The Bomb Blanket

by William Zinsser
When I saw a newspaper ad recently for Pinkerton’s new Bomb Suppression Blanket, there was nothing for it, as the saying goes (if it still does), but to send away for one. The ad said that the blanket would give us “a degree of protection previously unavailable during the vital minutes before the authorities arrive.” pointing out that 5000 bombings have occurred in this country in the past eighteen months, most of which have “caused extensive damage that might have been minimized.”
What a comfort those words were! Only a few weeks earlier my wife had asked, “Do we have anything around the house that might minimize extensive damage in the event that we get bombed, especially in the vital minutes before the authorities arrive?” I had to tell her that we didn’t.
Now I savored Pinkerton’s description: “The blanket is four feet square, big enough to cover virtually any bomb that can be smuggled into your property. Yet it’s lightweight enough to be handled easily by any man or woman. The eighteen-layer core of high-tensile ballistic nylon is covered by fire-retardant herculite to smother incendiary bombs. Multiple vents are scientifically placed to allow the harmless escape of gases generated by the blast. In the case of highermagnitude explosions, the blanket rises into a parachute-like shape to contain fragmentation.”
That sounded fine—as much as I could ask from any blanket. The only part I didn’t quite understand was the ten-day guarantee whereby I could return the blanket if I wasn’t satisfied. I mean, would the Pinkerton people send someone to bomb us during those ten days? Or would we have to do it ourselves?
I mailed the coupon anyway, and we had a happy time unpacking the blanket when it came.
“Look, dear,” I said to my wife, “it’s large enough to cover virtually any bomb that can be smuggled into our property.”
“Yet it’s lightweight enough to be handled easily by any man or woman,” she said, handling it easily.
“That’s the high-tensile ballistic nylon,” I told her. “Would you believe eighteen layers?”
“And don’t you just love the multiple vents?”
“Groovy! And scientifically placed to allow the harmless escape of gases.”
She took the guarantee and put it with the warranties for all our other appliances. It said: “If, after ten days’ inspection, you’re not satisfied, simply return your purchase and we’ll promptly refund your money.”
After a week I asked my wife if she was satisfied with the bomb blanket.
“Gosh,” she said, “it looks nice. And that fire-retardant herculite on the outside is lovely. But we really haven’t given it a good test. When does the guarantee expire?”
“In three days. They must be holding their breath down at the Pinkerton office wondering if we’ve been bombed yet and if we’re satisfied.”
“Don’t we know anyone who has a bomb?” she asked. “Maybe that terrible kid across the street.”
“Of course! He’d have one, and I’m sure he’d let us use it.”
“But we don’t want him to get in the habit. Remember, we only need to test it once.”
“That depends,” I said, “on whether we get an explosion of sufficient magnitude the first time. It’s got to be in the higher-magnitude range so that the blanket will rise into parachute-like shape to contain fragmentation.”
Well, somehow my wife thought I was going to arrange to have the house bombed, and I thought she was, and the three days went by and we never did get the blanket tested. Now there’s no refund if we’re not satisfied—which, I see, reading the ad again, is quite possible. It says that the blanket has been “thoroughly tested by actual detonation of nearly every type of homemade bomb; results have been outstanding—up to 90 percent suppression of fragmentation caused by most pipe bombs, hand grenades, and other similar explosive devices.”
“Nearly every type”? “Up to 90 percent”? “Most pipe bombs”? It would be our luck to get an entirely new type of pipe bomb, untested by actual detonation, and then the whole suppression business would go out the window, along with us. It’s not so much that I mind not getting my money back. It’s just that I hate to waste those vital minutes before the authorities arrive.