Saturday, March 17, 2012

Prologue: Part One

Once upon a time the Pretty People ruled the world. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you don’t if you’ve only made it to you Extended-Study or Apprenticeship years. But if you are closer to my age you should, though it is probably buried deep down with the rest of the sweetly painful memories of “Before.”

For those of you who don’t remember, you might be surprised that some of the stories from Before that your community elders have probably terrorized you with are actually based in fact. In the Before, the way you looked was important. Your hair, your shape, your skin, the way you talked and how you dressed could close and open the doors of opportunity fast … especially if you knew other pretty people who were willing to help you along. That was what “networking” used to mean, very different from what it means today. In good times networking was easy but in the bad times looking good and being pretty was even more important because there were fewer prizes being competed for by an ever greater number of people. It wasn’t so much what you knew but who you knew … unless it was what you knew about who you knew if you catch my drift.

Because of this, and because a lot of people had rather out of sync priorities, the plastic surgery industry was one of the few recession proof markets out there and not just because it was being supported by a bunch of children of rich people whose IQ points seemed to drop in direct proportion to their available line of credit. Nope. Even your normal Joe and Jane Average types used a lot of their discretionary income to “fix themselves up.” If it wasn’t plastic surgery it was the latest diet fade, hair care product, wrinkle and spot remover, and/or memberships at a gym where a buff personal trainer had to work you twice as hard to get a sweat up because the whole building was air conditioned for comfort.

And it was everywhere. What was called the United States of America had its share of course and there were the ever increasing number of cases of diet fade and/or surgery-addictions … yeah, that’s what they called it, “an addiction” … but at least they paid lip service to the fact that a fixation on your looks was unhealthy. They had all sorts of “rules” about how old someone could be to have surgery and the types of licenses the surgeon was required to have. There were supposed to be real reasons why a ten year old needed liposuction or a seven year old needed rhinoplasty done. But the rules didn’t always apply to everyone. Search out the right doctor and pay enough money and you could have anything you wanted … or look anyway your parents wanted you to look. After all pretty people had pretty children, or at least that was the way the fairy tales told it.

And if you couldn’t get it here you could go to places called Rio de Janeiro, New Delhi, or Sao Paolo and get it done cheaper. Look on the old maps and you’ll find where these places were located back then. In some countries the plastic surgery industry was actually a significant part of their GDP (gross domestic product). The USofA was the top of five for “aesthetic procedures” worldwide; just under eighteen percent of all of the procedures done per year. Naturally, we had that place I’m sure everyone has heard about called Old Hollywood; and, all of the fixations of the advertising industry and the gotta-be-the-best-gotta-have-all-the-advantages attitude that still ran pretty strong even though we were slipping in global influence. There were too many “pretties” feeling guilty for ruling the world and too many “mental uglies” determined to make sure that the “pretties” paid for their elitist superiority regardless of how that affected the rest of us.

When Brazil was still an independent country it came in next in that worldwide measurement at nearly fifteen percent. Next came China of all places at thirteen percent; I never did understand that one. They aren’t much different today socially than they were back then though their population centers have all collapsed. I guess all of that communist equality stuff really didn’t address people’s hearts and minds like they claimed back then. And they sure as heck denied the existence of a soul; if possible even more so than they do today. Then India, which currently holds the highest number of seats in the Indo-Subcontinent Council, was once a completely independent republic and followed the trend with eight percent of the global “aesthetic procedures. And Mexico – part of the wasteland that is now called the Corredor de la Droga – had five percent of that market.

Crazy? I thought so then and still do even though things have changed so much. But I don’t know as I haven’t begun to feel really sorry for all of those pretty people now, not that many of them survived the transition years. Plastic surgery had its place obviously; physical trauma of some type, repairing cleft palates and other birth defects to provide a better quality of life, reconstructive surgery after tumor removal or wound repair. I’m not one that categorically considers plastic surgery “deviant” no matter what some members of the New Congress try to say; but plastic surgery for simple aesthetics has a bad habit of needing to be redone after so many years which has put the artificial pretties at a social and economic disadvantage once people recognize the social group they once belonged to.

There aren’t that many left anymore. The Research and Implementation Branch of the government has managed to overcome a lot of the damage suffered after the Before, but life expectancy is still way down for most Geo Areas. And depending on your health care history you can be put on a triage care list that lowers your life expectancy even more.

Aesthetic procedures are right up there with working in the wastelands for getting you kicked back to the end of the line for all but the most basic palliative care. The decisions of the Life Review Panels don’t always make sense. Plug in some data, insert you ID card, and an unemotional computer lets you know what you qualify for and specific reasons why you get denied access to certain types of activities and/or medical care. Even the air-quality in all of the resident zones that you have lived in are taken into account.

