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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
August 19, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Bicycles, Sandals, and 100 Poems

When I was out in Utah, I got my bike out of my in-laws' storage shed. Hadn't ridden it in a couple of years, and it needed servicing. So I dumped it in the trunk of the car and headed for the shop where I bought it.

The shop was gone.

So, come to think of it, were the last three bike stores I had patronized over the past thirty years or so.

Finally I found a Schwinn dealership in Orem that serviced bikes from other manufacturers, and as they did an excellent job of fixing up my bicycle, I asked why the other stores had gone out of business.

"Wal-Mart," said the owner. "Target. K-Mart. They sell cheap bikes and don't service them. So people bring them in here when they break down -- which is usually right away -- and then they get miffed when we point out that the crummy bike they bought isn't worth repairing -- it's just going to have more stuff go wrong with it every few days."

Ironic, isn't it? People who shop by price alone are the ones most in need of repairs for their bicycles -- but because they bought their cycles from stores that don't service what they sell, the bike stores that would have stood behind their merchandise are out of business.

When you go to a discount store and see bicycles selling for half the price of the bikes in the real bike stores, there's a reason for that low price, and it isn't just "volume, volume, volume." They're not selling the same brands or the same quality as the bike stores.

I shop at Cycle d'Oro in Greensboro, and when you look at the bikes they sell, you'll see a few that are simply insane -- you have to be way more serious about biking than I am to pay that much for a cycle. (Basically, these are racing bikes so light that they seem to be made of polymerized air and a little pixie dust.)

But they don't sell anything, even at the low end, that they won't stand behind.

I imagine the same is true at the other bicycle stores in town.

Now, I can think of several reasons for buying bikes so cheaply made that they'll fall apart in no time:

1. You're so rich that you can afford to throw away bikes and buy new ones all the time.

2. You're so artistic that you need a broken bike as a work of sculpture in your yard.

3. You live in such a high-crime neighborhood that you want a bike no one would steal.

4. Your husband wants the bike as the exercise-mania portion of his mid-life crisis, and you're sure the bike won't be ridden more than about five times.

OK, I'm not being fair. Since I haven't bought bikes at Wal-Mart or K-Mart or Target, maybe those are great bikes and terrific bargains. After all, it was their competition who told me those bikes fall apart easily.

But I do know this: If everybody buys their bikes at the discount stores, pretty soon there aren't going to be any specialty stores where people know how to service a bike and keep it running perfectly.

And when that happens, all bikes become disposable.

So if you can afford to pay something other than the rock bottom price, give a thought to shopping at a bicycle store with a good service department.

The lowest price isn't always the best deal.

Then again, the highest price isn't always the highest quality, either. Which is why I'm perfectly happy, for instance, to buy most of my shirts at Target.

But not my suits.

Then again, I don't wear suits.

*

It was Teva sandals that were so comfortable that I stopped wearing shoes except when I'm going to church or running.

But after two years on the same pair of sandals, the heel had compressed enough that I wasn't getting much cushioning, and because I'm 50 years old, my heels decided that they weren't going to take such abuse without complaining.

So off I went to Dillard's to see if they still had Teva. They did. The only model they had was a nice leather pair that I liked a lot. So I bought it and wore it as I left the store.

Only after about two hundred steps did I realize that there was something on the strap that was really irritating my feet. By the time I got home, they were downright painful.

What was causing the chafing? The manufacturer's label with all kinds of fascinating info that I couldn't care less about. And the label was made of the most stiff, irritating, sharp-edged fabric ever invented. You could clad military tanks in this stuff and dispense with all that metal.

My old sandals had a similar tag on the inside of the strap -- but it was located so it pressed against the outside edge of my foot. On the new, leather sandals, the tag pressed against the inside edge of my foot, where there was a lot more chafing. And by the time I got home the next day from lunch at Macadoo's (the "General Custer" sandwich -- chicken salad with melted cheese on a croissant -- delicious), my foot was actually bleeding.

Unfortunately, the tag had been put on with the same excellent workmanship that Teva uses in all its products. Took fifteen minutes to pry up the label, which had been tightly sewn and glued.

Didn't somebody test these things on actual feet?

Not in the age of computers. Undoubtedly they used the same geniuses who detected global warming from computer simulations alone.

*

I recently picked up a book called The 100 Best Poems of All Time, edited by Leslie Pockell.

I knew that I wouldn't agree with all the choices. And I'm glad I bought the book, because there were poems in it that I had never seen before. A translation, for instance, of Schiller's "Ode to Joy," which provided the text for the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth.

Still, I have to say that if I were putting together the 100 best poems of all time, I would not have made some of the decisions they made.

For instance, I would not have decided that no poet could have more than one poem in my book. Because there's nothing democratic about talent -- the greatest poets have written way more than their fair share of the best poems ever written.

Because of the one-poem-per-poet rule, they ended up with absurdities like including only one couplet by Alexander Pope, whose works are the source of more common quotations than those of anybody else except Shakespeare and the translators of the King James Bible and, maybe, Benjamin Franklin.

Also, the editor tried to include people who simply aren't up to snuff. There is nothing in the works of, say, Sylvia Plath, Vachel Lindsay, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, or Maya Angelou, William Carlos Williams, or Sappho to justify their placement in a book that includes the likes of Shakespeare, Hopkins, Auden, Neruda, Whitman, Wordsworth, or even one-famous-poem poets like Wilfred Owen or Thomas Gray.

I also deplored the decision to include mere excerpts of immense works. While The Iliad, the Aeneid, and the Divine Comedy are indeed written in verse, they are also narratives and are not the same kind of thing as the odes, sonnets, elegies, and other shorter works that most of us think of when we say the word "poetry."

However, I loved the fact that Pockell included poems whose greatness is not so much literary as that the poem became universally known and beloved: "Casey at the Bat," "The Highwayman," "Paul Revere's Ride," "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

Considering that the task of choosing the "best ever" is simply impossible, this book does a pretty good job. Most fun is to read it aloud with others so you can all howl at some of the deeply dumb choices -- and discover, or rediscover, some true gems along the way.


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