I’ve heard it said that you usually dream at night about what you thought during the day. Amidst the ongoing debate about the use of fossil fuels, global warming and alternative energy, I’d been thinking a lot about how different the world would be if there weren’t any petroleum products. Maybe I thought about it too much:
I pried myself out of bed in the morning to find the house cold and dark.
The latex paint on the walls suddenly dissolved, exposing stark, gray-white sheet rock. The varnish on the floors and window trim evaporated.
In the bathroom, my toothbrush disappeared from my hand. There was no bar of soap with which to wash my face. No shampoo to wash my hair. Downstairs, the coffee pot and half of the kitchen appliances went ‘poof’!
There was no sense even trying to start my truck. I would have to see if I could ride my bicycle to work. Experiencing some rough peddling through our subdivision, since there was no longer an asphalt surface on the road, I looked down and discovered I was riding on bare rims! I’d forgotten that tires are made from a synthetic rubber made from butylene, an organic compound derived from petroleum.
The plastic gear shift levers and pedals were also gone, so I decided to ditch the bike and walk. Before I knew it I was fishing around in the snow for the lenses to my glasses. Their plastic frames had vanished too.
Because of the cold breeze, I decided to wear my Gore-Tex coat. You guessed it -- the petrochemical-based coat went south and I was now walking along without a wrap and freezing to death.
At least I had my sweater. Uh, oh. No I didn't. I’d forgotten it was made from Dacron, which is synthesized from ethylene glycol, another petrochemical product. I wished I’d worn my woolen gloves instead of the synthetic polypropylenes.
Hitchhiking was tough. In fact, it was impossible, because there were no cars on the highway. It took me two hours to walk to work. It was kind of fun though, because there were plenty of others doing the same thing. I saw one guy running frantically behind a dog team without a sled. Had he been so foolish to give up the heavy traditional wooden sled for a lighter fiberglass model made from petrochemicals?
The office building was on auxiliary (battery) power and our computer systems were down. I noticed an empty spot on my desk. What computer? No telephone? Why did they have to be made of plastic, too!?
So what if we had no computers? I could a least get some writing done with the manual typewriter we bought after the last power failure. Mechanically, it was great. No electronics. But I soon discovered it left no impressions on the paper. On closer inspection I found that it was absent its inked ribbon, and of course, ink comes from carbon black.
By this time I was developing a world-class headache. I ransacked my desk drawer for my bottle of aspirin, but soon realized it wouldn’t be there. Aspirin is a petrochemical product from toluene, an aromatic or organic compound.
The office surroundings were devoid of color, including my shirt and tie. Many dyes are made from the petrochemical xylene, I remembered.
Then things really started getting scary. Objects started disappearing all around me ... light fixtures, carpet, cubicle partitions, the fabric on my chair, the print in my maps and books.
I yanked out my wallet and gasped in horror as my face began fading from my driver’s license. This was too much like the movie “Back to the Future.”
“No!” I screamed. “You won’t get me. You won’t!”
“Frank ... wake up!” Came a voice from somewhere. “You’re just dreaming. Wake up, dear.”
It was my wife. “You're here ... you're alive!” I gasped. “You’re not a petroleum product!”
I studied her bathrobe…definitely a synthetic polyester with bright reds and pinks. I spotted a bottle of aspirin on the dresser. Next to was a plastic clock radio, its face illuminated.
And after that nightmare, so was I.
Frank E. Baker is a lifelong Alaskan and is currently a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.