Monday, October 6, 2008

Better Safe Than Horribly Mangled












I once watched this episode of Maury where people were facing their phobias. And this one particularly hysterical woman had to confront a large vicious gang of inflated party balloons thrown at her by the producers at Maury. The audience laughed and laughed at the poor stupid woman's fear and subsequent bout with static cling. After the taping of the show, I assume that crazy balloon lady and her family spent the afternoon wandering around Times Square in their jumbo-sized fanny packs, walking really slowly and fearing that every person was conspiring to steal their wallets.

My main phobia is not as weird as balloon fear.

I'm simply afraid of dying in a freak accident. You know the kind. Being suffocated by my own dirty laundry stockpiles. Falling through a sidewalk grate onto the tracks of a moving subway. Choking on a Milk Dud in a crowded theater where no one can hear my gasps for breath over the sounds of their own popcorn munching.

Stuff like that. Things that will get you in the paper as "someone who died in a weird way." So that you can be posthumously famous for being "that idiot who..." And one day, you're just an urban legend with no name. Maybe it happened. Maybe it didn't...

Perhaps my phobia came from the fact that my dad used to love to pepper his safety warnings with tales of freak accidents. "Don't walk behind that horse too close. I knew a kid who got kicked in the head, and he died." Or, "Never, ever weld on or around a tank of anhydrous ammonia. I knew a guy who did that, and his house exploded and killed his entire family." (Like I had any welding ambitions at the age of 13.) I was also warned to never drive a riding lawnmower up a steep embankment (Guy crushed to death in freak rollover!) and to never touch the severed head of any poisonous reptile (It can STILL BITE YOU!)

My mom's warnings were always more of the preventative variety. If I even threatened to go outside on a hot summer day, my mom would call, "Carry a hoe!" In case of snakes, you know. Because if I saw a snake coming toward me, I would choose to challenge it to a showdown, rather than scream in terror and run away. Probably abandoning any alleged gardening tool weapons in my moment of distress.

It didn't help that it was in our genetic makeup to collect tales of misery. When my great-grandma died, her scrapbook of freak accidents and murders somehow ended up on our bookshelf. "CHILD KILLED BY EXPLODING OVEN!" "OLD LADY FALLS DOWN WELL WHILE PICKING GERANIUMS!" "DUDE SUFFOCATES IN PUDDLE OF SICK AFTER NIGHT OF DRINKING!" I read the stories in her scrapbook over and over again. I was like one of those movie serial killers with the wall of evil newspaper articles: Death! Murder! Red paint that looks like blood! Something hairy that might be a cat head! I turned the pages, and read, and shuddered over and over again. Because apparently, deep down, I have the literary tastes of an axe wielding psychopath.

When I was supposed to be cleaning the living room, sometimes I would disappear to "organize the bookshelf," which meant that I was going to read the scrapbook again. The grisly remains of Mr. and Mrs. Murder Victim would again wash up on the shores of Crime Scene Reservoir, and calm would once again be restored to my feverish brain.

"La-de-dah. Now, where is the upholstery attachment for the vacuum cleaner?" I would mumble, looking out the window of our isolated farmhouse for mysteriously unmarked pickup trucks and rogue chainsaws.

I soon found myself avoiding dangerous situations without even hearing my dad's warning. He didn't need to say, "Don't get too close to the business end of that auger!" I was six steps ahead of him, clinging to the wall with my backside so that a shoelace wouldn't tangle in any sort of operating grain equipment. I didn't need to hear him tell me that grain dust would kill me like what happened to that bad guy in the movie Witness. I had my dust mask on before even entering the granary.

And Mom didn't need to worry either. I knew where there might be snakes. I rode my bicycle with my cowboy boots on. I never, ever walked through tall weeds. I stared vigilantly at the ground and stayed in the exact center of the road while out for a walk. Every single buzzing locust was first assumed to be the rattling tail of a Western Diamondback. My instincts were those of a snake-avoiding ninja. When I had been in New York for two months, I found myself leaping over a striped shoelace on the sidewalk in terror one time. That's how good my instincts are.

Of course, now I have to worry about different freak accidents that might kill me. Being shoved in front of a speeding taxi, falling four stories to my death down the shaft of our constantly malfunctioning work elevator, getting my foot caught in the gap between the subway and the platform and no one hearing my cries for help before the train pulls away. You know, those things that happen to .00000000000000098% of the population?

In the end, I am grateful to my parents for being insane about safety. Every time I see a toddler slipping down through a stroller safety harness, I get really happy that my dad knew a guy who got run over by his own tractor that popped out of gear while he was taking a leak. And every time I see someone walk right out into traffic yacking away on his or her cell phone, I know that my mom would be proud to see me pausing at the edge of the street and waiting for the light to turn green, with or without a hoe in my hand.

