I would be in line at the coffee
place in the morning and hear two men talking in front of
me: "Yeah, I took the paperwork over to the Bank One
. You know, the one where that Melissa girl
works. Isn't she beautiful?" Everyone knew her.
One day I was in line at the bank, hoping
I would get Melissa's window. It worked out and I stepped
up to the altar of Melissa to make my humble offering.
Her eyes were that slightest hint of almond
shape. Her skin was like the snow of Antarctica, perfect,
flawless, smooth. It looked soft. She had beautiful eyelashes
that curled up perfectly and her make-up was always subtle
but alluring in pale pastel shades. Utterly feminine.
It is theorized that the things that cause
a man to find a woman beautiful are symmetry and an appearance
of youth as well as obvious reproductive capability. At
a primordial level, Melissa summoned all men with her
Her ears were delicately pierced once, small
and rounded and perfect. She had a perfect, playfully
round nose and full cheeks perpetually flushed with the
blush of youth and perfection. Her nails were always flawless,
a French manicure or shiny clear polish- never too long.
When colored they were always coordinated with her wardrobe.
Her hair was, as you can imagine, full and silky and fell
at her shoulders in a neat arrangement that was relaxed
but, no doubt, the product of considerable effort. Of
course, always perfect but in a way that suggested it
required no effort. Her figure was no less flawless. She
was not too thin, beautifully rounded and formed and full.
She always dressed perfectly and demurely. Truthfully,
Melissa could have worn a burlap bag and still been ravishing.
Protected as she was behind the inch of
impregnable Plexiglas, as though she were a national treasure
like the Declaration of Independence or the Consititution,
her movements were graceful and gentle. She accepted my
deposit under the clear protective wall. I watched her
delicate hand touch the filthy money and thought she should
not be here in the bank. Melissa should be in front of
an elaborate backdrop. Crews of people arranging lighting,
make-up, fawning over her hair and wardrobe and rushing
to bring her herbal tea and drinking water in crystal
glasses. They would attend to her, gently running a soft
bristle brush through her hair again and again in preparation
for a photo shoot that would produce images millions of
men around the world would swoon over. The men would think,
"No woman could look like this, it has to air brushed."
But it wouldn't be. It was just the way Melissa looked.
A machine clicked and clattered as the deposit
slip was processed and she reached for a receipt to feed
the machine to complete my transaction.
"Oh, my." The words quietly crossed
her shiny pink lips. "I seem to be out of receipts.
Excuse me please." Melissa slid forward off her bank
teller stool and took the four steps to recover a few
more blank receipts.
Then it happened.
The "Melissa the Bank Teller"
incident. A fable told and retold so many times for the
value of its lesson that it is now a classic, and a lesson
well learned if you are buying a new bike.
I should tell you, before I go any further,
that while every word of this is true, Melissa has moved
away so there is absolutely no chance that she will ever
read this. Not even I, in my callus, journalistic insensitivity,
would print this if I thought there was the remotest chance
she would read it. You'll see why in a minute.
Melissa stepped back to the front of her
elevated seat and stood, ballerina like, on tip toes to
reach her princess' throne once again. As she did some
miracle of physics caused the fabric on the bottom of
her skirt to pull back slightly, and the top of her skirt
to slightly slide up. Up, up it slid. That precious three
inches, barely more than the length of your thumb, to
reveal the darker tops of her stockings and, thank the
blessed good Lord for his benevolence, a peek at her little
pink garter clips.
Melissa was wearing stockings and a garter
belt under her business suit.
My father had a heart attack once. He described
the sensation as having his chest hollowed out and his
heart exploding. He said bolts of electricity shot down
his arms. I think I had a heart attack. As a photographer
and writer I am an enormously visual person. This assault
on my visual senses, this sexual Hiroshima tripped the
circuit breakers in my brain. I don't remember leaving
the bank or driving the four blocks back to the store.
All I remember was the image of her legs, the dark top
of her stockings and the little garter clips. Pink.
I numbly walked back to my office and sat
in stunned silence. Then I raided the cash register and
filled out another deposit slip and went back to the bank.
There was no chance of course. It was a
fantasy. Melissa wore the ring of another man; A dashing
man, a Policeman who emigrated from Lebanon. He was buff
and chiseled and suave and dark. The perfect groom to
the Anglo princess bride, Melissa. Of course, in Dearborn,
he was famous for this. He was the fiancé of Melissa.
But I could adore her, as everyone did.
Time changed the seasons and one day, a
year later; I was in line at Melissa's window. Her ring
was gone. There had been trouble in paradise. Word on
the street was the man, her dashing Sultan, had turned
out to be a bit of a cad and the engagement was over.
Melissa slid my deposit receipt back under the window.
"Don't forget to read the back."
She shyly smiled and attended to her next customer.
I was in parking lot when I read it. And
I had to read it several times to verify what it said.
In the rounded, curvaceous handwriting of a feminine hand
"When can we get together?"
I was mortified. Me. Just a guy who ran
a bike shop. There must be some confusion. The princess
bride wanted to know when we could get together. I held
the receipt like a winning Lotto ticket. When I got back
to the store I phoned the bank. "Ahh, This is Tom
Demerly from Bikesport. May I speak with Melissa please?"
We made a date for dinner.
I took her to a place I visit regularly.
