It behooves a gentleman to cultivate special skills that distinguish him from the common citizen. Gentlemen of old directed their attention to swordplay and marksmanship, demonstrating their erudition by poking holes in each other. It was a simpler epoch, and one that we long for. Dueling, however, has gone out of fashion and the modern gentleman must steer his efforts towards less violent, but no less noble, pursuits.
As an example: My good man-partner, The Councilman, has chosen the mastery of the double bass and the game of badminton as his primary pursuits, with secondary attention paid to his uncanny ability to appear sober when he is, in fact, blind drunk. Given the amount of time and effort spent practicing the last of these, he will no doubt soon master it, too. When that day arrives, he will possess a fine trio of skills with which to best any man.
I, for one, am too puny for the double bass. And though I put forth a sporting effort on the badminton court, The Councilman is my better. He bests me, too, in the tavern where, though I never skip a libation, and occasionally take them two at a time, my various stages of intoxication are accompanied by steady increases in the volume of my speech and the frequency of winks offered to nearby maidens. Evening, ladies!
I have thus been forced to form a skill-trio of mine own. Not being the self-aggrandizing sort, I shan’t describe my first two abilities in detail. Suffice it to say that one is musical in nature while the other is a not-so-simple maneuver in which I secure multiple glass bottles to my face with the awesome powers of suction. Awesome, indeed!
Still, this leaves me with only two notable abilities. And while a young boy or loafer might rejoice in the mastery of two distinct skills, we have established as our premise that a gentlemen requires three.
On a recent two-man bicycle ride, I posed this problem to my good friend, The Councilman. At first he mocked me, “You are but two-thirds a man!” he declared. But, sensing my distress, he considered the matter further. He examined me, then my bicycle, then me again, before concluding: “Perhaps, if you rode a bicycle with but one wheel, you might call yourself a man. Such a skill would be noteworthy.” A one-wheeled bicycle! I would be a man indeed!
Which brings us, finally, to today’s subject: The Unicycle. Upon my man-friend’s suggestion, I acquired a one-wheeled bicycle at a reasonable cost and set myself to the task of riding it. Two-dilemmas presented themselves. First, being unaccustomed to feats of balance and being frequently filled with drink, I tumbled violently to the ground each time I attempted to mount the wretched machine. Second, my humble dwelling has little space for tumbling, and with each spill I took within my home, I destroyed one of my few possessions. My living quarters are no place for a unicycle camp, I concluded. I shall learn my new craft outside! But no sooner had I stepped outside, carried my man-cycle to a nearby park, attempted to mount it, took my very first outdoor spill, and heard the quiet snickering of some local teens that I realized: I was not alone!
Which brings us, finally, to today’s lesson: Proper Etiquette when Encountering a Unicyclist.
(The gentlemen admit that, on its face, this is a rather esoteric subfield of the standard etiquette curriculum. Unicycle encounters in one’s daily going on are, we acknowledge, rare. However, if one considers the unexpected sighting of a unicyclist as a representative example for all things unexpected, than today’s lesson holds inestimable value. After digesting the following, you will find yourself better prepared to face not only the passing unicyclist, but any of life’s myriad surprises, with the utmost decorum. This, at least, is our hope.)
Indeed, the one-wheeled-novelty-vehicle I’d endeavored to master proved itself a peculiar magnet for verbal ejaculations. For some time, it seemed that nearly every man, woman, or child that I tumbled, rolled, or swerved past had some comment to offer on my plight. Thus, as I progressed over the course of several months from inept bumbler, to unsteady novice, to competent unicyclist, I absorbed a vast library of cheers, heckles, encouragements, and non-sequiturs from the mouths of passing observers.
Below, I list a selection of said utterances (with notes when appropriate). Your task, dear reader, is two-fold: First, please classify each comment as Acceptable or Unacceptable. Second, within each category, we ask you to order the remarks from most appropriate to least appropriate. We offer correct answers below.
Responses to the Passing Unicyclist:
A) “Get down from there! You are a fool.”
B) “Don’t fall!” At which point the speaker makes loud noises meant to distract the unicyclist and/or positions himself as an obstacle in the unicyclist’s path. Common among youths.
C) “Bravo, young man!” Variations include “Well done,” “Oh, what skill” “Indeed!” etc.
D) “Do a wheelie!”
E) “Can I try?” (Option 1) The speaker has never before attempted to ride a unicycle, injures himself while mounting it, and threatens legal action against the unicyclist. Common among youths.
F) “Can I try?” (Option 2) The speaker is a retired circus performer who entertains and educates the unicyclist with a dizzying display of unicycle mastery.
G) “What, no juggling?”
H) Silence accompanied by a smile or wink. Common among young women.
I) Silence accompanied by a sneer. Common among young women.
J) “Cool! Mommy, can I have one?” Common among youths.
[The reader has 4 minutes to complete the task]
Acceptable Responses (from best to worst)
1) Silence accompanied by a smile or wink. There is nothing finer than a smile of recognition from a young woman. The unicyclist is encouraged to wear a hat, so that he may tip its brim in appreciation.
2) “Bravo, young man!” There is but one problem with a nice burst of verbal encouragement such as this: A loud, distracting shout of any sort can quickly send a novice unicyclist careening off-course; in my case, into a parked car.
3) “Can I try?” (Option 2) The aspiring unicyclist is always eager to learn from his betters.
4) “Do a wheelie!” What is this, you say? You approve of a heckle? Indeed! A moderately clever, good-spirited quip such as this is always welcome. A wheelie! On a unicycle! Indeed! Let us take a moment and chuckle together.
5) Silence accompanied by a sneer. Any recognition from a young woman is welcome. The unicyclist can always assume that she sneers about something else, like the thought of her non-unicycling man-friend who treats her poorly and doesn’t ride a unicycle. The gentlemen will wait for you, dear lass.
Unacceptable Responses (from worst to best)
1) “Get down from there! You are a fool.” Indeed!
2) “Don’t Fall” Just plain dangerous!
3) “Can I try?” (Option 1) Despite all the ill effects of such an interaction, I happily report that a good spill from a unicycle silences all teenage bravado. Welcome to gentlemen’s school, teen person!
4) “Cool! Mommy, can I have one?” I appreciate your enthusiasm, young man, but your begging is unbecoming. You may have a unicycle of your own when you learn a trade and save your pennies. ‘Til then, silence!
5) “What, no juggling?” A harmless quip, yes. But, is a struggling unicyclist not entertainment enough? For shame! The speaker reveals himself to be impatient and difficult to satisfy, hallmarks of a rogue, not a gentleman.
1 point for each response correctly identified as acceptable of unacceptable.
5 points for putting the acceptable responses in the correct order
5 points for putting unacceptable responses in the correct order
Award yourself partial credit as necessary.
How did you do? The Gentlemen want to know! Send us your score (via electronic correspondence) and we’ll bestow upon you a title. (For example, a score of 6 earns you the title: Scallywag.)
Many happy adventures,