Monday, May 26, 2008

Rick 'n' Me

I wrote this about five years ago, while Tamar and I lived in Tucson.

At a local shop, my friend Rick saw a steel frame from a respected builder in French Canada. It'd been assembled with Shimano Ultegra pieces, precisely what Rick wanted. It was just his size. He even liked the colors and paint scheme.

Perfect, he thought, and bought it. He and the dealer agreed that Rick would stop by the store so someone there could set him up on the bike: saddle position, stem length and height, you know.

When Rick arrived at the shop for the fitting, the employee asked him to put on shorts and cycling shoes. While Rick changed clothes, the guy clamped Rick's new bike into a stationary trainer.

The idea was, Rick would sit on the bike and pedal. The shop guy would study Rick's position, then make changes so he'd be comfortable, balanced and in control.

Rick threw a leg over the top tube and clicked into a pedal. When he sat on the seat the bike abruptly fell over, Rick with it. Somehow, the guy hadn't fastened it securely into the trainer.

Rick was surprised but unhurt. His bike wasn't so fortunate. The rear-axle mount on the trainer had scraped the new bike's seat stay just above the dropout.

Heartsick, Rick brushed the scratched area with his fingernail; he saw steel shavings mixed with the paint chips. There was no way to tell if the frame had been weakened. Was the damage merely cosmetic - or was the frame ruined?

Even if he could be sure the frame was still strong, Rick couldn't imagine how he could successfully touch up the paint. His new bike would never look new again.

Rick asked the shop how they wanted to handle its replacement.

Was Rick too fussy? What would you or I have done?

Remember, WE did not just buy a lovely new bike that's now marred (perhaps ruined) by the dealer who sold it to us. It's Rick's bike, not ours. We can be clear-headed and casual – about damage to other people's bicycles.

We might say: If the rear wheel fits like it did before, if it still centers between the stays and under the brake, that frame is fine. It’s strong and straight as new. Clean up the scraped area with sandpaper. Find some touch-up at a hobby store. Paint the seat stay and ride the bike. It's just a bike. Ride it.

And maybe that's just what Rick should do. What should I do?

Last month, I submitted a piece to a local cycling magazine, an article about bicycle seats. It was not Hamlet. I hope it was fun and informative. It came from hours of work and years of learning about cycling.

After I sent the piece to the magazine and before the readers saw it, someone, surely with the best of intentions, "edited" the piece. That worthy person did not find technical mistakes, bad information or grammatical errors. The piece was not overly long, as is all too common. I welcome editorial help with any or all of the above, by the way. This was different.

I suspect the editor felt he had to justify his title, so he went at my article with a chainsaw, not a red pencil.

That person cut-and-pasted the piece into a form I never intended. He or she combined many nice, short paragraphs into fewer, longer, harder-to-read ones. And wrote a silly, senseless sentence and inserted it into my article. MY article.

Does it surprise you that such things happen? Trust me, they do.

By the time I realized that some well-meaning editor had (in my view) sabotaged my article, 25,000 copies hit the shops. Twenty-five thousand readers assumed that because my name was on the piece, I wrote every sentence in it and arranged it precisely as it appeared on the page.

I would joyfully return my paycheck if the nice folks at the publisher’s office would recall all those magazines, but that won't happen.

Looking at the wreckage of my piece, I got heartsick the way Rick did looking at his scratched-up bike. I couldn't stay clear-headed about the way my article turned out. If I could've, I'd have reminded myself that the work I sell to most print and online publications is merely filler. It fills the spaces between ads.

It's not Hamlet, remember. No one reads it carefully. Perhaps no one reads it all the way through. I may be the only person who noticed that stupid sentence or the order and length of the article's paragraphs. Maybe no one cares but me.

Is my article ruined because I alone think it is? If no one else is bothered by the changes, am I just being a big pain? Is the article every bit as effective, every bit as good as it ever was? Am I too fussy?

You could say Rick earned the right to be fussy when he paid for his lovely new bike. You might say I earned the right to be fussy when I made a story out of nothing, out of my imagination.

Hey, Rick's bicycle is probably fine; my piece is probably fine. Enough already. Rick and I should just cowboy up. He should slap some paint on that stay and get back on his bike. I should touch up the scratches in my pride and get back to my keyboard.

I might have done just that, too. But I emailed the magazine, saying that I'd have been pleased to have done any editing they deemed necessary. I've been in town all along, I told them, never far from my computer, always happy to help. I asked them not to edit behind my back.

They told me my scratched bike was better than new. I did what you'd do. Now they're deciding how to handle my replacement.


Anonymous said...

It's an old story. here's the carpenter's edition;

The clients wanted built-ins. And trim to match the existing. Paint grade cabinets, and crown molding. We have a painter who is really good, they said.

After weeks of cutting and fitting, producing miters so fine, patching, sanding and caressing, it was done.

You can call your painter now, it's ready for paint, I said.

Oh, she's out of town. We are going to paint it ourselves. How hard could it be?

Bobby Wally

gewilli said...

put it up for the masses to see - your version and the edited version...

doesn't change a fact that seems to be more evident as I roll along the path picking up moss and dirt...

Editors can't write (in general). Sure there are a few... always will be some.

At least in Rick's case, at the least a suitable replacement probably could be found and the shop employee would work something out with the owner... once printed. Not much ya can do, eh?

Richmond Roadie said...

If the employee set the bike up wrong, the shop is at fault and should do whatever it takes to fix the problem, including replacing his bike if neccesary. They damaged his property and it would be the morally correct thing to do.

I know a number of professional writers and a couple of editors. You're dealing with an unprofessional dink! Perhaps someday "your ship will come in" and you'll get to work with someone who appreciates what you have to offer. You possess the rare talent of being able to draw the most pleasant memories out of people! Thanks for all you do Maynard!

flahute said...

Maynard ... one of the beauties of having a blog like this is that you can post your articles, your thoughts, exactly how you want them ... and you can edit them later, if you feel it needs it.

Downside is that that unless you're very lucky ad-wise, you're not getting paid ...