The Advertising Age, Part I

Is there anything sadder than a neglected blog? I guess so–neglected milk is pretty bad. And, come to think of, I guess neglecting your children or pets is much, much worse. But that’s a criminal matter and, last I checked, blog neglect is only illegal in Scandinavia.

In any case, I am pleased to announce I am bringing my blog back in full force! I personally guarantee three new posts! How can I make such a bold and ridiculous claim as that? Well, I’ve already written them, that’s how! As so, without further ado, I present part I of “The Advertising Age.”

Barbara had a husband, two rocket cars in her garage and a view of Luna Beach from her bedroom window. Her space-age modern living room had all the latest Danish-style furniture. Fingertip shopping and interactive television were realities. And the city around her looked exactly as she had always dreamed her future would look—moving walkways transporting people to work, office buildings with large expanses of glass and exposed metal, houses with domed rooftops, sleep-portals advertised with giant neon signs and fueling stations that looked like flying saucers.

She had lost track of what she had found so appealing about it all. The truth was, her life was an endless cycle of domestic chores, sleep and the occasional intergalactic vacation. And now, as so often happened on these long monorail rides, her eyes grew heavy and she thought of a time before life on the moon—a time when all the amazing innovations around her were nothing but predictions.

The day everything changed had started unremarkably. It was 1954 and her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Cooper, dimmed the light switch and wheeled out the 8mm projector. She still remembered that device perfectly—it was quaint today, but at the time it seemed a marvel of technology. Cosmetically and mechanically it was a handsome piece of machinery, and she vividly recalled how Mrs. Cooper loaded the film and engaged the clutch to gradually coax the motor—just as her father did in the Plymouth before pulling out of the driveway. She loved the warm sound of whirring, the occasional pop of the audio track and the light-flashes 24 times a second.

But the subject matter of the films did not always interest her. It was either “What’s Happening to My Body?”, “The Importance of Duck and Cover” or “The Dangers of Gossiping.” Most often, it was “Soapy the Germ Fighter.” She could still practically recite that one from memory. She would always remember that translucent soap ghost hovering over young Jimmy’s bed. “So long, partner, and don’t forget to wash.”  Jimmy smiled and waved.  “I won’t, Soapy. And that’s a promise!”

The only films Barbara truly enjoyed were the films about the future. Back then, she loved it all—the rocket cars, the gleaming glass skyscrapers, the meals in pill-form. That day they had watched “Shopping in the Future” and Barbara’s chair screeched loudly as she scooted closer to the edge of her seat.

The wild cries and giggles of her classmates gave way to the soothing, All-American voice of the announcer: “Fingertip shopping will be one of the homemaker’s conveniences. The video console will be channeled into the store of her choice. There, a camera will scan a display of wares which she will select by push-button.”  In the film, a wife sat at a desk with a monitor in front of her gaze and a typewriter at her fingertips. Her hair was immaculate, her dress polka-dotted. The announced sounded like Wink Martindale.

Barbara’s eyes were wide with excitement. But an unexplained noise began to distract her. Was that part of the film? Suddenly, the classroom jumped.  There were flashes of light—flashes, not from the projector, but from outside. There was screaming from the children and Mrs. Cooper was saying something inaudible. Barbara knew this was the moment they’d rehearsed a thousand times before after watching the “duck and cover” films. It must have been the communists. And in that moment of realization, she felt a pressure wave, a pulsing radioactive shock like the weight of a ship on an electronic ocean, then a warm tickling feeling.

She could feel bits of cement falling from the ceiling. She looked up, and in the flicker of the radioactive light, she could see that the school building was slowly collapsing. There was a loud noise like the snap of a log and then debris and swirling dust everywhere.

Then eerie silence. The flashing lights had stopped and Barbara found herself surrounded by a thick curtain of darkness even though it was mid-afternoon. Through it all, she could make out several wooden columns that had supported the school building. It was gone now—its naked remains like the skeleton of a fun house.

Eventually, she pried herself free from the rubble and fallen timbers that blocked her path. She had somehow avoided being struck in the collapse, but her classmates had not been so fortunate. As she tiptoed through the wreckage, she saw open textbooks smeared with blood. She saw row after row of crushed desks, with lifeless legs sticking out from underneath—feet still festooned with black and white saddle shoes and Keds sneakers.

The educational films had failed them all. Duck and cover hadn’t worked. Barbara knew then that she was alone. Her mother couldn’t help her. Her teacher couldn’t help her. President Eisenhower couldn’t help her. Soapy the Germ Fighter couldn’t help her.

