Scott's Column
Why I Am So Stupid

July 1, 2013
By Scott Lewis

I was thinking about how I got into cars the other day. No, this article is not in the wrong column. Here is the long version of the story.

When I started school, kindergarten, my parents got me into kindergarten at the age of 4. The cut off where we lived was to be 4 by the end of November. Even though my birthday was in December, they let me in.

So I started 1st grade at the age of 5, and turned 6 in December of 1st grade. Fast forward to 10th grade, where I was 14 and turned 15. In my high school, the only required class in 12th grade to graduate was English. Assuming you already had the required math (up to Algebra), science (up to Biology), etc. I took Biology in 10th grade. Chemistry was for 11th, and Physics was for 12th. But those were optional, and not required for a diploma. I was much further along in Math.. my best subject.

For kids like me that had the requirements out of the way, they would allow you to take 11th grade English in summer school between your 10th and 11th grade. If you passed you were considered a senior and skipped your junior year. Notice that I was one of the youngest kids in my class (there were only two other kids in my class of just over 500 younger than I was). And now I was going to try and graduate from high school a year earlier. I was attempting to graduated at the age of 16. Remember, I turned 15 in 10th grade, so skipping a year and graduating after 11th would put me at 16.

I thought this would be the coolest thing.

Unfortunately, I failed 11th grade English in summer school. So I could not graduate early. Why did I fail... quite simply because I could not read. OK. I could read... but I read so slow that I literally did not have enough time that summer to read all that was required of that summer school class. So I couldn't pass the tests on the reading material.

So... how slow was my reading? For that we have to go back to Junior High School (which for me was 7th - 9th grade, high school was 10th - 12th). In 7th grade I tried to join the football team. I was such a picked on dork of a kid, I thought I had to do something and maybe this would help. I was so sore day after day that I quit the football team after 3 weeks.

However, that same year, because my reading was so poor, I was put into a remedial reading class. A few of the football players were also in that reading class. So I managed to stay friends with some of them even though I quit the team. And this worked to my advantage. It stopped people from bullying me. See, if someone tried to bully me... those football players from my reading class would stand up to them. I remember watching a couple of kids get bullied from the football players that "protected" me... include some 9th grade kids... by 7th grade football players.

When the 8th grade came around I was no longer in the remedial reading program., and I lost the protection of the football players. I was just another nerd to be bullied. And bullied I was.

My Junior High School offered a speed reading class. I knew already that I was a slow reader. I hated that I could not finish most tests because I could not read the questions fast enough to finish. I had so many tests that were not finished it was horrible. I never did know what the percentage of right to wrong answers I had, just right to wrong plus unanswered. Which was barely passing, or failing.

So I took the speed reading class. And the teacher took me out of the class and put me in a room by myself, because I was slowing the class down. Jeez! He put me in his office with a machine that would show you one line at a time. This is 1976-1977. I could not keep up with the machine and was not able to answer the questions. However, and I am a little ashamed to admit this, I cheated. I found the answer book in his office, and used it to answer the questions. I hated it. I wanted to learn to read faster, but this was not helping.

So... how fast (er, slow) did I read. 90 words per minute (wpm)!

Let's put that into perspective. I found an article that showed the average reading speed of people at various ages. Here are they are:
  • Third-grade students = 150 words per minute (wpm)
  • Eight grade students = 250
  • Average college student = 450
  • Average “high level exec” = 575
  • Average college professor = 675
  • Speed readers = 1,500
  • World speed reading champion = 4,700
  • Average adult: 300 wpm

On a side note... that 4,700 for a speed reading champion is slow. I met and talked to Burt Ward... the guy who played Robin in the Batman TV Show in the sixties with Adam West. I believe he still holds the record for the fastest speed reader. He told me that at his best he was able to read over 20,000 wpm. I believe he told me he was out of practice and currently read around 2500 wpm. He said it took a lot of practice to get ready for a speed test to see how fast he could read... and comprehend. I believe he told me (but I could be off on this one point) that when he set his record he had a comprehension in the mid 80%. I want to say 85%, but I don't know. I should probably look it up, but maybe you will have more fun doing that yourself. I prefer to just go by memory here.

So... in 8th grade I was reading below a 3rd grader. In fact, I was at that same reading level until 12th grade. And now we turn this story back to... how I got into cars.

See, that summer school program to graduate early... someone in the office did not know I did not pass English, even though I was taking it again in 11th grade like everyone else. I had a free period in 11th grade and because of this mix up I was allowed to leave campus for that free period... as seniors are allowed to do. Hey, it was their oversight, right.

Well, 12th grade comes along and I have a free period. Well, someone in their infinite wisdom figured out that they gave me a free period by mistake in 11th grade, so they made me take study hall instead of a free period in 12th grade. The least offensive thing for me to do was to go to the library and check in (for attendance).

