Buy F&SF • Read F&SF • Contact F&SF • Advertise In F&SF • Blog • Forum

April 1999
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

Current Issue • Departments • Bibliography

Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

Missed Connections
Jaime "Zero Degrees of Separation" Birch
[Reprinted by kind permission of Scienterrific American]

I was peddling my training-wheel-equipped unicycle--a device whose inventor remains stubbornly anonymous--across London Bridge--the old structure, now transplanted into the desert wastes of the Colonies---when the effects of the unmediated solar photons landing on my fuzz-fringed bald pate and thus raising my cranial temperatures triggered one of my typical elaborate insights into just what a wild and woolly world of might-have-been "missed connections" we inhabit. My Amtrak Metroliner of thoughts (Philadelphia to Boston in only fifteen hours!; what would our ancestors have thought of that!) went something like this, as best as I can reconstruct the mental chain from engine to caboose as I lie here in my hospital bed.

One of the engineers (from the Greek, "en-gynos," or "watcher of women") responsible for reconstructing the London Bridge in the USA was named Gib Prinker. A graduate of MIT, Prinker had of course lived in Boston while attending that school (which never matriculated anyone from my family), since he found the daily commute from his native Moosescat, Wisconsin beyond his capacities. While resident in "Beantown," Prinker began to wonder about his adopted home's nickname. A little research at various libraries (an institution developed during proto-Classical times, at an unknown location somewhere between Mohenjo-Daro and Brooklyn) soon revealed to Prinker that he had no idea how to discover this bit of trivia, and he quickly gave up and returned to his now much-quoted study, "Mozzarella As High-tensile Denture Adhesive."

Had Prinker persisted in his quest, however, he would have discovered that the cognomen "Beantown" derived from the exploits of one Abraham Bean, early Massachusetts colonist. Bean (whose family in England hailed from Lower Twaddle, only a dozen counties away from my own birthplace) had nearly founded Boston, overshooting that city's current location by mere scores of leagues to plant King George's flag right where the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir would one day expunge all traces of his endeavor from the face of the globe. In honor of this, the capitol of the state was named after a common foodstuff which half the colonists couldn't tolerate.

The main ingredient of this delightful dish, the humble legume, should be our focus. Instead, we look to the familiar crockery in which baked beans are, well, baked. This type of pot owes its existence to German ingenuity. Hermann Schlegelmilch was a minor chemist in the town of Krebs-Rhenghune during the pre-heyday of the post-halcyon German dominance of the non-southern-hemispheric industrial establishment (circa 1650 AD or 329 BC). One day while testing various lacquers which he hoped would render the splintery seats of outhouses smooth to the touch, Schlegelmilch concocted a type of glaze with an incidental property that allowed ceramics not to interact atomically with the potent mustard most often used in baked-bean recipes. Dimwittedly, yet with high hopes, Schlegelmilch applied this fixative to a three-holer owned by Nasty Prince Ruprecht, causing a Royal Arse Rash and earning his subsequent beheading. (Only centuries later did some other German whose name escapes me rediscover this commercially valuable glaze.)

Mustard, of course, was first cultivated by the Hindu culture in the district of Kapok. Legend has it that the god Chakramulabonda first introduced mustard seeds to mankind. Because mankind had prayed, however, for potato chips, Chakramulabonda is little worshipped today.

Another deity little worshipped today started life as a historically verifiable mortal. Pompilius Rhinelander first appeared in the historical record in the year 1849, when he made a huge strike during the California Gold Rush. What Rhinelander struck was oil off the California coast. Building the world's first floating oil recovery platform (assembled out of milkweed pods collected by an army of women named, not as one might expect "Rhinelander's Rhinemaidens," but "those unlucky harlots grown too old for turning tricks"), Rhinelander soon became the richest man east of the Yangtze. Taking his vast fortune, he retired to a mansion in San Francisco, where he talked about funding a laboratory for the investigation of the potential uses of what he referred to as "an undervalued commodity," H2O. (Apparently, Rhinelander had no idea what compound two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen actually constituted! Answer to be revealed in next month's column!) Anyway, nothing ever came of all this boastful hot air, and Rhinelander soon wasted his wealth in a series of wild parties, which earned him the aforementioned short-term worship from many sycophants and hangers-on.

Hot air today, of course, has numerous applications, not the least of which is drying hair. The first practical hair dryer--a behemoth weighing nearly six stones and standing ten hands high--was the lifework of Rapunzel Shoat of Bleeding Oaks, California. (Shoat was not one of the first female pioneers of technology, but merely a cruelly misnamed male.) In 1926, Shoat--through a company he had funded with his life-savings and misleadingly named John Held's Flapper Girl Products--offered his patented invention to the marketplace, expecting many units to be eagerly snapped up. Not one was sold, however, and Shoat committed suicide by filling his lungs with hot air, not from his own machine but from the exhaust of a Model T.

Henry Ford never knew Shoat, nor did Thomas Edison. Other figures of that critically fertile period whom Shoat avoided meeting were Elinor Glyn, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein (not the physicist, of whose existence Shoat was actually unaware, but the same-named sole barber in Shoat's hometown!), and a thirteen-year-old Richard Nixon.

Today, the President of the United States has many science advisors to help him guide the nation's policy toward research and development. One of the largest projects ever recommended by several administrations (both Democratic and Republican, but never third-party because no such candidate has ever been elected) was the Superconducting Super Collider, which, as some of us in the know recall, was never built.

And that big expensive worthless hole in Texas is as close as we're going to get to my inexplicable and ill-fated pointless crossing of that little bit of Old Blighty far to the north. Except that both this mental hegira and my peddle-driven transit of London Bridge have left me with a splitting headache!

To contact us, send an email to Fantasy & Science Fiction.
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to

Copyright © 1998–2020 Fantasy & Science Fiction All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted by:
SF Site spot art