Monday, November 13, 2006

Race With the Devil

The first time I ever saw a Rubik’s cube, I wasn’t that impressed. Somebody had slapped six distinct colors on as many sides of the cube – nothing a sixth-grade art student couldn’t accomplish. But when I saw someone mix up the colors and then put them back in order (without taking a hammer to it and reassembling it), I was convinced I was witness to the introduction of something so dark and evil, the Ouija board had nothing on it. Then, someone taught me how to solve the cube, and I saw it for what it was: a toy.

Sudoku, the number game from Japan, had the same effect on me. And when I learned how to play the game and solve the puzzles, I stopped cursing it and wishing it would return to the inner circle of Hell. I’m sure many of you out there could name similar experiences.

At this point, I’m going to recommend that the children leave the room because I’m going to tell you about something that seems, at first, innocent but quickly reveals its diabolical nature: pinewood derby. For the uninitiated, this is an annual activity in which Cub Scouts participate by taking a chunk of wood, four nails, and four plastic wheels and carve out a car to be raced down a track. I was involved in a handful of these “derbies” as a young boy, but my naiveté protected me from being sucked in by this ugly monster. Now, in my adult years, I have been subjected to two of these events, and I am prepared to expose its black underbelly.

As background, we blithely and innocently took on the task last year of building a car and preparing for the race. My son’s car came in dead last in every heat. He was awarded the “Sportsmanship” medal, and I was more than happy with that. My wife, however, apparently took a solemn oath at that moment that this would not happen again. So, in preparation for this year’s event, my wife insisted that we get some expert help. While I can’t tell you what advice/guidance we were given in the “building” of our son’s car, I will reveal that we consulted with an engineer from General Dynamics and a pharmacist. Our son’s car (which he named “Red Hot & Blue”) came in fourth this year – I tremble to learn who my wife will have us seek out next year: perhaps a ninja.

In the months leading up to this annual race, you interact with the parents and various adults associated with the Cub Scout program, and they all seem to be normal and sane. Not a single one of them, in my experience, has been featured in an episode of “Cops” or turned up on the evening news driving a white Ford Bronco. However, on derby night, you don’t want to get in their way or you might risk losing a limb.

As I entered the hall where the race was to be held, I noticed that each car but my son’s was being carried and cared for by an adult – an adult with a very determined and driven look etched on his/her face. Some were wiping down the bodies of the cars (no doubt to improve the aerodynamics) and others had a pocketful of assorted tools to make the necessary last-minute tweaks and adjustments to assure maximum performance. One father brought his laptop to enter every car into a spreadsheet and track the results of each heat!

As we awaited the start of the race, I couldn’t help hearing snippets of conversation buzzing around me like mosquitoes. One mother had admitted to her friend that she spent twelve hours on the internet searching for the perfect car design. Someone else rattled off the name of some place in Cuba where you could get a guaranteed winning car for only $500.00. The one item I overheard that keeps me awake at night was a man claiming he had to bite off another man’s ear to get the last “piece” for his son’s car.

Clearly, this would make for a far more simple psychiatric test than ink blots or word association. If you want to gauge a person’s mental stability, hand him a chunk of wood, a handful of nails, and some plastic wheels, and tell him he has three days to prepare for a pinewood derby – then cover your ears and run!

1 comment:

shauna said...

I dread the day we have to make a car. In about 5 years I think. My brother in law found a car on ebay for $50 and it won first place. What an .....interesting lesson for his son on what NOT to do. Nobody else knew. I'd rather get the sportsmanship award or consult the people you found.