Little Leaf Crunchers Make Lingerie Happen

It’s no secret that Silt Ridge has a rich and storied history. The “silt” could easily be converted to “silk” because the town has a heritage of harnessing the power of silk worms to create a world-renowned industry. Morris drives by one of the buildings that housed the billions of worms; it stands like a hulking sentinel in the coalescing grey clouds. Morris wonders what it must have been like back then in that cultured era. There must have been buyers coming in from all over the world to purchase the silk garments that were fashioned in nearby factories. Morris is certain that his landlady’s family – the formidable LoZelle Empire – made its mark in top-end shirts sewn from the highest quality homegrown materials. Morris realizes that those glory days are a far cry from today, when the mayor and board of supervisors spend much of the day trying to attract fast-food joints to locate in downtown. Morris wonders if there’s maybe another way . . .

Silk Worms on Parade

Growing the Bottom Line One Thread at a Time

I leave the mayor and his get-rich-quick-scheme in my rearview mirror.

Like so many politicians, when Perry Quinnion sought office he primped and preened, strutting around with his thumbs in his suspenders, puffing out his flaccid chest, squawking about how he was going to turn the economic fortunes of the town around. He was going to bring industry back to the valley, attracting high-tech jobs with clean energy. You know – the same ol’ same ol’ you’ve heard a thousand times before.

So far, he’s been a bust, unable to lure any of the fast-food standbys. The same goes for hotels, including on-again/off-again talks with a brand name on the 907 business loop. But that appears to have fallen flatter than a pancake. Don’t worry, he hasn’t been able to land a pancake or waffle joint either.

His legacy is still intact though; his promise to entice a drone factory is still viable. Those talks are apparently ongoing and will remain that way right through the next election. But if I were a betting man, I’d say that one would be dead in the water too, sooner than later.

Remnant from the Past: One Hulking Pavilion

On the outskirts of town, I roll past the hulking pavilion from a bygone era, the steel-and-glass conservancy consisting of over a million square feet of multi-tiered climate-controlled extravagance. Rising eight stories, the steel peak of the massive ornate structure pierces the low-hanging clouds. With such an imposing size and girth, the sprawling architectural wonder provides a lot of potential.  But that’s all it amounts to: potential. This city has seemingly an endless supply of potential but obviously no means to harness it.

At one point in Silt Ridge’s illustrious history, that potential was me – and then some. During the height of the region’s silk production, the conservancy served as home to hundreds if not thousands of mulberry trees whose meaty leaves provided food for the swarming teems of silk worms. I wondered what it all must have looked like in this thriving city at the turn of the last century. Not more than a few blocks from the heart of the financial district was a sprawling greenhouse filled with millions upon millions of industrious worms eating their way to haute-couture stardom.

Little Workers that Never Complained

The little workers fueled the silk industry on the eastern shore of the U.S. and started a tradition of quality garments made right in the center of town. The raw material was transferred to nearby factories where it was exotically colored and swirled into alluring patterns, providing some of the most sought-after garments in the world.

Rags-to-Riches: Never Doubt the Power of Silk

A thought suddenly strikes me: what about a documentary about the silk trade in Silt Ridge? Better yet, what about a movie, a literal rags-to-riches number? Or how about a horror flick: a mad scientist genetically alters the little critters so they make their silk cocoons out of some otherworldly material that looks good leaving the loading dock but ultimately invades the pores of anyone who wears it and makes them act like zombies. We could undertake a whole franchise based on that premise.

I pick up my flip phone but resist the urge to dial Noreen’s number. I’m having too much fun driving around in my convertible, watching snow swirling all around me.

My Life is a Cheesy “Bootstrap” Poster

Perry Quinnion, like most everyone else in Silt Ridge, is a part-time employee. In order to supplement his income, Mayor Quinnion creates and hawks pseudo-inspirational posters at the main intersection of town. Morris looks down his nose at this self-serving venture, viewing the posters as kitschy, gauche and overly simplistic. But the people of Silt Ridge seem to like them just fine. Morris doesn’t know where they get the shekels to buy the pricey items, but he’s not here to ask questions or cast aspersions. To each his own. On this particular dark, snowy and windswept afternoon, Morris pulls to a stop at City Hall, where the Mayor’s striped sales tent glows with the intensity of halogen lights. Morris thinks Mayor Quinnion is going to put the squeeze on him, but Hizzhoner totally turns the tables, and engages in a game of one-upmanship that really rankles Morris . . .

The Mayor of Silt Ridge

A Proud Tradition of Corrupt Incompetence

There’s a bit of a traffic jam at City Hall on the corner of Fifth and Main. The building is an imposing deco-inspired granite-faced edifice rising twenty-four stories into the slate sky. The building was rumored to have been used in the title sequence of the black and white version of the infamous “Crater-eating Cockroach” series . . . you know, “crunching crime beneath the weight of a two-ton pest . . .” but I was never able to figure out that meant. Was the enormous water bug on a pogo stick hopping around from one skyscraper to the next? The visuals made absolutely no sense. Well, there’s no mistaking one aspect: our current Mayor, Perry Quinnion, is definitely not a swashbuckling crime fighter; the part about the pogo stick might apply though.

Always Hawking His Wares

At the foot of the sweeping brass-inlaid entryway with a curved marble stairway is a red-and-white-striped tent. It is tall and narrow, much like a portable cabana one would find on the beach. From within the tent emanates the soft glow of an LED spotlight.

I have a little problem with traction at the stoplight and am glad I’m able to brake without incident. The remnant of rush hour on this snowy evening seems to have coalesced at this precise intersection.

No wonder there’s a tie-up. I gaze at the tall hunched over figure in the bedraggled topcoat. The mayor is hawking his wares again.

