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Friday, June 11, 2004

Volvo: Your Best Defense Against A Thermonuclear Attack, or
When I Was A Kid...

My wife, Maggie, is so very sweet; she surprised me this afternoon by getting me "The Day After" on DVD. I repaid her kindness by forcing her to immediately watch it with me.

She should have known.

Watching it again, after seeing only a small bit of it since its original broadcast in 1983 a year or so ago, reminded me how utterly terrifying that entire period of my life had been. One of my clearest childhood memories is of my father having a serious man-to-seven-year-old-boy conversation about the unpleasantries of thermonuclear combat (too much too soon, some might say, but I also wouldn't stop asking about it so I guess I had it coming). He wasn't very optimistic about our future--this was before Gorbachev and glasnost, so while most people didn't know when they were going to die, everybody was pretty certain their time would come under a blossoming mushroom cloud. I had nightmares galore, as well as a constant waking fear that my next minute, or second, would be my last. I started reading books about nuclear war, which only fed my fears. Watching this goddamn made-for-television movie sure didn't help either; neither did the fact that the apocalypse was set in my hometown. I no longer needed my imagination to foresee my imminent doom. I should have been in therapy.

After watching the film today, I had to wonder just what in the hell do kids today have to be terrified about? Poor schools? Crime? Economic depression? Global warming? There is nothing that even compares. Terrorism? Possibly, but even that is so random and remote as to be largely insignificant. How many fears will today's youth take with them into adulthood? My heart still skips a beat when I hear the local emergency sirens carry out their tests (even though tornadoes should be foremost on my mind, considering I live in Kansas); when the television or radio emits the emergency signal, though significantly altered from the old Emergency Broadcast System test, I still freeze with fear; even when I hear jets racing through the sky, or see their contrails, the child in me still wants to run and hide.

I'm sure being a kid today sucks as much as when I went through it, if not more; surely, however, it has got to be better without the baggage of instant and absolute anihillation hanging over everyone's heads. My generation had "The Day After," which was an admittedly gross understatement. Today's generation has "The Day After Tomorrow," which is ridiculously over-the-top. If only my nightmares had involved diminishing polar ice caps and rising sea levels...


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