The alarms went off about half an hour late, and I nearly gave myself a concussion popping up to shut them off before they woke the neighbors. I get up at 3:30 a.m. and I use an alarm clock rigged up to an airhorn, just in case there's an earthquake or an air strike or something. So I just know those bastards are all like five seconds away from putting in another phony call to the Homeland Security Tip Line and getting me detained for another week so they can sleep late. Jerks.
I crawled out from under the bed and took a peek outside and, once I was relatively sure that what was falling from the sky was indeed snow and not fallout - I mean traffic was slow, but it was still there, so a quick fifteen minutes on the police scanner was all it took to assure me there was a very low likelihood that global thermonuclear war had happened - I slipped into my kevlar undershirt and running slippers, did a few quick stop-drop-and-rolls to get the blood moving, and whispered good morning to the wife.
She asked how I slept and I politely and sweetly (at least I thought so!) refused to answer with a smile and a nod of my head toward the window. I had already removed a patch of tinfoil to let a little light in, and I didn't feel like letting the government know I was up most of the night refilling, repurifying, and relabeling the water supply in our terrorist incident kit. Instead I gave her a quick pop-quiz on the five most dangerous transportable biotoxins. She understood. But she only got four out of five (tularemia!).
I checked the batteries in the CO2 alarm, punched in the code for the bedroom door, and made my way to the kitchen. Breakfast was another downer. All we had in the pantry was freeze-dried cornflakes and organic milk. I would have had bacon and eggs but one of the tins had a little dent on the underside so it was straight to the garbage with that gross!
I really wanted to go out to the porch for the paper and check the weather page for today's skin cancer quotient, heat-stroke probability, mold count, aches-and-pains index, and spontaneous combustion odds, but it's such a pain in the ass, you know. You have to take all the duct tape off from around the door, and then put new duct tape back up until you leave for work. So I just tried to read the headlines through the peephole. I thought I could make out the words "Snake Head Fish Eats Baby," but it might have been "Jong-Il to Dae-Jung: Drop Dead!"
Either way I'm wearing boots to work.
While the wife took her safety shower, I boiled fresh distilled bottled water and dropped in a chlorine tablet and an iodine tablet so she could make her coffee. Then I turned on the television, unlocked the V-chip, and flipped over to CNN.
This was actually kind of uplifting. Not only was the Terror Alert only at Code Orange, but they were using their regular graphics and music and the only breaking news was about the discovery of a series of grisly murders in Canada. But not like smallpox murders or anything, just regular old axe murders.
I read the entire crawl twice. I thought I had missed an update about the new warnings for U.S. citizens living in Libya, but it was the same crap as yesterday. I swear, if they extend that warning to Turkey or Syria then I'm canceling my trip to the beach this summer. Then I thought maybe it did say Syria and I just had Libya on the brain. So I read the crawl again. Twice. Then I read the crawls on all of the other news channels, including E!
Hmm. Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart. That can't be good.
By this time, it was already well into the pre-pre-pre market opening period, so I flipped over to CNBC to get the latest futures news. It looked like everything would open higher. Great. Perfect. That's all I need. Now every single investor from Charles Schwab to Bob Schwab will get all irrationally pessimistic and sell everything they own. Every time the market ticks up, it's just a little farther we'll eventually fall.
But as soon as I picked up the phone to dial my broker and sell everything I own, the futures tanked again. Great. Perfect. That's all I need. More layoffs. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. I'll bet gas goes way up again, too.
And this didn't look good. There was at least an inch of snow on the ground already. What had it been, an hour? This might be the Storm of the Century. Or worse, the Big One. That's when I realized I wasn't going to be wearing my boots after all. They were in the shop, being fit with personalized homing microchips so they'd be easier to identify when they went through security at the airport.
Now I was running late. So I gave a quick kiss to the wife, popped an Andro, checked the Weather Channel (snowing), Headline Weather (snowing), and the Fox Morning Weather Klatch (snowing), grabbed my passport, pepper spray, stun gun, medic-alert bracelet ("no known problems or conditions - please provide medical assistance without hesitation"), living will, and rabbit's foot, took off the duct tape and the plastic sheet, undid the locks and deadbolts, waited the perfunctory twenty seconds for the booby-traps to disarm, and made my way to the garage.
