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Ungodly Edifices

The sci-fi short story below packs a lot into 500 words: an apocalyptic wasteland in the distant future, submerged continents, explorers armed with bows and arrows, a strange discovery. So much food for thought.

The author of this interesting nugget from half a century ago, Therese Windser, is a mystery; I Googled her and came up empty. Even the Google has its limits.

Although “Longevity” seems to be the only work for which Ms. Windser is credited, using a pseudonym is a common practice. Maybe “Therese Windser” doesn’t exist.

A curious mystery, but not in the same league as the one in the story.

———

Longevity

By Therese Windser
Published in Amazing Science Fiction Stories, May 1960

A morality tale — 1960 style.

Legend had it, that many thousands of years ago, right after the Great Horror, the whole continent of the west had slowly sunk beneath the West Water, and that once every century it arose during a full moon. Still, Captain Hinrik clung to the hope that the legend would not be borne out by truth.

Perhaps the west continent still existed; perhaps, dare he hope, with civilization. The crew of the Semilunis thought him quite mad. After all, hadn’t the east and south continents been completely annihilated from the great sky fires; and wasn’t it said that they had suffered but a fraction of what the west continent had endured?

The Semilunis anchored at the mouth of a great river. The months of fear and doubt were at end. Here, at last, was the west continent. A small party of scouts was sent ashore with many cautions to be alert for luminescent areas which meant certain death for those who remained too long in its vicinity.

Armed with bow and arrow, the party made its way slowly up the great river. Nowhere was to be seen the color green, only dull browns and greys. And no sign of life, save for an occasional patch of lichen on a rock.

After several days of rowing, the food and water supply was almost half depleted and still no evidence of either past or present habitation. It was time to turn back, to travel all the weary months across the West Water, the journey all in vain. What a small reward for such an arduous trip… just proof of the existence of a barren land mass, ugly and useless.

On the second day of the return to the Semilunis, the scouting party decided to stop and investigate a huge opening in the rocky mountainside. How suspiciously regular and even it looked, particularly in comparison to the rest of the countryside which was jagged and chaotic.

They entered the cave apprehensively, torches aflare and weapons in hand. But all was darkness and quiet. Still, the regularity of the cave walls led them on. Some creature, man or otherwise, must have planned and built this… but to what end?

Now the cave divided into three forks. The torches gave only a hint of the immensity of the chambers that lay at the end of each. They selected the center chamber, approaching cautiously, breath caught in awe and excitement.

The torches reflected on a dull black surface which was divided into many, many little squares. The sameness of them stretched for uncountable yards in all directions. What were these ungodly looking edifices?

The black surface was cold and smooth to the touch and quite regular except for a strange little hole at the bottom of each square and a curious row of pictures along the top.

They would copy these strange pictures. Perhaps back home there would be a scholar who would understand the meaning behind these last remains of the people of the west continent.

The leader took out his slate and painstakingly copied:

Safeguard your valuables at
ALLEGHANY MOUNTAIN VAULTS
Box #454435678

Longevity

When I first read this story, the spelling of ALLEGHANY jumped out at me. I thought the correct spelling was ALLEGHENY, as in the Allegheny Mountains and the Allegheny River.

As it turns out, the spelling varies by location. Generally, the word is spelled ALLEGHENY in Pennsylvania, ALLEGANY in New York, and ALLEGHANY in Virginia and North Carolina.

Which implies that the wasteland where the story takes place is a future Virginia or North Carolina.

Ta-da.

 

Hobbit

Schrodinger

Clowns, jokers

Importanter

 

Lone Survivor

The following recollection isn’t a parable, because parables involve human characters. I looked it up. Nor is it quite a metaphor. Metaphors are about symbolism, not literal truth.

Allegory? Analogy? A label eludes me. You decide.

———

In 1979, having lived in Ft. Lauderdale for most of a decade, my family and I moved back to Metro Atlanta.

We settled in Lawrenceville, a bedroom community in Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta, near my parents and siblings. My job was in the eastern suburb of Conyers, and I began the routine of weekday commutes cross-country from suburb to suburb.

Back then, Lawrenceville and Gwinnett were growing uncomfortably fast. The county government had been taken over by developers, literally, and one of Gwinnett’s major assets, the beautiful greenery, was disappearing lickety-split.

Subdivisions and strip malls sprouted everywhere. The communities and neighborhoods became badly overcrowded. Government resources were strained. The traffic was terrible. Nobody liked it except the landowners, developers, builders, and tradesmen who were cheerfully cashing in. Because America.

