A few weeks ago, the people of Hawaii received the following emergency alert text on their cell phones from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency: Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill. It took 38 minutes for HEMA to “revoke” the alert and announce it was an error. This incident prompted a conversation with my husband about what we would do should we receive such a warning. The warning says to seek shelter. The best shelter we have is probably that old metal wheelbarrow in the garage, which seems to withstand anything. But I don’t think it’s up to the task. We can’t both fit under it anyway. And, while we’re resourceful people who own a lot of dusty power tools we no longer use (but must keep because said husband might get a wild hair and decide to build a gazebo or an ark or something), we couldn’t build something capable of sustaining a nuclear blast in 15 minutes from the materials we have on hand. Although the label doesn’t say it, I have a hunch that duct tape is not resistant to nuclear explosions. We have a basket of ornamental acorns in the front hallway, but not nearly enough of them to build a bomb shelter, and definitely not enough glue. So we’re kind of stuck exploding. Which takes us back to the original question about what to do in our last minutes of life.
“I suppose,” I said to Ron, “that if we’re lucky enough to be at home together, and we know the end is coming momentarily, the thing to do would be to go to bed and have sex.” Ron replied, “Oh, wow, no pressure.” I could see his point. “Well then,” I suggested, “we could make ourselves some really, really good sandwiches.” He was down with that.
The week after the Hawaii false alarm, a false alarm happened in Japan, which now begs the question “how do we know if an alert is real?” Actually, it’s likely that I would have no inkling of an impending nuclear blast, real or imagined, if the best communication emergency services can produce is a flimsy text message. Sending an end-of-the-world communication via an electronic device is kind of like writing that you are having a heart attack on the bathroom mirror with a marker. I want to hear an astonishingly loud warning signal emanating from the fire department. Or else have a hysterical woman call me on my landline and scream the news as if her shoe collection is on fire (a robocall might be OK depending on the quality of the screaming). If our emergency alert people send a text with such a warning, I will remain oblivious to the danger because I don’t have a smart phone, and I don’t turn on my dumb phone more than twice a month (unless I’m traveling), and even if I do turn it on I’m too deaf to hear it beep or ring or whatever it does (I have no idea because I can’t hear it). On the off chance that I had my phone on at the moment that such a text went forth, and that I glanced at it and noticed a text had come in, and that I read the message, and believed it, then, hypothetically, what would I do? I would take shelter under a graceful old tree because it would comfort me to be blown to bits in the company of such a wise and ancient soul. I happen to have such a tree in my backyard.
I come from a generation that has been there and done that with this nuclear bomb nonsense a long time ago. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, after which my father built a bomb shelter in our basement. I sat and talked to him every evening while he piled the cement blocks on. It was a good place to store bicycles in the winter, but it wouldn’t have resisted a nuclear blast any better than duct tape and acorns. At elementary school, we learned how to duck under our desks to assume the nuclear holocaust safety position. (What were those desks made out of, and where can I buy some of that material?) If I had had the spunk and defiance as a child that I have as an old lady, I certainly would have refused to crawl under my desk. Deluded lunatics hold human survival in their hands; and the imbeciles who think they can survive a nuclear bomb under a desk or in the high school basement voted those same deluded lunatics into positions of power. Pass the Swiss cheese and mustard.
How infuriating to still be having this discussion. This is, and always was, a no-brainer. But the men with the nuclear codes have no brains. Sigh. I went to jail to protest nuclear weapons in the 1980s. I was righteously outraged, but truly all I accomplished with my arrest was a slight personal weight loss since prisons didn’t provide anything a vegetarian eats in 1983. The biggest reason why I won’t participate in nonviolent civil disobedience today is that the thought of eating prison food gives me a panic attack. Yes, I realize that people generally don’t go to prison to experience fine cuisine. But if a nuclear bomb may drop at any moment, the last place I want to spend my final 15 minutes is in prison, far from a decent kosher dill pickle.
I like to imagine that I live a more protected existence here in northern Cali because it would not serve Kim Jong-un to bomb one of the places in the U.S. that is the most resistant and opposed to our present disastrous government and predator-in-chief. Although he might choose to bomb us simply because we are one of the places he can reach from his launchpad. On the other hand, I do not rule out the possibility of having my own government bomb northern Cali by accident (either really by accident or by-accident-on-purpose-cover-that-up to halt the resistance). Or my own government bomb us because the nuclear bombing systems are controlled by robots and computers and other nonhuman mechanisms, and therefore highly vulnerable to hackers, infiltrators, saboteurs, and Hal taking over for no fathomable reason. If this sounds like 60s paranoia or Cali-minded whim-wham then let me disabuse you of that notion – chalk it up to PTSD from the Cold War. Bay of Pigs. Cuban Missile Crisis. I was there. I ducked and covered, assembled in the gymnasium to the tune of a screeching siren, watched a bomb shelter get built in my basement, saw televised mushroom clouds, and read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi of the zeitgeist. I grew up in the shadow of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I spent years up to my neck in the fight against the proliferation of nuclear weapons before throwing in the towel and turning my attention to more immediate concerns where I could make a concrete difference. Homelessness. Environmental protection. Sustainable food systems. Health equity. Raising children well. The all-clear siren will never sound in my lifetime. Since life is not a drill, and since we live under constant threat, the best course of action is to love well, have wondrous adventures, promote joy, appreciate trees, be kind, build a life that inspires gratitude every day, and eat a lot of really good sandwiches (no pressure).
Grilled veggie and goat cheese sandwich. Yum.