Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Niquette,

What monumental works the two of you have gifted this world!

I’m happy I discovered your site yesterday at – particularly your A Certain Bicyclist: An Off-Beat Guide to the Post-Petroleum Age e-book!

To commemorate this fortuitous day – April 14, 2007 – the day of Step it Up 2007, I found it in me… to want to thank you… for letting this stranger take a peek into both of your lives.

Paul, please tell Brigitte I’m anxious to share recipes with her sometime. Tell her I once worked with a great chef from Brittany, and would appreciate her divulging something from her secret files to me!

Brigitte, don’t forget to tell Paul, what a great writer he has become!

One day, perhaps, we can trade war stories… or recipes... maybe both.

But anyway, just for sharing your special gifts, here’s a little story... not entirely my own.

Consider it incomplete... and unedited... if you like.

I know you’ll understand...

... That I’m only writing to say, “Thanks for inspiring me to write The Unicyclists.”

Kindest regards,



The Unicyclists

I once had a childhood hero in Okinawa, Japan, about 1962, named Simon Simon, who was an accomplished unicyclist.

I was eight and Simon was around eleven or twelve.

Not only did he have an unusual name and an unusual way of getting around, he was famous for having… his own secret fort.

And all the little kids… like me… were obsessed… with finding Simon’s secret fort.

Every day I would see Simon going to school – or places unknown – on his unicycle. And I wondered what was in the mind of this carefree figure… that he just couldn’t care less… of what other kids thought… or that other people were talking… and saying things… behind his back.

He was a person nobody seemed to know – somewhat eccentric… and aloof.

Not only the other neighborhood kids, but their parents, were in awe of Simon… and wondering of his parents too.

Who would name their boy… the same first and last name… only Simon?

The Simons didn’t have a mailbox we could see, or they kept their comings-and-goings to themselves. And they didn’t know their neighbors… and their neighbors didn’t seem to know them either.

And their boy was, like them, the same.

The rest of us had two names… or more… at most. And we rode around in ordinary things… with two wheels… three or four wheels… at least.

But Simon had two names too… just the same… and a funny bike… with only just one wheel!

Some of the older neighborhood kids liked to tease Simon, and they would taunt him with lines that contained the words “simple Simon” or “Simon says”, and the like…

… But all to no avail. For all these taunts would fail… because Simon was deaf… and mute.

Anyway, as kids are wont to do, we liked to go exploring. Near the boondocks… near our home on Kadena Air Force Base… all of us – our parents and us kids alike – went about our busy lives.

In those days one could still find WWII artifacts – like helmets, uniform insignia, and parts of rifles – in the many caves which dotted the island. Many of these caves had the cremated remains of fallen soldiers… in cool-looking urns. And piles of bones… behind piles of rocks… near the cave walls.

Our parents were all in the military. And on this sixty-mile-long island, not more than three miles wide at any one point, was at least five military bases – one for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines… and one, for what, I don’t remember.

So it was only natural… that for us kids… our play was like combat. And we played war games… much like our parents.

A lot of times, Bob, my little brother, and my sister Lori, would go off playing, exploring or fighting with me. But more often than not, I was alone… just like my hero Simon… seemed always… to be.

I pretended to be undercover – and secretive – like a spy… or a government operative of sorts… with the FBI!

And you better believe I was determined to find Simon’s fort… so I could blackmail him… to teach me… then let me ride his unicycle. And I would not be denied… for I was going to capture the secret… that was the mystery… of this “Simple Simon” guy.

I would threaten him if I had to… by telling all the other kids… or triumphantly leading them myself… to his secret spot… if he didn’t.

Now you must understand that Simon didn’t want to have anything to do with little kids like us; after all, he was practically a teenager – chronologically, a few steps closer to being a real man… than were we… just mere kids!

And his unicycle was off-limits – to everyone – as he guarded it with his life, and no-one was allowed on it… but Simon.

To find his fort would take me much effort and many months, almost a year. Rumors were rife that marauding neighborhood kids several blocks over were also trying to find the mystery fort.

As you can imagine, this was definitely a hot topic… and I had no idea how far it had spread… for all the whispering and scheming… never ceased to end!

I had found my own secret spot in the boondocks – like it was actually mine – and it was way too special to be trampled on… by intruders… who might spoil its magic for me. It was about a mile and a half down… from a tiny little stream – never more than four or five feet… or less than six inches wide in places – that all the other kids would often play around… and the brave amongst us… would even drink from… when we got thirsty… running races.

Its banks were wet and muddy, shaded by thick stands of tall bamboo. And so most of the kids were wary… to slip and fall in… or follow its trajectory… to that secret spot I’d found.

As the stream winded its way… deeper into the forest… it got darker… and quieter… save for the sound of locusts and birds… and the occasional stirring of varmints.

I really wanted to know where the beginning of this stream was… and how it could be, for instance… that its water tasted so much better… more alive… than the water from our tap… at home.

My secret was marked… by a kind of rocky spot… which contained a tiny pool – a rushing eddy and a three-foot tall… waterfall – so perfect for a boy – so cool!

And I loved how I felt majestic… so grateful that this spot… was itself just so majestic... like me.

Or, besides the fact it was little… and hidden… it was mine… to protect… and defend… from intruders.

Anyway, around about this time… I’m happy to report… the great day finally came – when I discovered Simon’s fort!

A magnificent tree house it was – far from our neighborhood. As far away as anyone… would care to venture… or want to see.

It was only… maybe ten minutes away… from my own secret spot… near the end of the stream… far from wondering eyes it seemed.

While I stood in awe of its design… of camouflaged straw and scraps of wood… its hidden rope… and the ingenious ladder he’d nailed… right to the side of the tree…

… It appeared as a Japanese sniper’s nest… but it was Simon’s… and he might be inside that tree!

So I was afraid… and when I was not… I was proud. For me… my adventure… had brought about a feeling… of great personal triumph. And my secret… of a magnificent discovery… was truly hard to keep… for me…and me alone.

But then too, I felt sad … for it was like this was sacred territory… a whole lot like my own.

This fort would have to stay a secret – and I never told a soul!

In that moment of conscience… it couldn’t be allowed… no matter what, I had vowed… but I’d go to my grave… with this secret I would save… in silence.

A few months later, I was terribly involved with other adventures – of combat and war games and such – and I’d almost forgotten the secrets I held. I saw Simon doing some maintenance on his unicycle – and I somehow found the courage… to do… and say… the unthinkable.

I rode my bike over… and simply said hi to the guy.

Whereas I normally kept my distance, as I was too fearful and respectful of him, I forgot he might lump me in… with those others… who had taunted him. Or he might decide to fight me… shoo me away… or ignore me.

For in that one split-second of a moment… like in the blinking of an eye… I had dared NOT to think.

I’d forgotten… the consequences… of what could happen… if Simon knew... I knew the whereabouts… of his not-so-secret fort.

Did he understand... I wanted him to show me… how to ride his one-wheeled bike?

But he looked over at me and smiled… and was suddenly talking to me – in his way, a bit peculiar.

He was no longer a distant hero. Nor was I anymore insignificant… just another neighborhood kid.

We became friends in an instant… when the courage was mustered… to hazard a brief hello.

Over the course of an awkward hour… I was riding that one-wheeled bike… and Simon rode mine alongside me.

Can you hear the good laughter… the two of us shared?

In spite of our difficulties… the differences… and uncertainty sometimes, these moments almost missed… still do exist… in our tale of the unicyclists.