Auditorium, Roberts Hall, Tuesday, 2:30 PM
Katie Kendall had already started her lecture when Angela slipped into the crowded auditorium and found a seat near the back.
“When the men first started dying, some people immediately thought that ‘the terrorists’ had released a virus to eradicate our menfolk …”
Oh, dear, thought Angela, she’s finished talking about her childhood and the Old Days, and that’s the part I really wanted to hear. She fidgeted with her flyer:
Professor Emeritus of Genetics
Former Council Board Member
On Her 80th Birthday
Auditorium, Roberts Hall
Tuesday, April 17, 2060 at 2 PM
Katie continued: “President Bush, the second one, had used ‘terrorism’ as a tool to induce fear and maintain control—much like administrations after World War II had used the fear of communism …”
Katie paused to assess the impact of her words on her audience, and laughed. “No, I wasn’t around for the major years of the Cold War; I’m really not that old. But I heard so much about it from my grandmother that I might as well have lived through it myself.
“Some of the famous men who died in the early stages of the Gender-Specific Virus were men in the Bush administration of the old United States. Possibly one of the very first was the vice president, who disappeared from view in the spring of 2008. At first, most of us had assumed that he was just in his famous ‘undisclosed location.’ Many people in the peace movement secretly applauded when the former Secretary of Defense succumbed. Most people openly cheered when a massive sea-air evacuation of the troops and American civilian personnel was ordered from that very unpopular war in Iraq.
“Initially, the GSV seemed to attack only men over the age of fifty. This assumption led to another early erroneous hypothesis—that taking Viagra or another of the drugs that enhanced erectile function had made these men vulnerable. That rumor probably got started because one of the first famous victims was an ex-senator who had made TV commercials for one of these drugs. But that was not true; there was no correlation.
"By the 2008 election, there weren’t many men over fifty left alive, or at least visible. Some of them had simply dropped dead without warning; some died a few days after developing a very high fever; many went into hiding, fearing that they could catch the virus from another man. And some committed suicide. By the time of the Great Disaster in 2010, most mothers of young boys were keeping them out of school and not allowing them out of the house. Most of the young men had gone into hiding. I don’t have the figures on the mortality rates with me—let’s just say that the undertakers were not underemployed.”
Angela was enjoying watching this woman whom she admired so much—not just her great teaching ability, but her obvious common sense and humanity as well. Her voice was so strong, her back so straight. The only indications of her age were the cane hanging from the edge of the lectern and her long, snow-white hair, which she had today coiled into a bun at the nape of her neck instead of wearing it in the usual ponytail down her back. Angela unconsciously twisted her own black ponytail into a similar bun and then let it fall free.
Katie was enjoying her story. “I’m sure you have all heard that President Bush resigned before his term was up and went into hiding at his ranch in Texas. One by one, his male cabinet members and senior members of Congress either died or also went into isolation. The Speaker of the House became, by default, the acting president, and she easily won election in 2008. She and the surgeon general, also a woman, were two of the real heroines of this century. Between them, they made some crucial decisions that prepared us for the Great Disaster and the survival of at least a portion of our society.”
Angela surveyed the auditorium. It was one of the larger university lecture halls, and it had been festooned with crepe banners and signs reading “80” and “Kudos to Katie.” She recognized many of the women present, mostly a mix of historians and biologists.
“We biologists knew that this Mysterious Virus, as it was first called by the public, was not exclusive to the United States, but was happening all over the world. Here in California and elsewhere on the West Coast, it was called the Mysterious East Coast Virus, as the sudden mortality of men over fifty was first noticed there. I was returning from a trip to remote areas of Latin America when the Great Disaster struck. In the remote native villages that we visited, the men had been dying off even more rapidly than in the United States and Europe. In those communities, the women had not been educated and did not have the skills to take over from the men. We know now that those places later became practically Stone-Age communities. If there are any people left there today, they would probably be just a few old women. No sperm banks there!
“Possibly the most important decision—one that was unknown to the general public at the time—was the deputizing of women biologists to take charge of the many sperm banks in the United States. They transferred all the sperm donations to specially constructed buildings that had their own generators and supplies of fuel. I was part of the team of geneticists that commandeered the sperm banks in New England. And, up until the Great Disaster, I was a member of the Genetics Committee in Boston. It was we who made those difficult decisions about which women would receive sperm and whose sperm they would get.”
