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WHAT'S NORMAL? AMERICANS STRUGGLE TO BALANCE CALM, ALERTNESS IN FACE OF UNCERTAIN TERROR.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

The president of the United States called for it.

The governor of California urged it.

The mayor of Los Angeles asked for it.

But as our leaders exhort all of us to hit the mall, buy a car or see our travel agent to help float a sinking economy, we're admonished to watch our backs for terrorist attacks.

No recent Americans have faced such an order: To ``carry on'' when letters could carry anthrax.

To ``return to normal'' when your Boeing 737 might contain ticking, or human, bombs.

Not in a century and a half - from the Civil War to the Indian Wars - has a significant enemy lurked within. Terrorists now stalk our nation's campfires, home front and busiest transportation, information and commercial corridors.

So how, many ask, do we forge ahead - to be normal yet vigilant - when the menace drives the same freeways as we do?

``This is different in terms of modern America - it hasn't been experienced by anyone living,'' said Norris Hundley, an emeritus professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. ``This is the closest thing in our country to what frontier people were going through.''

The result, for most of us, is apprehension.

If a ``Citizens Guide to Terrorism'' has been slow to hit the bookstores, it was clear last week that legislators and law enforcement officers from Washington to Los Angeles were equally cautious in shaping new policy.

President George W. Bush, asked precisely how citizens were supposed to conduct normal lives following the Sept. 11 terrorist massacres, uttered vague edicts to report anyone suspicious lurking about crop dusters or petrochemical plants.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said people aren't getting enough information on terrorist threats on U.S. soil.

In response, perhaps, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., called for a ``national teach-in'' on how to deal with terroristic threats.

``I think we're all on uncharted ground right now,'' she said. ``We have such a history of freedom and invulnerability.''

``Be on the lookout for mysterious health symptoms,'' chimed in U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson. As if anyone wasn't.

Some people have lapsed into hysteria. Dads purchase questionable gas masks and moms defy health warnings by filling SUV glove boxes with expensive antibiotics to counter unseen bioterrorist threats.

Across the Los Angeles area last week, police and fire departments struggled to keep up with a wave of anthrax false alarms while Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn pleaded for calm.

Businesses were not immune.

Quiznos, which until Sept. 11 allowed customers to pick through its open containers of peppers, pulled its condiment tray. Want a pepper? Get one from an employee - sealed in plastic - on request.

Despite the panic, most Angelenos remained as stoic about terrorist threats as the English rattling their teacups during the hail of Nazi bombs over London.

``We should get on with our lives, be a little more alert, like the president says, don't be dumb,'' said Dave Birmingham, 43, an electrician from North Hollywood.

``But to tell you the truth, I'm more worried about (the risk of) driving down the street. I'm more worried about the graffiti on my back fence and the gangs in my neighborhood - they're here, they're present, I've seen 'em.''

Shaheen Teghararian, 56, who owns a cleaners in Glendale, was also unfazed.

``I never worry, never,'' the Armenian immigrant from Iraq said from behind his counter. ``They can't send (anthrax) letters to 250 million people.''

Los Angeles police responded to the anthrax scare by releasing a memo on not opening suspicious packages while a spokesman said that when dealing with terrorists, ``common sense is the best guide.''

The FBI, meanwhile, was only slightly more specific. Advice, issued by an L.A. FBI spokesman, includes:

--Know what's in your neighborhood and alert police about any suspicious people or circumstances.

--Know what belongs and what doesn't - that strange van down the street, that strange package left on the sidewalk, that odd character next door with all the flight manuals on the back seat of his car.

--If it doesn't fit, report it to local police or to the FBI at (310) 996-3400, or (310) 477-6565.

``That's essentially what we want the public to do - have the eyes and ears of a police officer,'' said FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin in Los Angeles. ``I think it'll become second nature to people.''

But Zvi Wloch, an immigrant from Israel where bombs placed in local market bags are a way of life, said it'll take years.

Over there, he said, ``you go to the movies, they (security officials) open each bag, doesn't matter if you're a baby. That's what happens when you deal with fanatics.

``You see a bag unattended, you call the police.''

The challenge to lead normal lives while on red alert is tough but not impossible, said U.S. Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Pasadena, who serves on the Homeland Security Task Force and who has co-sponsored anti-terrorism legislation.

Conquer fear. Concern yourself with loved ones. Beat terrorism, he said, citing Lincoln, Twain and Churchill.

``In war, resolution, in defeat, defiance, in victory, magnanimity and in peace, good will,'' he said, recalling the famous Churchill line. ``We're in war right now and we are resolved and in the face of attack, we will win.''

Others, however, were less than sure of victory - or at least their safety.

Veda Rayburn, who sells teacups and all things English at ``Oh, Fancy That!'' in Tarzana, said some Britons - so detached during the Battle of Britain and recent terrorist bombings in London - were looking toward the next British Airways flight from Los Angeles.

``I can't stand it anymore, I'm going,'' a petrified English lady had said. ``Going back to London.''

Another woman came in and said she received a package without a return address and tossed it in the trash.

Lewis Yablonsky, a sociologist specializing in group psychology at California State University, Northridge, who served in World War II, said the nation has never undergone such emotional stress than after Sept. 11.

The United States has never lost so many people in one incident at the hands of an enemy. The attack has never been so close to home.

First there's fright, he said. Then panic. ``Then you settle in, adjust your teacup ... or whatever, and, as the president said, you try to continue with your normal life.''

Without a manual to cope with terrorism, Gunther said, she muddles through each day and trusts that all will be OK - then admits that's not right, either.

``To be honest, you've gotta have faith in a higher power. And when your number's up, your number's up.''

SAFETY INFORMATION

The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services launched a new toll-free ``Safety Information and Referral Line'' on Saturday to provide callers with recorded, nonemergency anthrax-related information from technicians between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily.

The telephone number is (800) 550-5234.

The information line will allow callers to choose from a menu that will give advice on personal and family preparedness, what to do in the event of possible or real exposure to anthrax, and tips on what to do with suspicious mail or packages.

There is also the option of talking to a trained technician who can answer questions and refer callers to various agencies, departments and Internet sites for further information.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 21, 2001
Words:1235
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