Friday, February 13, 2004

Morning PineWood 

Earlier, I wrote about my experience in the cult of scouting. Obviously I exaggerate, but I would be remiss if I did not amend my earlier assertion that meetings, day camps and friggin' jubilee was all there was. How quickly I forget...There was also:


The Pinewood Derby is an annual race pitting scout against scout. It's an aptly named race, since you were (still are, probably) given a kit that contained 2 thin axles, 4 lame-ass wheels and a chunk of pine. You were to carve your miniature machine from this hunk of wood, attach the axles and wheels and bring it to the derby where it would be placed, in various heats, at the top of a specially made sloped track and let go. If your hunk of pine made it down first, you won. If you continued to win, you advanced and if you won in the final heat, obviously you were the man. My quest to be 'the man' began just like every other Scout. I received my piece of tree.

I must explain briefly that I am not, nor have I ever been any sort of craftsperson. True, I am paid to be an artist, but this does not extend to every lousy corner of craftdom. Also, I lack patience. Combine all this with the fact that I was 9 years old (which seems to be a theme) and my project would seem doomed from it's inception.

my block of wood, I figured, would be patterned after the old race cars you see in black and white newsreel footage. An admirable goal for someone who has the carving skill of an amputee...After hacking and whacking at this piece of pine for a while, I had a ragged, double-humped chunk of shit that loosely resembled a car, in it's most basic sense, and only if it had been involved in a horrible accident. It could have been utilized as a sort of pinewood derby 'scared straight' example. Either way, I had made my bed, it was time to lie in it. I figured if I gave it a classy paint job, nobody would be too quick to notice the design flaws...

At my disposal were a few cans of very old Krylon®. One happened to be metallic silver. I figured that metallic silver could make anything look awesome, so I went at it. When I was done, I had a Frankenstein's monster of a car. A ragged, misshapen log sporting a paint job that resembled a special-ed craft project. Things clearly weren't unfolding as they had in my dreams...

The race happened on a weekend, probably a Saturday, at the Community Center. The Community Center housed (still houses, actually) the Library, The Swimming Pool and various other rooms that seemed to serve no purpose other than to host events like the Pinewood Derby...I remember attending pre-school in one of those rooms. They locked up my crayons...I cried. But that's another story for another time...

Anyway, the race...I brought my monstrosity along, ready to compete for whatever it was the 'special' cars could compete in. Maybe there'd be a different division for the less crafty kids...Either way, I was resigned to my fate and ready to let my block of shit lumber down the track...

The race was run in various heats, with the winners of each heat racing against one another until all were eliminated leaving a grand champion. All the area scouts that could attend were there with shiny, aerodynamic cars sporting even and classy paint jobs, some with numbers and decals and some *gasp* with weights added to the front of the wood for extra momentum...I was doomed. nonetheless, I approched the track when my name was called and placed my car in it's slot. I could hear stifled laughter, and I was ok with that...after all, my car DID appear as if it had been stuck in the garbage disposal the night before...As the cars were let go, the lighter, angled cars immediately fell behind...My chunky block of crap, however, continued down at a nice pace and won the heat.

I had actually won a race. The shit-log had beaten 5 other cars. What the hell...

The race lasted a total of 5 hours. In that 5 hours, the ugliest, most fucked-up car ever carved out of pine beat every other car in the contest. Cars that had been sanded smooth, cars that had been weighted, cars that had been built by NASA engineers and even one car that had a tiny ethyl engine and a mouse with goggles and a helmet as its navigator.

Ok, maybe not the last two.

But I had won. I had kicked ass, as a matter of fact. I truly was 'the man.' or 'the boy.' anyway, I received a gold medal as grand champion of the Pinewood Derby for my little pocket of the world in 1983. A medal that I'm sure I still have to this day.

I replicated my "design" for the '84 derby. I came in 4th. I think the track that year was defective. It had to be. My design was proven. My design was a winner.

Or maybe I was just damn lucky.

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