By Ben Torgerson After a few weeks of slacking off, my cultural studies group finally met at the UMD library. We couldn’t get a private study room, so we set up shop at a table in a crowded main area. After minimal progress, conversation turned to music. We started talking hip hop, and it was on. Instantly, I recognized a feverish, excited manner in the eyes and voice of one of the group members. Before I knew it, he had broken into a full-on freestyle rap performance at full volume in the middle of the library, much to the embarrassment of the rest of my group. We hadn’t talked before this night, making his little concert all the more intriguing to me. He didn’t stop until we were out of the library and had to part ways. Who does this kind of thing? Who is this kid? What’s his story? Years later, I found myself still wondering the same things.
Scott Vezina has some interesting hobbies. An English and sociology double-major from UMD, he already has a good job as a local website consultant, building sites and working with clients. He’s worked there for five months, and already has three times the clients of any other employee. He’ll soon get a pay raise, and is even thinking about moving to a position in the cities. He spends little time talking about the job, however.
Music is Scott’s life. At any given time, he’s thinking of beats, rhymes and words. “I always got instrumentals buzzing around in my head, I really can’t stop thinking of rhymes,” he explains with that familiar look in his eyes. “I’ll take breaks at work and just rap non-stop,” adds Scott, who records and performs under the rapping alias Scoot Vazoon.
At this point in the conversation, he looks anxiously around the room, turning his body completely around, as if he was expecting someone important. “I wanna spit a rhyme right now but there’s kids over there,” he tells me disappointedly.
It started with break dancing for the young Scoot Vazoon. Hip hop was around, and he liked to dance. He would bring cardboard to his school and break dance wherever and whenever possible, often getting in the way of other inhabitants of the hallways. The more he heard, the more he wanted. He began to write poems and short stories, which eventually progressed to rhymes and raps.
“The word is the means for the metamorphosis,
Awkward adolescent turned verb contortionist.”
-Scoot Vazoon, “Sins of Man”
He’s been working on songs for a full album for two years now, and is trying to narrow down an estimated 100 full-length songs already recorded. He plays shows, house parties, open mics, and anywhere else he can possibly be heard. All roads lead to the album, though.
“This is gonna be my report about 23 years of life on earth,” he says. He plans on touring all summer to market the disc and get himself heard, which is the ultimate goal.
“If people like it they will, I don’t have any delusions,” he confidently explains.
Although it certainly is always there, rap isn’t the only thing in the mind of Scott Vezina. There’s also Magic: the Gathering. The fantasy card game conceived by mathematics professor Richard Garfield is a big deal for Scott. He plays a tournament every week in Duluth, often for over four hours nonstop. It’s a $5 entry fee, and they draw quite a crowd. Last week he won $40, but he’s left with $100 on different occasions and in other tournaments.
He’s been through three card collections in his lifetime. One was lost in a mold disaster eight years ago at a former residence, along with every possession his family owned.
“My family bounced back, we did our thing,” he says. Another collection got stolen a few years later, ending his hobby once again until freshman year of college when it came back into his life. “I didn’t realize it could be competitive until then,” he says. “Before, it was just therapy.” Now he’s ranked fourth in the region, and in the top 50 in the state. He’s good, and he knows it – also apparent in his style of rap. I see that look in his eyes again, the one I had first seen that fateful day in the library.
Scott invites me to a weekly tournament he frequents in Duluth. He tells me that it will be somewhat hard to find, but his directions should lead the way. After parking on the street, walking though a construction zone, down a narrow flight of stairs, and entering a door marked “Dragon Port,” I can’t help but wonder why I’m the nervous one in this situation. I know nothing more about this game at this point than the small amount I’ve learned from Scott, but for these people, it’s no less than a lifestyle.
I weave through the claustrophobically decorated store, carefully ignoring the idea that I am out of my league. A giant, garage-like room is connected to the back, and it’s buzzing. I instantly locate Scott, who is in the middle of an intense game and being referred to amidst the trash talk as “Scotty.”