So I was sitting in the library with nothing to do. I looked at the magazine rack and they had a few car magazines there. I picked up Car and Driver and Hot Rod and read them... like read them cover to cover. This stuff was amazing. Car and Driver did a retro piece on the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, and a sidebar on the Shelby Mustang. What was this? I knew about Mustangs, because every senior wanted a Mustang or Camaro for his first car (and then got whatever he could get). But this was a special Mustang that looks so cool, with a set of 4 downdraft Weber carburetors. I had to have one of these someday.

And so I went to the newsstand and bought a copy of Car and Driver. And I could not find that article. Hmm, maybe I got the wrong magazine. It was Saturday, so... back to the newsstand and I bought Motor Trend and Road & Track, maybe it was one of those. Nope. Read all three magazines cover to cover that weekend. No retro Mustang article. Though there was a cool article of the new 280 ZX Turbo, and Car and Driver took a Mercury Capri (same as the Fox bodied Mustang) and hopped up its 255 V-8 engine to get it to run 130 mph top speed. They also mentioned in that article that Ford was going to put the 302 V-8 back in the Mustang. Whoo-Hoo! The Boss is Back!

Back to school and study hall on Monday and I saw the Car and Driver magazine. It was the September issue. Sure... it was September (we started school the Wednesday after Labor Day where I grew up on Long Island).

Back home I see I had the October issues of these magazines. And that is when I learned that magazines come out before their cover date. I went to three stores until I found one that still had that September 1980 issue of Car and Driver with the Shelby Mustang in it.

I may still have that magazine today. In those days I saved every car magazine I ever read. Every one. In fact, once a year I would go through all of them, with more knowledge of cars, so that some articles that previously went over my head I understood.

I brought all of my magazines from 1980-1986 with me to Texas when I moved down here (joined the Air Force). I kept them all until... my wife (now ex-wife) hated that they took up so much space in the garage. I resisted until the water heater in the garage leaked and two or three of my boxes of magazines were damaged. I started to go through those boxes and throw away the water damaged issues. Then I thought... why am I bothering to save these magazines. My wife had me convinced there was no reason to keep them.

I threw out another box or two before I thought to myself... it's a garage, it's supposed to have boxes. What difference does it make if I have a set of boxes stuffed in the corner of the garage. Really. So I stopped throwing them away. I started bringing empty boxes home from work... the kind that paper comes in... you know those 500 page reams of paper. The boxes are exactly the right size to have two stacks of magazines inside the boxes, laying flat. Now my magazines were much more neatly stored and stacked... much better than in those old Avon shipping boxes my grandmother gave me to originally pack them in.

I took what I still had and re-boxed and organized them, and put them in the closet in my Study. When I left my wife I took them with me. I still have them. I have maintained a non-stop subscription to Car and Driver, Hot Rod and Car Craft (my three favorite magazines) since the fall of 1980. I don't have all of them anymore, but I have a lot... and quite a few of other magazines as well.

Back in 1982 I had had 12 monthly car magazine subscriptions, and one that was every other month. So 12-1/2 monthly subscriptions.

I am not that bad today. Today I have 6-1/2 subscriptions (six monthly, and one that is 7 times a year). Granted, two of them came free with something else. And the 7 month/year magazine I am thinking about dropping for now. So I might be down to as few as 4 by the time renewals are up. And no... I do not throw any of them away, though it probably is impractical.

I still remember vividly the episode of Home Improvement with Tim Allen when he is in his basement and one of his kids comes down the stairs and Tim makes a comment about all the magazines being the kids inheritance. I really liked that... and thought it myself. If I can get my kids into cars like I got into cars then they should be glad to get all my old magazines to browse through.

Alas, kids today don't care about print magazines, and even though one of my sons is into cars, he almost never reads any of my magazines. However, he is only 15, and doesn't drive yet. I think when he is 18 and we are getting him his first car he may get into it better. At that time I will no longer have to pay child support either, so I expect to be able to finally buy a project car that I can work on with him.

Oh yea... all this was about my reading. I had something I was passionate about, so I enjoyed reading for the first time in my life. I had to read faster to get it all in. How fast do I read today... a whopping 180 wpm. That's right... I still read at the speed of an Elementary school child. Granted, it feels (to me) like I read so much faster... and twice as fast is so much faster. I just wish I could have found things to read when I was a kid that would have made a difference in school. How much better of a student could I have been if I could have read everything they wanted us to read?

And so... that is why I am so stupid. I read so slow that I can't keep up and can't finish tests. That is one reason why math was so easy for me. The teacher shows how to do a problem and I know it... no need for practice, no need for homework (but that is another story).

I use to read so slow. Because of that I hated doing something I was so bad at, so all my other grades suffered. I got straight A's in math (with one exception, and part of that other story) and got C's and D's in pretty much everything else. Heck, when I got to college I took English 101 three before I finally passed it. Because I read so slow.


Clearly I did not have a better topic to talk about. Hopefully next month I will have something better for you to read.... and read faster too.