Sunday, January 05, 2003

Bottled Water and Tuna

Sharon is on the phone to Jody. She’s at the supermarket.

“Did you get your bottled water yet?” Sharon asks.

“What are you talking about?” Jody responds.

“Your bottled water. There’s a good deal on Neviot at Mega right now. Cheapest I've seen it.”

“You know we’re trying not to buy in bulk, Sharon,” Jody says. Why contribute to our overdraft any more than is necessary, we figure.

“It’s in case of war,” Sharon says, spelling it out. “Didn’t you hear? They set the date. February 28. “

“A firm date? Really?”

“Yes. And the Government Water Commissioner said on the news last night we should have three days worth of water on hand for each person in the house. He said that’s the amount of time it will take to purify the water sources if they should become contaminated.”

Welcome to Supermarket Talk as we enter 2003 in Israel.

“And tuna. You should get tuna,” Sharon adds. “Maybe crackers too.”

Jody gets off the phone and calls me. “You know I don’t get worried about these things," she begins. "But Sharon just called. I’m feeling a little panicky.”

I explain to her what I know. First, there are lots of dates floating around. February 28 is one, but I also heard January 21. Major General Aharon Ze’evi says early February, and Mofaz says anywhere between the end of January and the end of February.

Or maybe not at all.

“It’s all a game of global disinformation, Jody,” I reassure her. “To keep Saddam on his toes.”

Second, I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be worrying about. The Prime Minister says we are ready for any Iraqi threat. The army says we are better prepared now than in ’91. But OK, I say. Maybe we should get the water. Just as a precaution.

But then where are we supposed to take our bottled water in case of a war? Do we go to a sealed room? Not very effective if a missile hits your house. We have a bomb shelter in the building, but that won’t protect us against poison gas. The doors are porous and it's below ground. Didn't I hear that gas sinks?

And in any case, I don’t really believe that the gas masks are going to work anyway. I’m sure that chemical weapons of mass destruction seep in through the skin.

“You have to wear long sleeves,” Amir chimes in when I arrive home.

“Didn’t you learn how to use your gas mask?” asks Merav.

The kids had a lesson in school. They practiced putting them on, taking them off.

“They even taught us how to give the shot,” adds Merav referring to Atropin, the drug that is supposed to counter the effects of a chemical attack. “You stick it in your thigh really quickly, like this.” She makes a jabbing motion with her hands. “Then squeeze down slowly. It doesn’t even hurt.”

And I think: my God, the things they are learning in school. What ever happened to worrying about sex, drugs and rock and roll?

I go to get my haircut with Dave. He's a medic in the army. "Atropin is the biggest joke," he says. "It only works for eight minutes per shot. You've got to keep injecting it until you get to the hospital."

"But there's only one shot per kit," I say. "What's it good for then?"

"It gives you eight minutes to say goodbye." Haircut humor.

"With any luck I'll see you in another six weeks," I wave on my way out the door.

Our neighbor Ayala is in her own panic. “B-rrrrr-ian,” she coos in that charming way that cultured Israelis pronounce my name, “have you spoken to Marc yet?”

Marc is our neighbor. Ayala wants to make sure we clear everything out of the bomb shelter. It’s been used to store junk for the last ten years. Old tables, bikes, assorted boxes with baby clothes and books. There’s a toilet in the corner which the gardeners have been using. “If you move the heavy stuff, I’ll be responsible for the cleanliness,” she adds.

"Don't worry, I will," I reassure her.

On Saturday night, Marc and I trudge downstairs to check it out. The room is empty. Completely cleared out except for a large plastic water jug, standing at attention, ready for action. I guess Ayala couldn't wait.

“So which room are you going to seal?" Marc asks. He's not a big believer in Ayala's ultra-clean bomb shelter. "Do you have your transistor radio ready?"

Forget the radio. If we get to stay in the house, I want the whole TV. We’ll bring down those old Monty Python tapes we’ve been meaning forever to watch. It'll be a marathon. What fun. No school the next day. Maybe I should go out and buy sealing tape after all.

What about work? I commute to Tel Aviv. That’s where the missiles all hit last time. The prevailing wisdom is that Saddam will never aim at Jerusalem because he might miss and blow up Bethlehem. Maybe I can telecommute. That could be a side benefit. Until all my work colleagues show up in my living room and we set up a remote workstation for those fleeing the center of the country.

So many questions. To prepare or not to prepare? How to prepare? When will it happen? Will it happen at all? Does it matter? I wish I was more fervently religious. Then I could throw my head back and say “it’s all in God’s hands.”

But I am reminded of the old story. A highly devout man is drowning in the ocean. A boat comes to rescue him. No, says the man, God will provide. God will save me. Then a helicopter comes. No, the man repeats, you go away. God will provide. The man drowns. In heaven, he confronts God. Why didn’t you save me, he demands. What did you want? God answers. I sent you a boat and a helicopter.

I pick up the phone. “What did you say the deal was on bottled water again, Sharon? And was that tuna in oil or tuna in spring water?”

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