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High Alert, Low Morale

How to personally cope with the threat to homeland security

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Through these troubled days of high alert and low morale compounded by the looming holidays, TV shrinks and pundits advise us to maintain an even keel via rest, exercise, family bonding rituals, tasteful displays of patriotism, and adherence to routine. Above all, we're cautioned, don't give in to panic. If you hoard your savings, broil your mail, shirk bridges, or for one unguarded instant doubt the efficacy of war declared against a concept, you're letting the terrorists win. Well, positive thinking may be the sensible way to navigate a global upheaval with only tangential local effects, but rest assured it's not the only way. The need to succumb to hysteria cannot--indeed, should not--be discounted. Here's my own personal formula for coping until such time as I can return to a blithe ignorance of world events. It may not work for everyone, or even for me, but this is an article about methods, not results.

Live like you're in the crosshairs. There's an old saying that goes, "You can't hit a moving target." Talented snipers know how laughable that supposition is, but that's no reason to sit still and make it even easier for them. Cultivate kinetic, even spastic, gestures. Further confound the enemy with disguises: a fake mustache, a turban, wax lips. Alternately, blend into your surroundings with camouflage makeup. Never vacate a building the same way you entered, even if it means shimmying down the fire escape or setting off the emergency exit alarm. Vary your route to work. If you commute to Research Triangle Park, for example, take Interstate 40 one day, I-54 the next, then on the third day, take I-40--the slow lane. If desperate for more options, consider riding the TTA shuttle, but first ask yourself: Isn't resorting to mass transit both reducing our national dependence on oil and inherently critical of our native urge to drive solo in monster trucks, thereby letting the terrorists win? Your knee-jerk response is probably the right one.

Discontinue your meds. Prescriptions for Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and other depression/anxiety-countering drugs have been surging in the wake of Sept. 11, but if you were already taking them, now's the time to tinker. It may be that the chemical imbalance that left you ill-equipped for normal life is perfectly synched with crisis times. If you suffered a nervous disposition during peacetime, one huge, unadulterated burst of panic may permanently cleanse your system of those festering little worries. And just imagine what a surge of adrenaline can do for a prolonged malaise or those workaday blues. Moreover, if meds kept you rational, shedding rationality may be what it takes to embrace such contradictory national edicts as: Be vigilant, yet chill out over confirmed threats the exact nature of which for security reasons cannot be disclosed. Forget we even mentioned it. Just be on alert for it. And act natural. Zero percent financing!

Adopt a selective charitability. Look, you can't help the whole world. Why even try? Some causes just aren't splashy enough to elicit your sympathy, and that's not your fault. Earmark your donations for specific firefighters and orphans, the ones who get invited onstage at concerts, for example. Should the Red Cross again try to pull a fast one by sharing any of that $2 billion-plus you handed over in good faith with victims of lesser disasters, deplete their blood supplies with excessive, unnecessary transfusions.

Spend spend spend. But not with the notion of propping up our flagging economy; that works according to its own private dictates, and no individual refinancing or spendthrifting efforts are going to impress it. No, spend to gratify that gaping maw inside you that can't get enough food, love, or shoes. Spend like you eat: to combat boredom and uncertainty. Spend to keep the fear and emptiness at bay. ("Nothing bad can happen to me," you'll reason, "I just put a down payment on this Jetta!") Spend on homeland defense measures. Sure, Governor Easley can tap the rainy day fund for up to $30 million, but that will barely keep the search-and-rescue dogs in HAZMAT ponchos. You'll still have to cover personal stockpiles of Cipro and potassium iodide, covert surveillance gadgets, and pneumatic tubing to bypass the postal service. Spend to feel beautiful and stylish. Facials are a must; there's little joy in winning a war when you've lost the battle against blackheads. Designer fatigues are more sumptuous and low-slung than standard military issue, and as a fashion statement they salute our brave soldiers on the front and put you back thousands of dollars. Don't have thousands of dollars? That's what credit cards are for! Maxed out your credit cards? That's what extensions are for! Spend like there's no tomorrow; there may not be. And if there's no tomorrow, there are no finance charges and no hounding collection agencies. That's what they don't promote about doomsday, lest we cry, "Bring it on!" EndBlock

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