It's my fault! I have no one to blame but myself. Since they were young all of my kids learned the fine art of the practical joke from me, their old man. It is in the timing, the perfect confluence of familiarity and unknown territory. The calm before the storm, the unexpected when the expected has become so commonplace and routine. It was that sort of setup. The planning was pristine, the timing impeccable, but this time I was the dupe, the victim, the one this close to shitting my pants. I have never been prouder of my oldest son, while at the same time so unnerved that I still feel like I have to throw up.
The scene begins as my wife and younger son are inattentively watching the Giants game and preparing for the Stanley Cup Finals Game 3. We are settled in on leather couches in front of the 50" Samsung HD Smart TV, and talking about the upcoming Sharks game. My oldest is in his room supposedly still shaking off a bender from the night previous on the town with his buddies for his 24th birthday. The three of us get up to collect some snacks and drinks and part way out of the room we hear the ear-grating sound of the Emergency Broadcast System bellowing from the surround sound system. This sound is nothing new to our area and a fairly common occurrence due to odd weather patterns. We casually return to the front of the TV expecting to hear an explanation about the odd weather that appeared to be settling over our area on what has otherwise been a hot but unusually humid day. My daughter emerges from her room and rushes to the upstairs hand railing that separates her from a fall into the family room, but offers her a clear view of the television set. We patiently await the message that always sounds like it is recorded on a HAM radio during the 1950's. As the announcement begins I am immediately taken aback by the mention of the Department of Civil Defense. My wife's jaw drops, my youngest son's face turns a pale white, my daughter looks like she is about to faint, and all of us are absolutely stunned to learn that NORAD has detected a long range nuclear missile launch from North Korea, headed for Los Angeles. My stomach drops into my ankles, the hair on my arms is standing straight up, and all I can manage to say is, "NO FUCKING WAY!!!".
My wife is close to tears and ready to pick up the phone to call relatives in the area, when suddenly my oldest son breaks the terror and tension with hysterical laughter. I have never felt so sick, and yet so relieved in all my life. Memories of watching the events of 911 had come rushing back, but were thankfully held at bay.
Turns out he had been planning it all day. Right down to aligning it with the time reported in the mock alert. I forgot that I had shown him how to access the Smart TV via wifi from his cell phone, and that from there it was possible for him to play all manner of content. But he timed it perfectly, just for the moment that we weren't looking at the screen as the alert loaded up during a commercial break. My heart was still pounding and the goose bumps had not yet receded as I congratulated my son on a job well done! It was masterful. My boy has become a man!