Friday, November 09, 2007

Duck v Duct

Somewhen and somewhere back in the late, great 1950’s the US Government, in response to those silly and naïve fears festering amongst the populace regarding megadeaths by megatons of megabombs, dutifully, and with officious diligence, created the “Duck and Cover” program. Now here was a program with a purpose and, more importantly, a positive message: “you will survive, we promise!”

In order to convince everyone that the government really had their best interests at heart, and to prove the sagacity of cowering under a table or tablecloth and planting your head between your knees to kiss your ass goodbye, they dreamed up a cute little mascot, a Turtle by the name of Bert. And Bert the Turtle was very alert. When trouble threatened him he never … Sorry. The Heimweh, or nostalgia, for an era that is long gone (and mostly before my time) grabbed me by the, well, grabbed me somewhere.

My first experience with the lunacy of the D&C drill was in the first grade. 1968 to be exact. (For some reason, as kindergarteners we were immune to this exercise in gullibility as I suppose it was thought that we lacked the maturity to comprehend the gravitas of these most solemn occasions -- we might have discovered the farce though.)

Anyway, we referred to these solemn occasions as “Retention Drills”. While we dozed, er learned, in our classrooms a very loud claxon would begin its groaning cacophony of six longish death-knell-like plaints – one for each foot under, I suppose. Upon hearing the sixth bell (…when he had opened the sixth seal, lo, there was a great earthquake…) we arose en masse, went to the cloakroom to get our jackets or coats and lined up, behind the teacher who would fearlessly lead us into battle, and proceeded to our assigned spots … along the inner walls of the hallway. (Mind you, we had a fallout shelter, but as that likely would have fallen in anyway, it didn’t much matter). Once we reached the wall we assumed the position as described above and put our coats or jackets over our heads – the poor bastards without either had only their bare arms to protect them – this, we were assured by the pedagogues assembled, would protect us from flying glass.

We were then to remain in the assumed position until the all-clear was sounded. Or, had this been a real emergency, for all eternity.

You see, our school was located less than a half-mile from a Naval Depot; a site far too important to the national defense for those evil-communist-red-atheistic-materialistic-Russians-who-lurked-under-our-beds-everynight to ignore. After all, parts for ships, planes, nuclear-tipped missiles and all the stuff we needed to strike back at those evil-communist-red-atheistic-materialistic-Russian-blah-blah-blahs. Nope, Ivan simply could not leave that one alone.

After the Cold War ended, I heard that the depot had in fact been targeted for destruction by our-former-enemies-and-now-dearest-friends. A 3MT warhead (so it was assumed) was to be the hammer of the godless. While we were all cowering under our coats…boom, three megatons; everything within 3 miles is vaporized and/or scorched and/or toasted in a big ball of thermal radiation (aka fire, heat, ouch, hot); everything with 5 miles is flattened, everything within 10 miles is showered with radiation…

Did I mention that the school was a half-mile away?

Fast forward twenty-three years to September 11, 2001. OK, really to the 12th, or 13th, or whenever it was the Dubya managed to find his cojones and resume the control of the presidency and the nation that Rudy Giulliani had so kindly safeguarded.

In the ensuing panic after the attacks, one of the geniuses at FEMA – probably that idiotic judge of thoroughbred Arabian horses who did a heck of a job later on mangling another disaster – decided that we would be safe from those crazy-Islamic-Arabic-heathen-evildoers-and-suiciders-who-lurk-on-every-web-page-and-in-every-cell should they attempt to use biological, chemical, or nucular weapons on us, if we purchased duct tape and plastic sheeting and used those items to seal off a mid-sized room.

Three people suffocated in a room so prepared. Really. Fortunately, they weren’t in the school – just imagine the lawsuit.


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