It isn't super fancy, but it is fun and familiar and the
food is good. I eat there enough that I have my own table
above the others in the back where I can have privacy
and see the rest of the guests dining. The staff are friends
and are always friendly. Heads turned as I entered the
restaurant with the princess, Melissa.
Over dinner I noticed Melissa ate very little.
She was also quiet, but very pleasant. "Men never
ask me out." She told me. "I think they are
intimidated." I assured her, they were.
The silence began to seem somewhat awkward.
I wanted to ask about her former fiancé but avoided
that conversational minefield. I figured I'd kept it light-hearted.
Then she chimed in, to my conversational rescue:
"My Mom said she saw you in the paper,
in some foreign country, dressed like an Arab."
"Ahh, Yeah, I was probably at a race
or something. I am going to Africa to race next year.
Where have you traveled to?" Most girls' favorite
topic is themselves, so I figured if I turned the conversation
around to her she would be more comfortable.
"Ohh, my family and me went to Ohio
once when I was in junior high. I almost went to Mexico
on spring break, but I didn't go because the water is,
you know, like, gross
The conversation stumbled around until Melissa
looked at my wristwatch. "Is that real?"
Before my eyes Melissa began to change.
She was still pretty, beautiful in fact. But she was dumb.
My friend Michael R. Rabe and I used to play a game with
people to see how many countries in Africa they could
name. Michael R. Rabe, a self-proclaimed genius, could
name them all from memory. I could get about 2/3rds of
them. Melissa appeared so dumb and so "unworldly"
that I decided I would give her one last attempt to redeem
herself. She graduated from U of M so she had to know
at least a few. Maybe geography was her thing.
"I'm headed over to Morocco, Tanzania
and Kenya next year. Have you ever thought about visiting
anyplace in Africa?"
She arranged her food with a fork. "Too
many lions I think. Don't you worry about getting eaten
by lions or something?"
"Ahhh, no, Lions are mostly just in
the game preserves. If you were going to Africa what countries
would like to visit?" This was it, her chance to
shine. I wanted her to speak eloquently about the African
renaissance, about the dark days of Idi Amin, the great
life of Nelson Mandela. Heck, I'd settle for something
she saw on Animal Planet.
"Well," She smiled. "Ahh,
Africa is just like, you know, like, Africa?" She
giggled. "I probably wouldn't go there. It's all
dirty and bogue. But like, I would go to Las Vegas or
Florida. Have you ever been to Las Vegas?"
The rest of the date was a train wreck.
Sometimes when you are on a date it is so abysmal all
you can think about are the more constructive things you
could be doing, like laundry or cleaning your house. Now
I wished I were doing laundry. It took tremendous effort
to converse with Melissa. I thought the economy would
be safe ground since she worked in a bank and her degree
was finance. She had no thoughts on economics. She couldn't
even answer most questions about banking.
Beautiful as she was, Melissa was a horrific
bore and dumb as a box of hair. That date was about the
longest two hours of my life. It was exhausting. I think
we both knew it. We spoke a little more on the way home,
perhaps jubilant over the fact that there was now light
at the end of the tunnel. But realistically, there was
little to say. She was easy to look at, but agonizing
to be around. We saw each other in the bank frequently
after that for about a year, but never went out again.
Eventually she got engaged to the male equivalent of herself,
a tall, handsome and statuesque Ken doll of a man who
wears suits to work, never gets his hands dirty and can't
even spell "CNN".
So here's your lesson. If you're buying
a bike, don't fall victim to a "Melissa". I
know, in my heart of hearts, the only reason I went out
with Melissa was because she was so pretty. I have no
idea why she wanted to go out with me. I am utterly average
with the exception of my knowledge of geography.
People do research on the bike they want
to buy, read reviews, search the internet, talk to friends,
get measured and feel they go through a long, empirical
and pragmatic process to get the "right" bike.
Then they wind up on a date with Melissa. Most people
simply buy the bike that looks coolest to them. That is
I think the reason for this is similar to
why I went out with Melissa. If someone had told me, prior
to going out with her, "She's a pretty simple girl,
not right for you." I wouldn't have listened. I would
have never heard she wasn't right for me. All I would
have seen were those two little pink garter clips holding
up those stockings.
People do the same thing in here all the
time. We measure them, ask them how they are going to
use their bike, what events they want to do- everything.
We go to great lengths to collect information about almost
every bike readily available and some not so readily available.
Once we get the person's dimensions, an understanding
of how they are using their bike and what events they
are doing we can make a recommendation based on real information.
The product of that process will be the right bike. It
will fit, it will do what the customer wants and it won't
waste their money.
Despite that many people still default back
to the bike they feel looks the coolest. The "Melissa".
Realistically, they probably never realize they could
have done much better. That is a shame. These things are
expensive. The opportunity to improve your enjoyment of
the sport with the right equipment is very high, especially
since bike fit is the single most important factor in
bike comfort and performance. If a bike doesn't fit you
precisely, it doesn't matter how cool it looks; it will
never work as well as it could.
People make buying decisions this way because
they gather too much information, get too many conflicting
opinions from people who really don't know what they are
talking about. The whole process gets very cloudy and
you don't know whom to believe. The one thing you can
believe, through the fog of indecision and confusion and
misinformation and arm chair "expert" opinions
is that a bike is beautiful. So you get lured on a date
with Melissa. But unlike spending $40 on dinner and losing
a couple hours of your life you just blew $2500 and are
stuck with a bike for at least the season. But at least
you know one thing: It sure looks good.