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Throwing Down: An Apocryphal History of Yoyoing in America Kevin Jones 2013

Throwing Down: An Apocryphal History of Yoyoing in America

Throw it down, big man, Throw it down. --Bill Walton, on something else, entirely

It’s the late 1020s, and Donald F. Duncan Sits in a hotel lobby in Santa Barbara. He’s already been owner of Good Humor Ice Cream And a parking meter company. He’s made fortunes from both. It’s good to be rich, especially good To be rich and loved. Rich and hated, Not so much. He’d like To be rich and loved again.


Pedro Flores, hotel employee, Walks across the palmed And marbled floor, A string in hand, A wooden disk at The end of the string. He pulls; the disk rises. He flicks his wrist: The disk flies down the string. And it comes back. Duncan is fascinated. You would be too. *

Duncan and Flores talk. It’s a toy from his native Philippines, Flores explains. “A yoyo,” he says, “means ‘It comes back.’ Most Of the time.” Tells Duncan It’s based on as traditional Tribal hunting weapon. The hunter sits in a tree, Throws down a rock or log On a string, stuns or dispatches The potential lunch item. And If you missed, you wind The yoyo back and try again. Or, if you merely stunned Or pissed off the quarry, Hope that it doesn’t Climb trees. You would too. *

Duncan buys the rights

To the toy—or thinks He does—on the spot, Flores thinks otherwise, Thus giving lawyers for Both men a half century Of lucrative work. Duncan leans back, Smiles, starts dreaming Big. Flores smiles, Returns to his bell station, Carves disks, twists string. *

Sometime later, a little further Up the coast, Duncan pays a visit

To William Randolph Hearst. Inexplicably, he charms, or bullies His way past security, past The butler (Careful, that looks Like it could be a weapon In his hand), greets The Big Man. Hearst Is charmed by toys and Games, charades, parlor Tricks, useless, shiny Gewgaws (Rosebud!), Watches transfixed as Duncan Spins and winds his way Through his repertoire. You would too. *

“And best of all,� Duncan, Smiling, a little breathless, Pushes his point home:

“You can use it as a marketing Tool!” “How?” wonders Hearst, The fabled good and noble host, Trying not to grab Duncan’s Toy and attempt to Walk The Dog. “Give one to your Newspaper carriers for, say, Ten new subscriptions.” “And?” Hearst wonders, thinking how He could do Around the World And not destroy any artwork. “Have them sell ten more and You give them instructions On how to make it work.” *

Soon, it seems, every Newsboy in the hemisphere Is winding up and throwing Down between newspaper

Tosses. And shortly after, And well into the 1960s, Every spring, schoolyards, Town squares, small town Radio and television Stations are flooded with Duncan Demonstrators— Roping them in, stringing Them along with gaudy tricks, Sharp patter, holding classes, Organizing tournaments, Spreading the word, Throwing it down, Bringing it back. *

Everyone of a certain age Remembers these times, Those tournaments. Ask Your parents, your Grandparents. They’ll

Remember -How they dazzled them, Nailed the championship, Took home that patch They were good. You Would be too. *

It’s the sixties, Duncan Switches from wood To plastic, traditionalists Wring their hands. And In the courts, Duncan Repeatedly loses

To Flores and a host Of other litigants, Goes bankrupt. Though much is lost, Much remains: Duncan Imperials and Butterflies, even now, In every grocery and Toy store in the land. And in the spring, that Primal urge, to throw It down, watch it Wind back up. *

Eight Basic Contest Tricks as Listed in the 1950 Duncan Manual, Along with Practical Suggestions on How, Actually, to do Them *

The Spinner

The basic yoyo move: It goes down, it comes back. If you can’t make this One work maybe you Should think about Another sport. Or Maybe it’s not a yoyo At all—brick on a string? *

Walking the Dog Yoyo bounces uncertainly Ahead of you on the floor. It doesn’t look like a dog, Nobody’s impressed, And you don’t want To try it on a Cement sidewalk.


The Breakaway A very impressive Trick until You miss and hit And audience member Behind you square In the eye. Say With me now: “I Meant to do that.�


Around the Corner No corners here— You loop the string Over your arm, And maybe The thing comes back. Paint dries. Grass grows. *

Over the Falls A fast, visually impressive Move. Used to be Known as Skin the Cat, But these are politically Correct times. *

Three Leaf Clover Up. Down. Forward. Very cool move, Always best done In profile. Throw in An Around the World For a fourth leaf And you’ll never Pay for a drink on St. Patrick’s day. *

The Creeper The dog, out for A walk, has eaten grass. Move on, move on carefully. *

Rock the Baby This is the money trick, The one everyone remembers, Everyone wants to see. Practice this triangle move, Master it, and you’ll Never have to work again. Well, actually, you will. But you’ll have something Cool to practice at lunch. *

Anecdote Was staying at a hotel (Wish I could say it was Santa Barbara) where the Bellman commented on My National Yoyo Museum T-shirt (Yes, there is one, Chico, CA, where the 250 Pound yoyo sleeps. Because It wants to). “Used to play That growing up in the Phillipines,� he said. Dug A green Imperial (It is the color Of Yo, the color of hope, the Color of eternal return) and

Gave it to him. So would you. For the rest of the weekend, Subtly, surreptitiously, he Practiced his moves Behind his bell desk. Pedro Flores and Donald Duncan alive, and Back in the building.

Before You Try This at Home I. One of the world’s Leading yoyo designers Is a dentist. II. One of the world’s Best known Experts on yoyo Collecting is also En emergency room Physican. *

A Last Wind Up There is the sense of wonder,

Of possibility, of hope— That small disk, the bright string In your palm, in the moment Before you throw down, Knowing that you and Three feet of string can, For a time, make magic, defy Gravity, sculpt the air Around you, make The past live again. It goes down. It comes Back; history is repeated, The circle of life closed, The tale of the eternal Return told again. That Small disk, in your hand.

KEVIN JONES lives just outside Sacramento, California, and when not winding and unwinding, teaches at the Sacramento Center of Union Institute & University.

Throwing Down  
Throwing Down  

poems about yoyoing