Simon St.Laurent: March 2008 Archives

The Old Guy's Shed


[by Thomas Shelley]

Ithaca, New York, late June, 2053

Riley and Sylvia sat in the antique folding chairs on the little flagstone pad outside the Old Guy's Shed sipping lemon flavored tea. The stars were brilliant. This was unusual as it was towards the end of the rainy season and it was usually cloudy. Even though it was well after sunset, on this rare dry day the humidity was down and the usual fog and mist weren't obscuring their view of the heavens. The Big Dipper floated overhead. Fireflies danced over Sylvia's garden. Pungent, aromatic smoke from the smudge pot kept the mosquitoes at bay.

Riley and Sylvia were now living in the Old Guy's Shed all year round. Even though there was no heat in the shed Riley had winterized a portion of the shed so that even on those rare days when the winter temperatures dipped below freezing they were warm enough to function. They could always go to the old Cederstrom place where their friends lived to warm up for awhile if they wanted to, but they were enjoying living on their own. Besides, too much time with the eight assorted characters there was taxing, even if by necessity they all got along fairly well. And since Mike Cederstrom had passed away unexpectedly two years back, the place didn't seem the same. Mike was only 72 at the time when the giant mosquitoes zapped him with one of those tropical fevers. The Regional Central Council had been pretty good about distributing the anit-malaria drugs, but they weren't at all effective against some of the newer strains.

Nobody hassled Riley and Sylvia about living in the Old Guy's Shed. The shed was once a car barn for the house in front of the lot. The "red house", as it was known, burned to the ground about 10 years ago, just when Riley was getting to know the Old Guy. It had been boarded up for many years. Its former owners had died during one of the Food Riots in the late '30s when the Heights and much of the Northeast was sacked and burned. Besides, the Courthouse itself burned to the ground a few years back and all of the records were lost, so who owned what was now only colloquial information, as if anyone cared anyway, except maybe some of the Regional Central Council folks. After the Great Collapse the fire department converted its surviving engines to wood burners. But it took a while to get one going and get the engine hot enough to run well enough to leave the firehouse. Besides, since all of the water had to come from one of the creeks, chances for the survival of a burning structure were really slim.

Riley was one of the few people who knew the Old Guy's real name. He even referred to himself as the Old Guy as he was one of the few really elderly folks in the neighborhood. He was 102 when he died suddenly in the summer of '48. Sylvia found him lying in the garden, just outside the compost bins. His wife had lived to be 97, having died nearly 10 years earlier. They were the sages of the neighborhood in their time and were known for their hospitality towards the great influx of younger people like Riley and Sylvia who had made it to Upstate New York to escape the ravages of the drowned Coastal Plain. Most didn't survive the initial alternating monster hurricanes and droughts, but the lucky few that made it to the mountains and hills of the interior North East and managed to survive the Food Riots after the Great Collapse now had a relatively peaceful if marginal existence. The Old Guy and his wife had taught Sylvia how to read and write along with many other young people that had stayed at their house on the corner.

No one knew the street names any longer, not that it mattered anyway. All of the street signs had been stolen for their scrap value a long time ago. They just knew the large badly faded clapboard house on the corner as the Old Guy's house. Except for hand-made artists' pigments, industrial paint was only a memory of some of the older folks in town. Milk paint and white wash could be traded for if you knew the local producers and had something to trade, but there was hardly a house in town that had had any work of any kind done on it since the Great Collapse. The ten or so younger people living there, mostly in their late 20s or early 30s, took care of the Old Guy's house as well as they could after he died. It was about the only house around with glass in all of the windows!

Riley and Sylvia were trying to save up materials to trade for white wash made by a guy in Enfield. If they could carry it off they were going to white wash both the Old Guy's Shed and the old couple's former house on the corner.

