacher/writer/freestyler/etc. further down. A quick glance at most of the pictures I'm tagged in on Facebook will show me either playing Ultimate, or laughing and enjoying my life with teammates and opponents who do. Yet once again, like last year, I find myself at a crossroads: play this coming season, or put competitive ultimate on hold indefinitely. It moves beyond a decision to play a silly game; when I wrestle with what to do the problem becomes an existential one.

The thing about competitive Ultimate - the beautiful and damning thing - is that it's so consuming. You can't do it successfully if you give an equivocating commitment, that road is littered with the mangled corpses of wasted seasons, where neither team nor player got much of anything out of it. Plus, I'm not one to do something like this half-assed.

So again the dilemma, to play or not to play. Last year, as I considered taking some time off, the allure of playing a swan-song season with old college teammates before their dispersal proved too difficult to pass up. If you know Andrew Brown intimately, you'd understand, and admit I made the right decision. But as I've mentioned before, Sub Zero's Madison substrate is dissolving, and even Madison Club will suffer the loss of a few of their prime players. Staying at home and helping build this team would be a labor of love that would require a role and level of leadership from me that I'm not entirely sure I can give or afford, and I'm mindful of that.

But how fun our sport, how great this community! If you're in college right now, maybe you can't quite appreciate its true pleasure. In college you've got a reset button every 16 weeks that brings with it a whole new crop of potential friends and activities, but in the working world, new people in your life are hard to come by and breaking into a social circle is a conscious and concerned effort. If you don't get along with your coworkers, your life will center around a very small nucleus of people. And that's not a bad thing, by any means.

But to play on a competitive club team is to have an entire family you can lean on in your life, and if you live far from your real family their support can't be overstated. When I moved to Boulder I had recently broken up with the girl I was supposedly moving for. I felt disoriented, at best (teammates can enumerate stories of my despondence from that year's Solstice). But I arrived to Bravo, and with my membership into that club came a home, job, friends, and future love interests all prepackaged for me to open at my discretion. It made the move effortless, and it made my move away heartbreaking.

And so my dilemma. Fuck if playing competitive club Ultimate isn't expensive, and tiring, and time consuming. It's a resource sinkhole. But all the intangible things it gives in return! When I coached at Fairview High, and the B team here, and this year with the n00bs on the Hodags, I always reiterated a mantra that I firmly believe, and that lies at the heart of my decision to play each year: this sport will take a lot of your time and dedication, but it will give back to you everything you put into it and more, in immediately tangible ways and in some you won't appreciate until years after you've bronzed your cleats.

Because for those in this bubble community, they give everything to the others inside. But for the uninitiated, that have never played, it's impossible to explain the gravitational weight of this sport and your team. Those on the outside are forever trying to clear the condensation of their normal life off the glass so they can peer into the world we have built and inhabit.

They will occasionally catch a glimpse, a foggy notion of why we play. You return from a tourney breathless with stories for your friends. You'll passionately explain to your boss why you absolutely cannot make that meeting at the end of October. Or you'll visit the hometown, and come home from an alumni game with sloppy shirt and grin, and your parents will see it in your eyes. For a moment, for me at least, you'll look happy. Content. Satisfied. And in that moment, fleeting as it is, both you and your parents believe it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I awoke yesterday on Riley's couch at 1:30 in the morning with a start. I'd passed out there sometime after 11, as far as I could remember, after a long stressful day and a few beers. When I'd pulled my hood over my eyes and closed them there had been a television on and guitars playing on the sofa next to mine; when I opened them again the room was empty and dark save for a dim bulb above the stove in the attached kitchen space.

The house is a case study in entropy, and Riley fights the good fight, but it remains inhabited by 5 very male people, cut from the cloth used to sew together the Man Show and dive bars. This also means they share their house with a host of dirty dishes, and random messes which materialize without owner in the communal spaces. The men there have nothing boyish about them. They're full grown bucks, with beards and body odor and nothing that could remotely be ascribed to metrosexual culture. They all smoke, be it cigs or marijuana or sheesha or anything else that can be lit and breathed in, and there is a cat in perpetual heat that rubs on anything new, so for those with allergies or breathing issues it's not the most comfortable house to relax in. But I love Riley, and it's primitively satisfying to hang out with the rest of the cave dwellers and feel all Cro-Magnonish, so I go there just the same.

I'm digressing, because this story is about why I woke up when I did, but I need to lay down a little about my surroundings before I get to that.

