The following is a true story. The names have been changed, but not very much, for obvious reasons.
Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
KICKIN’ IT WITH THE VILLAGE VOICE
ASSIGNMENT: Enlighten leftist newsweekly’s degenerate readers about joys of cycling.
I used to write for the Village Voice. This was during the 1980s, after it was bought by dog food colossus Hartz Mountain and before it was a freebie used to mop up blood from bodega floors. My favorite editor there was Mim Udovitch, the legendary rock‛n’roll chronicler. I loved writing for her, and she made me look good. Journalism doesn’t get much better than that. Sometimes, though, it gets much worse.
At that time there was a bicycle boom in progress, and the Voice belatedly realized cycling was a cool trend – one that was happening without their input.
Unfortunately, that was everything the Voice knew about cycling. Ripping into spin cycle, they hustled up a hip but erudite spokesperson to guide their drooling readership. Me.
Back then bikes were my life. I owned a gajillion of them. I wrote for glossy niche magazines like Bicycle Guide and The Bike. I officiated bike races. I’d spent my last vacation at the World Cycling Championships hyperventilating at the tightest Lycra-clad butts on earth.
I kind of viewed the Voice assignment as public service (and, okay, easy money). Maybe spreading the gospel would fix the metrogoons swarming the wrong way against traffic who were driving up my insurance rates.
Udovitch had just left the Voice to write for Rolling Stone, so my pitch was forwarded to someone who hadn’t. I accepted the paper’s final proposal, which on the face of it was ludicrous. They wanted a 1,500-word piece on every kind of ride and where to buy it. I wanted a new bike, so I signed the contract.
Fast forward to the first draft, a 4,500-word epic of love and rust and how stylish you’d look riding in the same direction as buses. My new editor, Mr. Hernia (not his real name), was super excited.
“Great!” he said. “But make it funny! And give it a romantic twist! And have a fashion angle! And do it in 1,300 words!”
Huh? “But, but…,” I explained as he hung up.
So I cut out track bikes and recumbents. I tossed frame geometry. I dumped steel frames versus aluminum, tubular tires versus clinchers, directional motility versus tropism. Out, out, out, until all that remained was 1,284 somewhat humorous words about miracle synthetics and all the dates you’d get wearing them.
I delivered my handiwork to Hernia in person and before deadline. I wanted to impress him, because he was an important guy. When I arrived at his office, I learned just how important. He’d left for a job at Newsday.
Good riddance, I thought. But compared with his successor, he was William Randolph Hernia.
My new editor’s total sports experience consisted of copying NFL scores off a teletype. We met to discuss the last-minute rewrite he’d done on my story instead of asking me to do it. He looked like a five-foot frog.
To Toad (not his real name), all bikes were alike. He thought my attention to the differences was overkill, so he’d fixed that. And he dropped my dealer recommendation for entry-level and budget-minded shoppers, the legendary Kissena Cycles in Flushing. Toad figured anyone with a dollar for a newspaper isn’t on a budget. And besides, Queens is a drag.
The slant of the work, what was left of it, was enhancing one’s social life via the right bike and get-up. As proof I’d invoked real-life glamour couples of the day: Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter and U.S. pro champion Davis Phinney; U.S. track champion Connie Paraskevin and power coach Roger Young; cross-country champs Sue Notorangelo and Lon Haldeman — all gods in anyone’s book. Anyone’s but Toad’s. He thought they were my drinking buddies or something and axed them.
I screamed at him. The couples went back in. Touchdown for bicycle romance! I thought we were done. I thought wrong.
The art director wanted to see me. He hadn’t read my article, be he had definite ideas about visuals.
“Get really sexy models!” he ordered.
Who, me? I looked around. No one else was there.
“And make sure they wear something really flashy!”
Uh, sure thing.
Then he hooked me up with the staff photographer, Plotzy (not her real name). We arranged a shoot in Prospect Park for the next Sunday. Plotzy wanted models too, so I assumed she’d cover that. Whew!
