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The following is a brief excerpt from Slightly Afflicted:

I walked into this store appropriately called The Bicycle Store and was amazed at all of the gleaming chrome and steel. They must have had hundreds of bikes in that store; all of them clean with shiny new tires and shiny new price tags. Along one wall were bicycle accessories; helmets, tires, seats, bells, you name it. Along another wall was a giant picture of Lance Armstrong crossing the finish line at one of his Tour de France victories.



Lance Armstrong lived in Austin and apparently shopped at this particular store. That, I thought, was very cool. I knew what Lance Armstrong looked like since he was a local celebrity and I had seen him on the news, and apparently he had battled cancer and won, which was also pretty cool. I thought he kind of played up the media coverage a little too much, though. I mean, he didn’t fight his cancer but rather battled it, which I still don’t understand. Still, he seemed like an okay guy.



The store, however, was impressive. I was truly impressed.



“Nice store, isn’t it?” a voice said from behind me. I turned and was greeted by the sight of a man standing around my height wearing a tie and with a shiny new bicycle helmet on his head. He wore a nametag which read WARREN.



“It’s a nice bike shop,” I agreed, even impressed with the guy’s helmet, a bonafide bicycle helmet. It was a nice touch, I thought, having the salespeople wear bike helmets. I looked down and noticed he was also wearing spandex pants and bicycle racing shoes. That, too, in a way, was impressive. He must be very secure in his masculinity to wear a tie and spandex pants together as an ensemble. Well, either that or a complete idiot.



Speaking of ensembles, I’ve noticed a strange trend lately that makes me wonder.



Back in the old days, all of the fashion models were these pretty girls wearing these nice colorful clothes. Today, the fashion models are as skanky-looking as possible and wearing contraptions similar to the salesman before me. In fact, this tie-and-spandex-and-bonafide-bicycle-helmet-ensemble he wore probably started out as a fashion statement in the back alleys of Paris or Rome.



Which figures, if you’ve ever been to the back alleys of Paris or Rome.



But . . . I digress.



“A really nice bike shop,” I repeated to Warren, ensemble notwithstanding.

“Bicycle Store,” Warren said.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s The Bicycle Store, not a bike shop.”

“Bicycle Store?”

“The Bicycle Store.”

“Oh,” I said, nodding. “Of course.” Now I understood. This was one of those places. It wasn’t a shop, it was a store. Just like a boat isn’t a boat, it’s a ship. Just like a watch isn’t a watch but a timepiece. Just like something that’s really great isn’t just really great but is really cool or really hot. Just like a coffee house is not really a coffee house but a café. Sure, I understood completely. I’m hip, man.



Dude.



Actually, it’s not dude it’s duuuude.



But . . . once again, I digress.



“What brings you to us today?” he asked, looking me up and down. I was wearing a white t-shirt and jeans and a pair of old sneakers. It was, in fact, a particular ensemble, which could probably be found anywhere.

“I walked,” I answered, looking at the bikes directly in front of me and answering his question literally.

“Excuse me?”

“These are nice bikes you have here,” I said, turning over a price tag. I immediately turned it back over, my eyes trying to pop out of my head at the price. I even opened and closed my mouth a few times since my jaw was still out of alignment from my joyride with Jeff and now seemed as good a time as any to get some practice in.

“We call them Bicycles,” he corrected.

“Oh,” I said, nodding. “Of course.” Warren, it seemed, was one of those salespeople who say ‘us’ or ‘we’ when speaking of himself. You know, the kind who says something like, “How are we today?” when addressing you.

“How are we, today?” he asked, suddenly.

“Um . . . fine, thanks.” I’m doing fine, I thought, but I don’t know about you and that ensemble of yours.“Are we looking for racing Bicycles or off-road Bicycles?”

“Neither,” I said, looking around. “I just want a simple bike to ride around.”

“Bike?” he asked, frowning.

“Bicycle”

“Oh, of course. Well, will it be racing or off-road?” he asked again. Apparently it was hard to hear what I was saying with his bonafide helmet on. “We have several models of each Bicycle.”

“No, we don’t understand,” I said, going the ‘we’ route. Two can play this kind of game.



Actually, there were now four of us; two of him and two of me.



“We just want to ride around town," I continued. "You know, a simple bike, I mean Bicycle, that we can use to go to the store and maybe to the park. You know . . . around.”

“I don’t understand,” Warren said. He then looked over my shoulder and before I knew what was happening he called out: “Mr. Jim? Could you come here for a moment please?”

Mr. Jim?


“What seems to be the problem, gentlemen?” I heard next from directly behind me. I turned around and noticed another bonafide bicycle helmet on another man with a tie and spandex ensemble, complete with bicycle racing shoes. This man had a nametag which informed me his name was Mr. Jim. He must be the manager, I figured, since he had a Mr. in front of his name. Either that or it was one of those Mr. T. things.



I remember reading an interview of Mr. T. and he was asked why he had Mr. as his first name. He said it was so that every time someone addressed him, the first word out of their mouth would be Mister. That makes sense, but at the same time you have to figure you wouldn’t call a large, powerfully-built black man anything but Mister.



Once again, I digress. I can't seem to help it.



“No problem,” I said, shrugging. “We just want to buy a bike.”

“Bike?” Mr. Jim asked, frowning and glancing over at Warren. He then mouthed the word as a question: bike?“We mean Bicycle,” I said. We were getting tired of this, we were. Both of us.

“Oh, of course. Well, will it be racing or off-road?” Mr. Jim asked. I felt as though I had just gone through this with Warren.

“Look,” I said, putting up my hands and trying to be reasonable. I was still somewhat impressed with the helmets and the store and the ensembles (well, dazzled is more like it) so I was as kind and patient as possible. “All I want, all we want, is a Bicycle. We don’t care what kind it is. We don’t care if it’s for racing or off-road or climbing buildings or whatever. We just want a simple bicycle for a couple of simple guys like us to ride simply and easily and without care.” I looked at the two of them sincerely. “Can we do something to set us up, or should we go to Wal-Mart to get a bike?”



At the mention of Wal-Mart, poor Warren seemed to hyperventilate.



“Seriously, guys. Can you help me? Us?”

“In fact,” Mr. Jim said, holding Warren’s arm and starting to lead him away, “No, I don’t think we can.” The two of them retreated to the office, Warren turning his head and giving me this strange, frowning look. It was, of course, that look, that look that all salespeople give customers at times, one that says you are an idiot and an asshole and I wish I didn’t have to serve you.I was an idiot, of course. Seriously. I mean, who was I to go into a place strangely called The Bicycle Store and ask for something as simple as a bicycle.

What were we thinking?

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