Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"Apocalypse in Slow Motion" - Thoughts (Part I)

The elementary school teacher said, "This is a special new year, children. Do you know why? Because it's the beginning of a new decade."

One particularly bright and imaginative student, a kid who had just turned 7 years old, was suddenly struck by what a wonderful and mysterious thing this was, and before she could explain further he said out loud, "That's right. It's 1970!" 

He felt like the universe was open at his feet, full of possibilities.


As the sky faded into twilight, two boys were walking back to their apartment building from the local deli, with paper bags filled with hot kosher frankfurters and fresh buns and sauerkraut. The air was cold, but the bags were warm and they smelled wonderful.

The smell was even better than the taste, and the taste was like nothing else on this earth. The boys were bringing home dinner.


Soon a hamburger restaurant opened a few doors down from the deli. The hamburgers weren't that good, but they were cheap. And they had something else too: an official representative who dressed up as a clown! Not only that; this clown was in TV commercials for hamburger restaurants all over the country.

He was on TV. He was important.

Soon the kids heard that the clown was going to make a special visit to their restaurant, and for some reason (no one really remembers why anymore) this was a wildly exciting event, more exciting than if the President of the United States were coming. Kids thought they would get to meet the clown, and even get his autograph. That would give them a "share" in his mysterious, superior mode of existence constituted by his being-a-television-star.

They went to the restaurant. It was a hot day. Kids were everywhere. Parents were there too, acting just like the kids. The clown drove through on the back of a truck and everybody was screaming and running. One particular group of kids waited for hours but got nowhere near the clown. But they got a discount on burgers that day.

It was...disappointing.

Several years later, when they were older, the kids came to the cynical realization that there was not just one clown. There were lots of costumes, and many actors could play the part simultaneously at every restaurant in every neighborhood.

The kids realized that "things are not always as they seem..."


The boy wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. We were conquering Space, after all. Starting with the moon. Rockets were going to the moon a lot at the beginning of "the new decade."

The boy liked to study his moon map in the living room. Sometimes the TV News was on; his Dad would watch it. There was a sound that the boy always associated with the News. It was a sound he was totally used to hearing; one of those sounds that was clearly just part of life.

"Rattattatt! Rattattatt! Rattattatt!! BOOM! Tetetetet
Rattattatt! Rattattatt! Rattattatt!! Rattattatt!! BOOM!!
Rattattatt! Rattattatt! Rattattatt!! BOOM! Pup pup..
Rattattatt! Rattattatt! Rattattatt!! Rattattatt!!
Rattattatt! Rattattatt! Rattattatt!! BOOM! Tetetetet
Rattattatt! Rattattatt! Rattattatt!! Puppuppup!! BOOM! Rattattattatt! Rattattattattatt!! Tetetetetet! Pup...
Rattattatt! Rattattatt! Rattattatt!! Rattattatt!!
Rattattattatt! Rattattattatt! Rattattattatt!! BOOM!"

It was probably only a few seconds every night, but the boy's head was full of those noises coming out of the television.

There were also grave sounding reporters and occasional words on the screen. The boy remembers seeing the word "chaos" a lot. He didn't know what it meant, and he thought it was pronounced "chow-s." A reasonable phonetic mistake.

The grave voices of the reporters always spoke about the same strange places, and these place names bounced through the boy's imagination right along with the "Rattattattatt! Rattattattattatt!!" noise: "Saigon, Hanoi, Saigon, Saigon, Cambodia, Phnom Phen, Laos [aha! maybe "Chaos" was another place, like Laos], Saigon [mostly Saigon from the reporters], bombing, Phnom Phen, enemy territory, Viet-Cong... Rattattattattattattattattatt!! Rattattattattattattattattatt!! BOOM! Rattattattattattattattattatt!!"

Where were these places? They weren't on his moon map.


The boy had yet to hear the crisp sound of a single shot from a hunting rifle in the woods. 

But as he gazed at the moon and dreamed of going there, he was so used to the sounds of machine gun and AK47 bursts coming from the TV that he barely noticed them.

In the jumble of serious reporter words, another strange one came out from time to time: Quagmire.