Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Huck, Baby!

By Douglas McDaniel
Mythville MetaMedia

“I was lying in a burned-out basement
With the full moon in my eye
I was hoping for replacement
When the sunburst through the sky
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high
Thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
All in a dream … in a dream,
The loading had begun.
Flying mother nature silver seed
To a new home in the sun.”

----Neil Young, “After the Gold Rush”

Deven, MA (Route 2, West) ---- Gathering on the parade grounds of the retired Ft. Devens army base, team Meteor Theory prepares for its mid-morning maneuvers against Team 27.

In less worrisome times, a gathering of squads with such names as “Mass Discinction,” “Flying Bones” and “Team Paleolithic” would seem less in touch with the zeitgeist, more in touch with what geeks simply like to do on the weekend: that is, just “huck,” baby! What does ‘huck” mean, well, to the legion of Ultima Frisbee players across the nation it means a lot of things. Go ahead, try to pin them down on what, exactly, it means.

“I don’t know, man, that’s a question for some old-timer,” says Kathleen McLaughlin, a springy stepped member of Meteor Theory who, when she can’t “huck” around, is a business reporter for the Salem Evening News. “That’s a good question,” she says. “Where does that come from?”

According to the loose-limbed captain of “Terra Hucktool,” the term can be either a noun, or, a verb. In the case of his own team, to “hucktool” is to throw a long one, and since Ultima Frisbee might remind someone of football and basketball combined, as soccer without the frustration of being unable to use one’s hands, the whole verb of “huck” is to stretch out the defense. But, alas, mysteries here abound. The noun here, as in the whole point: well, that’s a thornier question, indeed.

Regardless of all of the zen-and-the-art-of-frisbee-team-spirit-maintenance pronouncements of what coed Ultima Frisbee is all about, truly, the “Art of War” is still a necessary manual. This is, after all, a penetration game. It adheres to the masculine plan of taking territory and puncturing the end zone for the score.

The late-fall event is the championship for the Boston Ultima Disc Alliance looks like a military exercise for young ROTC recruits on the grounds of the old fort west of Boston. Teams dress in earth tones: reddish browns, blues, yellows and sunrise orange. And if there’s one thing any brilliant Pterodactyl tactician knows, it’s this: You can tell a lot from a team by the colors its chooses, and, the names they like to call themselves, or, the symbolism of their flying colors. For the whole league this year, the dinosaur fettish is both prescient and in vogue. All of the league T-shirts have the skeletal insignia of a T-Rex, another penetrating meat eater from distant (yet, not so dissimilar) times.

“This guy has turned into a skeleton, so, obviously, he is stalling,” says Todd Bicker (sp?), one of the Meteor Theory captains, who uses another one of those Ultima terms, “stalling,” as if he were unaware that it was another one of those mysterious code words strangers won’t be able to decipher.

But, perhaps, not so mysterious. As the games were about to begin, a vintage World War II aircraft (perhaps a well-tuned Japanese Zero) was performing astonishing stunts, rising and diving, spinning, and then, going straight up to the point of being perfectly still in the air. That is: stalling. So if we were to get as zen-like as the Meteor Theoriticians, it might be inferred that stalling is either floating a throw in the air, a hanger, or, standing perfectly still with the Frisbee in hand to let the field ahead develop, like what you are supposed to do when a reptilian rattlesnake ---- in the defensive posture ---- is coiled for a strike. That is: stall. Stand perfectly still.

Given the ground BUDA has chosen for battle, one can’t help but to describe events in a military parlance. So, before we let the games begin, let us set the scene. Let us think of the X-Files. If we can do that, it all makes a kind of saturnine sense.

We arrive early. The sky is an overcast coat of rain in the early morning cold. Our hip Volkswagon vehicle, driven by Bicker, parks in the lot amid a quadrant of gorgeous reddish-brown brick buildings that might make one think of an Ivy League campus or Versailles. But there is nobody here. Looking straight ahead, we can look at Building 13 and feel like Mulder and Skully are nearby, sniffing out the terrain. It doesn’t help that there are somewhat mysterious looking white vehicles parked everywhere. Deven Mass Development, which has the authorization to manage the entire property at the former base, has several sport utes and other vehicles parked in the lot, too. White vans with Deven MassDevelopment insignias haunt the early morning quiet.

But there are some people around. One of the firms using the apparently empty buildings now rented out for office space is Loaves and Fishes, a pantry distribution business, and a gaggle of elderly women are out by a trash dumpster, smoking cigarettes and musing about the Man. Off to one other corner of the base is a tan brown, ’70s style building that now houses Image Software. Right next door, a Massachusetts State Police special forces training headquarters, once again featuring a varied collection of all-white vehicles, a pattern that makes one wonder just how dumb bad guys are if every surveillance vehicle and SWAT team motorcade is so easily apparent in a white hat to well, the reasonably good guys.

The games go on amidst this backdrop of luscious fall foliage and old soldiers, and it’s hard not to muse about how a game of Ultimate Frisbee is a lot like single unit combat. It’s seven against seven, and each team really does reveal its colors. But it’s also a kind of passive solar game in this dawn’s early light, and everyone is not expected cruise and bruise so much, in fact it’s illegal. No, it’s more spiritual than that. At least at this level. After each game, the winners and losers gather in their separate camps along the sideline and make up singing jingles, and then they go up to each other, rapping out to its opponent what they learned from the game. It’s a way of honoring either the vanquished or the victor after the battle.

While Terra Hucktool eventually won the championship with superior speed and athleticism, the real prize for the event is the spirit award, given to the team that has the best overall kindness and charm while playing. That includes such things as having the best tune, least complaints about calls (there are no referees here), the most times helping a fallen opponent off the ground, and so on. However, this is not always the way it is with Ultima Frisbee.

“Unfortunately,” says Bicker, who likes to play electronic chess between games, “it’s not Ultimate all of the time.”

Yes, even in this neo-paleothic ode to Roswell and Area 51, there are some Frisbee contests where the dickheads rule. But not on this day. Since most of the players are yuppie professionals with a zen-like sense of themselves ---- programmers, doctors, lawyers, telecommunications geeks ---- more importance is placed on giving the other a team a “spirit score” than the actual score.

“That’s one of the points of the game, spirit, especially in this fall league,” says Gary, a network manager. “Ultimate in general is supposed to be about being a good sport. You give the other team the spirit score to make the game more fun.”

Even when penalties occur, like an illegal tap or a holding foul, the latter of which are rare, there is usually a sense of collaboration in accepting the player’s self-made call. And it all happens much faster than instant replay on a Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

“In other games, they are attoning for other things that are happening in their lives,” says David, a doctor. “There are no referees. We judge the game ourselves.”

By the time Terra Hucktool proves its dominion over this earth, the sun is setting and the grounds are all aglow. Inside a big banquet hall, stacks and stacks of “free” food is being served as players of all colors eat at the same circular tables. One thinks of a cult, which this really is, a subculture, but it’s a superior one for a new kind of competitor with Frisbee on the brain.

Douglas McDaniel is a freelance writer, poet, playwright, philosopher currently living in Ipswich. His new book of poetry, “The Road to Mythville,” at iuniverse.com. Other evidence of his passage can be found at http://mythville.blogspot.com/ or the much-recommended http://kachinason.blogspot.com/. He can e-mailed, for as long as we have electricity, at dlmtel@yahoo.com.

www.upa.org (see mutants)