I've never been what anyone would consider a team player. Nor do I imagine I could've been - even if I'd been raised in the most cooperative of societies.
For instance, how's about me in ancient Japan? I can see it now
"Ah, Dopey-san," says the chief samurai, "the shogun will be deeply honored if you would sacrifice your life defending his castle. What do you say about that?"
"Honorable Takayama, there's only one thing I can say," I say. "Which is you and the shogun are a pair of real meshuggenes."
Sorry, folks, but it's just not my style, taking one for the shogun, the Gipper, or Old Siwash.
And please don't give me any guff about making a sacrifice for the greater good and all that nonsense. The sad truth is almost any "greater good" that results from goup effort never gets rewarded evenly, or even fairly. In fact, it seems the only group who ever shared their spoils fairly were pirates, and look at the bad rap they've got.
"Team player"? Look up synonyms in the thesaurus and you'll find, "lackey," "drone," and "sucker."
A cogent example - group projects in classes. Get a group of five, and two or three do all the work while three or two do nothing but twiddle their thumbs. And yet they all get the same grade.
Or say you go out to dinner with four friends. You have the pasta with marinara. One of your friends has lobster thermidor, another has steamship round, another has a sirloin, and the fourth has the surf and turf. Then when the bill comes, inevitably they'll want to divide it five ways.
And so it goes.
I say I've never been a team player, but I'm not so sure that's exactly true. Maybe when I was a wee snip of a lad I liked working in groups - I just can't remember it. However, I do know when my doubt about groups blossomed into full-blown alienation. It was in Cub Scouts.
Don't get me wrong - there was nothing the matter with scouting, itself. Plus, the den mother was without doubt the best in creation. Her name was Mrs. Williams, and we all called her Aunt Laurie, an old-timey and affectionate handle for sure. She was a bundle of energy and activity, and every week had some fun and interesting activity for us. As I recall, because she was such a good den mother, getting in her pack was akin to getting invited to Mick Jagger's New Year's bash.
The kids in the pack were a good-hearted lot too, though prone to the usual frenzies and folderol of males of that age.
So if everything about the pack was so copacetic, why didn't I do the bonding thing? As I recall, two main events turned me into a little blue-shirted existentialist.
The first was the annual Cub Scout kite derby. I worked like a fiend on my kite. It was small - maybe eight inches long and four inches wide - and the fabric was parachute silk, so it was lovely to look at. There was only one thing wrong with it - the design.
Today I realize that in order for a kite to fly, it has to have specific proportions: If it's X inches long, then it has to be Y inches wide, and should be covered with paper instead of cellophane, and so on. Back then, though, I just figured if you notched and glued any two sticks together and covered them with something you liked, you'd end up with something airworthy.
So my kite, while a beauty to look at, had one major flaw - it didn't fly. In fact, once I let out the line and started running with it, it hit the ground as if it was filled with lead shot.
So picture the Lake Clear airport runway full of a bunch of boys, the air full of a bunch of kites all except mine, whose only upward motion occurred when it rebounded off the tarmac.
It was almost enough to make me swear off both handcrafts and public displays thereof. Almost, but not quite, because sure enough, I gave it a second chance.
This time it was the Pinewood Derby.
When gravity did not take over
The Pinewood Derby, it was a real Cub Scout classic. You started with a rectangular block of pine wood, which the scout sawed, carved and sanded into a race car. The blocks wheels, and axles were all according to Cub Scout standards; it was up to the scout to shape it.
Suffice it to say I knew how to make a race car as well as I knew how to design a kite. No matter. What I lacked in my knowledge of aerodynamics, wind resistance and friction, I made up for in enthusiasm and naivete. Merrily I sawed and carved and sanded away till I had my finished product. To an objective observer, I'm sure it looked less like a race car (or a car of any sort) than a wooden potato, but in my eyes it was splendidly sleek - a winner, for sure.
I gave it several coats of high-gloss black and then added a subtle touch that only the most cognizant of cognoscenti would recognize: Scarlet "teardrops" that to me represented drops of blood. Then I painted, also in scarlet, its name on the hood - Old Drac.
The big day dawned and we all gathered in Gurley Hall where the Pinewood runway was set up. It was a two lane ski jump type arrangement, and the races were run as single eliminations.
As I looked at all the other kids' cars, a feeling of gloom engulfed me. Their cars were virtual masterpieces - smooth, sleek, trim, looking as if they'd been designed and modeled by Raymond Loewy himself (which for all I know, they had).
Then I looked at Old Drac. Compared to those other masterpieces, it looked like a wooden potato on wheels.
When my name was called, I walked to the starting line less like a driver going to a race than an innocent man going to his execution, which in symbolic terms, I was.
I can't remember my competitor or his car. I only remember it flew across the finish line before Old Drac shuddered its way past the starting line. Another detail I was blissfully unaware of: In order for wheels to turn properly, the axles have to be perpendicular to the car's body, not jammed in any which way.
While I was a loser, and almost an instantaneous one, to my credit I was not a sore loser. I congratulated my opponent, manfully shaking his hand and wishing him well on his next race. And at the end of the competition, I congratulated the grand winner as well.
I also pledged to myself that if I lived to be 100, I'd never get involved in a group competition again - especially a public one.
Amazingly - perhaps due to the seriousness with which scouts make their pledges - I never did. Since then, I've had a lot of losses, and a few victories. And while none of them have been out of mind, all of them have been out of sight.