“The Cyclo-Pimpernel in the Adventure of the Free French-Munchie Ambush” Podcast Commentary (+ New Links)

Mysteries of the Bicycle Explained podcast #6 “The Cyclo-Pimpernel in the Adventure of the Free French-Munchie Ambush”… MP3 link 1link 2link 3 – . It seems to take time for some of the links to function well, but I hope you can access it through link 1 or 2 right now.

As you may know, the original Scarlet Pimpernel is an adventure hero invented by Orczy early in the 20th century, set during the French revolution. This hero has typical super abilities (unalloyed Goodness, fencing, craftiness, bravery, master of disguises) but one unusual and interesting characteristic: an effete persona. His aristo- foppishness stands in contrast to his true vital abilities, but also in contrast with his direct, brutal French characters of the Terror.

Now let us sweep forward a hundred years to a time of what people call the global war on terror. You may recall the time when Rumsfeld was the media’s darling, a rock star. This was before the public tired of his increasingly peevish koans. And this was when a majority of Americans believed that Saddam caused the 9/11 attacks. You may recall the partisan American gloating and bullying about so-called “Old Europe” (France and Germany) as certain politicians assembled the Coalition of the Willing (because many, including the French, were Unwilling). Viewed from an arch literary pimpernelish point of view, the situation has turned. The fiction is that the Frenchies are effete. They never win a battle, etc. (Remember Napoleon, anyone? How about Admiral DeGrasse? The US Navy named a ship after him.). This grew more and more ridiculous, with some politicians suggesting that graves of American G.I.s who died in France should be moved to the U.S.A. Congressional cafeteria French fries became “Freedom Fries”. Some markets across the country began to throw out French cheeses, and dump champagne in the gutter.

In my opinion, it was appallingly stupid, not just a form of devolution, but rude on a global scale. Aside from the politics which have proved stupid, it was just bad behavior.

During this embarrassing cultural moment, in my little panorama, far from D.C., a few small things happened in counter-reaction.

One, I saw a cyclist whizzing down Portland’s Hawthorne Boulevard carrying a huge French tricolor.

Two, I wrote the local French consulate to let her know that my low opinion of this anti-French gloating. (She wrote back, telling me that everything was going to be okay.)

Three, I wrote a satire for my column in a bike magazine adopting the Pimpernel to my purposes.


Right after I wrote the story, which involves our local Joan of Arc statue, unidentified beer-drinking men poured flammable fluid on the statue, and set it afire. They broke some of it too. I can’t prove it, but I’m sure these criminals felt inspired by partisan pseudo-patriotic hatred of the French which was promoted at the time by our troglodyte leaders.


If you listen to the podcast, you will probably see how all this fits in. Narrating the story aloud gives me the opportunity to practice my French, which is poor, but if I may say so, I think does well for silly, comical purposes. The French have such a strong, wonderful culture and way of life, one aspect of that is opportunities for affectionate satiric treatment.


The idea of the live statue comes to me from, again, Russian literature… The animated statue of Peter the Great, the bronze horseman haunts a character in Andrey Bely’s novel St. Petersburg, which is how I absorbed, but I believe the image came to Bely from Pushkin.


There used to be a pneumatic message system across Paris. That was my inspiration for the Cyclo-Pimpernel’s system. The internet, as another troglodtye leader has told us, is just a series of tubes, after all.


There are many examples of comical superheroes, which generally helped inspire me. (One of my favorites is DangerMouse. I used to wake up at 5:30 am just to watch it.)


It was difficult for me to narrate the Cyclo-Pimpernel’s mock-stentorian voice, but I did the best I could, after many tries. Also I didn’t belabor my efforts his theme song, which is sort of groovily driving forward and yet half-coming apart, which I liked for a comic hero, and I think is okay to listen to for 30 seconds. Aside from the time it took to write the story (three years or so ago), it took maybe 15-20 hours to do the podcast.


I went up into the attic, so as not to scare my sensitive-eared guinea pigs with my odd voices… it started to rain. I left the sporadic pitter-patter in.


I wrote another Cyclo-Pimpernel, published in two parts in 2003 I think, concerning a battle with a certain bicycle logo. I wrote parts of two more, but then stopped writing for that magazine.


I stopped writing for them after longstanding non-payment, and worse, after two book anthologies picked up a few of my stories that they had published, they quietly tried to assert copyright over my stories.


Mysteries of the Bicycle Explained #7 “Pedaling Toward the End of History” (Podcast link)

“Pedaling Toward the End of History” (Podcast mp3 link).

Published in: on April 12, 2007 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mysteries of the Bicycle Explained #6: “The Cyclo-Pimpernel in the Adventure of the Free French-Munchie Ambush” (Link)

Here’s the podcast link: MOBE #6 “The Cyclo-Pimpernel in the Adventure of the Free French-Munchie Ambush”

I’ll post commentary, and alternative links later this week.

