Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1951
Why bother building a time machine when there’s something much easier to find right in your own kitchen?
Somebody someday will make a study of the influence of animals on history. Although not as famous as Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, Mrs. Graham’s cat should certainly be included in any such study. It has now been definitely established that the experiences of this cat led to the idea of quick-frozen people, which, in turn, led to the passage of Zeritsky’s Law.
We must go back to the files of the Los Angeles newspapers for 1950 to find the story. In brief, a Mrs. Fred C. Graham missed her pet cat on the same day that she put a good deal of food down in her home deep-freeze unit. She suspected no connection between the two events. The cat was not to be found until six days later, when its owner went to fetch something from the deep-freeze. Much as she loved her pet, we may imagine that she was more horror than grief-stricken at her discovery. She lifted the little ice-encased body out of the deep-freeze, and set it on the floor. Then she managed to run as far as the next door neighbor’s house before fainting.
Mrs. Graham became hysterical after she was revived, and it was several hours before she could be quieted enough to persuade anybody that she hadn’t made up the whole thing. She prevailed upon her neighbor to go back to the house with her. In front of the deep-freeze they found a small pool of water, and a wet cat, busily licking itself. The neighbor subsequently told reporters that the cat was concentrating its licking on one of its hind legs, where some ice still remained, so that she, for one, believed the story.
A follow-up dispatch, published a week later, reported that the cat was unharmed by the adventure. Further, Mrs. Graham was quoted as saying that the cat had had a large meal just before its disappearance; that as soon after its rescue as it had dried itself off, it took a long nap, precisely as it always did after a meal; and that it was not hungry again until evening. It was clear from the accounts that the life processes had been stopped dead in their tracks, and had, after defrosting, resumed at exactly the point where they left off.
Perhaps it is unfair to put all the responsibility on one luckless cat. Had such a thing happened anywhere else in the country, it would have been talked about, believed by a few, disbelieved by most, and forgotten. But as the historic kick of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow achieved significance because of the time and place that it was delivered, so the falling of Mrs. Graham’s cat into the deep-freeze became significant because it occurred in Los Angeles. There, and probably only there, the event was anything but forgotten; the principles it revealed became the basis of a hugely successful business.
How shall we regard the Zeritsky Brothers? As arch-villains or pioneers? In support of the latter view, it must be admitted that the spirit of inquiry and the willingness to risk the unknown were indisputably theirs. However, their pioneering—if we agree to call it that—was, equally indisputably, bound up with the quest for a fast buck.
Some of their first clients paid as high as $15,000 for the initial freezing, and the exorbitant rate of $1,000 per year as a storage charge. The Zeritsky Brothers owned and managed one of the largest quick-freezing plants in the world, and it was their claim that converting the freezing equipment and storage facilities to accommodate humans was extremely expensive, hence the high rates.
When the early clients who paid these rates were defrosted years later, and found other clients receiving the same services for as little as $3,000, they threatened a row and the Zeritskys made substantial refunds. By that time they could easily afford it, and since any publicity about their enterprise was unwelcome to them, all refunds were made without a whimper. $3,000 became the standard rate, with $100 per year the storage charge, and no charge for defrosting.
The Zeritskys were businessmen, first and last. Anyone who had the fee could put himself away for whatever period of time he wished, and no questions asked. The ironclad rule that full payment must be made in advance was broken only once, as far as the records show.
A certain young man had a very wealthy uncle, residing in Milwaukee, whose heir he was, but the uncle was not getting along in years fast enough. The young man, then 18 years old, did not wish to waste the ‘best years of his life’ as a poor boy. He wanted the money while he was young, but his uncle was as healthy as he was wealthy. The Zeritskys were the obvious answer to his problem.
The agreement between them has been preserved. They undertook to service the youth without advance payment. They further undertook to watch the Milwaukee papers until the demise of the uncle should be reported, whereupon they would defrost the boy. In exchange for this, the youth, thinking of course that money would be no object when he came out, agreed to pay double.