At this point, Katie was distracted by a woman who was standing and waving her white card in the air. “If your question pertains to something I’ve just said,” Katie said to her, “please hand it to one of the assistants. Otherwise, hand in your cards at the break, and I will try to answer all of them before we end today.”
There was an enthusiastic waving of hands above heads in agreement, applauding Katie’s instructions to the woman, and Katie continued: “Those sperm bank locations are secret. Even if I knew where our local ones were, I wouldn’t tell you. Here in Greater Los Angeles—and elsewhere on the West Coast—we have enough sperm to last until the end of the century. And we have hopes that, long before that time, we will have conquered the virus, and the young men and boys will be able to come out into the world. Perhaps you’ve heard that there are already a few young men who are venturing out of their homes?”
There was a murmur of voices in the audience: “So the rumor is true!” “My brother Ben is fifteen and has major cabin fever.” “We have a fifteen-year-old in our commune, too; he’s threatening to run away.”
Katie smiled and waited until the voices had hushed. “I know that many of you are here today,” she continued, “not to celebrate the birthday of an eighty-year-old woman, but in hopes of getting preferential treatment as a sperm recipient. Be sure to say so on your card, and you will be contacted. I am not a member of the section of the Genetics Committee that evaluates recipients for insemination, but I will see that your requests go to the right place.
“Please understand that if you are not accepted, there is nothing wrong with you per se. Supplies are limited, and demand is great, so we must make the survival of our society the highest priority. We take into consideration the age and health of the applying woman, the health history of her parents and grandparents, and also the health history of her sperm-donor father. We might also look at the health history of a sperm-donor grandfather. How many of you here have a sperm-donor grandfather?”
Angela raised her hand and looked around to see how many other hands had been raised. In an auditorium packed with more than a thousand women of varying ages, it appeared that about two-thirds of them could trace their sperm-donor lineage back two generations.
“Quite a number!” Katie said. “Thank goodness that those records have been kept! We will also need to know whether your request is from a partnership and, if so, whether one of the women will be willing to stay home and homeschool the child if it turns out to be a boy. All recipients must make a commitment to stay in touch with the Genetics Committee, as we need to monitor the health and progress of the new children.”
Angela tuned out the lecture at this point and debated with herself, Of course, Cameron wants me to submit my name. She certainly made it clear this morning … tried to make me promise that I would. She so badly wants a child to raise, and I, being the younger of us, have a better chance of being accepted. Why am I hesitating? I used to love being with Cameron, but do I want to enter into the kind of commitment that raising a child entails? No, no, no! With a child, I might not be able to finish at the university. And the world seems to be changing … She undid her ponytail and let her long, black hair fall loosely onto her shoulders. She shook her head, letting her hair swish emphatically.
Katie’s assistant handed her a card. Katie read it and sighed. She slumped momentarily and then straightened her spine. “The writer asks: ‘Why are no white babies being born? Have you discriminated against the white race?’”
With a trace of anger in her voice, Katie answered, “I had hoped that the word ‘race’ would exit the vocabulary before I died, but I guess it wasn’t to be. From the beginning, we made every effort not to discriminate against African Americans and Latinas, and to ensure that the healthiest and brightest women in these groups had the same chance as Anglos, or European Americans, to receive sperm. You probably know that, even before the GSV and the Great Disaster, Anglos were no longer the majority here in Greater Los Angeles. Most of the sperm in the banks, however, was the sperm of Anglo men.”
Angela noticed a very tall woman standing at the entrance and scanning the audience. Is she looking for someone? Or looking for a vacant seat? In case it was the latter, Angela moved over a seat and motioned to the now-empty seat on the aisle. The woman nodded her thanks, slid into the seat, and scrunched down.
“From the beginning,” Katie continued, “we made a deliberate decision both here and on the East Coast that ‘people of color’—a euphemistic phrase from the Civil Rights movement of a hundred years ago—should get priority for Anglo or so-called 'Caucasian' sperm. This was to protect the unborn children. We were afraid that visible minorities would suffer more than others in the difficult days that we predicted lay ahead. So African American and Latino sperm went to Anglo applicants, and vice versa, with the smaller amounts of Asian sperm mixed in. If you apply now, as has been the custom since the beginning, you will be told that you have no choice as to the physical characteristics of the donor.