The day before the shoot I learned what Plotzy had covered. Nothing. Didn’t lift a finger to procure any models, nor flashy outfits for them to wear, nor bikes for them to make out on.
In a panic, I notified every bikie in New York. All they had to do was bring their own ride, I told them, in dodgy weather and on indefensibly short notice, to participate in this noble endeavor. “It’ll be fun!” I lied.
“Any money in it?” they all replied.
“Only eternal fame, sorry,” I had to tell them. Sadly for the Voice, every cyclist in New York had recently been a paid extra in the awful flick Key Exchange. Now that they were pros, they had expectations. I had a bagful of nothing.
Sunday came along, damp and winterish. The response to my cattle call was one bike-racer hunk who was going to have to make out with himself if I didn’t do something fast.
I jumped on my bike and personally chased down a dishy blonde trying to elude me on her new Trek (like I said, Prospect Park…).
Now we had the perfect bicycle romance couple! But that darned Plotzy — she wanted a crowd. Or rather, she wanted someone to get one for her.
By now it was nearly sunset. I and my better half (a.k.a. the most put-upon spouse since Al Bundy) were the only other people stupid enough to be out with bikes in weather this nasty, in a place where people get stabbed after dark for a cigarette.
And so this was our crowd: four “models” with runny noses, indistinguishable from each other in black thermal riding suits, commanding four disparate, muddy bikes.
I didn’t see how this could possibly relate to recreational sex. But Plotzy knew, even though she hadn’t read my story. We models were instructed to roll in a circle at 3 mph and take flying lunges at each other. Plotzy shot four rolls, mostly of our feet and a passerby’s dog.
When the sun set, everyone who wasn’t Plotzy fled. The good news was that this suckfest was finally over. Anyway, that’s what I thought. But then Toad called.
He required clarification as to why cycling was fashionable, now that he’d edited out all the reasons.
Unlike sports such as football, I explained more patiently than he deserved, cycling is a hands-on deal. The equipment is high-tech, yet affordable. The clothes are sexy. Cycling is good cardio.
“So what?” he said.
“Madonna does it.”
Bingo! A technicality Toad could relate to.
We said goodbye, for what I prayed was the last time.
Before I continue, allow me to provide some perspective. Having written about bike culture for years, I can vouch that “cycling journalism” is an oxymoron. Nobody invests in this for its intellectual value. I’ve been sent on touring assignments in hurricanes, packed off on interviews with bad contact info, and forced to question confused foreigners while fighting off media barnacles like Phil Liggett.
So why bother?, you ask. Well, I did meet all my sports heroes. And the genre was a free-for-all for rebel wordsmiths like me. I was never muzzled by Bicycle Guide, or Cyclist, or even Cycling USA, a cheezy tabloid published by the stick-up-the-ass national cycling federation. So you can imagine my astonishment upon reading the final edit of my contribution to the mouthpiece of the ACLU, only to discover that Toad had excised the word “wop” from my discourse on Italian bikes.
“BUT WHY!?” I screeched at him even as I imagined him housing my Hoffritz collection.
“It would offend people,” he said. I am not making this up.
The next day the issue was, mercifully, supposed to close. My phone rang. It was Toad. He hoped I didn’t mind, but important late-breaking news had forced him to cut my piece by four inches.
Listen, it’s the nature of the business. Shit happens all the time at newspapers, especially this one. And I wasn’t sure how much verbiage four inches was, exactly.
I found out two days later when the issue hit the street. My judiciously neutered feature appeared in the same issue that likened arms trader Adnan Khashoggi to a Lower East Side Jew, suggested homosexuals’ foreheads be branded, and called Harley owners “balls-out, knuckle-dragging, Bud-guzzling, loud-farting men.”
And there, inside the back cover, behind everything else including hundreds of ads for expert oralists and jocks with big tools, was my sanitized 1,085-word velo Gesamskuntswerk. It was illustrated with a blurry photo of what looked like two inkblots passing a rutabaga.
My article filled the entire rest of the back page. That is, it did if you don’t count the four-inch box of football scores smack in the middle.
Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved