February 2005

How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

By Janelle Holden

I was lying flat on my back, staring at my chiropractor’s ceiling while he lectured me, once again, for doing something stupid. I was just beginning to heal from a wrestling match with a 200-pound garbage can the week before, and my doctor wasn’t amused by my excuse that I needed to kickbox that morning to combat “seasonal affective disorder” – a medical term for “gets mental when light and warmth go away.”

“I’m stepping a little out of my bounds here,” he said, giving me a wary look, “but you need to stop giving winter a personality.” He paused, and since I didn’t object, he went on to say, “What you need is to paint the inside of your house a brighter color, or imagine yourself cross-country skiing.” He said “imagine” because we hadn’t had snow for weeks, and when his advice didn’t visibly cheer me up, he used the timeless, “You should be thankful for how good your life is” method. You know this one. It’s the same one your parents used to make you eat your vegetables.

“Did you know that children in Ethiopia are starving?” my mother would say, “And they would love to eat Brussel sprouts.” This argument never worked on me. I couldn’t imagine a child who wanted to eat Brussel sprouts, or an adult who enjoyed a cold and dark winter.

So I went home, feeling guilty for feeling lousy, and turned on the television just in time to see a commercial about terrorism. The ad featured young children asking rhetorical questions like, “Mom, shouldn’t we pick a place to meet? If you’re not home, should we go to the neighbors? How do we keep in touch with each other if the phones don’t work?” Then, you hear an adult woman say, “There’s no reason not to have a plan in case of a terrorist attack. And some extremely good reasons why you should.”

After pondering the double negative in “no reason not to have a plan,” I realized that my search for a cure to the winter blues was over. Why worry about lack of sun and lack of snow when I needed to figure out how to survive a car bomb, how to live through the spread of smallpox, and most importantly – how to communicate with people if no phones were available? So, I did what all good citizens should do. I followed the Department of Homeland Security’s instructions and logged on to www.ready.gov hoping it would provide some answers.

The first thing I noticed on ready.gov is that the government wants to scare the living daylights out of you. On the left-hand side of the web page your choices to click on are: Biological Threat, Chemical Threat, Explosions, Nuclear Blast, Radiation Threat, and Natural Disasters. I think nuclear blast and radiation threat may be a little redundant, but hey, what do I know.

Though doubtful about the website’s merits, I clicked on “Chemical Threat.” Here’s what I learned. If you see people twitching and clutching their throats, it’s a pretty good sign that you need to get the hell out of there, and the government thinks so too.

The Department of Homeland Security advises two things in this situation. The first is to “get away,” and the second is “strip and wash.” So, for those of you who are well-versed in the stop, drop, and roll method of beating out a fire, you can add “get away” and “strip and wash” to your memory.

The “get away” strategy is an important choice in nearly any type of terrorist attack. The web site isn’t clear on where you should go, but if you do go they advise locking the door behind you because even though the terrorists might be smart enough to build a nuclear bomb, it’s possible that the common door lock could stymie them. The other strategy is “staying put.” In this case you’ll need several rolls of duct tape, some plastic sheeting, a few Twinkies, and enough uncontaminated water to get you by for, oh, several weeks. But, according to ready.gov, if you’re trying to survive a nuclear blast you may want to talk to your doctor first. Other than “getting away” or “staying put,” your only other option is complete annihilation, in which case you are kind of doing both at the same time. As for communicating between family members, ready.gov has this helpful advice: “You may have trouble getting through, or the telephone system may be down altogether, but be patient.” That’s right, if the phones don’t work any more and the town is on fire, you just have to be patient, take a deep breath, and count to 10, and then everything will be all right.

The moral of this story is that surviving a terrorist attack is nearly as easy as surviving winter in Montana. In both situations you just need a little bit of common sense, some duct tape, patience, and a hidden stash of whiskey.

Janelle Holden, a former resident of Montezuma County, writes from Livingston, Mont.