The uncle lived 17 years longer, during which time he seems to have forgotten his nephew and to have become deeply interested in a mystic society, to which he left his entire fortune. The Zeritskys duly defrosted the boy, and whether they or he were the more disappointed is impossible to imagine. They never forgot the lesson, and never made another exception to their rule.
He, poor fellow, spent the rest of his life, including the best years, paying off his debt which, at $3,000 plus 17 years at $100 per year, and the whole doubled, amounted to $9,400. The books record his slow but regular payments over the next 43 years, and indicate that he had only $250 left to pay when he died. We may, I think, assume that various underworld characters who were grateful ex-clients of the Zeritskys were instrumental in persuading the boy to keep up his payments.
Criminals were the first to apply for quick-freezing, and formed the mainstay of the Zeritskys’ business through the years. What more easy than to rob, hide the loot (except for that all-important advance payment), present yourself to the Zeritskys and remain in their admirable chambers for five or ten years, emerge to find the hue and cry long since died down and the crime forgotten, recover your haul and live out your life in luxury?
Due to the shady character of most of their patrons, the Zeritskys kept all records by a system of numbers. Names never appeared on the books, and anonymity was guaranteed.
Law enforcement agents, looking for fugitives from justice, found no way to break down this system, nor any law which they could interpret as making it illegal to quick-freeze. Perhaps the truth is that they did not search too diligently for a law that could be made to apply. As long as the Zeritskys kept things quiet and did not advertise or attract public attention, they could safely continue their bizarre business.
City officials of Los Angeles, and particularly members of the police force, enjoyed a period of unparalleled prosperity. Lawyers and other experts who thought they were on the track of legal means by which to liquidate the Zeritsky empire found themselves suddenly able to buy a ranch or a yacht or both, and retire forever from the arduous task of earning a living.
Even with a goodly part of the population of Los Angeles as permanent pensioners, the Zeritsky fortune grew to incredible proportions. By the time the Zeritsky Brothers died and left the business to their sons, it was a gold mine, and an inexhaustible one at that.
During these later years, the enterprise began to attract a somewhat better class of people. Murderers and other criminals continued to furnish the bulk of the business, but as word of this amazing service seeped through the country, others began to see in it an easy way of solving their problems. They were encouraged, too, by the fact that the process was painless, and the firm completely reliable. There were no risks, no accidents, no fatalities. One could, in short, have confidence in the Zeritskys.
Soon after Monahan’s great exposure rocked the nation, however, many of these better-type clients leaped into print to tell their experiences.
One of the most poignant stories came from the daughter of a Zeritsky client. Her father was still, at the age of one hundred and two, passionately interested in politics, but the chances of his lasting until the next election were not good. The daughter herself suggested the deep freeze, and he welcomed the idea. He decided on a twenty year stay because, in his own words, “If the Republicans can’t get into the White House in twenty years, I give up.” Upon his return, he found that his condition had not been fulfilled. His daughter described him as utterly baffled by the new world. He lived in it just a week before he left it, this time for good. She states his last words were, “How do you people stand it?”
Some professional people patronized the Zeritskys, chiefly movie stars. After the expose, fan magazines were filled with accounts of how the stars had kept youthful. The more zealous ones had prolonged their screen lives for years by the simple expedient of storing themselves away between pictures. We may imagine the feelings of their public upon discovering that the seemingly eternal youth of their favorites was due to the Zeritskys and not, as they had been led to believe, to expensive creams, lotions, diet and exercise. There was a distinctly unfavorable reaction, and the letter columns of the fan magazines bristled with angry charges of cheating.
But next to criminals, the majority of people who applied for quick-freezing seems to have been husbands or wives caught in insupportable marital situations. Their experiences were subsequently written up in the confession magazines. It was usually, the husband who fled to Los Angeles and incarcerated himself for an appropriate number of years, at the end of which time his unamiable spouse would have died or made other arrangements. If we can believe the magazines, this scheme worked out very well in most cases.