Aesthetic procedures have had a much different impact on people’s lives than they could have ever anticipated. In the Before there were the temporary fixes like Botox – gag, I never did understand shooting botulism into yourself to freeze your muscles – or that stuff they would shoot into lips to make them look puffy and kissable and sometimes just came out looking like a salmon that had run face first into a dam. I won’t cover what it was supposed to do when the same stuff was shot into buttocks. Then of course you had the people that wanted to look younger with their nips, tucks and lifts.

But the looking younger or “prettier” only lasted for a few years because eventually the aging process caught up, sometimes with disastrous results; asymmetrical aging, paper thin skin that had lost all of its natural elasticity, implants or tattoos that migrated at the whim of gravity. Today the aging of enhanced features is a social stigma with broad consequences. I heard on the Tri-V the other day that they’d finally signed a law giving the remaining “pretties” their own reservation out in the middle of the Mid-Wasteland Zone. I’d like to say that I’m a big enough person that I don’t get any satisfaction from that … I’d like to say it but in all honesty sometimes my humanity gets in the way of my compassion and it’s like I’m sixteen all over again, on the outside looking in. The irony in that doesn’t escape me.

But I’m completely getting off the subject of why I started writing this history down. I was at the town library today and some of the new in-print books had arrived. They cost the town a considerable amount of creds … ebooks and readers are much less expensive and are more in line with current Envirospace building codes … but the town committee thought it worth the price when someone suggested it might draw some pass-through tourism by riders waiting for a connection at the light rail station that was built out at what I remember as the old municipal airport.

I have to admit I was just as interested as all the rest and it gave me an excuse to push my normal schedule up a week. I’ve collected and read every book I have been able to get my hands on over the years – not that I’ve actually advertised that fact to the townies – but the chance to see something that was written and paper-published since the Transition Years was a temptation I had no intention of fighting.

It took me longer than I had intended to get there, I threw a track on the kettengrad which is the only vehicle I’ll drive to town, and my bursitis was acting up again. Once I finally put a foot in the door I didn’t think I was going to get near the printed novelties until I realized that mostly it was just the graphic novels everyone was waiting their turn to see with their vivid colors that were magnified even more by being on the smooth white pages.

I’d never been much for graphic novels. They were OK but I could never decide whether it was the artwork that got in the way of the story or the story that got in the way of the artwork. I was going to leave disappointed when I noticed a couple of books all but being ignored after a brief glance by most of the other patrons. Turned out they didn’t have any pictures in them at all. The title of the one that really drew me was This New World, I thought at first it was a science fiction/fantasy novel.

It was fiction and fantasy all right but it wasn’t meant to be taken that way. It was a history book co-written by a retired member of the New Congress and some up and comer that had taken his place. What a bag of methane; after only the briefest of looks I realized they are already rewriting history. I suppose it was inevitable; the winners always write the history books and I’d already noticed it popping up here and there in the few Tri-V shows I bother to watch, but it did surprise me how quickly and brazenly they are now doing it. So much for the “truth in advertising” brigade that was trotted out a couple of years ago. The bibliography and notes had so few credible sources that I told the Head Librarian (and everyone within earshot) that they had wasted town money and the book would do more good as compost.

A bright “I’ll make sure and put a note of that for everyone’s information” met my words by some silly bit of fluff that was manning the card catalog. Of course as an Elder they have to at least pretend to listen to me but too many of the young people only pay lip service to our experience these days. I left a message for the full Elder Council before I came home but it was only to warn them not to read the book unless they wanted to risk being admitted to extended care after a heart attack.

A lot of us still remember. A lot of us still have old hurts that are still hard to leave forgotten though for the most part we’ve tried to forgive so that we can get on with the act of living. But it worries me that without clear eyes and vision we’ll be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. After all, if you don’t know where you come from, how do you know where you’re going?

I’m far from being the oldest Elder on the Council. In fact most of them consider me a “young ‘un” yet and I was only invited because of how things had turned out. Looking in the mirror never bothered me but I have to admit I know I look older than my grandmother did at this age. In truth I’m not so old that I should be thinking of writing my memoirs but if things keep going the way that book seemed to indicate too many things that should be remembered will be forgotten by too many. I just want make sure that my own story, my little piece of history, doesn’t just fade away for lack of me putting it into words before I’m gone. And it will be on paper, electronic files are too easily deleted or damaged these days.

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