Nightmares of Nuclear War

When I was about 12 years old, I was awakened early one morning by the sound of an explosion right outside our building. I ran to the window (we lived on the seventh floor) and, still not completely awake, saw a pillar of thick smoke rising and gathering. For one moment, I was so terrified, I couldn’t breathe.

It turned out to be the smoke from a car explosion — in an act of revenge for some slight or other, somebody had apparently thrown a molotov cocktail at an empty car parked outside. But when I found out what had caused the explosion, I wasn’t all that impressed. Because it wasn’t the idea that people were throwing around home-made bombs in my neighborhood that had frightened me so badly.

It was that, for that one second, I thought I was looking at an atomic blast.

I was born early enough so that I have vague memories of watching President Kennedy talking on TV during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening, but I did understand that my parents were also watching, and that they were very, very frightened. I also understood that there could be a war, and that the nuclear explosions that I’d seen movies of could blast us out of existence at any moment.

I had nightmares for weeks after that — not helped by the atomic war drills that we had at school. (Which, even at an early age, I knew were ridiculous — was sitting in a hallway with our arms over our heads really going to protect us from a nuclear blast?)

In fact, I spent my childhood and adolescence living with the terror of an early death from a nuclear war as a constant background hiss in my consciousness. It was like the static from a badly-tuned radio station — you tried to ignore it, you even forgot about it occasionally, but it was always there. It only began to slowly ebb in my college years — while there were still fights to be fought, I began to finally feel that I, and my younger brother, and the even younger children around me, might survive into adulthood, along with the rest of the world. And in the years following, I was grateful that, although there were other problems to be faced, and other horrors around the world, at the very least annihilation by nuclear holocaust was not an imminent threat. That people younger than me didn’t need to know what that felt like.

And now, the nightmare is back.

Our president is tweeting about pressing the nuclear button as though he and Kim Jong Un are a pair of teenagers playing the dozens on a street corner; as though the threat of unleashing a force that could murder millions — hell, billions — of people has no real significance.

trump nuclear

There is nothing I can say to something like this. I doubt if there’s anything anyone could say to impress upon Mr. Trump how unbelievably frightening it is when somebody at his level of government and with his level of power exhibits this level of childish bluster. He is threatening our lives, and the lives of our children, and the lives of adults and children around the world, just so he can play “mine is bigger than yours.”

I have never been religious. I am pretty much an agnostic. But if there is a god, or gods, or any kinds of deities out there, then this is my sincere and fervent prayer: Please let us survive this man. Whatever humanity’s sins, we don’t deserve him.


Who wears the pants in this office? Not the women.

I usually avoid political news items, especially trivia, but when I saw an article proclaiming that the TV show “Fox and Friends” had a no-pants rule for its female hosts,  I couldn’t help remembering a job I had back in the late 1970s for a trade weekly for travel agents called Travel Trade.

It was conducted on a strictly gender-specific plan: The news department was made up completely of men and the features department of women, and we worked in completely separate rooms (and probably had very different salaries, although I have no idea what anyone else in that place made).

And although the offices were dusty and ill-kept, and although as features editors/writers we never actually met with anyone outside the company (almost all of our contacts were over the phone), it was an absolute rule that women had to wear skirts or dresses — pants were not allowed. As somebody who had helped change the “no pants” rule in my high school, I was a bit taken aback by this, but I needed a job and this was one in which I got to both edit and write, so I lived with it.

I still remember the day after I quit for another job. I walked in wearing jeans; when the head secretary (who must have known that I was leaving) saw me, she fairly bristled with indignation. It was like something out of a sitcom; I’m really sorry that smartphones with digital cameras had yet to be invented, because I would have loved to have had a photo of her.

So it’s fascinating that “Fox & Friends” had a policy that I thought was outmoded 35 years ago.

Melinda Hunt’s Hart Island Project

Since 1869, an estimated 850,000 of New York’s unclaimed, impoverished dead have been interred on Hart Island off the coast of the Bronx. They are the city’s ultimate nobodies, collected and ferried over to the island’s 101-acre potter’s field to be stacked in pine coffins and buried by city-prison inmates.

via Piercing the Mystery of Potter’s Field –

Several years ago, when I was researching a story, I came across Melinda Hunt’s Hart Island Project, a fight to shed some light on the mystery — and hidden bureaucracy — that is Potter’s Field. Administered by the Department of Corrections, for years it was nearly impossible to find out whether your father or daughter or friend, whether because of poverty or fraud or mistake, was buried there. Worse yet, if you did find out, it was nearly impossible to get permission to visit the island, involving a long and tortuous trail of paperwork that many didn’t have the time or knowledge to pursue.

Because of Hunt, there is now a Web-based database where families can find out whether a missing person may have been buried there — and if so, where. It’s an example of how an injustice can perpetuate itself for generations because nobody, outside those affected, know about it — and about how one determined person can make a difference.