ESSAY/HUMOR — Besides drowning your troubles, in the event of an actual emergency, booze will be a hotly traded commodity —
I waver between piling on every blanket in the house to wishing I could peel off eight layers of skin, and hang them out to dry.
In search of a TV program to lull me to sleep, I click through the channels and stop on a marathon event featuring doomsday preppers. This growing population is obsessed with stockpiling food, water, and weapons in preparation for any man-created or natural disaster. I learn, aside from drowning one’s troubles, when push comes to shove, hard liquor will be an essential trade commodity.
Doomsday Preppers live a tad left of the grid. Just don’t call them silly or crazy or scary. As your hair begins to fall out from radiation poisoning, a sympathetic prepper might become your greatest ally when you go knocking door to door hauling your case of Miller Light.
It’s The Apocalypse that fuels their passion. When life as we know it, with iPhones, cardiac defibrillators, and Fantasy Football end in one hot blast, preppers will be ready. Within three days, we, the “non-preppers” will perish from the face of the Earth.
Preppers liken us to baby bunnies. Innocent, wide-eyed and bushy tailed prey in a forest filled with rabid wolverines. As far as they are concerned we might as well baste ourselves in orange sauce and kiss our asses good-bye.
I sit up straight in a panic, and yell at the TV: “But I don’t want to be a baby bunny!”
Here I will connect the dots to my lifelong, End of The World, fears.
It started in the 1960s, when Air Raid drills were meant to prepare schoolchildren for disasters.
We watched a grainy black and white film called “Duck and Cover.” The movie’s climax showed kids like us, hands over heads, in a single file line, descending into the bowels of the basement.
This was to be our survival plan. Should a Cuban Missile stream towards the school playground, we would hide from the enemy by covering our heads.
One day, during a stressful game of Duck, Duck, Goose, the warning siren went off. Two hundred kids ran into the school, hands over our heads. Mrs. Thoren, a nice old woman who smelled of Listerine and Ben-Gay, grabbed a big pouch that contained our identification records and a box of saltines. I supposed this to be a visual morale booster.
She led us down to the basement, where, since this part hadn’t been rehearsed yet, we fell over each other like a cluster of blind mice throwing back Jello shots.
In fact, I’d learned the truth from the older kids; that a nuclear attack would render our remains to a fine ash followed by a mere puff of smoke, like something my grandpa tapped from his pipe.
Midway down the stairs one of the boys yelled: “Bomb explosion!” This instigated a barrage of laughter that echoed off the stone walls.
“All right. Who said that?” the Principal asked.
The slapped ruler against her palm added a nice back beat to the laughter. This was her weapon of choice used against boys who didn’t sit up straight or dared to demonstrate silly behavior in her presence. Truthfully, I saw no loss should she vaporize before our very eyes.
The mice went silent but the snickering trickled down to the first graders, just as quickly as the crap from my panties ran down my legs. It was safe to be brave in the dark when no one could see your fear. But, oh, the smell.
“If this were an actual emergency,” the Principal promised, “you all would die.”
It’s funny how adults use imminent death to threaten children, although as third graders we had no concept of life and death. Still, at that moment I’d wished I were dead.
My class understood farts and recess and high-quality snack foods. To us, the drill was another great excuse from doing actual school work or learning anything of real world value.
The next prepper show begins and I am convinced my family will die in the event of the tiniest Apocalypse. I wipe the sweat from my forehead and strip to my underwear and think: My God, we don’t even own a working flashlight.
In contrast, my father, a proud Army man, believed in disaster preparation. He lit a Coleman lantern any time the power went out, and tucked a few matches in his pocket, to light his cigarettes or entertain us by roasting marshmallows over the sink. This was how we handled a disaster, and it was fun.
During this time, fear gripped the nation and my father studied catalogs that sold gas masks by the dozen. No matter how deeply covered in bullshit, if a new survival item (or erectile ointment) hit the black market, he was the first to raise his hand.
I recall the day. It took less than three minutes for the sales rep in a brown tweed suit to reel in my dad. “Any man who installs a fall-out shelter to protect his family should be commended.” While my father basked in the glow of the salesman’s pitch, we tried to control our excitement. We’d be the only kids in the neighborhood with an underground hut.
My mother, ever the kill joy, did not share his enthusiasm. My father was easy bait for a smooth talker or a colorful brochure; she, a pro at floating sarcasm above his reach.
“Imagine,” my mother said, “while the world melts outside, you, and me, and six kids, endless games of Yahtzee, ten feet below ground, stuffed together in some over-sized bathtub.” She timed her pauses perfectly. “For hours. Or days…”
She let that one dangle a while, then, swirling her hands in the air, “…and what about them?”
Them. The neighborhood fools and extended family. All non-preppers; bloodsuckers who borrowed every tool and didn’t return it. They’d scream and pound above us, begging to be let into an already packed house. My father would lead them in, two by two, like Noah. Then, we’d watch as my mother crucified him.
“It’s state of the art technology,” he said, using his last piece of scientific evidence.
Her point made, she went about doing practical tasks above ground, like inspecting stained underwear on the clothes line. She shot us both the eye of disgrace.
Dad patted my shoulder reassuringly, but you could see him mull over the prosecution’s evidence.
“Perhaps we should prepare something,” I tell my husband when he returns from work. “You know, in case there’s a disaster.”
“Don’t even worry about it,” he says and feels my forehead. “Why are you naked?”
“You’re a non-prepper!” I say, hoping to shame him into action. “Do you know what preppers do while we waste time feeding our lawn? They practice evacuation drills, in hazmat suits. How many bottles of wine do we have, huh?”
“Dear, you’re really hot,” he says, “and not in that attractive way.” He turns off the television and looks at me with all the sympathy he can muster: “Stop watching this shit. Take a nap. You’re scaring yourself.”
He’s right of course.
I lie down and surrender to the fact that on a clear day, the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant is visible from my house. This means that in the event of a true emergency, we will have about eight seconds to hold hands and belt out the first chorus to Kumbaya, before the wave of radiation turns us all to dust bunnies.
So if The Apocalypse comes knocking on my door, I’ve made the decision to put my hands over my head and baste myself in orange sauce.