by Charles McKelvy
When I was all of 12 and a student in Mrs. Harrington’s 6th grade class at Alice L. Barnard Elementary School in Chicago, I was convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that I was going to be incinerated at any moment.
That’s because we were in the midst of what the Russians called Karibskij krizis, the Cubans called the Crisis de Octubre, and we Americans called the October Crisis. We have the hindsight to now refer to the 13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union from October 16-28, 1962 as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we now know that we were closer to nuclear annihilation than we suspected.
It’s all over now, but back in October 1962 we were all over the deployment of dangerous Soviet missiles 90 miles from Florida.
As anyone in Mrs. Harrington’s class knew, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev responded to the deployment of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey by agreeing to Fidel Castro’s request to place nuclear missiles on the island to deter future invasions. Anyone who has visited Cuba recently knows all about the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961, and Comrade Fidel was not about letting that happen again, so he asked Uncle Nik for something quick, like some Soviet intermediate-range (R-14) ballistic missiles on Cuban soil.
That didn’t stand with President Kennedy, and he ordered a military blockade to prevent further missiles from reaching Cuba.
Kennedy and Khrushchev went toe-to-toe, and the fate of Mrs. Harrington’s 6th grade class at Alice L. Barnard Elementary School hung in the balance, and, trust me, Mrs. Harrington kept a current-events flip chart in the classroom to keep us in the loop.
Oh, we were looped all right.
Jacked about what Jack Kennedy and Nik Khrushchev were likely to do.
Who was going to blink first?
We well-informed 6th graders in Mrs. Harrington’s class knew that death, destruction, and total incineration were only minutes away.
We were so scared that we would run to Barnard in the morning and in the afternoon after lunch because we believed that the so-called Fallout Shelter in the basement at Barnard would protect us from a blast or two.
And we certainly knew that Chicago was a prime target. Hey, we could hear the nearby steel mills in our sleep.
Scary, scary, scary and then some, and it didn’t help that we were getting weekly doses of paranoia from Rod Serling and his mesmerizing show, The Twilight Zone. I’m getting heart palpitations at the keyboard just thinking about those 13 days in October 1962.
Well, you ask, why didn’t you seek the wise counsel of a trusted adult?
Well, I did, actually, and for trusted adult, I chose my Uncle Jack who was in Chicago on business.
Uncle Jack had served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, and he had been one of my dad’s pals back in the day in suburban Philadelphia, and well, he was one straight-shooter when it came to no-nonsense advice, so, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I took Uncle Jack aside and asked: “Uncle Jack, should I worry about those Russian missiles?”
“Kid,” he said, “those Russian missiles will be here in 20 minutes.”
“So, what should I do?”
Uncle Jack looked me right in the eye and said: “Kid, if I were you, I’d bend over as far as I can and kiss my ass good-bye.”
“Really? You mean the fallout shelter at school isn’t going to keep us—“
“Nothing’s going to keep you safe. They’ll be here in 20 minutes. Nothing can stop them. So bend over as far as you can and kiss your ass good-bye.”
End of discussion.
But it was the end of my worries.
I know we supposedly live in terrible times, and that I should wake up worried and go to sleep terrified, and lose 20 pounds a day just thinking about what Trump will do next.
But I don’t, and I won’t because the other adults I turned to for advice during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis were Harvey Kurtzman and Al Feldstein who gave us Alfred E. Neuman, the fictitious cover boy of MAD Magazine.
And what was the message that Alfred E. Neuman gave us each and every issue, but this:
Forget about Uncle Jack and his kissing his ass good-bye.
I was going to follow Alfred E. Neuman’s seditious advice and simply jettison worry.
I did, and the Cuban Missile Crisis passed without Mrs. Harrington’s class being totally incinerated within 20 minutes of launch, and a whole lot more nasty shit has happened since then, and none of it resulted in my total incineration, so, no, I am not going to get with the zeitgeist and lose sleep over Donald J. Trump, or ISIS, or the sorry season the White Sox are having, or any of the rest of it.
Alfred E. Neuman had it right, and he still does: