Plaid Skies Over Petaluma


What can be quite so comforting as looking out the window to see a sunny, blue sky? Knowing it’s doing so during regularly scheduled daylight hours, for one. If you keep finding the sun glaring down on you at hours like 3 am, for example 2:45 am, it’s possible that you’re accidentally on the wrong side of the planet. Check again, from the outside. But spotting the sun and the blue sky is a good way of telling that this is a slow day.

And yet there are portions of the world that don’t have a day or a night. The sun just shuffles around, hesitantly, apologizing right before bumping into things and leaving people with no idea how they’re supposed to react or how far they should rebound. Residents look out to the sky and it’s not blue or gray or even black, but just this vast wash of light fuchsia. This produces considerable tension among the residents because nobody can ever fully escape the feeling that “fuchsia” is spelled incorrectly. Teams of expert spellers have been working on the problem for decades now and they still look over the word, and into dictionaries, and back again, and sigh and ask for a couple months yet to figure things out.

That uncertainty about the spelling is fine, though, since nobody is really perfectly sure what “fuchsia” is supposed to look like. The leading theory presently is that it’s the color you experience if yo hold your eyelids closed and rub on them for a couple minutes just before realizing you got chili powder on your fingers during dinner. Besides specifying the color this provides a way of testing your household decibel meters and of your lung capacity. According to standards adopted in 1960, the lung capacity should be calculated as one lung per lung, or in the metric system, 1 lung per lung.

The color (any color you like) was first discovered in the mid-19th century by William Perkin, who was fiddling around with coal tar derivative compounds instead of writing his thesis, because when you have a thesis to write fiddling around with coal tar derivative compounds looking for new colors seems like an extremely sensible thing to do. It comes to seem like possibly the most important thing a person could ever do, shortly after alphabetizing the cat. There’s nothing quite like a looming deadline to make organic chemistry seem more appealing; the volatile compounds do wonders at keeping that pesky oxygen from overwhelming the brain.

There are other colorations, though. In 1926, the residents of Peculation, Tennessee, 37139, found their sky had gone a nice muddy green. No one noticed until they realized everyone who’d started lawn-mowing never came back, and at least one resident had got up to the D level of the ionosphere before concluding he’d had enough and set up a coal tar extraction plant. Matters were complicated in 1933, when a poorly worded county referendum about the repeal of Prohibition resulted in there being no sky at all. Since then the town has maintained a healthy income from royalties in getting into nasty squabbling arguments about what color something that doesn’t exist should be. The official answer, following a 28-hour town council meeting, is that the sky would be “nanny-nanny-boo-boo”. It was a compromise choice.

In contrast, Flagellum, Nebraska, 69164, decided in 1984 to try a bright orange sky, and set about painting as much of it as they could. Unfortunately this was during the great Orange Shortage of the mid-80s, and all the stores in town just had blue paint. The project was finished ahead of schedule but everybody said the project left them feeling “kind of hollow” and overly dappled. Its world-famed Drop Cloth Museum is open before sunset, whenever that is.

The other comforting thing about seeing the blue sky out the window is knowing that you’ve got the sky out of the house, so you don’t have to worry about it getting precipitate or meteorology all over the nice floor. This helps encourage a slow day, or night, which can be fixed by taking off the brake pedal.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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