Simanaitis Says

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TWO RECENT HAPPENINGS remind me that those “good old days,” the Fifties and early Sixties, were hardly the stress-free idylls nostalgically recalled. Nor am I talking about misogyny and racism. I’m talking about The Bomb.

Take Cover! I recall my generation herded into school basements, aligned into neat rows, and crouched on one knee, arms protectively folded over our little heads.

Sowinski Elementary School, Cleveland, Ohio. Image by John Vuchinish at

We didn’t ponder, I forget why now, the potentially collapsing four stories of brick schoolhouse above us. I do recall imagining what neat little piles of cinders would be discovered years later, once our Cleveland neighborhood (near major industry) wasn’t still hot radioactively.

BLARING SIRENS. Carefully orchestrated siren alerts would let us know that Russian bombers were almost here with their atomic weaponry. We knew the sirens sound because of periodic tests of the civil defense system.

In fact, I recently recalled these blaring sirens from a Public Service Announcement, thankfully merely a vintage one, on Sirius XM “Radio Classics.” The PSA began ominously asking, “Do you know what to do when you hear an air-raid alert?”

One suggestion of the era: “Stay off your telephone!” This is still timely advice, with today’s admonitions to avoid clogging cellphone circuits during an emergency. By the way, according to Scientific American, it’s better to text than call during a mass emergency. Texting uses a different protocol and occupies less bandwidth than chatter.

That old PSA also mentioned the importance of CONELRAD, Control of Electromagnetic Radiation.

The CONELRAD logo included the shield of the Federal Civil Defense Administration.

CONELRAD. I remember CONELRAD from the two little symbols at 640 and 1240 on the analog tuning face of AM radios. Established by President Harry S Truman in 1951, CONELRAD lasted until mid-1963. It was part of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, a precursor of today’s Department of Homeland Security and its Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Above, an AM radio dial and its CONELRAD locator. Below, car radio buttons discovered by Feddecheenee.

Today, radio stations run periodic checks of the EAS, Emergency Alert System. According to Wikipedia, “The official EAS is designed to enable the President of the United States to speak to the United States within 10 minutes.”

These days, to me this is scarier than hunkering down in the Sowinski School basement.

And Then There was The Bomb. I recently read an article by Dwight Garnet in The New York Times, March 11, 2019, about Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Ferlinghetti, turning 100 this month, is a poet, publisher, painter, social activist, and owner of City Lights, the San Francisco bookstore he co-founded in 1953. He’s also something of a beatnik mentor of mine.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti in front of his bookshop, c. 2015. Image by Stacey Lewis.

Ferlinghetti got me thinking of another mentor of the era, poet Gregory Corso and his poem Bomb, 1958.

Gregory Nunzio Corso, 1930–2001, American poet of the Beat Generation.

According to Wikipedia, graphically presented, “The first 30 lines create a round mushroom top, while lines 30–190 create the pillar of debris and destruction rising up from the ground.”

For some reason or other, again I forget why now, I committed to memory—and still recall—several lines of this epic bit of anti-war satire:

“Turtles exploding over Istanbul/The jaguar’s flying foot/soon to sink in arctic snow/Penguins plunged against the Sphinx”

“Leap Bomb bound Bomb frolic zig and zag/The stars a swarm of bees in thy binging bag”

And, chillingly, near the end of the poem, “ye BANG ye BONG ye BING/the tail the fin the wing”

Those were the “good old days.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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