FURIOUS EDITORIAL NOTE: The names in this post have been altered to protect the guilty and shame the innocent.
In 1983, the Angry Czeck and my brother (we’ll call him “Cherry”) joined the Cub Scouts of America. I believe the circumstances of my involvement centered around Angry Mom summoning my brother and I to the dinner table and saying, “I signed you up for Cub Scouts.” She would later employ the same strategy when the church began recruiting new alter boys.
If you think you’re about to read a cutting mental bitch slap applied to the largest homophobic boys club this nation has to offer, then think again, Gustav, because the Angry Czeck had a kick-ass time being a Cub Scout. If the CIA ever releases the Angry Czeck’s grade school photos, you’ll see that the majority of images featured a gap-toothed, four-foot tall version of yours truly wearing his Cub Scout shirt that sagged with a chest full of merit badges. I didn’t opt for the Cub Scout slacks with the nifty yellow stripe down the side because they cost too many bucks, and the shirt looked badass with jeans anyway.
If you’re a first year Cub Scout, they call you a Bobcat, which makes you the bitch of the entire pack. If you didn’t want to be some WEBLOS’ punching bag forever, you had to work your ass off to earn enough merit badges to ascend to the next level, Wolf. Earning merit badges involved tying knots, memorizing wholesome pledges, and writing a couple dopey essays. (I recently found my old Bobcat merit journal. Very humbling. The entries appear to have been written either by Frankenstein or the guy locked in the basement on Desperate Housewives.)
The totem pole in the Cub Scout pack (which was divided into Dens) was Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, and then finally WEBLOS. That’s right, dickhead. We Blows. Before you start making your funny little quips, Galahager, just remember we were fresh, innocent, 12-year-old boys who enjoyed camping trips, swimming in ponds, and woodworking. (Fuck you!) The WEBLOS (which stands for We’ll Be Loyal Scouts) were comprised of the most advanced Cub Scouts only a year removed from becoming a Boy Scout. I only knew two kids who became Boy Scouts, and both were First Rate Dweebs. They were polite though.
My first year in the Cub Scouts was a test of fortitude. Not for me. I just had to show up to the meetings. No, for my parents, who at the time were barely older than the Cub Scouts themselves. (Let that be a lesson, you frisky, hormone crazy, kids reading at home while scrolling through porn!) Suddenly, Angry Mom had to learn how to tie a sailor’s knot, and Angry Dad was conscripted into baking cakes for the Cub Scout Bake Off.
If you’re wondering where the Angry Czeck is going with this, then I advise you to take a chill pill. I’m about to relate one of the happiest days of my life (it ranks just below recording a 0.07 on the breathalyzer a couple years back). You can’t have anger without happiness. Because if you’ve never been happy, how do you know when you’re angry? (I borrowed that wisdom from one of the chick flicks Mrs. Angry sneaks onto the NetFlix queue. Nothing ruins your evening more efficiently that reaching into the mailbox expecting to find Batman Begins, only to pull out The Notebook instead.)
Every year in Malvern, Arkansas, the Cub Scouts hold the Pinewood Derby. During the Christmas Cub Scout Pack Meeting, a guy wearing a Santa Suit ho-hoes into the assembly and passes out a shit load of pinewood derby kits to all the good Cub Scouts. I got mine and showed it to Angry Mom, who offered a “What the hell is that?” shrug in response. The Cub Scouts is a learning experience for the entire family.
A Cub Scout Pinewood Derby kits comes with a rectangular block of wood, four plastic wheels (with some metal pegs for an axle), a few nifty numbers decals and some rudimentary instructions that enable the reader to transfer a wood block into a sleek miniature racer. It was a job for Angry Dad.
Except, you know, Angry Dad wasn’t exactly very crafty. But Angry Dad recognizes an opportunity to break out the jigsaw when he sees it, and he set himself to the task with good-natured enthusiasm.
Me and my brother, Cherry, watched fearfully as Angry Dad puzzled over the instructions the way George W. Bush tries to piece together the plot of the Sunday edition of the Hi & Lois cartoon. Using a pencil, he engineered two aerodynamic designs that weren’t going to win any prizes at the Detroit Auto Show, but worked well within the limits of his modest woodworking capabilities. Plugging in his jigsaw, Dad diligently carved off pieces of wood, muttering “Shit!” and “Jesus Christ, son of a bitch!” about thirty or forty times before he was finished.
The finished product didn’t look like much. My wood rectangle became a sort of wood doorstop. It featured an angled front end and a flat rear. Cherry’s was a little more fancy. His front end was curved (a real feat of jigsaw-ing) and also had the flat rear. I spray painted my wedge gold. Cherry painted his silver. We applied a few street-biker stickers on them to show we meant business. Then Dad gingerly installed the wheels, and the ordeal was nearly over.
Then Angry Dad applied his masterstroke. According to the strict Pinewood Derby rules, no pinewood derby entrant could exceed the weight of 5 ounces. By itself, the wood block you started with weighed five ounces. But once you crafted it into a car-like shape, you lost valuable weight. There are many options one can elect to take when adding weight to your pinewood derby car. Some people recycle what they’ve sawed off and fashion the pieces into little sporty spoilers or windshields. I knew of one guy who poured molten metal into a cavity he had etched into the bottom of the car. Dad decided to use fishing weights. He drilled holes in the rear of each car, and then gently tapped in a couple fishing weights.
