by Todd Walton, February 17, 2010
Fredrick Morrison, the inventor of the Frisbee, died at the age of ninety on February 11, 2010. I still carry a Frisbee in my knapsack as I have since 1965 when I bought my first one at Woolworth’s for 69 cents, a flimsy little thing much smaller than the smallest Frisbees sold today.
Though it may seem a preposterous boast, I am very likely the first person to introduce Frisbee to the University of California Santa Cruz in 1967. If perchance someone came before me, I was certainly one of the pioneer users there, and took it upon myself to teach dozens of young men and women the fundamentals of tossing the holy disc. I used to joke that I majored in Anthropology and minored in Frisbee, but the reverse is true. The happiest hours of my two years in college were spent running over hill and dale in pursuit of far-flung Frisbees, my college buddy Dick Mead capable of prodigious tosses across the Elysian Fields of that cattle ranch turned university.
In 1970, a year after I dropped out, I traveled through Mexico and Central America as a translator for a marine biologist and his family. I brought along a dozen Frisbees because they were easy to lose and I thought it would be fun to introduce new friends to the delights of the floating disc. Little did I anticipate the sensation we would cause whenever and wherever we started flinging our Frisbees.
Perhaps our most memorable demonstration of the art took place in the central park of San Salvador, the capitol of El Salvador. We happened to arrive at the height of a massive protest we later learned was the beginning of the horrific civil war instigated by the CIA that would lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of Salvadorans and the subsequent ruination of that tiny country.
As a result of my tireless tutelage, the eight-year-old son of my employer was by then capable of flinging a Frisbee an accurate thirty yards, and so we positioned ourselves on a spacious greensward and commenced to fling the disc back and forth. As usual, we first attracted children, then adults; and on this day, moments after we began, we were surrounded by hundred of onlookers roaring their approval of our every toss and catch. Cheap thrills, but so what? Darwin, it is chronicled, traveled about South America on his famous Beagle expedition blowing minds wherever he went by using a magical thing called a match to start fires.
So we brought out a few more Frisbees and proceeded to run a clinic for the countless folks who wanted to try their hands at throwing and catching the discs. I will always remember the laughter and gaiety and enthusiasm of those people. We were rewarded for our labors with an invitation to join a group of schoolteachers for a picnic.
At the picnic, we asked about the many placards showing the faces of two handsome young men, and were told that these were the medical student martyrs whose deaths had inspired the protest. We had heard nothing about the political situation in El Salvador except that El Salvador was at war with Honduras — the so-called Soccer War. To reach El Salvador, we had to traverse the war zone between the two countries, and I had negotiated our way past several roadblocks manned by scary soldiers armed with scarier guns, wartime profiteers extorting extra-legal money from tourists and truck drivers willing to pay.
Meanwhile, the CIA-backed despots of El Salvador had ordered the killing of these two medical students for leading a protest of their fellows against the bogus public health clinics that were closed more often than open and lacked adequate medicine and supplies. For their impudence, these young medicos were assassinated by a paramilitary death squad, and their bullet-ridden bodies left on the steps of the university as a warning to other would-be dissidents.
This protest was a spontaneous and wholly peaceful uprising of working and middle-class folks decrying the violent response of the government to the reasonable complaints of the murdered medical students. Tragically, most of the people at this event were themselves murdered or forced into exile during the decades-long CIA-funded genocide that followed.
I eventually returned to the United States. Years went by. Larger Frisbees eclipsed the original Frisbee. Ultimate Frisbee was born. Frisbee Golf came into being. The Aerobie was invented, a plastic ring that can be thrown like a Frisbee and travels hundreds of yards with ease. Frisbees with LED night-lights embedded in their rims appeared. Frisbee competitions proliferated. Frisbee-catching dogs now star at halftimes and during the seventh inning stretch at ballgames everywhere. Over 200 million Frisbees have been sold. So far.
And I, at sixty, stand on Big River Beach and fling my disc into the teeth of a steady incoming breeze, the disc banking off that strong flow of air and returning to me as if on a long and invisible yo-yo string. Adult passersby rarely stop to watch my mastery of disc and wind, but children do, wanting to try their hands at the magical thing, and I am reminded of those bygone days when the world seemed a safer and happier place than it is today, but only because of what I didn’t know.
(Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com.)