Think back to the worst moments in the last hundred years...did the stunning Stock Market Crash of 1929, Lindbergh kidnapping or the Great Depression permanently end silliness? What about Pearl Harbor, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan...I say, “NO!” Even when the nation’s psyche was rocked by the triple assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy our smiles were only temporarily shuttered. Plus, the more recent storms like Katrina and Sandy and the terror-filled day of 911, couldn’t stop our laughter for long.
Hidden in all the tumult listed above, there was one event that seems universally overlooked, (this month, marks the 51st anniversary of thirteen tension-filled days that almost changed the world forever).
This near catastrophe is not for the squeamish, it had the potential for long-term serious consequences that we can barely imagine. However, because we narrowly side-stepped it, this incident is either taken for granted or, because of the negative ramification...is conveniently forgotten. Now I’m going to tell you just how close we came to losing the entire joy of the American way of life...or far worse, being completely annihilated by a nuclear holocaust.
To begin, let's examine how my prospective of danger was formed. It started on my first day of kindergarten. No my teacher Mrs. Konawalikowsky wasn’t a nasty fire breathing dragon...my first day was shortened by Hurricane Donna.
|LETHAL HURRICANE DONNA ORIGINATED NEAR CAPE VERDE OFF THE AFRICAN COAST, MADE A SHARP RIGHT AT FLORIDA, SLID UP THE EASTERN SEABOARD BEFORE SLAMMING INTO BROOKLYN ON SEPTEMBER 12, 1960.|
The storm must have had Konawalikowsky shitting in her own pants. What a cold fish, the bitch ignored me. While waiting for my father, it felt like I was being punished. She didn't let me use anything, not even a stinkin' handful of crayons and a sheet of paper. Other kids had been troublesome to her because they had tantrums due to separation anxiety issues when their mother's dropped them off. But not me, I was thrilled to be there...I was an angel.
|KONAWALIKOWSKY MADE THE KIDS WHO REALLY FREAKED-OUT STAND IN THE WALK-IN SUPPLY CLOSET WITH THE LIGHTS OFF, (THESE DAYS SHE'D LOSE HER JOB FOR THAT).|
Jeez, unless the old battle-ax was a clairvoyant and knew that eventually I would need massive attitude adjustments, then she was just cruel. So all the fun activity items remained in their proper place. And that meant I was left without diversion...it was frightening. While she was doing whatever she was doing, I was on my own, to watch the carnage outside and wonder if the world was coming to an end.
When my father showed up, I knew I was safe. First, he put a sailor hat on me to keep my head dry. Then my imagination made me feel like I was his sidekick and that he and I were going on a hazardous mission. Dad valiantly picked me up and carried me through the hall to the exit.
|(HAWAII, JANUARY 1975). DAD (above, THE SAME AGE AS I AM NOW), WAS ALWAYS AN HEROIC FIGURE TO ME...EVEN WITH MACAW CRAP ON HIS SHOULDER.|
At the end of the corridor, there was a half-flight of stairs down to street level. The landing before the exit doors was flooded with ankle-deep rainwater. Despite the whistling wail of the wind, I thought dad, wading through the mini-lagoon, was as cool as Superman.
The instant we were outside, my hat flew off. The memory of its flight, dancing and bouncing towards Avenue J, is indelibly burnt into my mind. Maybe I pictured myself as the sailor hat...I started screaming and crying as the whining gale inhibited dad's stride and the horizontal torrents soaked me.
Weeks later, on a chilly November morning, the school was again evacuated. The phrase we heard was, “This is NOT a drill.” I guess it’s imperative to save the youngest. So while the rest of the school was sent to freeze and stand in straight lines at the end of the block, my class was sent inside a house across the street.
|THE TWENTY-THREE OF US WERE CRAMMED INTO A KINDLY VOLUNTEER'S KITCHEN. I'M CLUELESS WHERE THE OTHER SIX KINDERGARTEN CLASSES WENT.|
We stood in that house like nervous statues for an eternity (half hour?). But it was like being given rock star status compared to the frosted, upper classmen outside.
