Inever realized that duct tape would play such an important role in my life.

I was in Weaver's Hardware Store in Georgetown, and apparently Mr. Weaver knew why I was there. Without saying a word, he pointed to a shelf that said DUCT TAPE.

There was only one roll left, and just as I grabbed it a lady tried to wrestle it out of my hands.

"It's mine," she said. "I need it for homeland security."

"So do I. I need four gallons of water, a flashlight and duct tape. There is only so much duct tape to go around, and it is allotted by your value to the country, in case we are attacked."

I then asked, "What does your husband do?"

"He's a lawyer," she said.

"He's way down on the food chain. In time of war, lawyers don't count for much."

This made her angry, and she continued to fight for the tape.

Finally Mr. Weaver came over and said, "What's going on?"

I said, "I saw the duct tape first, and she's trying to grab it from me. Besides, her husband is a lawyer and I'm a newspaperman. Who gets the duct tape first?"

Weaver said: "I prefer not to get into that. I expect to get more tape in on Thursday. Can't one of you wait until then?"

"Suppose there's an attack tomorrow?" I said. "I won't have anything to cover the cracks in the doors and the windows."

A customer watching all this said: "You shouldn't panic. I remember during the Cuban missile crisis we were all told to build bomb shelters in our back yards. I put $50,000 into mine. We had Persian carpets, leather chairs, running water, a radio scanner and the complete recordings of Frank Sinatra.

"The real problem was that my wife and kids started to brag about it and pretty soon everyone in the neighborhood knew about our shelter. The people around us decided that as long as we had such a nice bunker there was no reason for them to build theirs.

"During one scare, a dozen people showed up. When I wouldn't let them in, they started banging pots and pans. I brought out my shotgun and said I was going to shoot them. Fortunately the crisis was called off.

"I tell you this story because Americans act differently when the heat is on. This time it's a duct tape shortage. The next time it could be Aunt Jemima's pancake flour."

After hearing this story, I was ashamed of myself. I said to the lady: "Do you want the tape? We're going to need lawyers after the fighting stops."

"No," she said. "We are going to need newspapermen more than lawyers to tell us what mistakes we made. Here, take the tape."

The man who told us about his bomb shelter said, "If either of you don't want the duct tape, I'll take it."

I said, "I thought you didn't believe in civil defense anymore."

He replied, "Better safe than sorry."

Mr. Weaver said: "You have to pay cash for the tape. I am not accepting any charges in case the balloon goes up."

(c)2003, Tribune Media Services