Monday, April 29, 2013

A Memorable Walk on the "X-Files" Side


     Of all of the places I have ever been there is one place more creepy than any other, and that's Ft. Devens, west of Boston. No other place, except perhaps sections of the Midwest at 3 a.m., that have given me that "X-Files" sort of feeling. Now I know why.
      I was there thirteen years ago, but last week it got even creepier when Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was moved to a prison at Fort Devens. Tsarnaev was charged with the April 15 bombing killing three and wounding 264 at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and now is confined at the Bureau of Prisons facility FMC Devens at Ft. Devens.
    According to Wikipedia: "Although no longer an active Army military installation, Devens is now an Army Reserve installation under the command of the United States Army Reserve Command (USARC), with a significant Marine Corps Reserve presence. In 2007 the headquarters of the 94th Regional Readiness Command, which was responsible for the command and control of Army Reserve units throughout New England, as well as providing Army Reserve support for Federal Emergency Management Agency operations in the New England region, was disbanded under the consolidation of forces and buildings within the area became under the control of the 99th Regional Support Command which is located at Ft Dix, NJ, and whose Commanding General serves as the Senior Commander for Ft. Devens. The units with the original 94th Regional Readiness Command were realigned with similar commands along the East Coast. The base stills remained an active training site for Reserve and National Guard Forces as well as regional Law Enforcement agencies.
     "The Army announced in 2008 that it would build a new training center in the area. This was dedicated in 2011 as the Connolly Armed Forces Reserve Center. The three buildings total 280,000 square feet and is on 57 acres. It also supports 650 Army Reserve and Army National Guard Soldiers and Marines and includes space to store nearly 800 military vehicles. The toal cost was $100 million."
     I was there about twelve years ago, shortly after 9/11 in 2001.
     Making an appearance as a kind of accident out of my control, the place was completely eerie. If I had known what I know now, I never would have behaved the way I did there back then. Fortunately, the body changes, as does the (semi-attached) brain.
     I was brought there to watch, of all things, an Ultima frisbee tournament.
     Here is what I wrote: 
     "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 Distcinction," "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.
      "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 one¹s 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, that¹s 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 was the championship for the Boston Ultima Disc Alliance and looked 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 there¹s one thing any brilliant Pterodactyl tactician knows, it's this: You can tell a lot from a team by the colors it 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,' said 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 won¹t 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 arrived 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 was nobody here, or so I thought Looking straight ahead, we can look at Building 13 and feel like Mulder and Skully are nearby, sniffing out the terrain. It doesn¹t 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 Mass Development 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 amid 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 dawn¹s 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,' said another competitor who liked 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 a guy who works as 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,' said a doctor-competitor. '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.
     "But it's not a setting for any kind of a game now." 

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