Sad Story of the Little Cars

In junior high I had a sad experience.  In wood shop we made small cars out of wood that were to be sent down a ramp in a race the whole class participate in.  There were two categories: cars with wooden wheels and cars with rubber wheels.  My car won the rubber car race.  Then, my car was pitted against the winner of the wooden car race.  As our two cars ran down the two ramps, the wooden car hit a screw and jumped out of its track.  I won.  But it wasn’t a fair race.  The wooden-wheel car jumped off the track.  Out of a sense of fair-play, I said we should run the cars again.  But my car had been damaged in the last run (how that happened is another story), and the axle kept jamming into the side of the track.  Everyone wanted to challenge me, since they knew my car was damaged.  The final result was that I came in last.  When we went to our next class, the girls asked who won.  The boys told them the winner, whose name escapes my recollection.  When the girls asked the boys how I did, they laughed and said I came in last.  No one told the whole story.

I have reflected on this story over the years.  What I have learned is to accept every win, boost, or help that comes to you–whether you have earned it or not.  Four of my poems are forthcoming soon in an advocacy journal.  Part of the reason for my poems being published is due to my disability.  Like the boy who wanted a fair car race, I want to be published due to the merits of my poems alone, not in part due to my disability.  But the world works largely by advocacy, croneyism, and the “good-old-boy (or girl) network.”

I watched a peer review process for articles to be published in an anthology.  I saw a female senior scholar gush over a very average article written by a junior female student.  What was going on was clear to me, and to everyone in the room: a woman of influence was promoting the cause of a junior woman for the sole reason of gender solidarity.  And in film, music, business, and academia croneyism is more the norm than is merit.  A friend of mine told me that I, myself, received a “A” in an English class because the teacher went to the same ivy league university that I had.

Coming in last, in that junior high wooden car race, taught me to accept whatever good comes my way.  I don’t imagine that many people who are possessed of wealth, power, influence and standing got there by merit.  They are there instead by whom they knew.  Have you heard the saying, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”  That, finally, is the sad moral to the story about the junior high car race in wood shop.  And it’s taken me many years to realize what many people know early in life.

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