Tale of the tape

Well, now we know what Orange Alert means: It means American homeowners are supposed to go out and stock up on flashlights, bottled water, duct tape and plastic sheeting.

I'm with the feds on flashlights and water. We should've had those all along, especially the water. Bottled water is like toilet paper: sooner or later, you will use all you buy. Most likely, every functional American household has a flashlight. But from what I've seen, it is one sorry-ass, nearly-discharged dim-bulb flashlight that gets used mostly as a hammer. If I'm describing your flashlight, I suggest that you upgrade. I depend on flashlights every day, so, don't you know, I'm in favor of having high-quality lights, and plenty of 'em. My personal favorite is the Streamlight XL-20XP flashlight (I've got four). These lights are rechargeable, repairable, and last for years. A new XL-20XP will cost you about $85. I buy mine from Gall's, a company that sells equipment to law enforcement types. You can look 'em up at

I've got to tell you, I don't know what the feds were thinking when they told us to arm ourselves with duct tape and plastic. In a terrorized world, the best use of duct tape would be to bind up terrorists head-to-toe, so they can't operate their little box cutters and detonators.

If the evil sumbitches drop a load of anthrax, poison gas or nuke dust, taping plastic around your windows and doors probably won't help you. First, there's the timing problem. I don't know about y'all, but I'm not going to plasticize a room in anticipation of a terror attack. I just don't see myself meeting the wife and daughter at the door some afternoon and saying, "Girls, guess what? I've made the upstairs bathroom terror-proof! When the TV news says we've been dosed, gassed or nuked, we're going to run up there and live like weed in a baggie until we get the all-clear, or die from breathing our own funk. Are you with me?"

If I wait until the terrorists spray us like roaches, and then start draping and taping my terror-proof room, chances are I won't get the job done before it's too late. I imagine most Americans will be in the same fix.

Truth be told, making a room terror-proof means making it pretty much airtight. You can't do that with plastic and duct tape. We've all seen derelict cars with plastic-and-duct-tape windows. We all know those cars are windy inside, and the driver gets wet when it rains. If you wanted to make a room anywhere close to airtight, you'd have to scrupulously caulk around all the windows and doors, put gaskets behind all the switchplates and receptacle covers, and shoot that godawful expanding foam into every remaining crack. Then you'd have to drape the room with plastic, and make perfect, airtight seams. Ask any decent heat-and-air technician, and he'll tell you that duct tape is the last thing you want to use for making airtight seams. If you want airtight seams, you need mesh tape and duct mastic.

If you do get the room airtight, you're going to need a source of fresh air. That means you're going to have to use the terrorized air from outside, and you're going to have to filter it. Well, good luck finding one filter that'll handle all the possible forms of deadly germs, poison gas and nuke dust. You're going to need a whole stack of filters, each designed to snag a specific toxin.

If you really want to be safe from airborne terror, you're going to need your very own first-responder hazmat suit, and your very own self-contained air supply. If you're one of those people who thinks of your dogs, cats and birds as family members, you're going to have to buy suits for them, too. Or, you might be able to save a little money by stuffing 'em all into one suit. If you do that, I suggest putting the dog in one leg, the cat in the other, and confining the bird to the helmet. If you don't separate 'em, any dog with a little bit of get-up will have the suit to himself in no time.

Don't get me wrong, I like cats just fine, but in the event of an airborne terror attack, I say we ought to put the cats outside. Taken as a breed, American housecats would only benefit from a little mutation. Aw, heck, go ahead and put the elderly eczema-infested Chihuahuas outside, too.

The way I see it, here's the worst-case scenario: If the terrorists do find a way to poison the air, most of the people left will be the jumpy, anal-retentive, pull-the-windowshades-to-the-same-height types who actually got busy and terror-proofed their houses, then rode out the aftermath in their personal hazmat suits. No offense to anybody, but I'd just as soon not live amongst those people. If we Jowerses somehow survive by wearing pantyhose masks and drinking water out of the commode tank, we'll just quietly move offshore.