Origins of the Sixties by Rudy Koshar

Origins of the Sixties by Rudy Koshar

On a frigid day in December of 1959, my third-grade teacher Mr. Oldenbourg, a very Lutheran man at a very Lutheran school in small-town Michigan, had us do the “duck-and-cover,” which meant we had to get under our desks, squat, and cover our heads with our hands so that we could protect ourselves when the atheistic, vodka-swilling Russians attacked, as they most certainly would before too long, and if we looked up, we’d end up like those schoolchildren in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, who had been turned into shadows on walls, and everyone knew shadows on walls didn’t have much fun, so ducking and covering seemed like the right thing to do, not only because that’s what Mr. Oldenbourg wanted, but also the principal and our parents wanted it, and the President wanted it, and above all God wanted it, or at least his wing-man Jesus did, so said Mr. Oldenbourg, and saying No to Jesus was impossible to contemplate, you didn’t deny Jesus what he wanted in a life-and-death matter, not when Mr. Oldenbourg made it sound like a nuclear missile was at that very moment hurdling at some hellish speed right at our little school, the thought of which made my nine-year-old stomach growl, partly because it was eleven in the morning and my thoughts had already turned to the salami sandwich my mother had packed for me, but mostly because Mr. Oldenbourg had a way of scaring the bejesus out of me, like earlier that school year, in September, when he’d taken us all to a slaughterhouse, which I guessed was to show us how a black and white cow with friendly brown eyes that reminded me of my Labrador, Flintstone, could be shot in a wooden pen by a sinister looking man with two-day-old stubble on his recessed chin, and how when the shot rang out a dozen or so students could be made to vomit or faint, which didn’t happen to me even though I felt like it, but instead I went home and had Flintstone sleep with me that night, but now it was December, so September was a distant memory as Mr. Oldenbourg’s order came at exactly five past eleven to hustle under our desks and assume the required squatting position, leading me to worry that I’d fart and have to sit with my head in my crotch as I smelled my indignity, and I’d have to look at the gray and green linoleum floor, which wasn’t clean because we couldn’t avoid tracking in salt and dirt from the icy steps and sidewalks outside, and so the floor would look un-Lutheran as I squatted and stared at it, that’s what had me worried, but then the squatting happened fartlessly and the floor wasn’t as filthy as I’d assumed, and since I didn’t have to worry about these things I had time to consider that Mr. Oldenbourg might not be giving us the straight word on this duck and cover stuff, and I wondered if everyone around me had the same feeling, and I was dying to know if all my fellow-students had followed Mr. Oldenbourg’s instructions about not looking up, Karl, for instance, who had logged more time in the principal’s office than anyone in the class, and whom I’d always admired because he was smart, funny, and athletic, and he made me feel inadequate because I was smart, kind of, but not very funny or athletic, and never quite able to muster the courage Karl had to raise hell whenever he felt like it, which of course made me anticipate that Karl would do something to resist Mr. Oldenbourg, but I would never know unless I looked up, just as I would never know about Doris, who was the teacher’s pet, but who stole chalk and pinched Angela sitting in front of her when Mr. Oldenbourg wasn’t looking, which I thought was funny and made me give Doris credit where credit was due, and knowing all this reminded me it was going to be a horrible battle between nuclear annihilation and my curiosity, and having thought about all this mid-squat, I concluded it was best to lose the battle if it meant winning the war, even a war that would vaporize everyone, that’s the price of knowledge, I guessed, so I looked up, and so did Karl and Doris, and when nothing happened, when Mr. Oldenbourg, who had lined up all those figures of authority that were supposed to put the fear of the devil in our hearts, turned out to be whistling through his Lutheran hat, I knew, dimly, the sixties had begun.