Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Ski Trip

I passed up a chance to have my picture taken with Richard Garfield because I wanted to finish my game of Magic.

That's version for the the too long, didn't read generation. I get it - you're a busy person and there are cats on the internet. The long form doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. If I had taken the picture, my life would be largely the same except I'd have a Polaroid somewhere with a man who had (and continues to have) a huge impact on my life.

My mom and sister always went on ski trips together. Itwas a way to bond without me or my father. I don't know if dad ever tried skiing, but I know he hated chairlifts. Me? I couldn't ski. Mom took me once in third grade and I went down the mountain on my ass. That wasn't the problem. Mom forgetting a dry pair of underwear for me, that was the sticking point. I tried a few more times and eventually went on a trip with mom and sis three years ago where I learned to snowboard. Skiing was never my thing. 
The thing was I didn't have my Thing growing up. My hobby was Magic and while mom and dad were supportive (both emotionally and financially because I was a Little Kid), there wasn't a way to participate. Dad and I shared a love for sci-fi and fantasy novels and the afternoon movies on the Sci-Fi channel (three plots and terrible effects). But we never had that father-son own version of the ski trip.
My first year of high school I was playing a lot of Magic at Neutral Ground. Various players there had taken me under their wing including the Reverend Toby Wachter. Toby knew my cousin through a summer camp, which oddly enough was a rival of the one I attended. Their camp closed and mine is still open (aside: we win). Because of this connection I forged a friendship, although it definitely started as a barnacle/hull situation.
Toby was the first player I aspired to be like. He was good (defined as better than me) and only a few years my senior. He had a knowledge of the game and was connected with the generation above - the Pro Tour Regulars. I had no inkling of what the PT was at that time; I just loved playing Magic. Toby and others must have seen something in me. I still remember Toby and Brian David-Marshall pulling me into a triple Invasion Rochester draft to practice for an upcoming event. The packs were in Japanese and I was allowed to draft under the pretense of "that random guy who won a PTQ from a small country."
I was playing in a ton of Junior Super Series qualifiers at the time. Every few weeks I would plop down $25 or $30 and play under the false notion I was naturally good enough to maybe luck into some of that sweet sweet scholarship money.  My decks were not tier three and I more or less went to have a good afternoon. I thought I wanted to win but looking back, I didn't really care. I don't know how I heard about it but I came across the Junior Super Series Open. This event would be multiple days and was more like a convention. It was going to be at the Wide World of Sports in Disney World.
I saw my chance to have my very own ski trip. 
My parents agreed.
The flight down was the first time I had ever been on an airplane. I don't remember much aside from Beth Moursand and Scott Fischer being on the flight. I have her book! I have cards he painted! I remember getting into the hotel van with Alex Shvartsman who vaguely recognized me from Neutral Ground and signing up for the event. I was going to play Suicide Black because it was the only deck I had the cards for. It also happened to be a good choice for that weekend in a field full of Necro decks and Recurring Nightmare/Survival of the Fittest combo. Of course there were also Sligh decks, which were impossible for me to beat.
But I didn't care. I was going to play Magic. My dad was there to support me. He did this by sitting in the roped off parents area to read book after book. I would run to him after every round, win or lose, and tell him how I did. 
Friday's event was a feeder for the main JSS over the weekend. My less than stellar 3 wins against 5 losses didn't qualify me. I didn't care - there was an Urza's Destiny prerelease to keep me going all weekend.
It might have been in one of these matches, or maybe a pickup game, with another kid (who lived on a farm! Who lives on a farm in the Nineties?) when my dad walked over with a woman wearing a Wizards of the Coast badge. Turns out that my dad had struck up a conversation with a nice man in the parents section. That man was Richard Garfield. To this day I do not know how it came up but the woman (who I guess was from PR) thought that having my picture taken with the creator would be a good idea. So they saunter over to me and ask if I want to be part of the spin machine. 
Me? I was too enraptured in my game to get up and too naive to understand what was happening. 
And dad walks back and tells Richard Garfield, the man responsible for the game I refused to get up from, what I had said.

I don't know what he actually said. I know that there were no hard feelings. I like to think that Garfield nodded his head slowly, in a sage like manner and said "Well, I can't be upset about that."

There are other memories from this trip. Watching the Knicks lose to the Pacers in a playoff game. The flight home being delayed and getting to a hotel in Washington DC at 4am, only to leave two hours later. Being told I just played the worst match of Magic someone had ever seen (and still won). 

The thing that matters most, though, is that dad was there. My parents never understood the game (although I tried to teach them on more than one occasion). I was never going to have a ski trip with my dad. We had our trip, which involved him sitting and reading space opera and me playing games. And it was perfect. There were nights my dad would come and sit in Neutral Ground with a book and keep to himself until I was all done. There were rainy midnight pick ups and the time drunken prom goers almost ran my dad's car off the road.
He was still there.

If there is one reason I still play this game, it's to feel how I felt back on that weekend. I was part of something bigger than myself. My story isn't my own. It's the story of the New York scene and members of a long gone era. It's the tale of a kid who found a niche and then found another and another until they weren't so much cracks as part of a broad cliff that was Me. It's the story of a family who provided a foundation. It's about a place where I thrived.

And to this day when I publish something, my dad still gets excited. He'll read it and to an article will say: "I have no idea what you're talking about, but it's clear that some people do."

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