“Look around the room—aren’t most of you some café-au-lait complexion? I feel pleased that we have achieved a virtually raceless society at the same time that we were preserving our species. I might add that, with the amount of ultraviolet rays hitting the planet today, having a white skin is a major health risk. You should see the hats and veils my housemates make me put on before I’m allowed to venture out of doors!
“My grandmother, Lisa Kendall, was one of the Wise Old Women who signed the position paper that led to this policy. Grandmother Lisa was born in 1922 and moved from the North to viciously segregated Mississippi when she was about ten. She was so appalled at the treatment of the black people there that she imagined a solution. It was born of a child’s naiveté about grownups and sex: people should be allowed to have a child only with someone of the exact opposite pedigree—pure black with pure white, three-quarters black with three-quarters white, and so on. This way, in one generation, everyone in Mississippi under age thirty would be half and half! There were no Hispanics or Asians in 1933 Mississippi to complicate her formulas. The one grown-up to whom she confided her solution was so shocked that Lisa didn’t tell anyone else. Also, she told me, she never figured out how this could be achieved voluntarily.”
The audience tittered at this. Angela glanced around the auditorium—several whispered conversations had begun, and many hastily scribbled notes were being passed. She looked up at Katie, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the reaction Lisa’s story had caused.
Angela considered her own dilemma further. “Since
I am darker than most in the audience, maybe I would have a better
chance at getting some sperm? Should I go for it? Could I even receive some
of that Anglo Nobel Prize sperm? Is Katie reading my mind?”
“You've probably heard," Katie resumed, "about the large and very popular collection of sperm from Nobel prize winners. One difficulty we had with artificail insemination long before the advent of GSV was that some men, out of a sense of ego perhaps, were more than generous in their donations to sperm banks— and possibly elsewhere, also.”
Angela giggled at this, and many in the audience laughed quite loudly. She noticed that the woman beside her had slid down even further into her seat.
“There were quite a number of cases in the United States in which unwitting half brother and half sister met, were attracted to one another and conceived a child. Sometimes, unfortunate genes were transmitted in duplicate along with the desired genes for intelligence or athletic prowess or whatever. So we have to be very careful to whom we give any of this high-donor sperm—this is why everyone’s genealogy is so thoroughly documented and why all births must be registered. I’m sure you all learned in school about Mendel and his wrinkled peas and smooth peas, so no lecture here about genetics.
“One high donor collection was destroyed. The donor had been a physician who secretly impregnated many of his fertility patients and, for obvious reasons, did not keep good records of this practice. Therefore, it was almost impossible to discover his possible daughters and rule them out as recipients for his sperm. Additionally he had several traits that really did not need to be reproduced in our survival society. I see a hand with a card. Let me guess. No, that was the only collection that was destroyed. Typically the sperm was donated by very nice men who were facing surgery or going to war and wanted to be sure they could father a child later on. Or, in some cases, university students donated their sperm to the non-profit sperm banks for a small remuneration. That’s where most of our Asian sperm comes from.
“One personal anecdote here: Before my uncle Ralph went off to the Vietnam War he donated a quantity of his sperm at Grandmother Lisa’s request. He was killed on patrol in his first month there, but he lives on in many, many people. I wonder, do any of you here have Ralph K sperm in your ancestry?
Quite a number of hands went up. Katie was obviously pleased."Quite a few! Hello, cousins! I understand that he was a very fine fellow, someone who refused to use any of the tricks to get out of the draft. He felt that it was unfair that this war, itself unfair, was being fought by blacks and Latinos while rich Anglos managed to sit it out."
Angela surreptitiously appraised the newcomer. She sure can't get any lower in her seat . . . that must be really uncomfortable with those long legs. Is she hiding from someone? Why a turtleneck sweater in this hot weather? And bare feet? Really big feet! And is that dirt on her face?
"I was also," Katie continued,"part of a team that went to investigate what was happening with the sperm banks in the America Midwest. We discovered a very distressing situation. All the sperm samples in that part of the United States had been destroyed by a group of religious fundamentalists who were convinced that the End Days had begun. They believed that God had spoken to them and had told them that the sperm was evil--- only after it had been destroyed could they partake in the Rapture.