“Pedaling Through the Paleolithic” Podcast Commentary (+ New Links)

Podshow Mp3 podcast link Pedaling Through the Paleolithic. Odeo MP3 podcast link: Pedaling Through the Paleolithic .

This is another story I wrote while suffering from Reality during our slowly evaporating (maybe) era of Unreality. I’m not just being cute about it; I know that I had to see a doctor to address my symptoms (insomnia), and the doctor mentioned the number of patients he was then seeing expressing similar symptoms and causes. Humor does help; a sense of incongruity, omnipresent among many, lends half a joke already. But, an absurd Colossus of Rhodes, our incongruity’s ungainly straddle has its other foot planted in the surreal. Weird times! Weird times.

This story, “Pedaling through the Paleolithic”, took many drafts to write. I was trying to make a magazine deadline, and kept sending drafts to the illustrator, my colleague and friend Neal Skorpen. And then a little later I’d send him a heavily changed draft, saying, “Sorry, bud!” I did this several times, cringing. Finally I just asked him to illustrate the general idea until I figured out how I wanted to treat it.

The story is a few years old. It’s already clearly dated by the reference to canceled TV shows.

One influence on the story is Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. In that story, the narrator learns that people are turning into Rhinos. This surreal story seems to catch at an element theme, as broad and potent as Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. However, Ionesco’s work has humor, a big difference. (The movie version is readily available, starring Gene Wilder.) I don’t know that Rhinoceros is ‘about’ anything. A lot of 20th century events could have generally inspired it, such the experience between French citizens in Vichy France. The idea “everyone is changing but me” may attack some kind of primal survival fear. Dream paranoia is a major force behind a lot of surrealism. You can see it quietly suggested in the long shadows of De Chirico‘s paintings. A more direct example of potent surrealist paranoia is the 1955 movie Les Diaboliques. There are a lot of movies with this sort of paranoid transformation, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A version of this is the common paranoid plot “something is happening and I’m the only one who knows”.

In addition to Rhinosaurus, another influence on my “Pedaling/Paleolithic” is the story “Pkhentz” by Abram Tertz (Andrei Sinyavsky). Tertz was a Russian fabulist in the tradition going back to ETA Hoffmann. From Hoffmann to Gogol, to Zamyatin, Bulgakov, to Sinyavsky-Tertz, and now, a writer one year older than me, Pelevin. There are others, but these are the ones I think of the most, and influence me. I am not trying to inflate myself by association with these celebrated writers, but to explain my thoughts.

I had trouble drafting my “Pedaling/Paleolithic” story as I tried to find the balance between humorous incongruity and surreal incongruity. Usually I seek the humor and stay away from the surreal. But I wanted this one to be different.

In Zamyatin’s story “Pkhentz”, we slowly learn that the narrator, an ailing, depressed Soviet citizen, is actually an alien who crash-landed in Russia, who adopted rudimentary human disguise to live a dreary Soviet life. The creature is slowly dying, and always afraid of discovery. Soon, exhausted by the dreary, basic efforts to survive, he decides to give up his efforts. I take this as an inspired, albeit depressing, description, of life as an independent-minded literary intellectual . Tertz-Sinyavksy passed samizdat literature to the West, and went to the gulag for it in a landmark case helping mark the close of the Kruschev era’s hints of openness. On they marched toward bold Breshnev stagnation; eventually Tertz survived the gulag and emigrated to France.

It’s quite strange to go through this era of official Unreality, falsehoods defended by power and tribal emotions. This normality is not normal, and we suffer for it in many ways…

It’s a potent subject to examine with art. It’s an opportunity to try to write about using the surreal and humor to record our bizarre bad times and try to keep hold of health and sanity.

If you listen to my podcast, maybe you can tell–I enjoyed my pseudo-Neanderthal grunting, and it comes naturally.

Incidentally, in the late 1980s, maybe 1988, I met a Soviet poet on an official anti-nuke cultural tour of the USA. I found out about it because I was a member of the National Writers’ Union, although certainly its most pathetic and ridiculous member. Anyway, I met her (I don’t recall her name, unfortunately) at a beautiful house facing one of the small lakes in Minneapolis, perhaps it was Lake of the Isles. She spoke some English. It was the amazing era of glosnost… imagine, a totalitarian society opening itself up! I asked this official poet if the Soviet authorities had started publishing Zamyatin yet. She hesitated several times, and answered quite reluctantly, with her mouth close to my ear, in the faintest faintest whisper that was yet comprehensible, “Leetle beet”. I somehow felt it was my duty as a writer to put her on the spot. I figured that her success had some element of toadyism to power. Later, I realized it was cruel. It might have been risky to her health to even whisper “Leetle beet” to me. And it gives me shivers to remember a Soviet citizen touching me with that barely perceptible whisper of her fears.

Mysteries of the Bicycle #5. Pedaling Through the Paleolithic (postcast link)

This is the MP3 link: Pedaling Through the Paleolithic
I’ll add commentary on the story later today… after I lift weights (my fans demand that I maintain my iron physic) and run some errands.