Back in the early sixties I thought a great deal about the a-bomb. We had an a-bomb scare going back then. I was looking at a “Life” or “Look” magazine and found a picture of Steve McQueen’s bomb shelter. It was really impressive, multi-leveled, and it had a pool table. I was a bit pissed off. The bomb shelters for the average person—one I saw not in a picture—looked a lot like a septic tank. You dug a hole in your back lawn and dropped a concrete box down into the hole and then covered the whole thing—except the part where you crawled in—with dirt.
Really, these weren’t bomb shelters. If a bomb hit your shelter you would be mincemeat; they were, more properly speaking, fall out shelters designed to afford protection against fires, high winds, and lethal fallout.
One day the San Diego Union—long know as the Daily Nixon—published right on the front page a fallout map. They projected that if the Reds sent a bomb our way that they would aim at the military bases out on Coronado Island. And outward from that point they drew concentric circles. In the first concentric circle, for example, you would just be vaporized. The map was not very detailed, but the best I could figure where we lived way inland in East County a person might be blinded from looking directly at the blast, most certainly we would experience high winds and then, of course, fallout.
I had heard about the a-bomb before I read the paper or the magazine. Every Monday at noon, they tested the a-bomb siren, and at school, we did the getting under the desk business. Maybe it was puberty, but reading that paper I began to realize this whole business was serious. Like they weren’t kidding; there really was an a-bomb.
I had horrible fantasies about it. I would sit in school and wonder if the a-bomb went off should I run back to my house or run towards the mountains—because running towards my house would mean running towards the blast. As usual, I sent through this emotional crisis on my own. Teachers didn’t talk about the a-bomb, and my parents did even seem to notice that there was an a-bomb crisis. No way, at dinner, could I casually say, “And what do you think about this a-bomb crisis?”
Besides, my father was an idiot. He probably didn’t know anything about the a-bomb crisis. One day, he was talking about something and I realized he couldn’t point to where Germany was on a map.