the narcissism of small differences

Come close and I’ll whisper a slanderous tale in your ear. Last May I was in Portland, where at a small front yard gathering I got to talking with someone who is very well known to Brompton enthusiasts. I was there with my own Brompton bike, of the kind with flat handlebars—the makers have special names for each model, that I refuse to remember, as I refuse to remember words like “français” when “French” will do fine. Ask me, and I’ll tell you mine is a “flat-bar type” Bromtpon.

Being the expedient fiend that I am, I had fitted my Brompton with a front bag not recommended for use with models with flat-bars. They clash with the brake levers. In the front yard of my new friend in bikedom, there in yuppy central/East Portland, I found myself trying to explain to a leading expert Bromptoneer that I had bought the bike used, for a deal, on the hop, that I had tents and cameras, and clothes for 9 weeks that I had to carry, so had compromised and fitted my flat-bar type Bromie with…

A very uneasy Brompton dealer in Amsterdam, about to let me ride across Holland with an ill-fitting front bag

It was at this point that I realized my new friend had left. I had turned to his wife, looked back, and he was gone—back into the house, I suppose—without saying so much as hooroo. From an article in this week’s New Yorker, about the TV show Portlandia, I learn I was in fact treated to a quintessential type of Portland encounter, one for which I should be grateful, as a traveller out to experience various cultures. This is a city where people have so little by which to differentiate themselves, they are left to bicker about the righteousness and correctness of every little thing that they buy (with their ill-gotten gains). Isn’t that wild! You feel like artificially fueling hatred between Catholics and Protestants, so at least Protestant owners of Bromptons can admire each others bikes, without sectarian violence.

The New Yorker article imbibes Frued’s term, the narcissism of small differences, to describe the fodder for Portlandia‘s satire. My new years resolution is to use Freud’s term whenever a sit-up-and-beg bike aficionado ridicules a racing bike rider, or a plain clothes cyclist demonizes lycra, or a Brompteer frowns on my bag.

1 Comment

  1. todd says:

    i resemble these remarks! that could only have been me, though honestly i don’t remember. must have repressed it. far from bickering, frowning, or otherwise disapproving as you allege, i’ve actually recommended that very setup (straight bars, big bag), as long as you chop off the handle of the front carrier, so it doesn’t interfere with the cables. (though brompton as the manufacturer threatens to castrate anybody who does.) perhaps you inspired me, subconsciously, you rebel you!

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