“Our group made the mistake of visiting a rather large commune of women that was headed by a twenty-five-year-old man who called himself a prophet. He believed that he was to be spared the virus until the time of the Rapture, but, just in case he should die, he commanded his harem to kill themselves afterwards. We tried to talk to some of the women--- to tell them about the new society we were creating and how they could be a part of it. The preacher caught us, however, and gave us a choice: either be initiated into his cult or face immediate execution. We pretended to accept the first alternative but managed to escape that night before anyone had to undergo his "initiation."
"Now for the second very important early decision. Even though it was just the older men who were dying at first, we biologists and physicians feared--- and were later proven correct--- that the younger men would eventually succumb as well. So it was essential that women be taught the skills of certain occupations that previously had been either exclusively or primarily filled by men--- those involved with the operation of oil rigs, telephone systems, sewage treatment plants, electricity generating plants and so on--- while there was still time. Many wonderful men refused to go into isolation and used their last days to share their knowledge and know-how with us. As an example, my almost-husband Peter was an expert on servers and the Internet. He held training programs that were attended by women from all over the United States. His protégée Roberta was responsible for the speedy creation of our regional Internet here in Southern California.
The United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand--- these places were at least semiready for the Gender-Specific Virus. They boasted large numbers of university-educated women, many of whom had already entered traditionally male occupations. This, however, was not the case in Africa, the Middle East, most of Latin America and parts of Asia. Those parts of the globe are presumed to be virtually uninhabited today.
In the United States, we can thank the Civil Rights Bill of 1964--- nearly twenty years before I was born--- for its part in creating a generation of educated and assertive women. This law mandated equal rights for all minorities, including women. The incorporation of gender into the bill had resulted from an amendment attached to it by a representative from the South, which was still feeling threatened by the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ten years earlier. Howard Smith, a perennial congressman from Virginia, had thought that his amendment would insure the bill's defeat.
"He was wrong! As a result, women were no longer prevented from entering certain professions or learning certain skills. And so, when the Gender-Specific Virus emerged, there were women prepared to take over the jobs that in my grandmother's day were performed by men only.
“Grandmother Lisa took to her grave the injustice she felt when, as the Number One student in her pre-med class, she was denied entrance to medical school after Pearl Harbor. The medical recruiter from the Navy told her, 'We aren’t taking any girls. Don’t you know there’s a war going on?' In contrast, when I got my PhD in biology, more than half of my classmates were women. And there was no gender hiring bias by the labs and medical schools and universities.
Before we stop for our break, I've been given a few questions about the first part of the lecture. One woman asks: 'What caused some men to die quickly and others to last longer?' That's a wonderful question and the answer is--- we really don't know. We never could do the studies in time and get the data in the usual scientific way.
"Why not? Well, there was no large-scale longitudinal study of men in progress from which we could crunch the data to see if there were any significant variables that identified the early mortalities. The morgues were far too busy to get in-depth case histories on the deceased. So we are left only with hypotheses.
"The one that I find most compelling is that it was the angry men who went first---that the anger had depleted their adrenal glands, which left them more vulnerable. I should warn you that I have a personal and emotional reason for holding this hypothesis. My father, who was one of the angriest men I ever knew--- he hated all people who weren't of English ancestry--- was one of the first of the men to die here in Los Angeles.
Here's another question: 'What do you miss most about the Old Days?' The men, of course! It still seems unnatural to never see men anywhere. My dreams frequently include groups of men as they were in the Old Days. Then I wake up with such a feeling of loss. And, yes, I miss Peter in particular. We both assumed that we would be together for the rest of our lives."
Angela held her breath as Katie seemed to choke up, spreading her elbows onto the lectern and bowing her head. But she quickly raised her head again and smiled ruefully at her audience, as if in acknowledgment of her momentary weakness. Angela breathed again and realized that she had instinctively half stood up, as if to go to Katie's rescue. She sat back down and noticed that the eyes of the tall woman next to her were as moist as her own.
"I miss dogs," Katie continued. "How many of you have ever had a dog as a pet? Only a few hands--- I’m guessing you women are old enough to remember the years before the Great Disaster. How many of you have never petted a dog?" Most hands were raised. "'m so sorry that you have never had a dog for a pet. Our cats are wonderful animals; without them we would probably be overrun with rats. But you don't get the devoted adoration from a cat that we used to get from our dogs.
