By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It's not easy to piss off a bunch of beer-guzzling darts players. On the whole, the barroom sport, popular in Los Angeles locales like Hollywood, Santa Monica and Woodland Hills, tends to attract mild-mannered, blue-collar guys, artists and musicians — people with sure hands and a hearty sense of humor who don't really give a damn.
But Dino M. Zaffina, a squat, well-groomed darts enthusiast with a blind left eye, who possesses a law degree and an Italian sense of respect, has a talent for pissing people off. So it was in the summer of 2010 that the two sides found themselves in a standoff.
Zaffina, a fairly new member of the Southern California Darts Association, or SCDA, was unhappy that his middle initial, M, had not been included on the league's website, which showcased the players' high scores of the week. On July 18, 2010, he sent an email to the league's president, Harvey Fischer, and several members of the league, expressing his displeasure.
"I do not ever allow anyone to misspell or mispronounce my name since it is obvious by its spelling, Dino M. Zaffina," Zaffina wrote, according to emails given to L.A. Weekly by several of the darts players. "... That being said, since my name always consists of a first name, middle initial and surname, for the purpose of the SCDA ONLY, I have allowed the use of D.M. Zaffina. Therefore, if my name is ever published on the SCDA website ... I will expect it to be spelled correctly."
To say that Zaffina is particular about the spelling and presentation of his name would be an understatement. He spouts on about it with the same fiery passion that one would normally associate with a discussion of civil rights or religious freedom. He has been known to refuse mail that doesn't bear his middle initial, and says he is battling the powerful Hollywood industry website IMDb.com to include his middle initial on its site, which states that he appeared on two episodes of the 1980s sitcom Alice.
But regrettably, the laid-back Los Angeles darts players, including Fischer — an older gentleman with the reputation of being a wiseass — didn't understand just how serious Zaffina was. Several members of the Southern California Darts Association pooh-poohed Zaffina and, following several nasty emails and squabbles over Zaffina's name in which it was clear how obnoxious the darts players found him, Fischer mailed him a $30 refund for his membership fee and gave him the boot.
Says former SCDA board member David Irete, "He was becoming a nuisance and pain in the ass and breaking the rules. He was threatening us, so we had to kick him out. He was being a cocksucker, and you can quote me on that, please."
Fischer and the SCDA board hoped they'd never hear from Zaffina or his middle initial ever again.
But he was hardly finished in the battle that started over his "M."
Conducting a simple public-records search, he discovered the league's Achilles' heel: Established in the mid-1960s and generally accepted as the oldest British-style darts league in the United States, the Southern California Darts Association had let its incorporated status lapse in 1977. It had never been renewed. To the players, there didn't seem to be any need.
Zaffina made his move. He legally incorporated as "Southern California Darts Association," without any apparent members, anointed himself both president and CEO, and then sued nearly 60 darts players and eight stunned Los Angeles–area bars where darts are played regularly. The accusation? That the players and the eight pubs had been engaging in "trade libel" and "unlawful business practices" by using the historic name "Southern California Darts Association," which Zaffina now legally controlled.
Through the courts, Zaffina all but brought the historic league to its knees. He even got many of the amazed bar owners to ban all references to the Southern California Darts Association whenever any of the players have a game at longtime spots such as the Robin Hood Pub in Sherman Oaks and Ye Olde King's Head pub in Santa Monica.
Says one well-known bar owner who did not wish to be identified for fear of retribution, "I'm weary of being involved with this guy because he's just been firing off lawsuits. Some of us wanted to fight, but these things can be very expensive ... [so] we came to an agreement we all could live with."
Zaffina, however, doesn't understand why everyone's so angry. He warned the darts players he'd come after them, but they didn't listen.
"Who the hell is he to tell me what to do?" Fischer tells the Weekly. "Why is he so special? I was just posting his name the way I do for everyone else. But he went bonkers" when Fischer left out his full name.
Zaffina finds it all perfectly normal. He says the "M" stands for "Martin," that he was named after the suave Rat Pack crooner Dean "Dino" Martin, and launches into a story about how his father, who also used a middle initial and died when Zaffina was 8, drilled into him the importance of being called by his full name and demanding that everyone oblige.