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Fernando Sorrentino
Going Back to Our Roots
Translated from the Spanish by Iris Maria Mielonen

I tend to instantly accept any idea proposed by a sociologist or psychoanalyst during televised round tables. Emerging among eyeglasses, beards and pipe smoke, the deep and indisputable male voice propounded that modern humans have been objectified and that little by little, the consumer society has been consuming them.

     I got scared and a dizzying mental process — which there is no point in describing, but which is easily imagined — propelled me to immediately turn off the television and hurry to the Suasorio Hermanos bicycle shop in my neighborhood of Villa Urquiza. I do not know how many Suasorio brothers there are as there was only one very thin man with high cheekbones in the shop; he turned out to be clever, efficient and quick.

     As he was selling me the bicycle, he let fall a few sentences of the kind a teacher would say to a disciple:

     "This is the best thing you could have done. Life has become hopelessly complicated. A bicycle is simple, and even though it is a mechanical device, it entails natural things: fresh air, sunshine and exercise."

     I agreed. Feeling rather childishly happy, I got on the bicycle and headed out on the streets of Villa Urquiza and Villa Pueyrredón; after a few minutes I ended up in Villa Lynch, in Santos Lugares, in El Palomar. "Amazing," I said to myself. "This simple and ascetic vehicle lets me cover long distances in a fairly short time." Yes, but how far did I really go?

     Since I abhor imprecision and conjecture, I went to see Mr. Suasorio again. This time he looked at me with a serious and uncertain air; there seemed to be a perceptible shift in his attitude:

     "Remember," he said, "it was your idea to come back."

     I answered with sententious flattery:

     "A satisfied customer always returns to an honest merchant."

     I asked whether he thought it would be a good idea to improve the bicycle with an odometer.

<  2  >

     He scolded me: "An odometer without a speedometer is like a fork without a knife; they complement each other and one gives the other a reason to exist. The odometer will tell you how far you've traveled and the speedometer will let you know how strong your idle le are."

     I admitted he was right and in a few minutes, the two devices were attached to the handlebars of my bicycle.

     "People wander about engrossed in themselves or they are born fools," said Mr. Suasorio. "So don't be surprised if you run into some absent minded person. How about an electric horn to round out a terrific trio?"

     "I'm sorry to disagree with you, but I hate the honking of horns."

     "This horn comes from the Empire of the Rising Sun," he lectured, "and perhaps you know that the Japanese try to save space. This is no larger than a matchbox and even if you don't appreciate the melody of a honking urban horn, you can still enjoy the extras: a boom box with cassette player and recorder, a wind clock showing the official time in Tokyo, Addis Ababa and Tegucigalpa, a temperature and atmospheric pressure indicator and a fifty seven function mini calculator in case you need to do sums along the way.

     Given all those features, I was very happy to buy the horn.

     "What about the weather," asked Mr. Suasorio next.

     It was a rhetorical question.

     "It's wonderful, a radiant day," he answered himself. "January in Buenos Aires fries the brains of anyone lucky enough to have any. But don't be surprised when you get caught in a savage storm in the most desolate spot and return home with a thousand gallons of water in your clothes and shoes."

     I puzzled for a moment.

     He added, "On the threshold of the 21st century," would anyone who is not an idiot let himself get wet when there is this little device?" He held a kind of Lilliputian television set in the palm of his hand. "It predicts changes in weather seventy two hours in advance and with zero margin of error."

<  3  >

     He rapidly screwed it onto the handlebars.

     "It also shows isobars and isohyets for Australia and Gabon, gives you information on tides in the Persian Gulf and has an ultrasonic system that exterminates the porcupines, wild dogs and iguanas that lie in wait for cyclists on the roads."

     "What about mosquitoes and flies?"

     "Unfortunately, the despicable dipterans have developed immunity to the foolproof rays of this device. But what does that matter, when it also makes copies that are one- or two sided, in color and on any kind of paper?"

     Since I spend so much time making copies, this feature won me over.

     "The rear fender," noted Mr. Suasorio, "shouldn't feel inferior to the handlebars. There are all these wonders on the handlebars and nothing in the back."

     He mounted a butter dish sized metal box with buttons and levers behind the seat:

     "You're a bit of a slacker and you probably over┬Čeat and enjoy your food. When fierce hunger pangs strike en route, is there anything better than this infrared oven for roasting a chicken or a cut of beef with potatoes and onions in only twenty five sec┬Čonds while the distillers turn the moisture in the air into Burgundy wine?"

     The offer was tempting and I was not strong enough to resist.

     "I was born in this town; I've lived in Villa Urquiza for fifty three years," he proffered, raising his voice and his right arm, "and I have always thought that the neighborhood is like a big family. You don't look sneaky, so I'll risk it and trust that you're honest. I'll give you credit in dollars, to be paid off in thirty six easy monthly installments. To save you the trouble of going to my laboratory, give me your address, which I already know by heart, and tomorrow my financial manager will go to your house with some documents for you to sign."

<  4  >

     I shakily wrote the address in the margin of a newspaper. Fearing he would forget his promise, I urged:

     "He will come tomorrow for sure, right?"

     "Of course he'll come. He'll be bearing promissory notes crying out for bankrupt signatures and brochures for other scientific advances that will make your jaw drop. I congratulate you once more; this is the best thing you could have done. Life has become hopelessly complicated and a bicycle is simple and natural."

     Moved, I answered, "Thank you so much."

     I mounted and pedaled away: happy, full of life and with a song on my lips.

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