A promised future.

I am a child of the ‘50s. Ike, McCarthyism , and the Red Menace were all the rage. And the American Public School system thought it not enough to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. They taught terror, too. If you went to public school in my country in the late ‘50s – early ‘60s, before you learned to speak properly, you were taught to fear for your life. Daily.

In kindergarten, you got off easy. The major change to your daily routine was scary enough. Class was for half a day, and that included a long period for a nap. The only thing they taught you in kindergarten was how to sleep well with others. It was a lesson I learned well. I don’t know if naptime is still part of the curriculum, but suspect if it is, the custom has changed. When I was a tyke, every student brought a small rug to class the first day of the school year. That, and the floor, was your bed for school naps. Since the Red Menance has been replaced with Terror Alert Level Islam, perhaps the school authorities are not as fond about good little Christian boys and girls laying their wee heads on what could easily be a prayer rug. At the very least, I’m sure teachers have been instructed to make sure no child’s rug is inadvertently pointed toward Mecca.

Death and destruction, however, reared its ugly little head when you hit first grade. In preparation for a major conflagration sweeping through the school and burning all to a crispy state, we learned how to participate in a fire drill. The alarm would sound and we’d all line up behind the teacher to quietly walk in file to our designated safe spot in the parking lot. This was an excellent system for a fire drill. For a real fire: not so much. When a fire breaks out in a crowded space, it’s every man for himself. Darwinism rules the day. The meek, mild, polite, and those trained to quietly walk in file to safety become the bodies you trample as you flee. So if you are ever in a fire, look for the Americans; they’ve been trained to be fodder. Your quickest way out is over their bodies.

But a fiery death was not the only possible bloody end to our young lives. Those damn commies had our school zeroed in and the school’s administration was sure the big one would be dropping on our heads any day. So we learned how to participate in air raid drills, too. Not as popular as fire drills since it meant remaining in the classroom, air raid drills involved nothing more than diving under your desk for safety. A more useful drill in California would have been one for earthquakes, but federal funding that mandated the terror indoctrination didn’t allow for earthquakes. A major tremor hits: sorry kiddies, you are on your own. Of course it’s a good thing the bomb never dropped as we now know hiding under your desk doesn’t keep you alive, it turns you into a human pancake (Uh, we do all know that, right?)

school terror

Duck, cover, and die.

As scary, but not as catastrophic, was my first grade teacher’s amateur piano playing and her demand we all sing along regardless of desire or musical talent. I know there is an argument about whether the causation is nurture or nature, but I’m pretty sure her love of show tunes sent several of my classmates down the pink brick road. But that didn’t mean living in a constant state of terror in grade school, the obviously gay kids would have to wait for middle school before fear became part of their daily lives.

Not all forms of death can be covered by classroom drills. The school system, however, did not want to miss out on alerting us of more ways we could die. School safety assemblies were the answer, an opportunity to bring terror to each and every child at school in one fell swoop. The topics would change, but all assemblies started with a stern warning by the principal. In those days, when the principal spoke you listened. In those days, if you misbehaved the principal could beat you. A sadistic bastard, since he couldn’t beat all of us, he spoke at great length describing how any one of us could die in a freakish accident. When enough tears of terror began to flow, he’d start the ‘safety’ movie.

Psycho was the scariest movie being shown in those days. Newspapers reported audience members fainting or fleeing the theaters in terror. The film rating board would not allow a movie to be more horrifying than Psycho. Unless it was to be shown to a group of six-year-olds.

I know none of the safety films warned about riding your bike without a helmet. That we were encouraged to do. I remember one film about the dangers of playing inside of refrigerators that I thought was pretty cool. Even at that young age I felt anyone stupid enough to lock themselves inside of an icebox deserved the slow suffocating death headed their way. There were numerous other films, each detailing a particularly gruesome way to die, but most had no lasting effect. At least on me. The worst, the one that scared the hell out of me, the one I clearly remember and can still watch the scene play out in my head, was exceptionally cruel for an audience of kids; it was set at a roadside carnival. A happy place. A fun place. A travelling amusement park to enjoy with your family and friends. And a place where an embarrassing death waited.

Like horror flicks today, there wasn’t much of a plot. And there was no reason to set the scene at a carnival. I’m sure the director was a retired grade school principal no longer able to inflict his rage on America’s youth in person. The set up was a common occurrence: a burned out light bulb. One in a row throwing colorful splashes of light onto a game of chance. The game operator went to change the bulb (cue scary music) and the money shot was the guy stepping into a puddle of water, the resulting electrical current flowing through his body and frying his ass before he fell to the ground to do the funky chicken; a final epileptic seizure, death, spittle and indignity. I don’t think it was his death that got to me, but rather that it was such a humilating way to go. Traumatized for life, today I still get nervous unplugging an appliance from an electrical socket.

Thailand, being a Buddhist country, is not so enamored with death. To Buddhists, death is just part of life. It’s not the end of life, but rather somewhere in the middle. So I doubt the Thai school system terrorized their students with safety films. If they did, no one was paying attention. Thanks to my schooling, I know water and electricity are not a good mix. In Thailand, mounting an electrical heating element in the shower is a fairly standard practice. Forget about grounded electrical cords, and never mind the dangers of overloading a socket; there are entire streets in Bangkok lit at night by plugging in mile long strings of lights, one piggybacked onto the next. Bundles of electrical cords drape the front of businesses and residences, nicely exposed to the city’s frequent downpours. Light some incense, light your home, good fortune or death, it’s all at the will of the gods.


You’re Fired.

Surprisingly, other than taking note, that doesn’t bother me. Cringe worthy, however, is a common sight at breakfast buffets. There is always a nice selection of sliced bread available. Laid out in neat rows next to a toaster. With a set of metal tongs to use in preparing your toast. Invariably, since the country has not yet figured out that bread should be sliced to a thickness that would match the slots on a toaster, you’ll see one of the hotel’s employees cramming the tongs into the still plugged in toaster to try and free a slice of bread. If no tongs are available, a metal fork or knife work as well. Buddha must be more forgiving than the Christian god; I’ve yet to see a death by toaster in Bangkok. But I’m patient. Whether it is a hotel employee or guest, I know one of these days I’ll see some poor fool become toast.