My commute from Lawrenceville to Conyers was a drive of about 25 miles and 40 minutes. Usually, traffic at the Lawrenceville end was busy and unpleasant, but the rest of the drive was easy and peaceful along rural roads.

I thought of those commutes as my personal time to relax and reflect. I became an attentive observer of life along the route of the commute, about which I elaborated in this post in 2009 and this one in 2015.

I mention this because of something else that held my attention during those years: a handsome forest of hardwoods along Georgia Highway 20, the main route between home and Lawrenceville. Over time, as the human presence expanded, I watched the forest change.

The hardwoods were at their most picturesque near the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive. Swanson Drive led east to the county jail, the animal shelter, and an elementary school. There, of course, the trees long since had been razed.

But at the aforementioned intersection, the trees were striking — a mature stand in its prime, dominated by beautiful White Oaks with broad, dense crowns.

At the southeast corner of the intersection, under the oaks, was a small building, originally a residence, now a business.

The sign in front read

WHITE OAKS DAY CARE CENTER

For several years, I passed the place twice a day on my commute, and it was one of the highlights of the drive. The setting was attractive and restful. The little building under the trees was a pleasant, welcome sight.

Apparently, the day care center was doing well, and the time came to expand. The house was demolished, and most of the surrounding oaks were cut down. Only half a dozen remained.

A new building was constructed on the property, suitably larger and more elaborate.

The new sign in front read

OAK GROVE DAY CARE CENTER

In 1996, I moved to Walton County, and my days of commuting across Gwinnett County ended. After that, I passed the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive only on weekends, on my way to see my parents in the old neighborhood.

Time passed. Outwardly, little changed at the intersection. Then, in 2001 or 2002, the parking lot was repaved and expanded. Of the remaining oaks, all were cut down except two, one on each side of the building.

I wondered if the business would rename itself TWIN OAKS DAY CARE CENTER, but I was disappointed.

During the next several years, my life and routine changed significantly. Mom and Dad passed away, and I retired. I moved to Jefferson to be closer to my son Dustin and his family. Trips to Lawrenceville became a rarity. I lost track of the property at the intersection and its two surviving oak trees.

Over the decades from 1979 to the present, GA 20 north of Lawrenceville progressed from two lanes, to three lanes, to four, to six. Swanson Drive was extended west across GA 20, where a massive new industrial park was built. All typical of Gwinnett’s pell-mell growth over the years.

If you sense that I disapprove, you are correct. The county is overcrowded and choked with traffic to an appalling degree. Home prices and taxes are prohibitive. In short, Gwinnett long ago squandered its redeeming qualities. I avoid going there when possible.

In the end, the county’s steady growth and constant road improvements effectively canceled each other out. Morning and evening traffic have attained a state of hopeless, permanent gridlock, probably forever.

But I digress.

A couple of years ago, I passed the aforementioned intersection and was surprised to find that the day care center was gone. That was unexpected, but things change. Maybe the owners had retired or moved away.

Occupying the property instead were three small businesses: a U-Haul dealership, a rental car company, and a used car lot.

Also, I regret to report that only one of the two large White Oaks remained. There it was, the lone survivor of the original stand, providing shade for a row of used cars.

Too bad no one thought of LONE OAK AUTOMOTIVE.

Lone survivor

The intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive in Lawrenceville, showing the surviving White Oak.

The day care center, by the way, did not close. I discovered later that it merely had relocated a few blocks south on GA 20. The sign at the new location reads

OAK GROVE CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER

I certainly understand. “Child development” has much more panache than “day care.”

Still, considering the fate of the trees at the old location, the use of “oak grove” is ironic.

That, and the fact that the new location essentially is treeless.

OGCDC

Quercus alba

Quercus alba, the White Oak, native to North America from southern Canada to Florida to eastern Texas. So named because of the color of the finished wood. In favorable conditions, a White Oak can live for 450 years.

 

Neither Books Nor Men

A few years ago, I posted two short stories by American author Kate Chopin (1850-1904): The Story of an Hour and Regret.” The first post, in case you’re interested, included a brief bio.

Chopin’s work appeals to me for two reasons.

First, her writing strikes me as more modern than most from her era. She comes across as ahead of her time, almost contemporary.

Second, when reading Chopin, I get the sense that I understand her thought processes and motivations, as if seeing into her brain. It makes her characters and plots seem more genuine. Truer to life. Closer to reality than fiction.

I get that feeling with “The Night Came Slowly.

———

The Night Came Slowly

By Kate Chopin
Published in Moods, Philadelphia, July 1895

I am losing my interest in human beings; in the significance of their lives and their actions. Some one has said it is better to study one man than ten books. I want neither books nor men; they make me suffer. Can one of them talk to me like the night — the Summer night? Like the stars or the caressing wind?

