A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


It wasn't more than 30 feet from our back door to the metal garbage can on the other side of the garage. But it seemed like a mile or more every time I had to haul the day's trash out there.

Especially after dark.

It wasn't that I was afraid or anything. Well, OK maybe I WAS afraid.

But it wasn't an unreasonable fear. There were Russians out there. And Martians. And they were out to get me. My big sister Jean told me so. And she wouldn't lie to her 10-year-old brother about a thing like that, would she?

"Watch out for the Russians," she would whisper as I pushed open the screen door leading into our secluded, unlit back yard, our overflowing kitchen garbage pail in hand.

"What are Russians?" I whispered back.

"You know Khrushchev," she replied. "The guy on the news who looks like Grandpa Arrowsmith."

"You mean he's in our back yard?" I asked. He was such a mean-looking little guy, especially when he was mad and pounding his shoe on the table that really WAS scary.

"Well, probably not," Jean allowed. "But his soldiers might be out there."

"Why?" I asked.

"They like chubby blond boys," she said, very seriously. "They brainwash them and train them for their armies."

I wasn't exactly sure what brainwashing was. But at that point in my life ANY kind of washing was intolerable. And since I was chubby and blond, I figured I was a goner for sure.

And if the Russians didn't get me, surely the Martians would. According to Jean, the Martians were also looking for chubby blond boys, but she wouldn't say why.

"It's just too horrifying to talk about," she would say, shuddering.

But unlike the Russians, it was easy to tell when the Martians were hunting for chubby blond boys. Klieg lights would be hauled out to scour the skies with their long shafts of light.

"I thought those lights were to celebrate grand openings and big parties and stuff," I said.

"Nope," Jean whispered. "That's just a cover so people won't get upset. But really, they're searching for Martians."

So I spent the biggest part of my pre-adolescence dodging Russians in my backyard and hiding from Martians who surely were coming for me from out of the skies. I can only assume that they each bagged their respective limits of chubby blond boys before they found me.

I was thinking about this last night as I sat with my 10-year-old son, Jon, and watched the nightly news. The first report was about the possibility of America going to war in the Middle East, with a secondary story about the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds. The second was about the trial of a man who is accused of going into a youngster's home to kidnap and eventually kill her. The third was about school children being killed and injured in a bus accident.

I looked at Jon. He looked at me. He smiled weakly.

"I think I'll go downstairs and play Nintendo," he said.

I didn't tell him to watch out for the Russians and Martians down there. These days, you don't have to invent things for kids to be afraid of.

Reality is scary enough.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through