"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Clawing My Way to the Sunlight
te-na-cious Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin tenac-, tenax tending to hold fast, from tenEre to hold
1 a : not easily pulled apart : COHESIVE [a tenacious metal] b : tending to adhere or cling especially to another substance [tenacious burs]
2 a : persistent in maintaining or adhering to something valued or habitual [a tenacious royalist] b : RETENTIVE [a tenacious memory]
3 : What I became when there was no other choice.
Not many people can say that their first kiss was on the front page of the paper. But I can.
When I was fourteen years old, the Soap Box Derby was huge for kids my age, at least in my town. I had gone to the races each year as long as I could remember, and I regarded each year's local winner with wide eyed youthful hero worship.
When I was eleven, my dad and I built a soap box derby racer. It was not one of those slick Fiberglas rockets that so many kids SWORE they had built themselves but had really just ordered from a catalog. This one was a real wood and nails machine that was obviously built primarily with eleven year old hands.
It was red, candy apple red, and gleamed like the finest Corvette. I buffed that car until even dust wouldn't stick to it.
And of course, I lost in my first two heats.
The next year, when I was finishing my seventh grade year in junior high, I reentered the same car. But I had had a growth spurt that year and was almost a foot taller, so I had to cut out places for my knees so I could get into the car, and also hollow out an indentation for my backbone. And even with that, I could only just barely get in, if I was wearing moccasins.
The night before the race, our cars were all on display at the local Chevrolet dealership. That was the last year that Chevrolet sponsored the event, and was the largest one they ever held. I forget precisely why, but I had to repaint a quarter circle area on the bottom of the front on both sides, and I did it black. That night, I lay on the ground painting teeth on the car. It looked like a flying tiger plane. Everyone thought that was real funny.
Earlier that week, they had the pageant for the Soap Box Derby Queen. I always went to those too, you betcha. Especially since a lot of the girls were my age. Hey, it never hurts to dream, ya know? The winner of the pageant that year was a girl named Bebe Jones, a real knockout, and she was older than me, being in eight grade.
Finally (or inevitably, depending on your view) race day arrived.
That year we were having the race on a new hill. The next year they moved the race to a permanent track so that was the only year they ever held the race there. But this was before all of that, so the race was held on a city street just like I had always remembered, just a different street.
I had been out a week or so earlier with my dad, and we spent an afternoon on a deserted road towing my car up a hill with a tow rope, then letting me steer it down. I had gotten very good at keeping it straight. My logic was that I might not be the fastest car out there, or the most aerodynamic, but I could sure run a shorter race than anyone else if I just kept it straight!
My first heat, I won. The speed going down the hill was wonderful. At the bottom, we skidded to an eventual stop and they loaded us up on pickup trucks and made a circuit back to the top.
Second heat, won again. Skid to a stop, hop on the truck, rinse and repeat. I quickly lost track of what was happening and who was doing what.
Finally, I arrive at the top of the hill and they tell me I am in the championship race. I am going to be either first or second place! So, in a rush, the gate drops and off we go.
I hold true and straight, the other guy wobbles. I win by maybe a car length.
The next few minutes were among the most incredible of my life. Crowds pressing in, trophies being pressed into my hands...
...and a sudden KISS, FLASH that would be immortalized forever.
Yeah, I looked like a total dork, but she was awful pretty and she didn't seem to mind so much.
That summer I went to Akron for the nationwide championships. It was the largest one they ever had, with over 250 cars in it. It was also the last one that Chevrolet sponsored, and the first one that had girls among the drivers.
The officials had to start the cars halfway down the hill because they had been reaching speeds of almost 60 miles an hour, not a good thing for a 12 year old, and some of the drivers were even younger than that I think. The cars were still going so fast that it seemed like the brakes did absolutely nothing to stop the car.
I lost my first heat by .4 seconds.
Single elimination, so I got to pack up and go home after that. But that's OK, I was there, I was a champion.
I was a champion.
Later, when life was so dark, I would dwell on those words and those moments, and sometimes I think they were the only things that kept me alive.
Of course the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you - if you don't play, you can't win.
Robert Heinlein (1907 - 1988)