The following was printed (The Boise Weekly) on October 24, 2001
Don’t Forget to Pack the Gas Mask, Honey
Have just returned from our annual family outing in the hills—our fourth year in a row at the same spot. You’d think we’d get bored going to the same spot year after year. But I still like it, my wife and daughter still like it, and best of all, I know how to get there. Can’t say that for a lot of spots.
As expected in mid-October, it was chilly up in the hills. Nothing that three pairs of socks, long johns and one of Mr. Bauer’s down-filled parkas couldn’t handle. But still, chilly. Fortunately, this spot we always go to comes with a cabin, a cabin heater, hot water, a bed with plenty of blankets and a nearby lodge. What can’t be found in the cabin can usually be found in the nearby lodge. That would include chicken-fried steaks, television and a fully-stocked bar.
Do I know how to pick a spot up in the hills, or what?
* * *
So the plan was, I’d pick our girl up from school just after noon. Bah, you might think, how dare I pull a child from her studies just to get on the road a few hours earlier? Boo, you might think, where are my priorities: a trip to the hills or a young lady’s education?
Relax. A measly once a year do we, Mom and Pop and Pum’kin, get a chance to go away and be frivolous for a few days. And this year, I was taking our frivolity seriously. It’s been such a bad year, hasn’t it? To be precise, it was a so-so year until September 11. Nothing to bitch about. Then it turned rotten and just keeps getting worse.
They say you can’t run away from troubles, but honestly, I wasn’t running away. It was more like of a sabbatical. And a three-count family taking a three-day sabbatical from the constant images of bunker bombs in Kabul and anthrax bugs in Boca and all the rest of it … well, it wasn’t gonna hurt a damn thing, that’s the way I see it. I figured we’d be back to fretting and frowning before anybody noticed we were gone.
That’s if I could get my kid out of class according to the plan. We sent her with a note: “Dear Missuss McGilicutty, would you excuse our Pum’kin from school early please, seeing as how we have private family matters to attend to.” Does it sound like we were trying to hide something? Like our “private family matters” might be a funeral or a sickbed vigil rather than a frivolous trip to the hills? Maybe. But sometimes expediency lies in careful wording.
And boy, was I after some expediency. I was so craving them thar hills—the smell of them thar pines … the lap of them thar waves against that thar shore—I went to fetch her even earlier than the note had indicated, hoping I could squeeze another handful of minutes out of the Meridian School District. Hoping we could be out of the thick cover of current news a fraction of an hour earlier, swinging through those mountain curves, fancy free and clear of concern.
Was it my imagination the office crew looked at me like I was Taliban when I asked them to page my daughter? Did they sense from my overly-eager face and antsy-pants demeanor that I was there to deprive my child of a few hours of sixth grade for the sake of an insignificant dab of escapism? Could be. That’s what it felt like. That I’d been caught.
But they paged her anyway. They had no proof, after all, and this is still America. “Missuss McGilicutty, could you send Pum’kin Cope to the office. Her father is here to pick her up.”
Guh-LORY! I was getting away with it! HILLS, WARM UP THE SPOT. WE’RE ON OUR WAY!
But then, mere seconds after the desk lady laid the intercom mike down, the principal picked it up. “Would the staff please evacuate the building immediately. We’ve received another bomb threat.”
* * *
Another bomb threat? Yes, another. The third since the start of the school year. I was stunned. I’d never been through a bomb threat before. And to think my 12-year old has already been through three.
Of course, my plan for an expedient escape was now dust. There’s little expediency to be found when 1500 mid-schoolers are being shooed out to the far ends of the soccer field until the sniffer dogs are relatively certain the ol’ school house isn’t going to blow up. Nobody seriously believed it would, but you can’t be too careful, can you?
We got to our spot. Not as early as I’d hoped, but we got there. I couldn’t frivol as much as I wanted, though. Couldn’t relish them thar smelly pines and lappy waves as much as I have in previous trips. Not that I was worried about terrorists or anthrax. I can handle terrorists and anthrax. I’m an adult, you see. A few days up in the hills and, hey, I’m ready to bunker bomb Kabul, myself.
But I couldn’t stop wondering how my kid—your kid, too—is doing. Down deep, I mean, where Mom and Pop can’t always see and where nightmares are born. Couldn’t help wondering, after all the bad news and disturbing threats have rooted in, will she still have a warm, comfortable place to look forward to? A spot she can always find, where the first lesson isn’t “you can’t be too careful.”
October 24, 2001