The night came slowly, softly, as I lay out there under the maple tree. It came creeping, creeping stealthily out of the valley, thinking I did not notice. And the outlines of trees and foliage nearby blended in one black mass and the night came stealing out from them, too, and from the east and west, until the only light was in the sky, filtering through the maple leaves and a star looking down through every cranny.

The night is solemn and it means mystery.

Human shapes flitted by like intangible things. Some stole up like little mice to peep at me. I did not mind. My whole being was abandoned to the soothing and penetrating charm of the night.

The katydids began their slumber song: they are at it yet. How wise they are. They do not chatter like people. They tell me only: “sleep, sleep, sleep.” The wind rippled the maple leaves like little warm love thrills.

Why do fools cumber the Earth! It was a man’s voice that broke the necromancer’s spell. A man came to-day with his “Bible Class.” He is detestable with his red cheeks and bold eyes and coarse manner and speech. What does he know of Christ? Shall I ask a young fool who was born yesterday and will die tomorrow to tell me things of Christ? I would rather ask the stars: they have seen him.

The Night Came Slowly

In the last paragraph, Chopin refers to “a man’s voice that broke the necromancer’s spell.” The meaning of that line eludes me. In this case, I’m not seeing into her brain very successfully.

 

This Just In

POMPANO BEACH, FLORIDA — For the second time, a Florida man has been rescued by the Coast Guard after attempting to reach Bermuda and other ports in a giant inflatable “hydropod.”

Reza Baluchi, an endurance athlete, was rescued after he ignored a Coast Guard order not to undertake the journey. He was warned that the device was “manifestly unsafe” because temperatures inside his custom-made bubble easily could reach 120 degrees.

The hydropod resembles a giant hamster wheel and features “buoyancy balls” on each side. Propelled by pedaling, it is equipped with shark repellent, a GPS device, and a life jacket with built-in water filter. Baluchi said he wanted to raise money for “children in need.”

He made a similar failed attempt in 2014, when he was discovered near Miami, dazed and asking for directions to Bermuda. That rescue cost the government $144,000.

Hydropod

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — Frantic campers at Centennial Park Campground called police in the predawn hours last month to report that a bear had attacked a tent, and a person may have been inside.

The bear was gone when officers arrived, and the tent was in tatters. When they poked a sleeping bag inside the tent, a 58-year-old woman popped her head out. She said she had been playing dead to evade the bear.

Noting that the campsite was littered with food and trash, which attracts bears, police issued the woman a citation.

Subsequently, they discovered an outstanding warrant on the woman for failing to appear on a disorderly conduct charge, and she was arrested.

Bear attack

HAWTHORNE, FLORIDA — A 49-year-old man phoned the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office last month to report having a violent reaction to smoking a narcotic he purchased from a former girlfriend. The man said he thought he was buying “crank,” but believed he was cheated. He asked if he could press charges against the woman.

A deputy offered to test and identify the drug if the man would bring it to the Narcotics Unit. The man complied, turning over a crystal-like substance wrapped in aluminum foil.

When the substance tested positive for methamphetamine, the man was arrested for possession without a prescription. He was transported next door to the county jail.

On its Facebook page, the Sheriff’s Office observed, “Remember, our detectives are always ready to assist anyone who believes they were misled in their illegal drug purchase.”

Meth

 

Out the Window

In 1866, the Civil War barely over, German immigrant William A. Breyer of Philadelphia was unemployed with a family to support. He got the bright idea of making ice cream in the family kitchen and selling it around the neighborhood.

Breyer made a variety of flavors, and he advertised that his home-made ice cream contained only the finest all-natural ingredients: cream, cane sugar, fresh fruit, nuts, and healthy, yummy flavorings.

Further, Breyer did not add egg yolks to the product for richness, which was the practice with the French style of ice cream popular at the time. (The Breyer style later became known as Philadelphia or American ice cream.)

Breyer’s ice cream was a hit, and his business venture clicked. Family members pitched in to increase production. To reach more customers, Breyer purchased a horse-drawn wagon, insulated to hold blocks of ice and equipped with a dinner bell to announce its approach.

Soon, several horse-drawn rigs were in operation. Before long, the family opened a retail shop.

When William died in 1882, his son Henry took over the business. In 1896, the era of hand-cranked Breyers came to a close when the family opened a manufacturing plant.

In 1908, Henry incorporated Breyer Ice Cream Company. Trucks replaced the horses and wagons. By 1918, the company was producing and distributing over one million gallons of ice cream annually.

