Fifty-five years ago this October, I was 9 years old…just turned nine a couple of months before in fact. The world swirled around me and I’m not too sure I paid it much attention. On sunny days we’d go out and play because it was “too nice to stay in the house” according to my Mom. We didn’t have play dates…we walked around the corner, knocked on our friend’s side-door and “called for them.”
The front door was reserved for real people and guests, not kids. Besides, “who wants the kids traipsing through the living room in their dirty shoes? I just vacuumed in there.”
So came the rap on that side-door.
“Can Charlie come out to play?”
We didn’t have video games, or DVDs but I liked watching “The Three Stooges Funhouse,” hosted by “Officer” Joe Bolton and the “Abbott and Costello Show,” on that old black and white Philco TV in the basement. And I especially liked watching reruns of “The Adventures of Superman” with George Reeves in the title role (even though George had died three years earlier).
For roughly the first half of that month, October 1962 was no different than any other October that had preceded it. Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and a traditional “fast day” had been on October 8th but as I was not yet 13 (Bar Mitzvah age when you become “a man” in the eyes of the religion) I could forego the fast and eat and…and no doubt, I did. In fact at age-9, I had only just started going to Hebrew School to learn all about it.
In 1962 the World Series was a bi-coastal affair that took the max seven games to decide. It ran from October 4th to the 16th with the New York Yankees besting the San Francisco Giants four games to three. I was not much of a baseball fan in 1962. My brother – nearly seven years older than me – was a huuge Yankee fan.
In 1962 they still played World Series day-games and very often the only source of score information during the school day was our school janitor, an affable old gent named Ernie. Ernie had his transistor radio tuned to the game and up to his ear. Our other sources of World Series news was a cool teacher who would get the skinny as he saw Ernie walking the halls and then pass it on to us. (That’s how news of the Kennedy assassination filtered down to the classrooms some 13-months later). Finally, there were the very cool teachers who designated one kid in the room who also had a (forbidden) transistor radio complete with discreet earpiece, and was allowed to update us on score changes.
At times like these, when every game counted to determine the immediate future of the baseball world (if not the future of the actual world), my brother would rush home from school and ask my Mom, “Who’s winning???” My Mom’s stock answer – deadpan all the way — was, “Who’s playing?” She was not a particular Yankee fan and it frustrated my brother no end.
So, sibling rivalry still being what it is, “Way to go Ma!”
The Yankees’ victory on the 16th gave cause to celebration by my brother…but not for long as we will soon discuss.
In those early days of October I was probably thinking about what I would dress up as for Halloween and how much candy I’d get and how many pennies would end up in the milk carton for UNICEF.
So what made that October 55-years ago , so special, so memorable?
Truth be told I didn’t understand it at the time…at least not a first. But having an older brother only too happy to disabuse me of childhood notions and childlike priorities meant that I would not be quite so ill-informed or naïve for long.
The “crisis” began on October 16th…the same day the Yankees beat the Giants to become the “world champions” of American baseball.
This was the time when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and American President John F. Kennedy stood nuclear-nose. to nuclear-nose and dared the other one to blink…or sneeze…or flinch…or any other bodily metaphor that might cause the world as we knew it to dissolve in a mushroom cloud.
That old black & white Philco in the basement was getting quite a workout…and all of my shows were getting pre-empted for news coverage of this thing called “The Cuban Missile Crisis.” Even “Superman.” This I found to be unacceptable and I must have said so within earshot of my brother because I got an awful earful of reality in return.
“The world,” my brother told me grimly, “is on the brink of World War III.”
That, I understood. I already knew about World War III. All the kids in the neighborhood did because we lived a half-a-block from a defense plant and were thus assured to be among the “first strike” targets to be incinerated, if the Russians attacked.
This seemed pretty serious.
Now add what I did not already know. My Dad, an officer in the Army Reserves was walking around with “pocket orders” should the worst come to the worst.
That made this crisis thing a lot more personal.
Thanks bro, you got my attention. And all because I wanted to watch “Superman” instead of Walter Cronkite.
Buut…cooler heads ultimately prevailed…the concept of “mutually assured destruction” was apparently recognized on both sides as a ginormous lose-lose scenario. The crisis lasted 13-days and ended with the dismantling and removal of Soviet nuclear missile sites from Cuba, 90 miles from our mainland. History tells us it also subsequently – and in a quiet, quid pro quo sorta way – resulted in the removal of US missile batteries from Turkey (within close and easy range of the Soviet Union).
And reruns of “Superman” returned to the airwaves.
All of this comes to mind because the current state of belligerent affairs with North Korea and the bellicose threats made by our wacko-in-chief and their wacko-in chief has the world’s power players choosing up sides based on various doomsday scenarios. It also has the rest of the world sitting back and shitting a brick waiting to see what will happen…and when.
Will the cooler heads prevail? And do the cooler heads actually have any influence over the wackos who are jointly ratcheting up the situation?
Does the concept of “mutually assured destruction” resonate any longer with people? Or is there some delusion that a nuclear war is winnable with (to borrow a line from “Dr. Strangelove”), “modest and acceptable civilian casualties?”
We can “hope for best,” though a big deal corporate CEO type once told me, “hoping is not a strategy.” No it’s not. Any more than buying a Powerball ticket equals retirement planning.
But hope may be all we got this time.
Because the people of one country blindly acquiesce to being ruled by a dynasty of belligerent nut jobs, while the people of another country willfully elect a belligerent nut job.
For what may truly be the ultimate in reality TV: “The End of the World starring Donald Trump and Kim Jung-Un.”