I know I just made a blog post about a story concept of mine (plus an earlier one!), to the extent my posts on the subject might be longer than the actual story! Though we’ll see about that. I’ve been doing some more thinking, and I’ve got names and some more characterization for the people at the Astoria, Oregon boarding house on the special Christmas Night of 1941.
The leading man, our mysterious organ-playing proprietor, will be named Bram. It’s an unusual name we associate just with Bram Stoker, the author of “Dracula”, but in fact it’s a nickname for Abraham. Hmm. It’s also quite Gothic in its vibe, which suits a recluse with a ghostly pallor and demeanor.
The leading woman will be named Myrtle. Nameberry associates the moniker with gum-cracking 1940’s telephone operators for some reason, but the only Myrtle I’m familiar with is “Moaning Myrtle” Warren from “Harry Potter”. Anyway, the name was actually fairly popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries; it peaked at #27 in 1894, and remained in the top 50 through 1912.
I’ve also decided the woman will be working remotely as a product manager for a company called Antikythera (after the Antikythera mechanism) which makes unusual steampunk-ish artsy computer peripherals such as keyboards (turns out, the exact same keyboards Bram uses in his lair!). She started out in her teens as a secretary working very part-time, but her chronic fatigue meant she wasn’t able to move up into office positions that demanded more hours, so she instead changed careers and became a tutor for schoolhouse children working one or two days a week, the maximum she could stand even with a stimulant cocktail those one or two days that she recovered from for the rest of the week.
The advent of cortisone injections gave her a far more effective treatment just recently, and in 1941 she got in with Antikythera because they have a “merit-based” process where you take an examination and do what she considered to be some rather weird tests as the sole criteria for being hired as a manager; she got one of the best scores they’d ever heard of, so she was hired immediately. It’s not her dream career (blogging is that, but she can’t get anywhere with it), but appreciates how it’s the only job she’s had that’s remotely artsy or creative.
Muffy, the Princess of Christmas!
When Myrtle comes in she’ll be wearing a smart little kimono she picked up at a shop on the way into town and slipped on, and this will inspire another boarder: Muffy, a girl in her mid teens, the picture of a luscious tan platinum blonde, and an apprentice makeup artist at an Astorian salon, with her true ambition being to open up her own girls’ hat shop in the area someday. Makeup artistry is something she’s also really interested in that can get her over the hump, together with her baby bonus (courtesy of her state government) that’s she’s aggressively invested. Yes, she has a baby, Tiffany Tacoma, a.k.a. Taffy, and the father is absent, the circumstances mysterious. She seems to know a lot about investment banking; was her family upscale, disowning her for having a child out of wedlock?
Anyway, Muffy is a friend of Myrtle’s, having met her for the first time when she boarded at the same place the previous summer, and they’re so glad to see each other again. Muffy gives Myrtle a makeover so she looks a lot like a geisha girl, giving her that hair that traditional upswept bun and her face that foundation of white, topping it all off with the requisite vivid red lipstick. She’ll giggle at it all and notice Muffy’s technique has really improved! She’ll joke that she needs a delicate little fan and a katana, which bemuses another character.
Jasper is this boarder, a ghost-white man of Japanese extraction (he has a Japanese name too, but in Western contexts he uses Jasper), who works as a manager at a Kaiser Motors car plant near Portland, Oregon, commuting about 100 miles each way; even with the new highway that’s an hour and a half, making him what we call a super-commuter. He loves the coast so much it’s worth the sacrifice to live in Astoria instead of Portland, and the radio takes the edge off the long drive (he loves listening to the radio even at home).
There’s also another East Asian girl who practices ballet all the time, a Chinese woman who’s a real beauty (to the extent she may be pursuing a career as a fashion model), a luscious jade princess type, hence the Western name she picked out for herself: Jade. She’d really like to get somewhere in the ballet world. Which considering her nationality won’t be anywhere we’ve heard of. She might have a path, though; integration in this timeline is even balkier than in real life, but liberation and empowerment race well ahead, a recipe for something like a Chinese-American ballet ecosystem to arise.
