Do you remember the sirens going off recently?
It was about a week and a half ago, and, yes, I know that seems like last year. You may have jumped a bit, because everyone's nerves are like a hummingbird that stuck its beak in an electric socket.
Why are the sirens going off? It's a Thursday in the middle of the month. Is there a mnemonic couplet I should consult?
Siren on Wednesday, sailor's delight
Siren on Thursday, sailor take flight
No, that's not it. Because it wasn't the first Wednesday of the month, one could assume that 2020 was getting impatient and decided to cut to the last chapter. That's all, folks! Big meteor, earthquake, maybe a tsunami from the Great Lakes. You could call Duluth and see if anyone answers. Anyway, at least you'll spend your last minutes knowing your underwear drawer is completely organized and the bottles in the spice rack don't feel sticky.
How you reacted says a lot about you.
0-6: Blissful ignorance.
7-14: Sudden realization that the grown-ups are really not competent and are capable of horrible mistakes.
14-22: Is this World War III? I'd better check Instagram.
23-50: Someone passed out, and his head fell on the siren button.
51-100: Whelp, better turn on 'CCO, see if they've got anything.
There are those who turn on the TV to see if there's a weatherperson standing in front of a map that looks like angry cherry jam is oozing up from the southwest, and there are those who turn on the radio to see if Bob from Blaine is reporting trees down.
Me, I figure: "If it's bad, won't be a mystery for long."
As you probably learned later, or maybe even knew beforehand, it was a tornado siren drill, the annual awareness exercise ("Dampening Drawers Since 1947!").
The sirens have two sounds, depending on the catastrophe. If it's an enemy attack — or even a friendly attack; Canada could decide we're ripe for plucking — the sound rises and falls for three minutes. Because if it were just two minutes, we might not get the point.
If it's a tornado, it's a steady scream for three minutes, although the time might be shorter if the tornado takes out the siren. So if the siren stops after 90 seconds, right about the time your roof lifts off, don't mistake this for the all-clear.
You wonder if we couldn't reprogram sirens to make more melodious sounds. Right now they can only scream: "TERROR FROM THE SKY." Perhaps we could figure out a way to have them tootle a merry melody as well, and then we could fire them up at 1 p.m. every Wednesday to send a different message: "All things considered, we're OK. We'll get through this, and we'll come out stronger, smarter, a bit plumper, perhaps, but grateful for each new day."
The radio stations could do the same. They could change their message to: "This is a test of the Emergency Reassurance System. This is only a test. In the event of an actual collapse of public spirit, this message would instruct you to turn to your loved ones and exchange jokes, treasured recollections and compliments."
We should be doing that every day, anyway, but these days, a reminder can't hurt.