Riley and Sylvia had escaped from "the drowning", as they referred to it, when they were in their early teens. They had somehow made it to Ithaca after a few years of desperate drifting in the mountains to the East. Riley met the Old Guy while he and Sylvia were camped in the former park across the street, taking handouts of food from the Regional Central Council. They were waiting for a space in the old parking garage nearby, now a camp for hundreds of refugees from "the drowning". The Old Guy had invited them to be part of his household along with several other young people. This was just a year before the Old Guy's wife died in her sleep one night. Sylvia was just learning how to read and write at the time. The Old Guy took his wife's loss really hard and the household of young folks and the people down the block who had been befriended by the Old Guy and his wife mourned for weeks.

The Old Guy's Shed was at the heart of Riley's existence. It was chocked full of every type of hardware and widget and bits and pieces of junk that one could imagine. The Old Guy had been a compulsive pack rat and filled up the shed with so much stuff that you could barely walk through it. Early on the Old Guy had taken Riley on a tour of the shed and introduced him to its marvelous contents, much of it from the late nineteen hundreds. The Old Guy said that he could build or repair almost anything from the parts and pieces stacked on shelves, in parts bins and in sets of drawers. Riley certainly believed he could. Riley and Sylvia became closer friends with the Old Guy after his wife died. The Old Guy continued with Sylvia's home schooling, taught Riley how to use tools. make repairs on all kinds of equipment, and he taught Sylvia how to garden, compost and collect seeds. They acquired all sorts of life skills that enabled them to be less dependent on the Regional Central Council's largess and to become leaders in the neighborhood. In his Will the Old Guy gave the shed and its contents to Riley.

Riley had become the local repairman and trader. Since there had been no stores anywhere since the Great Collapse, local farmers would walk or ride their horses miles to trade a basket of fresh produce or a loaf of bread for a couple of bolts to repair their thrasher or their hand-powered grain grinder. Riley had a brisk trade in all sorts of hand tools as a going concern. He was constantly busy repairing all sorts of gadgets. He had also learned how to convert furnaces to wood or biomass burning from the Old Guy. Much of the local housing stock had deteriorated to the point of being boarded up and ransacked for fire wood because it had been unheated for so long after the Great Collapse that the structures had warped, cracked and collapsed to the point where they were no longer habitable. The Old Guy's house was in comparatively good condition because he had installed a wood-burning furnace early in this century, so he could keep the house heated all winter. Knowing how to convert old fossil fuel furnaces to wood burning units in trade for food and goods made Riley even more valuable to the local community, even though the warmer climactic regime over the past many years made heating less of a necessity than it had been in the "old days". And Sylvia was teaching gardening, food preserving techniques and other survival skills to dozens of young people living in the parking structures and camping out in the former big box stores. She was receiving sewing and other services in return.

Life was good in 2053 in the remnants of Downtown Ithaca.

Maybe it was the Weather


For the past century, we in Raleigh have profited from a steady stream of refugees from the north. "Send us your cold, your overtaxed, your frustrated by unions," we said.

We benefited from a steady influx of newcomers we hadn't had to pay to educate, who bought our property, grew our economy, and adjusted to our culture. They even wrote home to tell everyone how great it was here, helping us drain many states north of us of their valuable youth.

This huge influx helped us to adjust to the loss of tobacco and industrial jobs. It guaranteed us stability and growth during a period when much of the country faced mounting bills and fewer opportunities.

Unfortunately, this has reversed in the last ten years. After investing millions in expanding the state university system, we've seen our own massive brain drain, as our educated youth move north to places like Burlington, New York City, and - who'd have imagined it? - Upstate New York.

This paper has warned our politicians for decades that they were losing their edge on taxes. We have warned that the counties spent far too much on roads and schools for developments that never quite happened the way they were supposed to. We have warned that the state put far too much effort into environmental protection while neglecting the need to generate cheap power. We have warned that the creeping bureaucracy threated North Carolina's competitiveness, and that supporting it with taxes was killing business.

Still, it seems that the cause of this exodus may be a problem this paper has no way of fighting: it's just plain warmer here. We may have the finest air conditioning on earth, but running it nine months a year is expensive, and we don't want to use it on fields of parched crops.

Perhaps the best we can say is that Upstate New York stole our weather, and is now stealing our people.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Simon St.Laurent in March 2008.

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