Let me give you a brief list of things I don't miss. First, the traffic. You probably can’t imagine how clogged those wide and now useless freeways were at certain times of the day. Most of the huge gas-burning vehicles on the roads were occupied by a single person, and they often traveled no faster than a person could go on her bike!
"I don’t miss road rage. . . . I’m happy that I have to define the phrase for you. Some motorists would get so angry at other drivers who were perhaps going too slowly or who had cut in front of them that they would express their displeasure on the freeway. They would honk their horns or tailgate or curse--- or even shoot and kill the driver who had enraged them.
I don’t miss processed foods. We, with our homegrown food, are a much healthier group of people than those folks back at the turn of the century, who consumed foods filled with chemicals. I sure don’t miss a society in which an old person could die in his or her apartment and remain unnoticed until neighbors were alerted by the odor. I'll have some more to say about that after the break. But now— orange juice and some raw snacks in the next room. Twenty minutes."
*** *** ***
There was the usual commotion—people leaving their seats, moving out of the hall, everyone talking at once. Angela waited for the tall woman to leave their row first, but the woman instead turned to Angela and asked, in a soft voice, “"Can I talk to you?"
"Do you go to the university?"
"Yes, I do."
"What are you studying?"
"History, like Katie's grandmother. Are you at the U?"
"No, I want to go, but I’m not sure they’ll take me."
"Why wouldn't they?"
"Well, I was home-schooled and I know enough to know that there was a lot that my mother never taught me that I probably would have learned in a real school."
"Home-schooled? Then . . . you must be . . ." Angela felt confused by a new sensation. Her cheeks flushed and grew warm.
"That's right. My name is Teddy." He guardedly pulled down his turtleneck to reveal what Angela knew to be an 'Adam’s apple' from pictures she had seen.
"Oh, my goodness," Angela exclaimed. "So that’s why you sat so hunched down. You don’t want to be noticed, right? Are you afraid of the virus?"
"No, not the virus. I’ve never been out of my commune before and I don’t really know how to act in the world. I've never known another man, so I don't know how men are supposed to behave. The women in the commune always treated me differently than they treated one another. There were a lot of secrets that they never shared with me."
Angela was now facing Teddy directly. "Damn," she said, "that must have been hard on you! Where is your commune? What kind is it? Oh, excuse me . . . my name is Angela." She held out her hand to Teddy.
Teddy smiled at her as he took her hand, holding it rather than shaking it. "I like that name," he said. Angela got that same warm feeling again. "I come from a farming commune in Pendleton."
"Pendleton? That’s a long way from here. A hundred miles?”"
"How on earth did you get here?" Angela asked as she gently reclaimed her hand.
"I started walking three days ago, but I got lucky and got a ride part of the way with a veggiemobile, and then later a scooter." Teddy's eyes lit up as he remembered the journey. "People were really nice. They saw me walking and stopped to ask if I wanted a ride. Is that customary?"
"Yes, indeed," Angela answered. "There aren't that many veggiemobiles, and biofuel is still expensive, so if there's room in their car, people will usually offer to give you a lift. Especially if you're elderly or look tired, or . . . " She glanced down at Teddy's feet. "You were walking barefooted? All the way from Pendleton?"
Teddy smiled sheepishly. "Yeah. They hid my shoes. I guess they thought it would stop me from coming to this lecture. I have twelve mothers, but none has been to the university, and they don't think I need to go, either."
Angela felt indignant. "Teddy," she said forcefully, "you’ve got to tell Katie all this on a comment card. She’ll know how to help you."
"You call her Katie like you know her!" Teddy sounded surprised and somehow wistful.
"Every one knows Katie; she's been everyone’s favorite biology and genetics teacher for the last fifty years. My friend Cameron is the great-grand-daughter of Lisa Kendall's sister-in-law. Those two women and Katie's father owned three fairly large houses on the same block. They've since merged into a sort of compound of university people. I have a bed in Lisa Kendall's History House and Katie lives next door in her father's old house, which is more or less the Biology House. But there is a lot of running back and forth among the three of them. Group picnics and so on."
Angela was very aware that she had referred to Cameron as her "friend" and not as her “partner. What is going on with me? she wondered. Why am I more comfortable with this strange new man-creature than I am with Cameron? Is it because he's not bossy, and she is?