The room is a geek sensory overload. There are huge boards with terrain, obviously for battles of some sort. Surrounding the boards, there are large boxes labeled with different terrain additions: Swamp Stuff, Tank Traps, Low Walls, Forest, and Castles. A sign rests officially next to the terrain labeled, “You MUST have staff help when moving terrain.” I later find out that the terrain is for a game called Warhammer 40,000, but this was all still pretty overwhelming for me at the time. There are two kids near me in between battles, with intricate terrain already set up, but presently working on some homework. My eyes move to the back wall, where there is a massive mural of the Duluth skyline, complete with a fire-breathing dragon resting itself on the famous lift bridge.
Magic: The Gathering is a fantasy card game, but it gets exponentially more complicated from there. Two or more players can play at a time, with each game representing a battle between wizards. Along the way, other cards are used in order to cast spells and negatively affect the opponent’s cards. Certain rare and powerful cards can be worth over $100, and tonight there’s one in the house. The proud owner is surrounded at all times during the tournament, showing the card off and happily shooting down trade offers.
While the game has some obvious influences from older “pencil and pad” fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons, the game has really created a life and culture all of its own. Over time, the game has become more intricate and complicated than other games like it. The community is also a growing one. The company that produces the game, Wizards of the Coast, says that there are presently over six million players in 70 different countries. Throughout the night, people politely ask if I’m “looking to break-in,” which, I later find out, is their way of referring to the learning process of the game itself.
The different cards are worth varying amounts of money, depending on their rarity. A few choice cards fetch over $3,000 on eBay and similar sites, according to another one of the players, Nate Luoma.
“The game is a money pit. I’ve spent about $300 just in the past year or so,” said Luoma.
There is a different language here, and I have no idea how to speak it. Scotty does his best to translate as jargon-filled quotes and comments ring loudly throughout the room.
“I’ll go searching for an elf,” says Scott’s third opponent for the night, Joe Carlson. “If you just activate your Raging Ravine…,” “You gotta keep an eye on the lavaball trap,” and “Prepare for a counter-spell, Motherfucker,” are comments seemingly comprehended by everyone in the room, save myself.
Meanwhile, Scotty continues making his way through his third match of the night. He’s wearing a suit coat and some heavily rimmed glasses, making him appear much more like a stereotypical professor than a rapper. He plays exactly the way that I would expect him to — I see the same ferocity and anxiousness that I saw the first time I met him. His eyes dart from card to card. His hand taps feverishly on the table, in between what seems like non-stop shuffling. After he shuffles his deck, he lays all of his cards out on the table, stacking them on top of one another face down in different piles. He does this so quickly that it takes me quite some time to realize he’s going in a very particular order every time. “I’m superstitious,” he explains. All the while his right leg is thumping on the ground like a jackrabbit, but I’m pretty sure he has no idea. Other players seemed to have a sort of respect for his play, with nearly every one of his matches gaining an audience.
He ends up losing in the semi-final round, and he seems more disappointed than anything. We go to a music studio nearby as our next stop.
Scott spends most of the time at the studio freestyling, with his determined voice demanding the ears of the entire room. He looks nearly relaxed, which I’ve learned is an uncommon way to see Scott. While making up his rap as he goes, he elaborates and goes on tangents about anything — at one point he whips out the same Magic cards he had been playing with earlier and freestyles about them.
I can’t help but wonder how these two seemingly polar opposite hobbies collide in Scott’s mind.
“They’re both like therapy for me,” he says. Earlier, he talked about music while playing Magic, and continued to rap during intermissions through the entire tournament. Maybe his hobbies have more to do with one another than I had previously thought. What had once looked to me like different lives being lived by the same person were now converging as one, and they both worked together to help me really understand Scott as a person.
The first time I met Scott, he looked uncomfortable. He was fidgeting in class, and looked like he was ready to run out altogether. He talked feverishly and had a passion for whatever topic came up in Introduction to Cultural Studies that particular day. His energy was unmatched by any other half-asleep student in the class at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I wanted to know this guy’s story, but would have never guessed at what I ended up finding.