Of all the roommates, Riley gets along with Jason best (although, as men, they're still prone to the occasional manspat over this or that). Jason is built thick, large but not fat, as if the frame his flesh draped over was just a bit wider than the others. He's a little over six feet tall, I'd put him at 190 lbs if I had to guess, and he rocks facial hair like he's paid by the follicle. Likes Parliments and plays guitar, the classic shit. A guy's guy.

There is also a girl named Stephanie, a diminutive mixed-race cutie that lives either in the downstairs unit or next door. She's young, and looks more so with her hair poofed out in a gentle afro, and barrettes pinning the more undisciplined strands closer to her head. She's got a small, flat nose and a laugh that makes me think of a dining triangle being played by a preschool version of herself.

She also has the total hots for Jason, and sometime before December the kinds of things that happen when a guy's guy and a cute girl who likes said guy live close to each other happened: they started hooking up. Now I see her almost every time I'm over at their house, loving the boisterous attitude and the testosterone that seems to collect like a film on the walls and counter tops. She's teased by the other guys spiritedly and Jason treats her like a runt, but in the good kind of way, you know? She falls over herself for the attention, this young girl, not quite twenty, suddenly the focus of a group of dudes who are most definitely not boys, not by any stretch of the imagination. I doubt the relationship will last the next housing lease, when proximity's convenience is removed, and they find the new distance between their houses forces them to realize they really don't have much in common. They'll go their separate ways, and some day five years from now she may be taking mental stock of her lovers and wonder how that guy sneaked onto the list. Maybe not though; I'd hate to make it sound like Jason is without his charms. He's actually very personable and considerate, with a winning smile.

When I woke up I was startled and disoriented. It took me a second or two to get my bearings and remember where I was before I turned my attention again to the thing that had woken me. In the hallway down the living room, coming in clear enough for me to assume the door was wide open, came Stephanie's moans in slow crescendo. By the time I gave them a focused listen they were well into it, and if I had to judge those moans (which, laying motionless on a couch 20 feet from them, I did) I'd say they sounded wholly genuine, as if a wood nymph was pleasuring herself in a glen.

I was wide awake now, as you can imagine, and as much as I fought against it I was developing a massive hard-on, the kind that can only come from those ohs and sighs born of sincerity and ecstasy. I also had a bit of a dilemma. I had no desire to stay the night on that couch, alongside the drafty window with winter's fingers curled firmly around the seams of my pants and jacket, legs half dangling off the edge, and my neck already beginning to crick. But when to leave?

Absent loud sex noises I would have stood up and made my way to the foyer, where I would have put my shoes back on before heading down the creaky stairs and out the doors, the sticky wooden one that takes effort to close, and the wispy screen one that refuses to close without a gunshot slam. This is one of those old, noisy houses, so ill-kept, that students find and live in all along campus, and despite the fact her moans were becoming more urgent and pleading I would not have been able to leave without being detected. I imagined the moment - they would lean in hesitantly and whisper in each other's ear, "I think someone's awake in the living room!" and they would slow and stop, one still inside the other, maybe reddening a little at being so uninhibited and having been heard, their late-night sanctuary punctured by my exiting footsteps, waiting patiently for the tell-tale doors to signal that the intrusion into their lovemaking was over.

So, rather than cause them any interruption or embarrassment, I waited patiently for them to finish. It was already late, a little later wouldn't hurt me, and I assumed they'd been going for a while, so I expected to finally hear Jason's part in this symphony before the sounds would fade and they would pass out much as I had done alone on my couch. But there were movements left to play, and pause after short pause she'd come back, having found her lungs again.

I waited it out, long as I could, politely turned on but at least keeping the illusion of their privacy intact. I thought on their relationship, its inevitable end maybe less than months away, and these two people very much enjoying themselves. I remember, too, being twenty. It's that all-too dangerous time when two years of college seem to hang like heavy pelts from the belt of experience and you feel adult and empowered, long before you have the maturity and awareness to recognize just how young you really were. I had that relationship, with the girl far too old for me, but I could talk a good game and I was as virile as I was naive. We stayed together until distance, too, showed us just how really far apart we were in temperament and life.

Lost for a moment in the glow of my own memories, I zoned back in to her moans that showed no signs of stopping, indeed they were forming words now (the usual things that get said in the heat of the moment, your oh gods and what-have-yous). My patience for their coda had run out, and I was getting sleepy again and missing the warmth of my own bed and reckless youth. I stood up, put my shoes on, and began the audial fanfare that would signal my presence. The sounds from the bedroom stopped, and as I went down the stairs I heard her ask, in sotto voce, "did you hear something?"

"I did," I thought to myself as I drove home. I had heard the notes of a playful romance harmonizing with the sighs of my own wistfulness as I reminisced on who I'd been before.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hey buddy. It's been a while. Truths be told, I ain't had the desire to write about Ultimate in a bit. Sure, the occasional musing or memory, but none yet have compelled me to sit down. But I'm sick as a dog today, and I'd rather do this than surf the web and all its vacuous content.

