Hunker in the bunker

In these troubled times of international saber-rattling, missile-wielding madmen, rising gasoline prices and daily "booga-booga" terrorism alerts, nobody could blame Americans for wanting to spend all their time at home.

Our homes are comforting hidey-holes, quiet sanctuaries where we can shut out the tumult of this crazy, mixed-up world. They're the only places where we'll feel relatively safe for the foreseeable future or, at least, until the next presidential election.

But there are dangers to hunkering down at home. Chief among these: You can become a hermit, cut off from friends and relatives and fellow citizens.

The isolation hazard is especially severe for those of us who work in home offices. If we don't have to leave the house to go to a job, why leave at all? Next thing you know, we're indoors all the time, unwashed and ungroomed, fearfully monitoring CNN and mumbling to ourselves.

It's a fine line between cautious "cocooner" and full-blown paranoid, crazy-as-an-outhouse-rat hermit. But how to tell the difference? If you spend all your time at home, how do you know you haven't already crossed the line?

What follows is a handy quiz for determining whether you've become a wartime hermit. Ask yourself the following questions:

--Do you spend more than 22 hours a day inside your home?

--Are you afraid to fly? To drive? To walk in any position other than a crouch?

--Is your only form of human interaction via e-mail?

--Do you remember the names of your neighbors? Your friends? Your children?

--Can you use the term "cocooning" without smirking?

--Do you carefully monitor the federal government's indicators of terrorism danger? Can you recite the color code by heart?

--Do sonic booms make you "duck and cover?"

--Do you watch so much television news that you've started referring to the anchormen by their first names? Do you find yourself harboring a "crush" on Wolf Blitzer?

--Do you consider television to be a "weapon of mass destruction?"

--Do you keep careful written inventory of your duct tape, flashlight batteries and canned goods?

--Does your idea of "casual wear" include a gas mask? Kevlar pajamas?

--Have you drilled your family on how to respond in case of an airborne bioterrorism gas attack? Have the drills included seeing how long you can hold your breath? Have they included the phrase, "Pull my finger?"

--Do you have a backyard bomb shelter? How about an "entrenching tool?"

--Do your neighbors describe you as "a quiet person who always kept to himself?"

--Do your neighbors provide such descriptions to the FBI?

--Are you afraid of strangers? Arabs? The French? All foreigners? Men with mustaches? The Avon lady? Teen-agers who wear their baseball caps backward? Your mother-in-law?

--Do you answer to the term "shut-in?"

--If you encounter a stranger and he smiles at you, is your first reaction: "What's wrong with that guy? Maybe I should call the FBI!"

--Are you so lonely that you welcome calls from telemarketers? What about obscene phone calls?

--Do you fantasize about visiting the airport, just to get a strip-search?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you're in danger of becoming too isolated, also known as "Hermit Code Orange." You should immediately get up and go outside and breathe some fresh air. Maybe have a chat with your neighbors.

If it goes all right, signal to the rest of us hermits that it's safe to come out. Send word via CNN.

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