Much like everything else in Silt Ridge, the mayoral position is a part-time gig. Perry Quinnion supplements his income by printing and selling inspirational office posters that trade on animals behaving badly.

Making Every Sale Count

I chide myself for driving through this part of town. The Mayor may be inept, but he is a master of sales. He never settles for my line about not having the cash on me. He doesn’t deal in credit, which for a mayor is, probably commendable.

As General Manager of the sole TV station in town, I have an obligation to keep good relationship with local politicians. But does that mean becoming a patron for the mayor’s side venture?  Forget the fact that his posters are downright stupid.

The mayor smiles disjointedly as he holds up his latest creation to passing motorists: a ram slams headfirst into the side panel of a bronze-colored Mercedes-Benz. The caption reads: “If you don’t see it coming you’ll be better prepared for failure.” Mayor Quinnion reads the caption out loud just to be sure people get the gist of the message. Hizzhoner is one to talk about failure. He promised to bring an IMAX to center city but so far hasn’t even been able to land so much as a dollar store.

Feeling Helpless in the Land of Failure

I’m stuck. The light turns red and I’m forced to stop in front of the tent. Looking straight ahead, I tap my fingers on the steering wheel.

The tent light goes out. Exiting the striped confines, the angular mayor dusts the sleeves of his topcoat, adjusts his ratty stovepipe hat, and whisks past the hood of my car like I’m not even there. He hustles up the stairs toward his office with unsold posters neatly rolled up under his arm. I feel cheated when he doesn’t stop to sell me a poster.

The last time he hit me up, we had a conversation about him auditioning for co-host on my nightly talk show, Anthracite Tonite.

But like everything else, it always comes down to the central question: “Are you any good at handling venomous snakes?”

More Frieze Than a Fresco Can Handle

Morris drives through the lonely, snowy streets of Silt Ridge on his way to a boisterous preproduction meeting at the Five-Points Highway Diner. Down Second Avenue, he sees the Gypsum Palace Cinema, which is another prodigious local landmark, much like the Graphite County Opera House, where he and Verona Kendermants office and which is owned by Daddy. Morris remembers the first time he saw a movie at the storied Palace Cinema. He was seated alone in the ornate balcony, eagerly anticipating another installment of his favorite movie franchise, the comedy about cowboys on the moon. He loves it when the horses talk like they’re full of helium, in addition to the way they float over the lunar landscape. But something happens to really rattle Morris’ popcorn. His timid eyes are in no shape to partake of the shocking overhead mural . . .

Kudos for the Gypsum Palace Cinema

What Oyster Coal Meant to the Platinum Age

Down Venus Street, at the intersection of Second Avenue, is the neon-bathed testimony to an Art Deco-inspired masterpiece, the Gypsum Palace Cinema. The five-story, ornate structure features a sculpted frieze around the top of its ornamental exterior and a series of magnificent frescoes inside the monumental edifice across the interior dome of an imposing vaulted ceiling.

The architectural gem is arguably most noted for the subject matter of its friezes and frescoes. Or, quite possibly the presentation of said subject matter. The history of coalmining in the region from centuries ago is vividly portrayed, from the discovery of beloved Oyster coal to the advent of the Platinum-Age “Interplanetary Era,” which the refinement of the rare hemicellulose polymers made possible. Stalwart coalminers across bygone eras are portrayed in many aspects of their vocation in great bouts of sweat and discomfort. Indeed, their valiant labors don’t go unrewarded or unnoticed in this great effort to fuel spaceships and power lunar coffee shops.

Omitting Something Vital from Historical Perspective

The most visually arresting part of this artwork comes with the apparel–or lack thereof. All of the local coalminers depicted in these sprawling murals and masterpieces don’t have a stitch of clothing on, save for their scarred and dirty miners’ helmets. For decades, this has created a schism in this town wider than the Orcas Vein beneath the Windsor District. I personally side with the folks who profess indifference to the lurid artwork, basically a “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude. Myself, I don’t care to look at all the muscular body parts, the straining limbs and appendages, but that’s just me.

I remember the first time I saw the cinema palace; well, I must tell you, I was quite taken aback. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. I glanced a second time, and sure enough, this was like a locker room for the working class. Some things just don’t need to be seen. I knew right then that the sight of all those naked men was going to burn a hole into the core of my better sensibilities that I would never be able to get back.

Thankfully the Tile Guy Kept his Pants on

I have since learned my lesson: whenever I go to that movie house, I always look down at the floor. Thankfully, the guy who did the tiles wasn’t as obsessed with the coalminers’ anatomy. I am thankful that once I’m seated in the balcony, the lights are completely off and I’m spared from seeing the artful rendering above. Still, during a lull in the movie, my mind sometimes wanders, and I start thinking about how many naked coalminers are staring down at me from the graceful echelons of the sprawling vaulted ceiling. But I am not a proponent of plastering over the historical artwork, as some are. I refuse to let my own tastes and biases color the enjoyment and edification of others.

Cowboys on the Moon: Lunar Lassoes

I see on the big snow-encrusted marquee down the block that they are bringing back one of the all-time classics: a comedy about the first cowboys on the moon. I suddenly get a twinge of excitement, as the genesis for a new TV show comes to me. I want to call Noreen right away to pitch her.

Then I start thinking about the movie, I had seen it as a kid, and it was pretty hilarious when you thought about the horses trying to overcompensate for the lack of gravity. The protagonist was a sheriff who always had to deal with invaders from other dimensions. The movie ended with the camera zooming in on the earth until you’re able to see actual towns. Then, the cowboy drawls, “I sure do miss that ol’ rock.” And we fade out.

I could have sworn the camera zeroed in on Daddy’s compound on Lake Washington, but later found out it was in Hialeah, Florida. I should have known better: there were no mountains around.