First, the band is breaking up, I'm certain. The Sub Zero experiment, fun and successful in its own right for 4 years, sang its swan song in the 9als against regional rival Machine. At season's end, many of the Wisconsin alumni that provided the magnet for Madison talent moved away, and Madison club came into its own. So much so, that had the commuters stayed home, this year as in 2004, Madison and Sub Zero would have been very evenly matched at regionals, and would have left Machine touring the Navy pier on Halloween weekend.

Needless to say, I highly doubt there will be any Madison commute to the twin cities this year. No one explained just how much it sucks to get in a car at 6am Saturday morning and tighten up for the next 4 hours. This large commuter group, maybe, can be blamed as the reason why we were never able to gel as a team, and why, although we played the top teams to the wire time after time, we never won any of those games this year. Some may look back at Sub Zero 2008 and call it the great team that never was. I will look back on it fondly, happy to have played again with some of the best friends I have.

The cutting of the Madison umbilical will force Sub Zero to take loads of young talent this coming season. They will be green as fuck, but I think the divorce will ultimately help out the Minnesota college ultimate programs, who will benefit from their best players gaining valuable club experience. And this also puts Machine in the driver's seat this coming season, as long as they manage to stop turning it brutally on offense. However, with three bids to Natties next year, the Central could be represented by any number of teams in Sarasota next year. Madcow and BAT showed they have a ways to go, but another year changes much.

Changing gears a little, Pride of New York is on the receiving end of a blockbuster Midwest diaspora. Jack Marsh, CallDan Heijmen, and Kevin Riley are all set to take a bite out of the Big Apple and strap on cleats at PONY tryouts. The young squad instantly gets better with the addition of two prime-time, intelligent cutters and a stable, consistent handler moving the disc. I rate PONY a buy.

And now for the real impetus to write: among many great stories of the 2008 club season, my favorite. Not only for the players involved (whom I will not name, for their own protection), but for the hilarious circumstances under which it all happened.

Labor Day's waxing hours, and the tournament party isn't in full swing so much as free-falling from its pendulum string. Having narrowly avoided arrest in a parking lot, Muffin, my brother, and I went looking for more trouble to get into or witness. I found it at the bar where Damien Scott was (now famously) ringing up a $1700 bar tab and passing out drinks to anyone around like proselytizers hand out Testaments. The tab is important only so that you understand the levels of alcohol that were being consumed. I leave you to infer the sobriety states of these stud players.

At some point, a group of jokesters whose names you would recognize decided it was time to play jester. Among them one stepped forward to fill an entire pitcher of beer with piss, and when it was full in all its IPA frothiness, they left it on a table with a clean empty pint glass, then moved away and staked out spots nearby where they could all see what unsuspecting fool would come and take advantage of a free pitcher of beer.

Moments later a gigantic, muscular Hispanic steps to the plate. Instantly the members of the group recognize two things: this man does not play ultimate, and if he gets duped and recognizes the setup, he will fly into a murderous rage.

Across the group eyes met, and they all held the same pupil-dilating message: DO NOT, under any circumstances, crack up and laugh when he takes a drink, or you will be killed and the rest of the group will disavow knowledge of who you are. Hombre Músculo looks at heady pitcher, looks around, grabs the pint, and pours himself a full draught. Raises glass to lips, neglects to inspect the bouquet, takes a sip. Finding something amiss, he dips two fingers into the pitcher and brings them to his nose. Sets down glass, looks around, exits bar quickly. Dudes lose it.

But they weren't done yet. The group decided that the aggro behavior a Worlds Runner Up had been demonstrating all night needed to be checked. For every action an opposite reaction type thing. Karma, if you will. They decided to let fate and a Rosham decide who would bring WRU back to balance, loser pours the pitcher of brew over his head. The Rosham's loser didn't feel like he'd lost at all, considering the behavior he'd been putting up with all night from WRU. Calmly he poured the contents down onto the unsuspecting head of WRU. Too far gone to retaliate in any way, WRU more or less left it at that, and the group moved on their way.

It's interesting to note how dehydrated two days of high-quality ultimate leaves you, and how concentrated urea becomes a golden amber when placed in a clear receptacle. Unclear in this whole story are whether the unsuspecting victim even knows or remembers, to this day, what happened and how it went down. But you can be sure the pranksters involved do.

Fuck, what a crazy season it was.

Note: Thanks to a few witnesses and participants, the story has been edited to set the record straight. —Ed.