Ink Soup: UH-OH
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -– Okay, I admit it: I'm afraid. I know: Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once, and so on... .
But why should one believe Caesar, when he follows this with an obvious rhetorical excess? "Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear... ."
Either he has heard no wonders worthy of the name, or he is having us on.
Et tu, Julie?
Besides, it isn't death that I'm afraid of. It's the sick dread of the various scenarios leading up to death, scenarios that are enacted before one's eyes every time one opens a newspaper or turns on the tv or radio.
The filling station where I normally buy gas is hardly in an isolated spot. It is on one of the most heavily traveled arteries in town. There is nowhere for a white-paneled van to stop without causing a multi-vehicle pileup. Yet I cannot pop the fuel door, insert and remove quickly my credit card, remove nozzle and press 87 octane, and start fueling, without wondering whether I am to be the first victim of the dread Seattle sniper.
I keep telling myself: Okay, say you were shot in the back. If the sniper's any good at all, you'd never know it. The great thing about death is that it is not a part of life. It takes place only when life is over. Talking to myself only makes it worse–and attracts pitying glances from other customers.
This sense of impending doom is not new to me. Anyone who, like me, has blundered right through the Biblical actuarial limit of three score and ten, will recall the feeling with which we grew up: that at any moment some Soviet hydrogen bomb could turn one into exactly the sort of burnt shadow on a wall that one saw in newsreels of Hiroshima. There would be no declaration of war, no sirens, nothing. Just: Zap. Without even an exclamation mark.
After the end of the Cold War there was a blessed little hiatus in the dread.
Now it's back.
I cannot ride the bus without staring at the young fellow who just got on. His padded jacket seems altogether too padded for this mild climate.
Is he even now dreaming of the harem of complacent women and the dishes of sherbet waiting for him in Paradise as soon as he's blown us all up? And it is not just when I am out and about that I feel shadowed by the various terrors in the air.
In my own house, especially at night, I dread walking from my chair past the picture window. The neighborhood is a quiet one ("It's quiet out there. Too quiet. I don't like it... .") except when someone unknown to Mollie, the Belgian shepherd who lives next door, alerts the entire Puget Sound region to this fact.
But Mollie is not in her first youth and, besides, a recent operation has left her with a gimpy hind leg. Nothing wrong with the bark, though. She can still shatter glasses in a locked cupboard.
But the dog affords me no greater sense of security than does the old 410-gauge shotgun inherited from my father and now languishing in my closet. I've no ammo and do not know where I'd go to buy it. If I aimed the thing at some intruder it might disable him momentarily, but he'd be back on the job the moment he recovered from laughing.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.