Sirens

Sirens this morning, lots of them. Not sure how close, if they’re on the freeway looping  around north Oakland a mile away, Highway 24, the sound will keep changing. It’s coming from that direction, but the howling seems pretty steady. Several fire trucks and police cars could make this noise and could I identify them? No, not even if I listen closely.

My fourteen-year-old son has a cold and his mother will bring him over at 9:30. Not yet in the shower, I phone friends who live to the north to ask about the sirens, but no one picks up. I don’t bother turning on the tv. If it’s a car chase that doesn’t end in a spectacular crash, it won’t be on the news, same for a fire or robbery or domestic violence. I’m very nervous, because of something Kristen told me yesterday. She’s in a military medical intervention group and her Lieutenant said events in this country are not being reported.

I call Kristen and we check in. I mention the sirens and she bemoans she could do nothing yesterday. Her group had a disaster training the day before and she watched pictures of wounded people all day. Does she think that’s not stressful? You can get Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from looking at pictures, or the pictures will trigger the PTSD buried in our psyches, and it will erupt. She should take a day off.

When I get out of the shower, the sirens are gone. They made enough noise while I was under the water to hear them, but no more. Why are they bothering me so much? Sirens are  commonplace. Has Occupy made me more aware and more irritable? And something could be happening that concerns me and my loved ones, and I might not find out. A news black-out would keep me out of the loop. Is Homeland Security blacking out bombings so that we, the general population, won’t panic? So that we will continue working and buying and keeping the economy going, as George W. Bush recommended? “Go shopping.” But we’re at war, so they say, and blacking out news is unsettling. Especially if we know it’s happening.

Kristen’s training was about caring for the wounded at a bomb blast. Look for the injured  first along the walls, as walls are no protection. They amplify the blast. The compression waves accordion into the walls and, if you’ve followed the instinct to lie down against a wall, you’re right there. Getting squashed. Then the compression rebounds and creates an extreme vacuum. Parts of the body that contain air are the most vulnerable: ears, lungs, large intestine. If you survive and there’s no other damage, it takes a year to heal from nothing but the pressure and the vacuum.

Would you have warning enough to do more than duck? Kristen said the most destructive bombs go off in enclosed areas containing many people, subways, train stations, and concert halls. Someone yelling, “He’s got a bomb! Look out!” could provide a second or two to run. One should head for a doorway, the middle of a large room, or open ground, where the blast expands into three dimensions.

Dirty nuclear bombs might be the biggest worry, but the material is so closely guarded, and the bombs so difficult to make and transport, that they haven’t become a problem. The terrorists make high-explosive bombs with ammonium nitrate, or TNT, or nitroglycerin in pipes or drums or cars filled with ugly stuff, too, nails, screws, broken glass, and, believe it, human body parts and feces. The goal is to injure people, not necessarily to kill them. More damage if several people have to care for the injured for years, and they’re life-long reminders. And it’s plenty horrible being unable to breathe properly, if there’s no other injury. And then to clean off feces? One suicide bomber had hepatitis B and a bone fragment penetrated a bystander. She came down with the disease.

We want to think only psychopaths do this stuff, or sick people who don’t take their meds. But Occupy lets us know the context isn’t easy to dismiss. The ugly part of the culture spawns some people who suffer so long and so deeply that such actions seem appropriate. They’re not aberrations, and they’re not illogical, and their logic is not unfounded. They’re responding. And agent provocateurs could be mimicking these people, and acting out their impulse to the extreme.

I haven’t heard the sirens again. I’d like to ignore them. I’ve forgotten it’s my birthday as I write this and the doorbell rings, it’s an old friend dropping off a card. We greet and hug and then she’s off. I walk back into the kitchen and back into my thoughts. The doorbell rings again and I imagine a guy standing on the porch in a trench coat, holding a package. When I open the door, I should know who’s there.

I peer through the window and see it’s my son, looking cool in a black jacket.

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