Barbara heard a series of tones—the sound of an incoming electronic communiqué on her transistor phone—and she was jolted back to the present. Or should she say the future? It still seemed that way to her sometimes. She knew she shouldn’t think about the blast. So much about that day and the days that followed still haunted her. And so much about it remained a mystery. She could hardly fathom how the million or so survivors of the blast had so quickly reformed society and then built this city on the newly colonized moon—and with all these amazing advancements! But no one ever spoke of the reconstructive years.

She glanced at her transistor phone. She knew it would be her husband Stanley. As she pulled the device from her purse, she read the communiqué: “Hi honey – going to be late at the office. Have dinner waiting. Don’t burn the Soy Roast.” She switched it off and continued staring out the window. She tried to think of more calming thoughts, but watching the passing rocket cars on the starway reminded her of Stanley, and the thought of him was only slightly less troubling than her memories of atomic annihilation.

Even though they had two cars, they were both Stanley’s. He wouldn’t let her drive. In fact, he wouldn’t even let her drive the fully automated Chevy Venus, the car for women. It came complete with navigation-system, self-steering auto-maneuver and mirrors on the dash for applying makeup on the go. “Look, honey, I’m driving all by myself!” said the woman on the electric billboards.

Of course, that wasn’t the car Barbara really wanted, but she would have settled for anything so that she had a bit of freedom. What she really wanted was the 100 rocket-power Ford Futura. She longed to grasp the gearshift in her hand, push it into overdrive and zoom down the open starway. If Stanley knew about that fantasy, he would laugh in her face and patronizingly ruffle her hair. So it remained a dream. And now here she was on the Monorail on the way to Spaceway Supermarket to pick up Fab Laundry Detergent.

As Barbara derailed the monorail, she popped a little red capsule. She couldn’t even remember the first time she had take one, but every Tuesday she made her way to the slums to buy a bottle They certainly helped relieve her boredom and made her forget about that trauma of her childhood. And as she walked through the sliding glass doors of Spaceway, the walls were already starting to bend and her perception of color and sound was intensifying.

She walked down the cereal aisle and was greeted by corporate mascots pitching their products. These were holograms projected by her transistor phone, triggered when the computer chip inside the transistor came into contact with the chip inside the packaging.

Snap, Crackle and Pop serenaded her with their newest jingle. Snap was on piano, Crackle on guitar and Pop on an upright bass. They shook their heads and crooned with passion, like an old-fashioned barbershop quartet: “Snap makes the galaxy spiral! Snap, Crackle, Pop Rice Crispies!”

Next came Tony the Tiger, wearing a space suit: “Frosted Flakes are crisp flakes of corn with a top-secret blend of sugars. Have ‘em with milk or astro-cream and you’ll be jumpin’ with the energy of a million photons! They’re greeeeeaaaat.”

Barbara couldn’t help but think that Tony the Tiger suddenly looked amazingly real. In fact, he looked so real she could see every hair on his body separately. He no longer resembled the happy go-lucky mascot she remembered, but like a tiger straight from the jungles back on earth.

“Sugar Frosted Flakes also come in Kellogg’s snacks packs, with five of your favorite Kellogg’s cereals, each with top-secret, ready-sweetened flavoring,” said Tony. “You’d better eat ‘em all before I eat you!” His face turned to liquid and reformed. She could see the entire universe in his eyes. Then he growled and began to pounce.

“Stop!” Barbara cried out loud. “Leave me alone!”

Everything was a blur. The store walls were falling in on her.

Suddenly another voice: “Is everything alright over here, Barbara?”

“Stop him! Stop him!”

“Barbara?”

“My consciousness has moved down into my feet. My head has floated away.”

“Do we need to phone your husband, Barbara?”

Barbara squinted here eyes—she had knocked over an entire row of cereals. Now she was staring into the eyes of the humanoid robot clerk who had been alerted by the fallen merchandise. Somehow his robotic eyes were warm and comforting to her. This wasn’t a hologram or a hallucination.  At least, she didn’t think so. She took a deep breath.

“No, I’ll be fine. I just got dizzy.”

She was amazed at how easily this explanation had worked.

“Okay Barbara,” said the bot, beginning to pick up the fallen cereal boxes. “Let us know if we can be of further assistance. Thanks for shopping at Spaceway!”

That was a relief! She managed to compose herself enough to pick up the laundry detergent she had come for, swipe her transistor at the register to pay, and wander outside.

To be continued…

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