The maid of the boarding house is a much more recent Balinese immigrant, and she too chose a Western name for herself: Savannah. She’s a huge fan of the mossy Southern Gothic cities and vibe, and has indeed been to her namesake town of Savannah, Georgia and loved it, but decided to settle in Astoria instead because there are so many people of her own kind there, plus the Wawa (Chinook Jargon) was so much easier for her to learn fresh off the boat than English, opening up a lot more opportunity to move up in life (beyond maid work) down the road in Oregon and Tacoma (a.k.a Washington state in our timeline) than would be the case for her in Georgia or South Carolina.
Rounding out the Asians in the cast is Eulalia, a girl of Thai extraction who’s really plump and taking a winter vacation to Astoria and spending it in that boarding house trying to lose weight, only to end up sickened by some weight loss drugs she tried (DNP to be precise), having to lay herself out on a lounge all so lethargic, hot, and sweaty as she watches the historic space launch.
Rounding out the Whites
There’s a man of rather nondescript white American heritage by the name of Ansel who’s a photographer, no doubt having come to Astoria for the big snowstorm.
Last but not least, there’s another boarder by the name of Hugo, a German Midwesterner with strong ties to his grandparents’ old country, taking trips there all the time, who only recently moved to Astoria to help manage Kissel’s new car factory they’ve built out in the area. German is his first language (and the language of corporate headquarters in Wisconsin), but he’s also picked up the Wawa. In these factories, be it Kissel or Kaiser, totemic motifs are all over the place, but most of the workforce is East Asian, and they use Japanese-style manufacturing techniques (complete with Eastern-type stretching exercises), with the lingua franca being Chinook Jargon. An American of our timeline transported to such a place probably wouldn’t even guess it was in this country! Welcome to Americasia.
Plasma Television by Satellite…in 1941
Poor little Eulalia and company will watch the launch of the first man in space courtesy of a broadcast from an experimental satellite (the first satellites were sent up in 1937 in this universe, so it’s possible), the dish to pick up the transmissions of which were affixed to the boarding house, a very advanced and expensive setup for the time (not to mention large in size; those big-dish systems!), and one they think is super cool. The television in the room is a flat-screen plasma television of rather large dimensions.
Electoral Politics of Alternate 1941
There will also be some alternate-history flavor, by them getting into a conversation about the state of Tacoma and how it’s just embarrassing and unheard-of how a whole state had to change their name. The revival of Cascadian spirit will be cited, even extending to restoring Mount Tacoma’s name and even petitions to the federal government to rename the Columbia River to something indigenous such as the Wimal River.
Mention might be made of Congress and President Lindbergh ratifying the change, with questions arising of how Lindbergh thinks he has anything to do with what a state does, accusing him (rather baselessly!) of thinking he’s god or something just because he crossed the Atlantic in an airplane and got himself elected president.
In turn that arouses a declaration that Al Smith was a much better president, which will segue into someone else saying the only reason Lindbergh won is because his opponent was an out-of-touch East Coast elite like Franklin Delano Roosevelt (hehe) instead of a white-ethnic type like Al Smith (who, alas, declined running for a second term because his health was failing), then they’ll mention that Al Smith just won in the first place by having a much less formidable opponent than Lindbergh, namely Ray Lyman Wilbur, who took over as president after Charles Curtis died.
They’ll also mention Wilbur was a hardcore social Darwinist and kinda a weirdo about it (his Wikiquote page makes me go “ugh, did he really have to go there?”), and he’s the man who coined “rugged individualism” and is responsible for people having to hear about that all the time, by now even progressing to the point that Democrats drone on about rugged individualism and its virtues! Or rather not-so-rugged individualism. This will serve as a natural point for them to talk about how Muffy lives off that baby bonus; for her sake they hope the individualism doesn’t get too rugged!
Well, that’s about all I’ve got for now. They’ll be doing so much over that Christmas Night I’m starting to think they’ll all have to stay up all night long! Well, they might end up collapsing into sleep in their chairs a la “Christmas in Connecticut”, but whatever. I’m sure it’ll be fun to write it all up.