A Slice of Life at the Dawn of the Space Age?

It’s kinda funny how brainstorming works. One day I’m watching the 2003 film “The Haunted Mansion” — a fun enough romp, with the main highlight being Chancellor Valorum (er, excuse me, Terence Stamp) playing an aged butler with a big secret — and it strikes me: the butler and his master are very reminiscent of what I’d think many a NEET would be like after they inherit their parents’ house and successfully live off of that.

After all, I’m sure many of those in the middle class who are supported by their parents and never work a day in their life transform in their middle age, i.e. when their parents start to die off, into the weirdo small-time landlords that dot the land from sea to shining sea. Admittedly, the setup in “The Haunted Mansion” is different from what the average middle-class NEET with even supportive homeowning parents would do after they died, but it did get me thinking: it might make the heart of a good story.

An even-earlier-set Story in my Alternate Timeline?

The masses have trust funds and live off their investments by my fictional universe’s late 20th century, so even a prime-working-age man not in education, employment, or training wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, though the personality types associated with NEETdom in real life no doubt would. Nevertheless, I’ve already chronicled a financially independent NEETish girl in a futuristic setting, so I think I’d like to do something more like most real-life NEETs, which means a class position of having to work for a living, which basically means a story set in the mid 20th century at the latest.

I like the time period anyway. It’s sort of a transitional form between the Edwardian era, when my timeline diverges from real life, and the near-future space-opera vibe of my early 21st century. “Wings of Fire” is set here, as is “Ten Weeks at Onigaminsing”. The two of them are my earliest-set story, with “Wings of Fire”, chronicling the first moon landing, taking the cake, being set in 1949.

I’m thinking this latest story might be a good opportunity to introduce the first manned mission in space — if “Wings of Fire” is Neil Armstrong, this one is Yuri Gagarin — which I’ve penciled in for 1941. In 1941 incomes and living standards, and the necessity of the middle class to work for a living, is similar to today, though there are certain technological differences.

Early NEETs, Hikikomori, and More

I’m thinking our NEET-turned-landlord will be reclusive, something of a shut-in, owning and operating a boarding house, full of people flitting in and out or even (unlike in modern beds-and-breakfasts) staying on a permanent basis. Our man, true to today’s NEET spirit, might be really into computers and the Internet, which could be a really cool way to showcase some of my technological worldbuilding for this era; the World Wide Web hasn’t been invented yet, but a robust more primitive form of the Internet is prevalent in this era (think “WarGames” and Usenet vibes).

I also have an idea where he might be really into cinema, with perhaps his biggest pleasure in life being watching home video and bicycling (on a bicycle built for two his parents used together before they passed away) down to the local movie palace at odd hours of the night when he’s one of the few people there to see the latest films. He might emerge at odd hours for other tasks as well; I’m thinking he might only leave the floor of the house his rooms are on to go to the shared kitchen at night when no one else is there.

A Meet Cute…sort of

There might be a whole little community of boarders in there; I’m thinking in particular there could be a girl practicing ballet all the time, as well as our leading girl, a blogger who likes to travel on the cheap while doing a college program online, found this boarding house (I’m thinking it has a good Internet connection), and continues her regular habit of working in the middle of the night after waking up before going back to sleep again, on a lark deciding one night to sneak out into the kitchen for some food, only to find the ever-elusive landlord there too. They end up becoming friends and go out on casual dates together to the movies, with the girl even being shown the man’s inner sanctum on the top floor and being told the real story.

The leading girl too has some secrets, having only recently gotten better, courtesy of the new experimental medicine called cortisone, after having suffered from chronic fatigue for most of her life, with even her blogging (which she can’t get anywhere with financially) a struggle, let alone regular jobs, though she can pursue her office-work-style career remotely (over the Internet) on a part-time basis.

The Leading Couple

The leading couple will be much older than my typical fare. The man should be about 50, which assuming his parents had him in their thirties puts their age of death at around 80, which is a ripe old age. I’d like the woman to be younger but not too much younger; so I think I’ll make her about 40. Old enough to be past peak attractiveness but still youthful enough to keep up with the latest fashion, which in my universe’s 1941 is beach-tanned skin and long platinum blonde hair.

It’s also old enough for her to think it’s too late for her to have a child, something she regrets, but she takes joy in being something of a mentor to another boarder she envies, an teenage new mother who has to be on her own with her baby. Reasons for why she’s in this situation are as yet unclear to me; I’ll have to do some more brainstorming on that.

Bringing so much Worldbuilding together…ooh

All these characters, and the other boarders, will see on the television together the first manned mission to space in 1941 over the course of the story, integrating some of my worldbuilding. More worldbuilding will be integrated by way of the boarding house being a (albeit particularly large) example of the “kudzu houses” that blanket suburban America in the 1930s and 40s, the interior design being Japanese-inspired and flexible like I outlined in a previous blog post.

Inspired by that, as well as some of my worldbuilding I haven’t gotten to use yet, I think I’ll site this whole outfit on one of the West Coast cities, I’m thinking Astoria, Oregon (we think of Cascadia as gloomy, but really it’s sunny and very pleasant in the summer, the long days perfect for a wholesome beach girl vibe). The immediate Pacific coast is a place likely to be frequented by well-tanned platinum-blonded beach girls, and Oregon is a part of it different from the usual spots in California, suggesting this is a different world from the one we live in.

A Chinook-Jargon-Speaking Americasia?

The West Coast setting also permits, even in 1941, the showcasing of a strong East Asian element in the cast of characters, as well as the early stages of the region’s transformation into an Americasia.

There might be a live-in maid occupying one of the rooms, a Chinese woman who’s an immigrant and learning the Wawa. Yes, Chinook Jargon, not English; until surprisingly recently the former, not the latter, was the lingua franca of the Pacific Northwest, only really declining with World War I. With far greater development of and immigration into the region the existing speakers of the Wawa will likely find it easier to just teach the newcomers that much simpler pidgin language for work and business purposes than switching to using English all the time.

The Chinook Jargon might figure prominently in the everyday life depicted in the story, and may well provide a lot of regional flavor. There might even be a plot point where a boarder will offer to give her extra Chinook Jargon lessons, and wonders why her employer can’t give her some lessons in that, English, German, or whatever he speaks, only for the maid to say in the Wawa she knows that she sees him not, ever; she just showed up at the house in response to the job posting, did the work, and always finds an envelope of cash slipped under her door at night, never seeing her employer in person. Or something like that.

I’ve only really brainstormed all of this today, and quite a bit of the details are hazy, but nevertheless I think it’s a really interesting idea for a slice-of-life story or some such in an underexplored time and place in the fictional world I have built over the years.

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