The result was an aesthetic triumph, as the weights looked just like tiny exhaust pipes. And because we hadn’t a scale sensitive enough to measure five ounces (The Angry Family sold marijuana by the pound), Dad reasoned that if one or both cars exceeded the weight limit, he could merely pull out one of the tailpipes with a pair of pliers.
Angry Dad rarely attended a Pack Meeting, but a Pinewood Derby was a big enough occasion to make the exception. When we arrived to the assembly hall, the room was already packed. In the center was the pinewood derby track, a long wooden incline that allowed two racers to compete head-to-head. To the right, stone-faced judges hovered around a scale, ready to mercilessly eject any entrant who’s car weighed more than five ounces. Nervous Cub Scouts milled about, eager to begin an evening of racing.
It is appropriate at this time to mention that one of the Cub Scouts who milled about the assembly hall that evening was the Angry Czecks’ most notorious nemesis, Justin Pickering. A year older, Pickering was a stocky, bushy haired, mean cuss who only felt secure about himself when he was pushing around kids half his immense size. He surrounded himself with skinny cronies who adopted a similar outlook on life and devoted his grade school years to intimidating me and my brother, Cherry. I saw Pickering right away as we stood in the weighing line. He was concocting evil plans with his favorite Stooge of Evil™, Jeff Hardy. I privately vowed to avoid them both all night if I could.
As it turned out, Dad didn’t need his pliers. My car weighed in at 4.5 ounces. Cherry’s was at an even five. Cub Scouts were already queued at the track, making their test runs, hoping to intimidate the competition before the official start time. Cherry and I sprinted to the track and unleashed our pinewood monsters before a cringing pack of Bobcats.
Except neither car made it down the track. They rolled, yes, but without a hint of speed. Both cars halted well short of the finish line. Cherry and I looked at each other helplessly as every other Cub Scout’s car flew past the finish line and crashed into the retaining wall. A lump the size of Justin Pickering’s head formed inside my throat. I passed a miserable glance to Angry Dad, who gave me a “What the hell is this” shrug.
Then a man, like Shoeless Joe Jackson emerging from behind the cornrows, appeared from the crowd. He was stocky, red-faced and bushy-haired. Smiling kindly, he looked over me and my brother’s heads and addressed Angry Dad, “Have you tried putting graphite on the wheels?”
He might has well have asked me if I had tried fucking a hamster, but at least Angry Dad knew enough to say, “Uh, no.”
The stranger produced a white tube and handed it to Angry Dad. “Keep it,” he said, and he vanished in a sea of Cub Scouts. The tube contained a fine black powder that I had never seen before. Angry Dad applied the powder to the axles of our derby cars, and we put them to the test. The cars didn’t roll down the track. They flew, like gold and silver lightening bolts hurled by a drunk and pissed off Zeus. Angry Dad nodded like Pa from Little House on the Prairie, and I knew the dye had been cast for victory.
And by “victory,” I meant we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves before a forum of sneering peers. The double-elimination bracket was posted, and the racing began. My car was fast, but clearly Cherry’s car was the car to beat. It didn’t just win. It destroyed its competition, leaving Cub Scouts in a pool of broken dreams and bitter tears. Suddenly, Bears and Bobcats and Wolfs and WEBLOS were rendered equals by the speed and might of Cherry’s Silver Flash. And while my car was eventually eliminated, Cherry was becoming the Great Bobcat Hope.
Only one car seemed to have the muscle to take on Cherry. And that car belonged to Justin Pickering. All night, it was like watching Over the Top on TBS, with Lincoln Hawke and Bull Hurley methodically crippling the competition to a dramatic, head-to-head conclusion. Like the Silver Flash, Pickering’s car was unmatched. It was far slicker and more professionally crafted than the simple cars Angry Dad had whittled. The Vegas odds makers had already handed Pickering the trophy. The showdown between Cherry and Pickering seemed destined.
a hit song for the Pinewood Derby.
And it was. By the end of the evening, all had been eliminated from competition but Cherry and Pickering. The Bobcats circled around Cherry, shouting encouragement. The Bears (The Cobra Kai of Cub Scout Troop 20) rallied behind Pickering, unwilling to cede power to the lower caste. The two pintsized titans were summoned to the track. Cherry approached the starting line alone as the crowd hushed. Pickering, I saw, was briefly followed by his father. My jaw hit the floor.
Pickering’s dad was the sucker who supplied us the graphite.
You could see by the way he pressed his lips that Pickering’s old man deeply regretted offering Team Angry the use of his magic graphite. There was only one way to save the evening for his rotten son, and that was to beat the Silver Flash. Like pipsqueak soldiers, the two boys placed their cars on the starting line. The judge released the restraining peg, and the race was begun.
It wasn’t even close. The Silver Flash was just too fast that night. It streaked by Pickering’s polished racer like a laser bolt. The rules called for a double elimination, so Pickering had to endure the humiliation of a second beating, just for good measure. We Bobcats mobbed Cherry and placed him on our shoulders as a crestfallen Pickering sulked nearby.
That was a good night. The price, of course, was renewing Pickering’s interest in making our lives miserable at every opportunity, but it was worth every sucker punch. Every now and again, I wonder what Pickering is doing today. I’ll bet he’s a really nice guy with about four kids, all of them in the Cub Scouts.
That, or he’s in prison receiving a prostate orgasm every night. It’s a coin toss, really.