Tuesday, March 1, 2011
My 7-year-old son and I listened to the famous Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” broadcast from Oct. 30, 1938, a radio treat that tricked many listeners into thinking Martians had actually landed on Earth and were taking over.
“It’s the end of the world!” people cried out at the time, calling police, fire and newspapers for information and help. I told my son that this single broadcast caused major panic across the country.
“Some people were so scared,” I said, “they packed up all their things and left town.”
“But if the Martians were taking over the entire world,” my son asked, “where were people gonna go?”
“People were just scared,” I said. “Some had to be taken to the hospital because they were in such shock.”
“Are you kidding me?” my son said in awe of the prank. “Can we do something like that to Mommy?”
“Well,” I said, “we don’t want to scare Mommy into to the hospital.”
The kid realized what he said. He felt bad for suggesting such a thing.
“But we can scare her into tomorrow!” I said. “After all, it’s Halloween time!”
Before my son and I could plan our Halloween prank for Mommy, sirens outside drew us to the windows for a peek. We saw several fire trucks and police vehicles whistling by. News vans were close behind. Our neighbors poured out into their driveways to see what was going on.
I ran to the TV, flipped on the news.
The phone rang. My wife. “Turn on the news.”
“Do you know what’s going on?”
“No,” I said. “What?”
“I don’t know what,” she said. “I’m around the corner. I saw police go into our neighborhood.”
Outside, just over the hill, helicopters circled, lights flashed. Black unmarked vehicles sped down my street toward the action.
The doorbell rang. My neighbor. “You see all the cops?” he asked when I answered the door. “Bill ‘Two Doors Down’ said Bob ‘Across The Street’ said the Martians are landing. I guess it’s the end of the world, don’t you think?”
Martians? How ridiculous. Was I supposed to believe that?
I planned for my family’s immediate evacuation -- just in case.
My wife walked in to find me packing.
“Martians?” my wife asked when I told her why I was evacuating. “How ridiculous. Am I supposed to believe that?”
My neighbor, unbeknownst to me, followed us into our bedroom and joined the conversation. “This better not be a joke,” he said. “We better be in real danger here. I mean, if we go to all this trouble to pack up all our stuff and vacate only to find that this Martian business is all a joke, I’ll be pretty peeved.”
As the day progressed, we learned this was no joke. Really.
I had all the essentials packed -- underwear, socks, toothbrush, DVD collection. My son packed his coloring books.
“Alright, we’re all set,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” my wife said. “I haven’t packed anything.”
“I got your make-up and People magazine,” I said. “You’re good to go.”
As I made sure the air conditioning was off, the lights were on timers and the doors were locked, my wife shifted gears into small talk about work. My neighbor was still following us around the house.
“Can I go to the bathroom alone?” I asked him. “Shouldn’t you be evacuating, too?”
My wife got upset at me for giving the neighbor attention and not listening to her. “You never listen to me,” she said.
“You’re arguing,” our neighbor pointed out. “You guys don’t seem like the arguing type.”
“Sweetie, I’m sorry,” I said to my wife, ignoring my neighbor. “I just wanna make sure everything’s set before we run from the Martians.”
Then I noticed that a timer on one of the lights in my house was set for the wrong time.
“See,” I said. “If I didn’t check this, we woulda evacuated and the lights wouldn’t have gone on tonight. You want a burglar to think we’re not home?”
“It’s the end of the world, dummy,” she said. “Who cares about burglars? I had a terrible day at work, don’t you wanna hear about how it’s almost the end of my career?”
My wife meant business, so much so our neighbor had to evacuate when he heard the tone in her voice.
And though we soon after discovered that there were no Martians, that instead all the commotion over the hill was due to a small brush fire that was put out in less than 30 minutes, the moral of the story remains: Even the end of the world isn’t more important than what your wife is telling you. This, unlike Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds,” is no joke.