Crap. Forgot my keys.
I used the flashlight to take a quick peek in the back seat, trunk, and, of course, under the car. Then I climbed up into the Hummer. It's an H1, too, not one of those pussy H2s. Can you believe people actually feel safe in those? They're at least 400 pounds lighter. Call me crazy, but I think it's worth the extra fifty grand. Think of it this way, it's only $125 per pound. Wouldn't you pay $125 to protect your family?
I checked my radar and my laser. Beep beep! I switched on the GPS, pinged the Lojack, and gave Onstar a call just to let them know I was leaving. I swear, those are the nicest people ever.
I got to the office way late, and barely had time to check all seven fire exits to make sure they were clear and that the alarms were working. It's not part of my job or anything and security still really isn't cool with all the alarms going off, but it's like I keep telling them, if you don't hear the alarm, how do you know it's going to work?
After being escorted back to my desk, I said good morning to my cube neighbors Jane and Tim, and then made a mental note to see if their online criminal records checks had come back yet. I booted up my computer, scanned the finger and the retina (Tim is so frickin' jealous of the retinal scanner. I don't have the heart to tell him he's the reason I got it in the first place, Mr. Root-Around-On-My-Computer-And-Steal-My-Identity. I'm not stupid), and logged into e-mail.
Whoops. The old man had emailed me about the Peterson account. This was pretty big. Of course, I couldn't read it. Who knows what kind of virus he was sending me, the buzzard. So like always, I checked my rear-view monitor mirror, locked my screen saver, set the keyboard alarm, and rolled my chair over to Tim's cube.
"So what's the e-mail about?" I asked.
"You didn't hear?" He looked shocked. "The big Peterson meeting is cancelled."
"Tomorrow's meeting?" I groaned. "Cancelled? Why?"
"Well, they're all dead." He nodded. "Alien invasion. Got most of L.A., San Fran. Ought to be here by, oh, Wednesday or so."
Son of a bitch. I rolled my chair back to my own cube and let out a knowing sigh.
I just knew it was going to be another one of those days.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
3.1.03 @ 11:13a
One L in Calista, champ.
3.1.03 @ 1:17p
3.1.03 @ 1:22p
Don't you hate when people obviously read your column and only comment on the spelling of a proper noun?
3.1.03 @ 1:47p
This reminds me of a point made in Bowling for Columbine. One theory for why Americans are so violent is that we're all so afraid. Of everything.
3.1.03 @ 1:52p
Heh heh heh...
I'm thinkin' you need to send this to the USAToday op/ed page.
3.1.03 @ 1:55p
Who's afraid? If you grew up on a farm, and faced kicking bulls and snakes slithering through your heating ducts, you'd have a slightly different view, my friend.
If we're goin', we're going. You take the pepper spray with you when jogging in the morning around the tranquil neighborhoods of Chapel Hill, but otherwise there are, truly, only so many precautions you can take, only so many days you can prep each sentence with "what if?"
3.1.03 @ 2:57p
Oh yeah, I forgot. Bonus points for whoever gets the original on which this column is based.
3.1.03 @ 3:28p
It sounded vaguely familiar, but I can't quite place it.
And what type of Intrepid Frequency program can our points be added to? I haven't received a statement in a while.
3.1.03 @ 5:55p
Tracey, a brave man has no fear, a wise man runs like hell at the first sign of trouble.
Great column Joe. Love the Fox Morning Weather Klatch potshot.
3.2.03 @ 1:39p
Feels like American Beauty. In a voiceover-in-my-head kind of way.
3.2.03 @ 7:39p
Joe, sorry for another nitpick - sure you meant Andro instead of Cipro? I guess a daily dose of testosterone would fit with your new Humvee, but on the other hand when I'm thinking Andro, I'm thinking a kinder, gentler, pre-death-and-destruction era - when just imagine, the entire nation was actually riveted by the burning question "McGwire or Sosa?" Huh.
3.2.03 @ 11:19p
Well, I meant Andro, but it could be Cipro. Or Ephedra.
3.2.03 @ 11:52p
Gold Joe, gold........
