The following is an excerpt from Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession and My Wild Youth available now on Amazon.
While my Harvard classmates headed off to Wall Street and Medical school, I pursued my career in ultimate. After graduating from college in 1983 I moved to Cape Cod where I could freeload in our family’s house. I didn’t tell my parents my real plan that fall: I would live on the Cape but commute to Boston, not for work but for Frisbee. I thought the impractical lifestyle choice would be an exception in my new real-world life, but over the next two decades it would, thanks in large part to ultimate, become the rule.
My first practice with my new team, the Hostages, was in early September. I played well. At the end of practice the team jogged a big lap and I found myself running next to Mark Honerkamp. He was a tall, skinny kid with a shaved head in the punk rock style, and everyone called him “Hones.” After practice he invited me out for a beer at a bar called The Bustop with his Hostage roommates, David Barkan and Jimmy Levine, and soon there I was drinking beer with my old hero, Barkan, who was now my teammate. We drank beer after beer, at least Hones and I did, and then we headed back to the apartment in Allston where they all lived. We kept drinking, and I soon doubted I was going to be driving the hour and a half back to Cape Cod. In fact, I would spend a decent part of the fall season sleeping on the couch in that living room on Abby Road in Allston.
Like I said, I had played well at practice and was now intent on showing just how normal, funny and essentially un-Harvardy I really was. If anything I overcompensated in this direction and became pretty drunk, a not uncommon occurrence during those days. After Jimmy and Barkan went to bed, Hones and I kept going and at one point Barkan came out of his room and asked us to keep it down. Later that night I would wake from a drunken sleep on the couch and wander into the kitchen and grab a handful of Barkan’s leftover lasagna in the fridge. He would find my handprint in his casserole the next morning and perhaps begin to question the wisdom of asking me to play for his team.
Earlier that night I’d spent some time in Honerkamp’s room, though of course I didn’t know then that he would become a lifelong friend. He was two years older than me, which meant something back then in a way it doesn’t now. He had played with Barkan for The Jam on the West coast, a team that was made up of some friends of his from San Jose State, where he went to school. He had dropped out of college to move to Boston to play Ultimate. Let me repeat that: he had dropped out of college to move to Boston to play Ultimate. This made my own rebelliousness seem relatively tame.
He was into punk and back then looked down disdainfully on anything that smelled of “selling out.” There was a long list of such things, from REM to the Rude Boys, the Hostages’ cross-town rival. He had sported a buzz cut for the last year (and was, I learned later, one of the inspirations for my soon-to-be girlfriend doing the same). His room was already taking on the hoarder’s flavor it would more fully realize later on, with boxes full of photos and records, and a wall plastered with Frisbees from the various tournaments he had played in. This still seemed very cool to me back then. As did his bamboo bong that had no base and rested in a gray ceramic mug, though in truth it rarely rested, not in that house. He sat at a small schoolboy’s desk where he doled out hits, and I took a seat next to him in his crowded bedroom. He used an upside down Frisbee as a dish to separate the seeds from the pot. He packed a little hit for himself.
While he pulled in the smoke and the bong gurgled, I told him how I had quit smoking pot.
At that moment I had no idea that that would be the first of thousands of nights of hanging out together, and that that we would be friends for the next thirty-four years and we take dozens of trips together, both of the psychedelic and literal variety, exploring Cape Cod, the American West, and South and Central America together. No, about all I knew then was that I felt the urge to confide in my new teammate.
“This is the year I’m going to keep my body in perfect shape,” I told him drunkenly. “This is the year I’m going to put everything into ultimate.”
He nodded, holding the smoke in his lungs, as I continued on in this vein, describing the rigors of my workouts and the deep level of my commitment, and of course the discipline it would take to not smoke pot for the entire fall. I went on and on about my training. God help me I may have even mentioned the arête, the ancient Greek concept of excellence, and how I would pursue it. When I finished my lecture, and after he’d finally exhaled in a great cloud, Hones re-filled the bowl with a finger pinch and tilted the bong toward me.
“Want a hit?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
Soon the water was burbling and I was sucking the smoke into my lungs.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship…