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Commentary & Opinion

Prepping for the apocalypse

Atom bomb test at Bikini Atoll
United States Department of Defense
/
Library of Congress/Public Domain
Atom bomb test at Bikini Atoll, 1946

I pride myself on being slightly ahead of the curve in matters relating to self-preservation. In the pandemic’s earliest days I bought a freezer for the basement before they sold out. The following spring I was among the first in line, or rather online, to buy a propane patio heater. And last month I purchased potassium iodide pills to protect my thyroid from radiation poisoning in the event of nuclear war.

Some of you of a certain age may recall that official-looking black and white 1960’s parody civil defense poster. Titled “Instruction to patrons on premises in case of nuclear bomb attack” it offers seven common sense steps. The suggestions include staying clear of windows, removing glasses, emptying pockets of sharp objects, and, as that era’s school children will undoubtedly remember, to duck and cover.

But the seventh and final rule is the one I remember best because it has the ring of unvarnished truth. “Then kiss your ass goodbye,” it says. Because, of course, you’re not going to survive a nuclear war and if you do you’ll undoubtedly be one of those unfortunates who lives to envy the dead.

I mentioned to my wife that it’s sort of amazing that the minute the Covid epidemic finally seems to be in the rearview mirror Vladimir Putin goes and invades Ukraine with its intonations of World War III. Since March 2020 the news has gone from bad to worse. But she politely corrected me. We’ve been on a roll, and by that I mean towards the precipice, since Donald Trump took the oath of office in 2016.

Obviously, purchasing a bottle of potassium iodide pills says as much, if not more, about me than it does the state of world affairs, as calamitous as they may be. It’s sometimes hard to isolate which personality traits one inherited from what parent. In my case it isn’t. If my father had a mantra this was it: anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Coming in a close second was Semper Paratus. Always prepared.

My latest fear is that the iodide pills I bought are fakes and the real ones are by now sold out. Or at least the dosage isn’t powerful enough to prevent my thyroid from having to execute rule #7 on that civil defense poster. The label on the bottle measures the ingredients not in milligrams but micrograms. And to the extent I’m able correctly to convert one to the other each pill doesn’t have enough medicine to save a mouse.

I went online to check out iosat, the brand most often referenced in news stories as being the real thing. I’d seen them for sale but was too cheap to spend over a buck a pill when I could buy a bottle of 120 from my chosen manufacturer for only a couple dollars more. I’ve got the whole family to think about and potassium iodide appears as generic a drug as aspirin.

But once I visited Emergencykits.com, one of the sites hawking the iosat pills, I discovered all sorts of other neat stuff you shouldn’t be without when approaching an apocalypse. They sell emergency kits for home, school and office in either a backpack or bucket. A bucket sounds rather cumbersome to schlep around except I see that it doubles as a latrine in a pinch. On that note, perhaps my favorite item, available in the deluxe 25-person Office Pro Emergency Kit, is their GO Anywhere Toilet System (both letters of GO capitalized in case you miss the point.) The system includes, as you might expect, toilet paper, though it doesn’t specify whether one or two-ply, as well as a handsome charcoal-colored fabric toilet privacy shelter – basically an outhouse made of tent material. There’s also a sit down toilet, though no seat. I’ve always found that a bit of a bummer in European gas and train stations. But I suppose that if you’re among the lucky last surviving members of your species you have more important things to worry about than being able to read on the toilet.

I’m already well stocked in some of the other items in the super-duper emergency kits’ contents. For example, crank radios, flashlights and first aid kits. It was a source of some disappointment when I recently acquired a generator and realized I probably no longer needed the trusty, battery operated bed stand beacon. But the propane that fuels the generator is only going to last so long before I’m rubbing sticks together. Maybe that’s why waterproof matches sounds like a must-have.

Also, there are two major survivalist categories where I’ve totally dropped the ball: emergency food rations and water purification systems. I think I can probably do without a comb, though my wife couldn’t, or a personal tissue pack. They’re also included in the kit.

Then again, I see that nuclear war isn’t listed among the situations -- such as earthquakes, tornados, wildfires, floods and extreme cold and heat events -- their kits are made to address. They also don’t mention guns. My hunch is that in a pinch a loaded weapon might prove decisive. Not to mention charm and a willingness to improvise.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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