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Sunday, Jun. 13, 2004 - 3:39 p.m.

A week and a half ago, chrome was just a word. Shiny silver stuff, right? Some kind of metal plating? Then came the bicycle, then the bicycle books and the hours spent on Ebay watching the Whizzers and Phantoms run up past three thousand dollars. I caught myself staring at a picture of a Sears Spaceliner for over fifteen minutes, the book open in my lap while my cigarette burned down in the ashtray. I noticed for the first time the sparkling rims of the pickup across the street. I am like a blue jay or a packrat now, scanning my surroundings for shiny objects, confounded by the glitter from all sides.

Chrome is not something I could have come to admire passively. I probably wouldnít have noticed the specks of rust on my bicycle fenders, certainly wouldnít have known they could be removed. But the bike book said to buy steel wool. It said to buy rubber gloves, to spray the fenders with WD-40 and rub at the rust with the steel wool until it all came off as a scrungy orange paste which could then be wiped away. So I did. I scrubbed and sprayed and rubbed, and the results were transcendent.

Iíd have figured steel wool, even the super-fine kind I was instructed to buy, would dull the finish by putting little scratches in the smooth surface. But it doesnít. Itís like the buffing rag of God Ė metal meets metal in the new alchemy, the one that matters. First my front, then my rear fender became new sources of light in my apartment, the trees outside warped but crystal-clear in the curves of the fenders. Then the even-rustier rims, the handlebars, and even the black, gritty crank became perfect mirrors. My rear hub is so bright itís hard to read the Sturmey Archer logo engraved in the chrome without hurting your eyes.

Other cleaning and rust removal is nice, too Ė soaking the chain in degreaser overnight turned it from brown to a sparkling bluish-silver, beautiful enough to wear as a necklace. Even the duller metal of the kickstand, seat post, and spokes has a muted glimmer now.

But chrome is on another level. I may understand now the lure of the automobile, the cult of the lowrider, the secret pull of the auto show. I have never before had sympathy for car fetishes, but if I had a wife and kids, I too might drift away to the driveway, become distant and absorbed, submit to the thrall of the materialism that isnít. Because chrome only gets better, even when it is already perfect. The more you rub, the shinier it gets, without limit. And itís direct: whatever effort you expend is returned equally and fairly. Nothing else may be right in the world, but you can follow the paradox of chrome around and around, chasing an ideal that you have already achieved and continue to achieve with every pass of the cloth.

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