Through it all, the Breyers organization built its reputation on using only a few select, wholesome ingredients.

Even after Breyers was purchased by Kraft in 1926, the “all-natural”mystique was so strong that the ice cream remained relatively unchanged — carefullyunsullied by the sinister-sounding additives and preservatives that were creeping into competing ice cream brands.

You had to wonder how long that mystique could prevail over the baser instincts of capitalism.

———

As far back as I can remember, Breyers was the Smith family ice cream of choice. Flavor preferences varied, but, when it came to birthday parties and holiday get-togethers, only Breyers would do.

The brand became a family tradition because, first, it was great ice cream, and second, we admired Breyers for keeping the ingredients minimal and natural.

The label would read MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, VANILLA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, COCOA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, STRAWBERRIES.

Sure, a random new ingredient would sneak in now and then — TARA GUM and SOY LECITHIN and such.

Sure, that was unsettling. But maybe, we thought, the additives genuinely benefited the product. Or perhaps they were required by some new government safety regulation. Besides, it still tasted like good old Breyers. So we looked the other way.

———

Clearly, Breyers was aware of the value of its “all-natural” reputation. A few decades ago, the company ran TV commercials featuring children struggling to read the names of the ingredients in competing brands. The ads were quite effective.

Those sentiments, of course, were phony. Sheer corporate crapola. They were ironic, too, considering the downward spiral, ingredient-wise, that Breyers soon would enter.

The decline of Breyers can be traced to 1993, when Kraft sold its ice cream brands, including Breyers, to the British-Dutch company Unilever. That was when the Breyers commitment to making ice cream with simple, all-natural ingredients went out the window.

Under Unilever, Breyers folded like an empty ice cream carton. Steamrolled, as it were, by expediency and the pursuit of profit.

Today, a Breyers product can contain up to 40 additive ingredients.

For example:

Breyers-1

Food additives fall into a range of categories: preservatives, stabilizers, sweeteners, thickeners, bulking agents, coloring agents, antioxidants, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, and more. All have legitimate purposes.

But some varieties of Breyers now contain so little milk and cream that, legally, they no longer can be called “Ice Cream.” They are classified instead as “Frozen Dairy Dessert.”

To be fair, Breyers branched out to market a range of dessert variations — Gelatos, CarbSmart, Lactose Free, Fat Free, Gluten Free, Non-Dairy, Non-GMO. In those cases, simple and all-natural are not going to happen anyway. But the classic flavors have been adulterated, too.

The company does its best to apply lipstick to the pig, but only embarrasses itself:

“Only the highest quality ingredients go into Breyers® original flavors. We start with fresh cream, sugar, and milk and then add ingredients like real fruit and chunks of chocolate.”

“Add ingredients,” indeed.

———

Speaking of additives, here are the ingredients of “Breyers No Sugar Added Light Vanilla Ice Cream”:

Breyers-2

And here are the ingredients of “Breyers Blasts! Sara Lee Strawberry Cheesecake Frozen Dairy Dessert”:

Breyers-3

Indeed, the mighty have fallen.

At least William Breyer isn’t around to see what the suits have done with his legacy.

———

I close with one final observation.

Here are the ingredients of “Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream”:

Breyers-4

To the company’s credit, the ingredients are few and the additives minimal.

But please note that vanilla is not an ingredient of Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream.

 

The Questions…

1. The tradition of flying a flag at half-staff began in the 17th Century. It was seen as a symbol of respect and/or mourning, done to acknowledge some national event or the death of a notable person. What was the original meaning of the tradition?

2. What’s the difference between a nook and a cranny?

3. Chuck E. Cheese is the mouse mascot of the now-global restaurant chain bearing his name. His backstory: he is an orphaned mouse who doesn’t know his own birthday, so he hosts birthday parties for kids. What does the E in Chuck E. Cheese stand for?

4. Who was the youngest U.S. President?

5. What is the name of the business conglomerate formed by The Beatles in 1968?

The Answers…

1. Flying the flag at half-staff supposedly leaves space above it for “the invisible flag of death.”

2. A nook is a corner. A cranny is a crack.

3. Entertainment.

4. Theodore Roosevelt. He was 42 and serving as Vice President when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. FYI, John Kennedy was 43 when he took office, Bill Clinton and Ulysses Grant were 46, and Barack Obama was 47.

5. Apple Corps. A Granny Smith apple is its logo. The company’s primary business is Apple Records, but other divisions have included films, music publishing, a recording studio, a retail store, and electronics. Over the years, Apple Corps and Apple Inc. (the iPhone/Mac people) have sued each other regularly for trademark infringement and violating settlement agreements.

Half-staff

Apple Corps