It was winter sometime in the late-90s. We were brand new grown-ups, yet searching for the kind of fulfillment that can only be found by hanging up flyers with awful pictures of your friends all over college campuses with captions like “If you see this guy, hug him,” or “This is the face of a secret society of meatball hoarders.” That kind of joy was hard to find on the 9 to 5 circuit.
Then, one afternoon, Roolie got wind of an event that would surely bring out the best in all of us. It was a cardboard sled derby. The rules were few: make a sled that can hold at least two people composed entirely out of paper and glue—nothing else allowed. Be the fastest to win. Sounded like a very worthy pursuit. Very.
Roolie immediately put together a crack team, consisting of me (Joolie), my boyfriend (Noolie), and a super-smart friend who would know just what to do (Doolie) – the guy we commonly referred to as Supply Boy based on his uncanny ability to have whatever item was needed on hand in any situation and a knowledge of how to fix anything on demand. Basically, our MacGyver.
Now for the agenda:
We had what most laymen would see as an advantage. You guessed it! Due to three degrees of separation to someone who used to be in a sorority, we had access to giant cardboard cutouts of male celebrities. That’s a lot of seamless cardboard in one swoop. Considering our celebrity options was not necessary. Clearly, we would go with Shaquille O’Neal due to pure size. Team Shaq Attack was born.
Joolie and Roolie met Supply Boy at his apartment, and the construction process began after some observational comedy about his dying hot pepper plants and a brief viewing of his naked vacuuming neighbor. There were three kinds of glue and box cutters. Time to work.
We assessed Shaq, his arms, his legs, his face, his slickness and bendability, and then we got distracted and went to lunch. When we came back, we adopted a “who-gives-a-rat’s-ass” policy, and then decided on a design like this:
At some point after that, it seemed that our normally pristine engineering skills took a dive. We decided to make runners on the bottom of the sled, tied some rope to Shaq’s shoulders, and called it a night. FINITO!
There are times in one’s life when one learns that she has GROSSLY underestimated what she was about to walk in to. This was one of those times.
When we arrived at the check in for the derby, it was immediately apparent that we were under-prepared by, ohhhh, let’s call it 100%. This was a serious competition. All the other teams had corporate sponsorships and teams of ACTUAL engineers designing the sleds using high-end waterproof materials and special magical epoxies. There were giant sleds that looked like cheeseburgers, and sleds designed like cars that had steering functionality, and sleds designed like space shuttles with pristine aeronautical excellence. There were teams wearing actual luge ensembles, and teams hanging up poster boards in display booths as if they were entering a grown up version of an 8th grade science fair. There was corporate representation everywhere. Every other team…let me repeat that….EVERY other team….had a company behind them who had provided a lot of dedicated time, money, and resources to create these sleds. Clearly, none of them had to deal with the distraction of naked-oh-dear-God-she’s-plunging-the-toilet-now neighbor when designing their sleds.
Unbeknownst to us (Why would we have bothered reading all the entry info?), there were booths set up for each of the teams to display their wares, which means we were provided with a booth. We stood there in our booth a bit bewildered. Oddly, no one stopped to talk to us about our Shaquille O’Neal masterpiece. We did get a few looks of pity and/or disgust, since we were accidentally making a mockery of what was apparently such a serious sport. Suddenly, the basketballs on our head seemed, somehow, silly.
In the face of such adversity, we started to tell ourselves things like, “Well, sure those sleds LOOK fancy, but ours is super streamlined, so maybe it will be really fast,” and, “What we lack in forethought, style, and execution, we make up for in AWESOMENESS.” When the time came for the race to begin, we put on our game faces, sung Eye of the Tiger, did a few fist pumps, and marched to the top of the sleigh course.
The first few sleighs were pretty amazing, and the racers got interviewed for the news by John Curley (a local man-about-town) after crossing the finish line.
We huddled and decided, “Let’s give this thing all we’ve got. We’re going to show these fancy luge-asses who is boss.” We decided on the order that the four of us would sit on Shaq, though there was some debate about it. Does the biggest person go in the front or in the back? This situation had a lot of encroaching factors that could mess up the physics of it all. We eventually decided to put the biggest person in back, and the second biggest in front. WRONG.
We could feel the snottery and scorn from the crowd as we lined up at the starting line. Everyone was watching intently, expecting a train wreck. I don’t think anyone was prepared for what came next—especially not us.
The starting gun went off and Noolie pushed off and jumped on the back of the sled. The minute he jumped on the sled, it stopped moving. We used our arms to push the sled along while Roolie yelled, “Push! Push! Push!” to keep us in time, as if we were in a crew race. When we got to a steeper part of the hill, we began to slide quickly downward. VERY quickly. The four of us on Shaq was a tight fit, and before long we’d lost Supply Boy. When Supply Boy went over the side, I tried to grab him, and I went over too. When I went over, Noolie turned the sleigh sideways, and then he rolled over me, smashing me into the snow, and causing me to lose my grip on Supply boy. Now it was only Roolie on the sleigh, and she again used her arms to get it moving vertically again. She seemed not to have noticed that the rest of us had fallen off in a rugby pile of destruction, as she was still yelling, “We’ve got this. GO! GO! GO!” Since I was face down in the snow, and Noolie was rolling down the hill like a log, Supply Boy ran and jumped back on the sled. When he did, it caused the rudders to slowly become detached, and start curling up under the base of the sled, which made the sled come to a dead stop. I finally caught up with the sled, and gave it a huge push to get it going again. It wouldn’t move, but my push caused Roolie to jet off the front of the sled. Then Noolie came up from behind, and gave us another push. This caused Supply Boy and me to fall off the sled like bowling pins, one to each side. Roolie got up, grabbed the sled, and started running towards the finish line holding the sled like a football under her arm. Supply Boy was crawling towards the finish line since two people had to cross together for our race to qualify. I was slipping on the ice doing accidental triple salchows, and Noolie was again rolling down the hill like a log. Supply Boy reached up to touch the sled just as Roolie ran over the finish line. Noolie and I rolled and slipped past the finish line moments later. It was over.
The crowd was silent. SILENT. We looked around at 75 gape-jawed people, taking in the astonishment and perplexion of the crowd. John Curley was holding his microphone down at his side, and the camera man was watching us directly instead of through the lens of the camera. No one said a word. The judge didn’t even bother telling us our time.
As we slunk away with our mangled Shaq, John Curley said, “Nice one,” under his breath as we passed. That act of dickness made me change my mind. I felt a giant mental bird-flipping towards the whole production. I mean, really, what is wrong with all these people? How dare they not laugh at us and cheer out of pure awe! After all, team Shaq Attack didn’t just fail. No. Team Shaq Attack failed EPICLY, and we deserved to have people laugh at us. So, we started jumping and hugging and cheering for ourselves as if we’d just won gold at the Olympics. Take that John Curley.
Then we went to get the free massages, which, by the way, we clearly earned more than any other racers. We took fistfuls of corporate logoed pens just on principle, and we drank all the free beverages and ate all the Shaq Attack snacks that our hearts desired. We were winners in our own special way, so suck it other teams and common decency. We dominated that mountain.