When I was a kid a seeming 20 minutes ago, my enlightened school district over the hill in Chatsworth saw fit to terrorize my second-grade class into submission with mandatory atomic bomb carnage.
Actually, carnage isn’t exactly the right word.
Films were a rare treat. Another high-tech teacher down the hall had to set up a film projector. Windows were covered. Lights darkened. The short feature before the main film of total annihilation was a short animation, with happy voices singing: “Duck! And cover!” You can watch it today on YouTube. You’d think they’d use a cartoon duck to keep with the motif of “Duck! And cover!” But, instead, our government paid the talentless good money to create Burt the Turtle.
In black and white, Burt would be slowly and stupidly trudging along, helmet instead of face mask. A stick of TNT would magically appear above his head and explode, while the goofball Civil Defense chorus merrily chimed: “He did what he was told to do — Duck! And cover!” Burt would fall prostrate to the ground and disappear into his shell. A bass, common sense government Orwellian voice then warned us to, again, “do what we’re supposed to do.”
In Burt’s film, the atmosphere disappeared in the distance and the next step was to dive off the tractor, in orderly fashion, place your butt up in the air toward Orion and cover your head. Cut to the announcer asking a trenchant question: “Remember when you had a really bad sunburn and how really bad that felt?”
Then followed a scene of a disinterested mom rubbing a disinterested and shirtless fifth grader with a cloth filled with something from a nearby bottle. I’m hoping it wasn’t rubbing alcohol.
Burt was actually a feel-good film, compared to the various Atom Bomb Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies the teachers made us watch.
I remember being so young and asking myself how profoundly stupid was this presentation? The school would show a planet-ending explosion, obligatory mushroom cloud followed by a veritable poopy storm. Temperature? Nine digits. Wind speed? Nine billion mph. Everything melted, from skyscrapers to Lutherans.
We practiced. We ducked. We covered. I’m under my desk, my little heinie getting a view of gum stuck from a previous student from the 1930s who was now ironically a grown-up selling life insurance. After seeing all those films, I remember thinking how undignified, comic and useless it was to assume a prayer position to a vengeful fire god.
Singe My Heinie.
Led Zeppelin’s later fourth album title, I believe.
The things you consider. That perhaps my ears would survive intact, but my rear end would be burnt toast. How do you walk with a burnt butt? Even at that age, I began to suspect that the fundamental unit of adulthood was a scale from stupidity to insanity, with stops along the way at hypocrisy and stepping on rakes. Over and over and over again.
I’d rather the teacher had been more honest in her assessment.
“Lads. Lasses. Mother Russia dropped The Big One. Girls. Be good students and run out to the hallway because your screaming is going to give Teacher a headache. The rest of you 7-year-old boys? Who wants to join me in one last martini?”
Being the class clown, I’m sure I would have responded: “Do you think there’s enough room for all of us?”
My parents both served in World War II. Germany and Japan with Italy as a suppressed cough and asterisk were real threats to destroy civilization. That specter of nuclear war hung over my head and I remember the heart-stopping wail of the sirens at Placerita Junior High. I read about millions of Chinese students, my age. Instead of listening to The Beatles, my age demographic a half-planet away marched and chanted “Death to America.”
College brought another bummer world-ender. Solemn junk science books elbowed each other on the best-selling list. “The Population Bomb” by Paul Ehrlich was nearly complete fiction, predicting the end of the world by the 1970s. I may have missed something, but, except for mass whining in some corners, life seems to be rolling along just duckily. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was another leaky bucket of falsehoods and doomsday drivel. The first Earth Day was created, ironically, on Lenin’s birthday. This bears repeating, so I’m going to type it twice: You have to take care of your environment.
You. Have. To. Take. Care. Of. Your. Environment.
Can’t pour bleach over the carrot crop.
I can’t say this cult that’s kidnapped the shingle of environmentalism is the cause of the current international state of mass hypnosis, victimhood, shaming, chronic dishonesty, political correctness, phantasmagorical thinking and sniveling snarkiness. Most, if not all of us, suffer from Wildebeest Butt Syndrome. We tend to find the most hairy and unattractive rear end and, nose an inch away, follow said rear end blindly. Sometimes to greener pastures. Sometimes to crocodile-infested waters.
I remember being a boy, watching, with some trepidation, May Day parades with tanks and giant rockets endlessly rolling along and thousands of soldiers goose-stepping through Red Square. They surely seemed formidable. And intent on causing the destruction of me, a perfectly wonderful little kid, thousands of miles away. Somehow, the Nazis and U.S.S.R. ended up being the ones who imploded.
As a child, I spent only a little bit of my time, little gluteus maximus in the air, asking the question: “When’s the last time they washed the floors?” practicing for annihilation of not just me, but a wonderful way of life.
Who would have thought so many years later, I would consider ducking under my desk and covering my head over a fatal threat to America as innocuous as The Sissy.
John Boston is a local writer currently with a lovely view of sheep grazing on the nearby hill. As of press time, none have blown up, died of frostbite, atomic bombs, hostile thoughts or political correctness.