A Damnable Sliver of Steel

For a dog, it is the itch beyond reach of scratching. For a writer, it is the word that just will not come to mind. For an artist, it is that color that no amount of mixing can match. For me, it is that insidious sliver of steel. Unlike the word-blocked writer, insidious is the perfect word for this most despised of foes. Glass and thorns are simple annoyances; their paths through rubber outer and inner casing are clear, straight and true.

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Those slivers of steel are different than anything else. Like the worst of any sic-fi alien brought to life by a Hollywood writer, they insinuate themselves by indirect paths, working themselves deeper over a period of time. Where the aliens wrap themselves around a vital part of human anatomy, feeding and growing off their victim, and unable to be dislodged without great harm or death to the host, the sliver subtly burrows with the same outcome. 

On more than one occasion I have have been compelled to dig out a sliver, causing more damage than the offending stray could ever have managed by itself. Wheel rotation coupled with internal and external pressures causes them to follow an indirect path from outside, in until they finally protrude through the threaded inner casing. But only just. Just enough to puncture and cause a slow agonizing leak of air. Just enough to feel with the flat of a finger. Just enough to scratch at with a nail. Just not enough to be able to grab hold of. The protrusion might as well be microscopic - no two fingers working in tandem can hope to gain traction. No pair of pliers are fine enough to grasp. I try pushing them through, to no avail. And so I scratch and I scrape, and I dig, first with fingernails, then with needles, tacks, nails, becoming ever more frustrated and desperate. 

Though it feels like one, it is not a battle I am engaged in, it is surgery. And I am no surgeon. A fine layer of rubber dust settles beneath the object of my concern and makes clear that unmistakable fact. This surgery is better accomplished with microscopes and fine medical instruments. All I have to wield are cudgels and dull-bladed sabers. Frayed threads inside reveal a clear picture of the desperation of the procedure. Pocked rubber outside marks the probing, a scar that will not heal, will only grow worse.

To make matters worse, I know where they come from, those slivers of steel. They are the product of double-ply metal belts, the kind found in, and exposed on, motor vehicle tires that have been allowed to function past their use-by date. They grind away beneath the weight of the passing behemoths, are scattered across the roadway. Too insignificant to see, they lie in wait, unobtrusive, but no less damaging for their scale. Shards of glass rarely cause problems these days, thorns are easy to dislodge once they have done their damage, nails can be avoided. Those thin slivers of steel, though, they are another matter altogether. They are the inevitable fate of the Red Shirts. They are the itch that cannot be reached, the color that cannot be matched. They are my fait accompli.


  1. A very fine, impassioned piece of prose. Bravo!

  2. I've rediscovered a way of reducing the odds... Now that I'm riding 20mm tires at 9.2 BAR (920 KPa), I've yet to have a flat. The rollin' footprint is verra wee. Knock on pavé.


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