Adapted from 101 Words I Don't Use by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1990 by Paul Niquette, all rights reserved.
The West Coast division of my company had developed a new electronic printing technology. My assignment was to identify market opportunities by studying various publishing enterprises. Our New York office arranged for me to meet a certain publisher named George Viles. They neglected to tell me exactly what it was that Mr. Viles published. I called to make an appointment.
Viles and his wife were just departing for a shopping trip -- in Paris -- returning later in the week to their home in Darien. I told his secretary I lived in New Canaan, the next town over. She put me on hold.
The phone clicked. "Drop by Saturday," growled a man's voice. "Wear a swimsuit. Stay on the line for directions (click)."
George Viles shook my hand at the side gate and waved a moist stogey toward the pool. He owned wrinkles and paunch befitting his station. I splashed back and forth a few times then took a chair in the gazebo. Viles scratched his belly in the sun. Chin thrust forward for bifocalling, he gripped a commuter-folded newspaper and scanned the inside pages.
"Ever wonder about the word 'gazebo'?" I asked idly.
Viles squinted in my general direction. "Sounds like something that comes out of your nose."
I laughed. "It's mock Latin for 'gaze' with a future ending to mean 'I shall gaze'."
"I'll pass that along to our editorial staff."
"Is your background journalism?" I asked.
"Advertising," said Viles, crunching the paper in his lap. "I'm an old space salesman. Which is funny. For our rag, circulation pays the bills. Advertising is spit."
"How important is time-to-market?"
"We don't publish news." Viles caught the puzzlement that seized my face. "Your regular UFO story -- there's no date value to that. Secrets of Jackie's private life can be a week old or a month, it'll sell just as good in the checkout line. Same for Cher. So does all the crazy stuff: how to lose weight with psychic enemas, big-foot stories, two-headed cats, you name it."
I swallowed hard. "Psychic enemas?"
Viles shrugged and lit up another cigar. "What are you sellin'?" he asked.
When I concluded my pitch about laser-scanning xerography, George Viles shook his head. "Lasers, satellites, fancy technology has nothing to do with it. In our business you print what fits your distribution cycle. And your audience. Speaking of which, meet my wife, June."
"How do you do," said I, rising.
June Viles strode across the lawn toward me. She was much younger than George, with delicate features, but her hair and skin showed the signs of immoderate exposure to ultraviolet radiation. She lifted her sun glasses and stared intently at my face, making me look away. Suddenly she pointed at me and shrieked.
"I know you!"
George Viles sat up on one elbow. I looked at his wife again. She was a stranger to me. "You must have me mistaken for somebody -- "
"No!" she protested. "I know who you are. And my daughter knows you, too."
"You'll see. She'll be here in a minute. George, I already know this man."
"Mrs. Viles, I -- "
"You're the man on the bicycle!" she exclaimed.
It was George Viles' turn to look puzzled. "Bicycle?"
"Don't you remember, George? I told you. That day -- oh, when would that have been? It was, it was..."
"More than a year ago," said I, now untroubled.
"On the Boston Post Road," she said. "You came to the signal in the middle of town. You wore a cap and tight leggings."
"That's right!" she exulted. "Knickers and a necktie.
You sat up straight and stared off into the distance. It was a Saturday,
George, and the traffic was heavy -- you know how it is: all the commuters
rushing to the nursery or the hardware store. He rode along -- this
man rode along, not smiling, as if there were no cars. Then he came
"On his bicycle," confirmed George Viles.
"It wasn't just -- There you are!" Mrs. Viles beckoned to her daughter. "Come see who is here by our pool."
By now I felt like Cary Grant. I stood up to greet the daughter, who was 18, maybe more.
"The bicycle man!" she cried.
June Viles continued to stare at me. She pulled up a lawn chair and spoke over her shoulder to her husband. "Not just any bicycle, George. It was one of those wonderful old ones with the big wheel in front and the little wheel in back."
"The 64-inch Columbia Expert," I explained. "Built in 1886. 'Ordinary,' it's called."
"Cars were honking," said the daughter. "He ignored them."
Mrs. Viles clapped her hands. "Like he was alone."
I cleared my throat. "You just returned from Paris, I hear."
"George," she sighed. "You had to see it. He pedaled the bike into the middle of the intersection. Traffic stopped in all directions. He turned slowly in a circle. People got out of their cars and cheered. We stopped, too. As he glided around in front of us, he -- do you remember what you did? It was wonderful."
"He unzipped his fly," grumped George Viles.
"He looked straight at me and..." June Viles closed her eyes and bit her lower lip. "You tipped your cap!"
|The Big Bike||