This story takes place in the late 1980’s, while I was in High School. At that time, in the USA, there was a mad rush in asbestos abatement jobs. Everyone was getting asbestos removed from their buildings and it was all over the news. In more recent times we have seen an emergence of asbestos related lawsuits.
This story is more comical than that though, enjoy!
One thing all kids who grew up in the 1980’s remember is the big asbestos scare. Yeah, kids in the 50’s had the red scare, those in the 60’s had the draft scare, even the kids of the 70’s remember the gas scare with the OPEC embargo. There is one big difference that made the asbestos scare different from all the others… Schools hired consultants to come in and talk to the kids about it!
That’s right, they hired consultants to tell the kids, don’t eat or breathe in the asbestos dust.
Well, it wasn’t quite as simple as that, they also had to answer questions from the students in large auditoriums. That must have been tough for some of those speakers, after all, you can’t use the old imagine your crowd in their underwear technique on these crowds! Well, you could, but I think everyone would look at you funny if you talked about it…
So, to give you a little bit of background, in my school we had a few cliques. The one involved in this story is the Kerry’s. No, no, no, I’m not talking about John Kerry! I’m talking about a group of four girls who were all named Kerry and hung out together. There were the occasional non-Kerry hanger-ons but the core group was all named Kerry.
I belonged to a group of three Steve’s. We weren’t really a clique, we just hung out together and made Steve jokes.
Back to the story!
The Asbestos Abatement company hired by the town was in full swing on our high school. No one wanted to wait for the summer break to do the work so it was ongoing while we were in class. Looking back on this I have to wonder if that was really a good idea? I mean, they were doing the removal work while we were in the building! If something had gone wrong a lot of us kids might now be hiring mesothelioma lawyers!
One afternoon the entire student body was sent to the auditorium to listen to the consultant talk about asbestos and asbestos abatement.
Most of the discussion was dull and boring. We learned what asbestos is, where it came from and why it was used.
As a side note, in the 1980’s G.I. Joe cartoon series, at the end of each episode they did a little PSA bit. In one of them, a flame thrower type G.I. Joe guy specifically mentioned putting on his asbestos underwear. I don’t remember what year it aired and they may have edited it since then but it did happen!
OK, where was I? Oh yes, the auditorium…
A lot of the kids asked questions about the removal process, what the dangers were, how long it would take. Just a bunch of very basic questions. Then one of the Kerry’s spoke up…
“So, like, what do you do with this stuff after you take it out? Do you, like, burn it or something?”
I have to say that the speaker was stunned. I don’t think she had ever encountered this question in any of her speeches In fact, she was left speechless for ten seconds. I saw her glancing around for the Candid Camera crew, but it was not a TV show she was on.
Then one of the other kids commented from the back, “What are you, stupid? Asbestos doesn’t burn!”
The speaker tried to handle it politely from this point but, how do you answer a question like that? We were all thinking what the other kid said, and I’m sure the speaker on stage was too!
At any rate, the line, “let’s go burn some asbestos” became a code word for anything to do with the Kerry’s. It’s meaning changed based on the context of events surrounding it’s utterance but it was on par with the current saying of, “Let’s go freak some squares” just more directed to one group of people.