Inside this house, the shades were drawn so we only heard the sirens, the screech of fire engine brakes and the defused orders being barked-out by the fire chief. Our young imaginations went wild as we speculated about the ashen remains that were to be left of the school. When the scariness was over, I was almost disappointed that everything was normal. The school was intact, there was no smoke, fire or piles of burnt bodies.
These two events played a significant role in my thought process as the grips of cold war tensions reached its apex. By the time second grade rolled around, my classmates and I were all old pros at how to handle fire drills and drills in case of a nuclear attack.
I had seen the worst storm Mother Nature could churn-out so at seven, I was jaded because I knew how easy it was to survive killer hurricanes and I personally witnessed how unthreatening a real fire was. Of course, I wasn’t the sharpest second grader, (hell, I’m still no genius). Because back then, my idea of persevering through hardship was weekends at my grandmother’s house. That's where Oreos were substituted by cheaper Hydrox cookies, grandpa’s inferior seltzer water was supposedly just as good as Pepsi and the glory of the occasional ice pop was minimized because it was broken in half so I could share it with my sister.
I had no idea what level of peril a nuclear attack might represent. Others my age might have had access to older kids to give them a heads up but I didn't. Today, some of my contemporaries claim they saw fear and apprehension in the face of their parents or other adults. Again, not me...everyday was the same goofy business as usual.
If you were clueless (like I was), nuclear attack drills (there were two types) were just stupid. The first involved hiding in a fetal position under your desk. Whoever came up with that idea appreciated the most convenient way to kiss our ass good-bye if the shit really hit the fan.
|WHETHER YOU PICTURE THIS RIDICULOUSNESS IN YOUR MIND OR SEE AN ACTUAL PHOTO, THE BOTTOM LINE SEEMS OBVIOUS, SOMEBODY HAD TO COME UP WITH AN IDEA THAT GAVE THE IMPRESSION THAT HE KNEW HOW TO SAVE LIVES.|
The second, (new and improved) type of nuclear attack drill must have come from someone big in the Board of Education. Their positive brain cramp realized that if the shit indeed hit the fan, crouching under a desk was not going to save anyone. But if the shit only slightly hit the fan, the huge glass, classroom windows would shatter and severely cut-up the left side of every student. That’s when these drills were switched into the halls, away from windows.
The big question is, how necessary were these precautions? And the answer is, EXTREMELY ! The Cuban Missile Crisis was not listed above as one of the worst (most dangerous) moments in the last hundred years. But if you don’t already know, you’ll be shocked how one last second decision prevented the possibility of the end of the American (global) way of life.
In 1962, rhe island nation of Cuba stood alone as communist Russia’s only ally in the western hemisphere. Their leader Fidel Castro allowed Soviet ships to import the makings for nuclear missiles. Once assembled, a scant sixty miles from our coast, these devices of mass destruction were then to be aimed at our capital, key military instillations and heartland.
Luckily our U-2 reconnaissance planes spotted what was perceived to be tactical nuclear devices being shipped to Cuba. President John Kennedy stepped up and installed a naval blockade to block more ships. Then he issued an ultimatum to the Russian Premiere, Nikita Khrushchev. During the ensuing thirteen-day confrontation Kennedy said he was prepared to bomb Russia if the Soviets ships didn’t turn around and go home.
|IN MOSCOW'S RED SQUARE, AN R-12 INTERMEDIATE-RANGE NUCLEAR MISSILE, LIKE THOSE AIMED AT THE USA, IS DISPLAYED.|
During this stalemate, (October 14th through October 28th), we came the closest to a nuclear war. It also marked the first time the phrase, mutual assured destruction was ever documented. Due to the fact that a modest miscommunication, a botched interpretation or an unavoidable delay could cause a worldwide cataclysm...the idea of a telephone "hotline" was agreed to, to immediately expedite a link between the White House and the Kremlin.
The scary part is...unbeknownst to our intelligence community, the Russians already had enough fire power in place down there to blow us to smithereens. The fact that they actually backed down before either side did anything stupid...is one of the world’s greatest miracles. So thank goodness for our treasured humor, keep smiling and laugh as much as you can because we never know when it all might en