The Pinewood Derby


My grandfather’s basement workshop was pristine and overly outfitted, like he’d won it on a gameshow. As a boy, I would venture down there with him to fix a wobbly chair or grab a hammer needed to re-enforce a birdhouse. He was over prepared.

I was ten years-old and in the Cub Scouts for the first time. The Pinewood Derby was the big event of the year—our gender’s equivalent of Girl Scout cookie season. Each of us received the same kit: one rectangular block of wood; four wheels, and two axles. We could paint it however we liked, add passengers, cover it in stickers—anything that made it uniquely ours.

Peeing In The Sink

The letter from my elementary school came with our address hand-written. Even in the third grade, I knew that meant it was personal. I also had an inkling of what it might be about, but was aghast that any of my fellow 9 year-olds would tattle on me. I wasn’t aware that any of them took offense to my popular gag of peeing in the sink instead of the urinal, but maybe I was too focused on the semicircle of kids gathered around me laughing, rather than the little narc off in the corner taking notes.

I imagine it was a difficult letter for Mrs.

Fine Persian Bonding

Between the syncopated machine gun pops of Silas stomping on bubble wrap, I heard a flyer slide under the front door. “What’s it say?” Lindsay asked. “Either a sale on snow tires or a high school cupcake drive,” I responded. My kids started dancing, “CUPCAKES!”

”No, no, I was kidding.” And then a silence fell over the room. Even my dad was disappointed. So I broke my “never entertain hand-delivered offers” policy, and read it aloud.

“Victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme have been forced to auction off their FINE PERSIAN RUGS at greatly reduced prices! Don’t miss this opportunity to get your very own FINE PERSIAN RUGS

A Real Nail Biter

“Stop eating your hands!” my dad yelled from the small portable bleachers. I was a good soccer player, but when not actively engaged, I stood on the field biting my finger nails like a squirrel. He shamed me for the better part of a year, and I’m sure his chiding wasn’t aimed only at encouraging me to consider my nervous habit as self-cannibalization, but also at making the other parents laugh. Like me, he loves a crowd and each time I’d disassociate to nibble on my thumb, that same booming voice brought me back to reality, “Stop eating your hands…JASON.” Sometimes he’d punctuate his request with my name, as if I weren’t the only 11 year old enjoying a fleshy snack midway through the first half.

What’s Illuminated When The Lights Go Out

It's either day 6 or 7. I can't remember. After a while, the days without routine and electricity blend together into a foggy-headed smoothie that tastes like the middle of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" sounds. We're all walking around with grim heavy-metal faces, but all feel confused and awkward, like maybe we accidentally ate some Percocet dusted catnip.

The Ole Polio in The Eye Trick

A pediatric nurse shouldn’t have neck tattoos, black fingernails, lip piercings, or anything else that makes her appear sad, recently paroled, or Goth. I was already nervous; my son Silas was nervous, and then Ms. Front-Row-at-Marilyn-Manson, RN scoots in the door yawning. “Oh, sorry, long day so far. You’re here for a Polio vaccine today?” I’m a conflict avoider, so didn’t ask if this particular shot required its administrator to be alert. I nodded, smiled, and shrugged off the ample evidence that she’d been up all night training ferrets with a warlock.

Silas could sense that I was uneasy and added some “oh h-to the-hell-no” of his own.

From Rome to Florence

Jet-lagged and overly burdened with luggage (my mother insisted thay we pack nearly everything we owned), the four of us waited at the rental car counter. My father was nervous; not only did he have his wife and son with him, but also his son’s friend who would be joining our family for the year in Florence, Italy. My father may be gentle, but he’s not calm, and he has a general distrust of automobiles and other drivers. He was the same age I am now, so while I didn’t understand his anxiety then, I certainly do today.

When the rental attendant saw our mountain of bags, he was adamant that only a van could accommodate us.

I Fink You’re Freaky

A few months ago, I found myself in the VIP area backstage at The Jimmy Kimmel Show. If you need to know what that’s like, imagine a room full of people pretending not to care that Huey Lewis is casually hanging out with them.

I don’t think anyone of my generation is necessarily happy that so much Huey Lewis and The News music infested their brains like a virus in the 80’s. But it’s there now, forever, and being in the vicinity of the man who manufactured that neurotoxin called “I Need a New Drug,” is comforting and familiar, like drinking Busch Light on a porch swing while your parents are out of town.

Could you Please Stand to my Left?

I woke up this morning unable to turn my head to the right. With the exception of mandatory prostate exams, nothing says “Hey world, I’m 42!” more than turning your entire torso in situations where a simple neck twist would suffice.

If you’re a high school football player or young rodeo star who can’t move his neck, there’s a certain badge of courage there: you survived a tough hit, or were thrown from an ornery bronco. It’s not only youthful, it’s masculine. You were engaged in an activity that tested the limits of your body, and although you failed, at least you were attempting to be awesome.

The Rock Poster Binge

Fortunately, Lindsay and I are usually obsessed with separate things. I’ll be on a vision quest to boost our wifi signal while she compulsively searches the internet for symptoms of feline dehydration. Separate, but equal. It’s just safer that way. When our obsessions converge, like they did recently over 90’s rock posters, we enter a frightening state of mutual hypnosis. The children were screaming for food as their mom and dad swatted them away while huddled around a laptop arguing over which Built to Spill poster was cooler.

During the mid to late 90’s, Lindsay owned a rock club in Seattle called The Breakroom.