By Alex Beam
I have a fatal weakness for the magnificent obsession, the contrarian dogma, the grandiose, quixotic quest. It’s hereditary. My mother is still hounding me to read “Holy Blood, Holy Grail,” the sensational bestseller that proves Jesus Christ was a member of the Knights of Malta.
But I am no better. I spent the better part of a decade pitching stories on Anatoly Fomenko to magazines like the Atlantic Monthly and the long-defunct Science ’85. Fomenko, you will recall (A Shorter History of Civilization,” Globe, Sept 16, 1991), is the Moscow University mathematics professor who believes that our historical chronology is badly out of whack. The reason so little is known about the Dark Ages, he suggests, is because they never occurred. He remains my intellectual hero.
Along with David Herlihy and Sean Dix.
David Herlihy has spent the better part of a decade trying to prove that Pierre Lallement, a poor French workman buried in an unmarked Boston grave, invented the bicycle. Lallement first pedaled his two-wheeler around Paris in 1863, and then moved to Ansonia, Conn. Two years later, he tooled his “bipedaliferous wheel” around New Haven and patented the device. How –ever, as a result of a shadowy Gallic Conspiracy, two Parisian blacksmiths-the father-and-son team of Pierre and Henri Michaux have always received credit for the invention.
How did Herlihy latch on to his Lallement obsession? The free-lance writer and columnist for Bicycle magazine was in France researching the derailleur-that’s the gear gizmo on a 10-speed-when he first heard “whispers” about Lallement. After much research in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Yale’s Beinecke Rare Books Library and points in between, Herlihy has amassed a compelling case confirming Lallement’s place in the cycling pantheon.
“I think I am now very close to setting the record straight,” Herlihy e-mailed me just before jetting off to Paris this week. “I will soon have the evidence to blow the “Michaux myth’ sky-high.” Herlihy has already jawboned the mayor’s office into creating a Lallement bike path, and still dreams of founding a National Bicycle Heritage Center in the Pope Building on Columbus Avenue. Questions or comments should be directed to the Lallement Memorial Committee, Box 15077, Boston 02215.
Aimez-vous floss ? I love the stuff, and commune with the waxy, cinnamon-flavored twine twice daily. I am almost as obsessed with the flossing as Sean Dix, a Manhattan-based diamond setter who has just left his job to create what he calls “the Pentium of floss products.”
The flossabilia available in drugstores has two big drawbacks, according to Dix. First off, it’s inconvenient to wind the string around your finger, for Dix it’s downright painful because he has eczema. Second, no manufacturer sells sterilized floss. “People don’t realize they are putting bacteria between their teeth,” Dix tells me, warning of “dental sepsis,” which the dictionary calls “local or generalized bacterial invasion of the body.” Yowwch!
Dix claims to have solved both problems.
He has invented the Dix FlossRings, circular floss grips made of plastic or metal that slip gently over your finger. After lengthy consultations with winding-machine manufacturers, dental experts and industry leader Johnson & Johnson, Dix has also figured out how to make sterile floss. He holds two patents.
One venture capitalist offered him a million dollars, in return for 80 percent of his company’s stock. Dix said no. Now he thinks he can pay for an initial shipment of 25,000 ring units, and hopes to use those revenues to finance 2 million units of sterile floss segment packs.
His dream is to license the recipe for Gore-Tex’s fabulous-but-pricey Glide floss and create sterile segments for his rings. “That will be the ultimate combination,” Dix says. “There will be no other way to floss.”