Pop Rocks: Apocalypse, Then

I was discussing career choices (don't ask) with an acquaintance of mine, and in the course of talking about how we got where we were, I mentioned that I'd never really planned for life beyond college when I was in my teens.

The decision wasn't a "non-decision" or anything like that. It wasn't like I hadn't considered what professions I'd like to pursue (journalism, LOL), or contemplated appropriate majors. It wasn't even -- as I glibly replied when questioned about it -- that I was counting on an unknown rich relative passing away to leave me a large sum of money and render such questions moot. Though secretly isn't that what we were all hoping for?

It was because I honestly didn't think I'd be alive past my 20s.

That page break was dramatic, huh?

Before all the ladies decide to pay me a consolation visit, I wasn't suffering from a terrible illness or enlisting in the French Foreign Legion. I just naturally assumed I, like 75-80% of humanity, would be incinerated in nuclear fire before the end of the 20th century.

My aforementioned acquaintance is about ten years younger than me, and so has a kid's memories of the 1980s, but only that they were -- in her words -- "weirdly awesome." I won't disagree with that assessment, but I'd probably add modifiers like "terrifying" and "distressing." True, we had Duran Duran and "Thundarr the Barbarian" and Paulina Porizkova and Purple Rain, but we also had nuclear brinksmanship, SDI and "We begin bombing in five minutes." Quite a time to be an adolescent.

It's no coincidence that I write about pop culture. Movies, TV and music have informed my life in profound, and maybe profoundly unhealthy, ways. As a kid coming of age in the early '80s, I ended up fixating on everything having to do with nuclear war, whether that meant shitty flicks like Def-Con 4 or truly harrowing TV series like Threads, which depicts life in post-nuclear war England; radiation sickness, stillbirths and all.

After several years of being inundated with the likes of Dreamscape, The Day After and Testament, not to mention my obsession with music by the likes of Rush and Megadeth, it shouldn't be surprising that I took the collapse of civilization as a given.

Hell, even "Thundarr" was set in a postapocalyptic future. At least there were Mokks and hot sorceresses, I guess.

But it is almost impossible to get that feeling across to someone who didn't grow up during that time. They can watch Red Dawn and not feel a chill at the line "I thought there were a billion screaming Chinamen." They can give a blasé glance to the Vapors' New Clear Days in the used LP bin without that twinge of anxiety. They can listen to Pink Floyd's "Two Suns in the Sunset" all the way through, without skipping over the "Daddy, daddy!" part, because the concept of their children dying screaming in an atomic holocaust has never occurred to them. Not repeatedly. Not every day for ten years.

So my relief when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed was tempered by the dawning realization that, while I would most likely not have to live in service to the Lord Humongous for the rest of my days, I'd definitely have to go to grad school. Small price to pay, I guess, not so you'd know it from my student loans.

There are other things to be afraid of now, I suppose. Dirty bombs, random airplane incidents and biological warfare. I dunno, they all seem kind of...quaint.

And I don't want to give the impression everyone in my age group is like this. Nuclear war was a well-traveled topic among me and my friends, but I've always been the one who leaned toward obsession with the topic. Not that it shows.

But that stuff stays with you. It's hard to lose that apocalyptic perspective when it's been woven into your existence for so long. My own kids are growing up, and I have to decide how much of my cynicism I want them exposed to. Self-defense classes are a given (and not that shopping center tae kwon do crap), but when is the proper age to teach them how to handle a firearm? Where can I get a good Geiger counter? Should I sink their college funds into gold, just to be sure?

They're getting mohawks soon, in any event. I don't care what their mother says. We'll forgo the assless chaps. For now.

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