We had blackout curtains on the window of our elementary school. They were supposed to protect us from the burns of the flash when the atomic bomb went off and saturated the room in a shower of glass shrapnel. By the time we were in the fifth grade we had all seen the movie newsreels of Hiroshima victims running with their bodies trailing strips of skin like fleshy streamers.
During the atomic bomb drills we were told to get under our desks, place our head between our knees, lace our fingers together on the nape of our neck, and kneel like a person about to be beheaded. Sacrificed to struggles unknown.
One day when we did this in my seat mate, Otto "Toughie" Roach, who sat next to me, said: "Now give ’em a final fart Davy and kiss your ass good-bye!" Of course I laughed and Mrs. Johnson whacked me savagely on top of the head with her ruler.
I thought, Screw the Kremlin! I had more to fear from ruler wielding Mrs. Stalin Johnson than I did from some atomic blasts from afar. My enemies were not ideological. They were personal and seemed willing to maim or destroy me before I could learn how to possibly grow up and enjoy myself and my life.
We had to practice this over and over again, our a bomb drill, so we could achieve greater and greater speed and efficiency, for what was to us our final impending doom and death by burns and radiation. And while rabid Mrs. Stalin Johnson patrolled the aisles lashing out at slackers, our vice principal, Sydney Hook, universally known as "Shit Hook," urged us to greater and greater speed and efficiency. "Assume the position!" he would bark and we would all plunge beneath the plywood desktops like obedient little lemmings over some unknown adult cliff.
We dove again beneath the desks and assumed the position, equating ourselves with our nether regions. Toughie said under his breath: "Please pucker now! Please pucker now! Oh smoochy, smoochy, smooch!" and I laughed again, but this time we both got whacked on the head by Mrs. Stalin Johnson and her unbreakable ruler and her Mickey Mantle swing. She looked like a jazz drummer doing a solo on our heads. It was 50 years ago and my ears still ring.
By the time I was in the eighth grade I was a confirmed fatalist and had lost all trust in adult sanity. But I owe my dark sense of humor to Toughie who taught me to laugh at oncoming trains, stand my ground, take the blow, and appreciate the joke even if it's played on you.