3.3.03 @ 1:07a
Cipro has too many side effects for a paranoid guy. Come to think of it, so do Andro and Ephedra. Better look into homeopathic stuff.
3.3.03 @ 9:56a
This sounds familiar to me, but I have no clue why. Dammit.
3.3.03 @ 10:02a
Come on. One of you can figure this out. "Points" in my previous post has now become "prize."
And here's a few hints: The title is a play on the original title, the first half of the first sentence is lifted, and so is the reference to the Peterson account.
3.3.03 @ 10:28a
You shameless promotional hussy, you.
3.3.03 @ 12:29p
I'm going to geek out and say "One of Those Days" by Weird Al Yankovic.
3.3.03 @ 12:54p
3.3.03 @ 1:04p
Tell you what I'll do. I'll amazon the winner a copy of the collection where I first read it.
Hey. There's another hint.
3.3.03 @ 1:06p
Another Day at the Office: Part 1?
3.3.03 @ 1:17p
So it's not a "relatively famous" Intrepid column? Damn. And I thought we'd made it big.
Yeah, no idea.
3.3.03 @ 1:52p
It's got a lot of the elements of a Hunter S. Thompson screed, particularly the stuff he's been writing on ESPN. I'd guess something out of Kingdom of Fear, but I can't imagne HST talking about a Peterson Account...
3.3.03 @ 2:02p
"One of Those Days" by William F. Nolan?
3.3.03 @ 4:13p
Travis is onto something, although I won't say what. He's not that close, but he's in the ballpark.
3.3.03 @ 4:23p
3.3.03 @ 5:41p
My next column is going to be comprised entirely of quotes from other texts, and whoever can name ALL of them gets a quarter.
3.3.03 @ 5:58p
Hey! Give me love. It's a good read. I'm just having a little fun with you.
3.3.03 @ 6:04p
Love ya, Joe.
3.3.03 @ 6:51p
I gave you love. You've had your alotted amount. Now you get deference, tolerance, ignorance, and... and.. a whole bunch more-ances.
3.3.03 @ 11:43p
"Just one of those days", by Donald Westlake.
3.3.03 @ 11:45p
3.4.03 @ 1:08a
I gave you love. You've had your alotted amount. Now you get deference, tolerance, ignorance, and... and.. a whole bunch more-ances. --erik myers
You can't fool me. You may claim to be Erik Myers, but I know you're my mother.
Joe, is it Phil Ochs?
3.4.03 @ 9:03a
What about JG Ballard?
3.4.03 @ 9:16a
Let's see if we can wrap this up. Roger Striffler got the title, now someone give me an author. It's not Limp Bizkit and don't bother googling.
Now, to the column, at what point does the traditional news media, which has a vested interest in keeping the pants scared off us, lose credibility? I swear, I get a better gauge of the weight of these events from the Daily Show, where they at least preface each new ridiculous notch-up in anxiety with titles like "America Freaks Out."
3.4.03 @ 9:57a
Joe, the media may lose credibility, but they are the only ones talking (with a few slight exceptions, like the Daily Show), so people are going to listen. Sure, at some point, common sense will kick in for most people, but there are people who will continue to take the media as truth because that is all they are hearing.
3.4.03 @ 10:16a
I feel that, in general, there is an overwhelming feeling of, "If it's on TV it must be true." People in this country are ruled by the media. So when does the media lose credibility? I think it did years ago. They lost credibility the first time they had 24-hour coverage on one news piece. What was that -- OJ?
You know this fire at the club in Rhode Island? Fire happened on what.. a Saturday? A Sunday? They had 24-hour news coverage on the damn thing for a week after it happened. A week. As if the fire were still burning, or something. In the meantime, things are happening around the globe, but you'd have no idea because the media chooses what to report on.
That's why I like Google. Get things objectively from news sources around the world.
3.4.03 @ 11:14a
The kick is, Sarah, despite what the presidents of the news divisions of the networks or cable stations will say publicly, is that it's not about informing the public, it's about ratings. That's why, as Erik said, they've gone on and on about the club fire. Or why they had 24/7 coverage on Columbia: it's not because they have any new or useful information... it's because they can't afford to be perceived as not pumping that stuff out. You'll seldom hear a news report stating, "This is all we know, and rather than speculate or solicit opinions, we'll leave it at that. More as we confirm our facts."
