...or An Ode to Those Who Couldn't Stay
The first time I noticed, it was because of Katsu.
He was a quiet charmer. When I went to Monte Hermoso, it was clear that the entire Ultimate league adored the guy. When he asked about becoming the first "new addition" to Big Red, the reaction was unanimous: "He's exactly the kind of person we are looking for!" Katsu was a superb teammate, helping me keep my temper in check and always carrying with him positive spirit. What comes back to me nowadays are a lot of small moments in practice or games, or at the choripan afterwards. We talked about the different cultures around the world, how the Columbians complained about the Argentines being "cold." I contrasted that idea with the way Americans tend to talk about work and careers, but avoid more personal topics like family. Katsu noted, "Yeah, really personal in Japan is to talk about the weather." Everybody laughed. Once, after asking what we call love handles in English, he complimented me by saying mine were impressive. Katsu was just an excellent person to be around. And then quite suddenly he announced that his company was moving him to Peru.When someone is leaving for good, it is customary that they have a party called a despedida. The verb despedir means a lot of things - to emit, to fire an employee, to be ejected from a moving car... you get the picture. But in this case, we're talking about despedirse which means, simply, "to say goodbye." I suppose they're meant to celebrate the time you've spent with the person and hope that you'll cross paths again in the future. The thing is, Argentina is so far away from the rest of the world. And everyone is going back to so many different places, there will be no getting the band back together. So these parties are inherently bittersweet.
This is the life of an extranjero. You tend to meet other foreigners, and eventually, most of them leave. And once they're gone, you're left with the lament that you didn't spend enough time with them when they were here. That you could have talked about a lot more than the weather. Katsu's still in Peru, and I sincerely hope that we'll see him again soon.The first time I met Josh, he was wearing a Michigan shirt. We talked very briefly in our broken Spanish (his better than mine). He seemed like a good kid, and well, he had already won me over with the shirt and all. Upon arrival in Monte Hermoso, I really didn't know anyone, and the organization was pretty loose about where to bunk. So I just wandered into one of the apartments we had rented. I didn't realize I would be in an American-only house, but that's how things turned out. It was Josh and his girlfriend Julia, two Nicks, and me. I felt like the kid who had just moved to a new school and needed to make friends. Josh and Julia had recently graduated college and decided that instead of the standard issue job search, they would be taking their talents to South America. But neither was your typical American short-timer. They realized what an opportunity they had living in Argentina. They could have easily gone the banal route embracing the party scene and little else. We see those kinds of people come and go all the time. But they actively sought out an Argentine life, living with locals, selling their homemade baked goods at the San Telmo market to help make the rent. Over many months, Josh and I battled to see who could go longer without a haircut. He won. By a lot. Julia began with the thickest American accent I've ever heard and ended up fluent, able to communicate perfectly with anyone except the drunkest of hobos.It was amazing to me, being the old dude, to see them change and grow during their time here. They may not have realized it at the time, but it's clear to me that their Buenos Aires experience, though short in the great scheme of things will have a long-lasting impact on their lives. They avoided the beaten path, even after they chose the uncommon direction. Clearly the same goes for me and everybody else who's truly living here. It seemed so abrupt, but probably not to them, when they eventually decided it was time to return to the US and get on with it. But not before they meandered their way across South America. These kids know how to do it. Like Katsu, I wish I would have found more time for them. Now they're in Philadelphia, surely giving the city all it can handle.
Kyla was ready for something new. So she decided to come south, and brought her boyfriend Mike along. She's the best kind of extrovert - someone who is profoundly happy to see everyone all the time. When she hugs people she really means it. She seems too sweet to be making double-entendres, yet she drops hilarious ones at the best unexpected moments. I don't think I know anyone in the world who is a better fit for their profession than Kyla. She teaches kindergarten and even did so here in Buenos Aires - in Spanish. I got to see her around little kids a few times, and it was amazing to watch. She taught my friend's eight year old daughter how to play poker. Her positive spirit embodied the fledgling ultimate league perfectly. She always rooted for everybody.At first blush, Mike struck me as an incredibly nice guy and one of the best Ultimate players I'd ever seen. As I got to know him better, it was quickly clear that such a description sells him short. Mike and Kyla were two of the central figures in starting up a third team (a required element if you actually want to have a league). When they asked me if that sounded like a cool idea and if I wanted to join in, I was honored and excited. Thus Big Red was born almost exactly two years ago in an official meeting outside of the Recoleta Cemetary. If Kyla has the perfect profession for her, Mike Foster has the perfect apellido. Webster's defines foster as "affording, receiving, or sharing nurture or parental care though not related by blood or legal ties." And that describes exactly what he gave a league that was poised to grow from toddling to running all over the neighborhood.I've been playing Ultimate for a long time now, but I never thought I would become this good a player. We don't exactly hold rigorous practices in the Chicago rec league. I can't begin to explain how much Mike taught me about this game. Ever since my knee injury, I have had to accept certain physical limitations on the field, but with Mike's training, the rest of my game has surpassed my wildest expectations. Far more importantly, Mike embodies the Spirit of the Game like nobody I've ever met, so much so that it infects teammates and opponents alike.Thanks in great part to his efforts and presence, we not only have a thriving league, we sent a national team to compete in Colombia. He is a man who left an indelible mark here. The despedida for Mike and Kyla was especially hard. I think everybody knew it was the end of an era for all of us. It was an era that mattered, but more importantly, it was fun as hell.There are more despedidas all the time. Roxi's already gone. Steve's about to close the book on over a decade in Argentina. My old roommate Josh is about to head back to LA. A whole slew of Ultimate players are heading back to their respective colleges or other parts of the world.
Sometimes I have trouble understanding. Why would these people leave? But I arrived under very different circumstances. I had a job and a contract. Before too long, I found a wife. Don't get me wrong, I can't be angry at them for leaving. I just miss them.
Still I know that one day this will happen to me. That's going to be a million times harder. It will be like having a despedida for everyone - all my coworkers, the entire Ultimate league, friends, Belu's family - all at once. It's a good reminder to get busy aprovechando all the time I may have left.
The Top Ten Songs that Own the Movie - *This feature is double-posted over at the always excellent **Scene Stealers where there is likely to be more conversation, so pop over there if you have...