There was, inevitably, one spiteful wife who divined her husband’s intentions. By shrewd reasoning, she figured approximately the number of years he had chosen to be absent, and put herself away for a like period. In a TV dramatization rather pessimistically entitled You Can’t Get Away, the husband described his sensations upon being defrosted after 15 years, only to find his wife waiting for him, right there in the reception room of the Zeritsky plant.
“She was as perfectly preserved as I was,” he said. “Every irritating habit that had made my life unbearable with her was absolutely intact.”
The sins of the fathers may be visited on the sons, but how often we see repeated the old familiar pattern of the sons destroying the lifework of the fathers! The Zeritsky Brothers were fanatically meticulous. They supervised every detail of their operations, and kept their records with an elaborate system of checks and doublechecks. They were shrewd enough to realize that complete dependability was essential to their business. A satisfied Zeritsky client was a silent client. One dissatisfied client would be enough to blow the business apart.
The sons, in their greed, over-expanded to the point where they could not, even among the four of them, personally supervise each and every detail. A fatal mistake was bound to occur sooner or later. When it did, the victim broadcast his grievance to the world.
The story appeared in a national magazine, every copy of which was sold an hour after it appeared on the stands. Under the title They Put the Freeze on Me! John A. Monahan told his tragic tale. At the age of 37, he had fallen desperately in love with a girl of 16. She was immature and frivolous and wanted to ‘play around’ a little more before she settled down.
“She told me,” he wrote. “To come back in five years, and that started me thinking. In five years I’d be 42, and what would a girl of 21 want with a man twice as old as her?”
John Monahan moved in circles where the work of the Zeritskys was well known. Not only did he see an opportunity of being still only 37 when his darling reached 21, but he foresaw a painless way of passing the years which he must endure without her. Accordingly, he presented himself for the deep-freeze, paid his $3,000 and the $500 storage charge in advance, and left, he claimed, “written instructions to let me out in five years, so there’d be no mistakes.”
Nobody knows how the slip happened, but somehow John A. Monahan, or rather the number assigned to him, was entered on the books for 25 years instead of five years. Upon being defrosted, and discovering that a quarter of a century had elapsed, his rage was awesome. Along with everything else, his love for his sweetheart had been perfectly preserved, but she had given up waiting for him and was a happy mother of two boys and six girls.
Monahan’s accusation that the Zeritskys had ‘ruined his life’ may be taken with a grain of salt. He was still a young man, and the rumor that he received a hundred thousand for the magazine rights to his story was true.
As most readers are aware, what has come to be known as ‘Zeritsky’s Law’ was passed by Congress and signed by the President three days after Monahan’s story broke.
Seventy-five years after Mrs. Graham’s cat fell into the freezer, it became the law of the land that the mandatory penalty for anyone applying quick-freezing methods to any living thing, human or animal, was death. Also, all quick-frozen people were to be defrosted immediately.
Los Angeles papers reported that beginning on the day Monahan’s story appeared, men by the thousands poured into the city. They continued to come, choking every available means of transport, for the next two days—until, that is, Zeritsky’s Law went through.
When we consider the date, and remember that due to the gravity of the international situation, a bill had just been passed drafting all men from 16 to 60, we realize why Congress had to act.
The Zeritskys, of course, were among the first to be taken. Because of their experience, they were put in charge of a military warehouse for dehydrated foods, and warned not to get any ideas for a new business.
While I was pleased to find another story by a female writer, there is virtually no information quickly available on this author.
There is not a whole hell of a lot of dialogue in there, is there? This is very much a case of telling and not showing, and yet the story was published, and arguably, enjoyed by the readers.
Normally, I don’t use numerals in the text or in the dialogue. This resembles CP Style in the sense that we would write one to eleven in actual words, and after that go to numerals, but for whatever reason I didn’t change ‘57’ to ‘fifty-seven’, etc. Too lazy, I guess. (In CP Style, eleven + 12 makes perfect sense to the typesetters.)
The image is a free download, available here. What’s interesting about the internet sometimes is that you can search ‘cryogenic wallpapers’ and actually find quite a number of them.
Louis Shalako books and stories, some of which are science-fiction, can be found on Google Play.
Thank you for reading.