But the real frustration comes from those irresponsible parties who, for the sake of not merely equaling their rivals but besting them, gin up all kinds of panic-inducing stories that you Don't Dare Miss. The first night in Orlando last week, we had on one local news report, and it promised to tell you Where Terrorists Will Strike Central Florida. Lots of ominous graphics -- biohazard signs, mushroom clouds, etc. They covered a disaster drill at the airport, and suggested how many would die in a bio attack (with more menacing graphics). All capped off with the reassuring, "There's nothing you can do to save yourself...now back to you, Chuck and Leeza!"
Even PBS got into the action last week. In commercials for Nova's episode on "The Dirty Bomb." CGI'd images of mushroom clouds over the US Capitol, ticking clocks, exploding vans, etc. The mentality is, "They'll only tune in if we threaten to scare the hell out of them." That's not objectivism, that's Clive Barker's School of Journalism.
3.4.03 @ 11:23a
I agree, Russ. We are a nation that demands to be given information, and as much of it as possible. I think part of it comes from wanting to be prepared for things so that we can react to them. After 9/11, I think many people realized how little they knew about reacting to a situation like that and now they're trying to catch up.
And then there are the 24 hour stories about disasters because we like mayhem and a good story. I'd be interested to know when the news started reporting things as mini true-crime thrillers instead of facts because that is the downfall of the media, right there.
3.4.03 @ 12:10p
My suggestions for the fall of American journalism? Probably the Sacco-Vanzetti trial of 1927, exacerbated by the Bruno Hauptmann (Lindbergh kidnapping) trial in 1932. In each case, sensationalism fostered by the media led to dubious verdicts (each was dubbed the "Trial of the Century," and see how far we came by OJ?). The press of the day saw an opportunity for lurid detail coupled with a growing public appetite for the same. That's not to say it hadn't happened before, but that's likely the first nationwide example of sensationalism run amuck.
3.4.03 @ 3:09p
The media began to lose credibility during the Gulf War. The government didn't help by going Hollywood with the renaming of wars. Operation Desert Storm is too H'wood. So is Operation Enduring Freedom. Let's just call a war a war and be done with it.
The media lost credibility when Wolf Blitzer became a Scud Stud. No one ever called Walter Kronkite, Dan Rather, Huntley and Brinkley, or Edward R. Murrow studs, and they were good news men.
3.4.03 @ 3:13p
Dan Rather might have been a good news man once upon a time, but now he's emotion central. He's pure schlock.
3.4.03 @ 3:58p
Dan Rather started sliding down hill when he was a rookie and got punched out on the floor of the '68 DNC.
3.5.03 @ 1:28a
Russ, you make an interesting point about Dan Rather, which got me thinking. Are there any news anchors we still trust? Or do we doubt everything offered us until we've seen it broadcast on several channels?
For myself, I kind of doubt most stuff, unless it came directly from Walter Kronkite. Since he's retired, I think Kurt Loder is the only media person I would fully believe. Maybe Bill O'Reilly, but only if he were reading straight news and not pontificating. I fully expect the rest of the anchors to constantly spend their time reading corrections to previous reports.
3.5.03 @ 9:06a
John Stewart. 'Nuff said.
3.5.03 @ 10:13a
It's funny you mention Bill O'Reilly in that list. I've never seen someone elicit such a visceral reaction from people, left, right,and middle. He gets pegged as a Rush Limbaugh clone, but I've seen him take some far left/Libertarian stances on stuff. He's the only guy I've seen drive home hard questions on the air, but at the same time, some of his conclusions are, at best, shaky.
3.5.03 @ 4:52p
The funny thing is, half the time O'Reilly ticks me off with his conservative views, but just when he pushes me to the point of changing channels, he'll go and take a liberal stand more aligned with my viewpoint. He seems to weigh each issue seperately, and not just hold a "party" viewpoint. I will say he is unbiased in his handling of the news, and I probably would trust him more than many of the anchors currently on TV.
3.9.03 @ 6:19p
Calista Flockhart makes me think about the Intrepid Media layout. I wrote a long bitchy email about that.