Furthermore, I'm glad that, instead of allowing me to be so afraid of toads at the age of 6 that I wouldn't go outdoors after nightfall, my dad hoisted me up, kicking and screaming, carried me outside, and made me touch a toad. Because while some phobias (guns) are totally reasonable, others (party balloons) are completely asinine. Besides, my dad couldn't think of a single person who had been killed by a toad.

26 comments:

Scoregasm said...

My dad's best friend from college was killed in a grain silo. His shirt got caught on a bolt while the grain was pouring in. My dad's best friend from high school was struck by lightning on a golf course. Thanks to the freakishly bad luck of my father's friends, I have been instilled with such a sense of caution that I regard anything more treacherous than a fluffy pillow with a mixture of trepidation and awe.

Margo Channing aka jezebelbelg said...

Grrrrl. You crack me up but good. Funny thoughts, well written. As long as my username doesn't show up as yoda anymore, I'll be totally hooked.

margo channing aka jezebelbelg said...

Oh yes, mom's friend struk by lightning while on riding a tractor. I think John Cougar wrote a song about it.

t.c. said...

Even fluffy pillows can be dangerous. (See 3:30 minutes into the clip.)

One that I used to hear growing up was if I ever went outside in cold weather with damp hair, I would suffer facial paralysis.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@scoregasm: I hope your dad's best friend from grade school is safe in a bunker somewhere.

@Yay! Welcome!

My dad always said that if a lightning storm started, grab the rubber part on the hydraulic shift, and lift the implement out of the ground. That also applied to if you ran into electrical wires.

@t.c.: I never get tired of watching OJ get hit in the nuts in that movie.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

That second @ was for jezebelbelg. :)

Allison Jones said...

Beth you are a genius!! My parents also instilled a large amount of fear in me as a child. I would see a innocent refridgerator and run away in fear with the my mothers tales of children getting trapped inside and suffocating rang clearly through my ears. My mom never made me carry a hoe around with me though when I left the house...a pity, it would have came in handy in beating the crap out of Matt when he was being stupid. Now I just have a very irrational fear of getting in a motor vehicle accident. I never had this fear before I worked on the mangled bodies of MVA, ATV and motorcycle accident victims in the emergency department though. My job makes me scared of everything! Cause everything out there can and will hurt you!

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@allison: See, dude? It's totally in our genetic makeup to fear everything.

I don't have to work in an emergency department to fear being in an accident. I trust you. I admire your courage. I could NOT do it. AAAAAA!

angiesyounglover said...

ahhh i know what you mean! you never want to be that person, because it's always happening to that person - never you. you always hear about it. but that person is some person and who stops that person from being me?! ah it drives me mad. i'm really afraid of drowning. not the most freak accident, i grant you, but still, so scary to me.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@ayl: I too fear drowning. What a completely unglamorous way to go. Soaking wet. Blue skin tone. Yipes.

nadarine said...

I fear drowning because it would make me look like a total idiot. Grew up on a lake, lifeguard for years, varsity swim team...
if I drowned, people would just gather around and mock my corpse.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@nadarine: We'd make sure you were really dead first though.

sigourneyfever said...

I fear drowning, too, but not as much as I fear fire.

I come from a family with a history of freak accidents, so this hit home for me. Also, I am afraid of everything, everywhere, so that doesn't help.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@sigourney: I think I fear drowning more because smoke inhalation would kill you before the fire would. And lack of oxygen I feel would be a less scary way to go than suddenly realizing you're going to have to inhale water and that after that happens it's probably over for you.

This is what I think about when I'm swimming laps. :)

Jen said...

I'm sure someone somewhere has been killed by a toad. There are some poisonous varieties, aren't there? Not in Kansas, but elsewhere.

@t.c.: I don't know about damp hair leading to facial paralysis, but I have gone outside with wet hair and had my hair freeze.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jen: Are there poisonous toads? Or just poisonous frogs? I must find out.

I used to sit outside when it was unbearably cold and blow bubbles so that they would freeze and shatter.

Jen said...

@Beth: Apparently most toads are poisonous! http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_do_poisonous_toads_look_like

They're sneaky about it too - unlike poisonous frogs, they're not all bright and colorful. Just brown and warty. But as I think the poison only hurts you if you ingest it. So don't eat toads and you'll be okay.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jen: Oh! You're right. They are. Our dog used to try to eat them, and it would make him foam at the mouth. We always thought he was rabid and run away screaming.

bubblegumculture.com said...

My mom used to tell this story of a kid in her neighborhood growing up who got tetanus and died. Except, she never called it tetanus, she called it lockjaw. And she'd describe how he couldn't swallow and his throat closed up. She'd always be like, "stop running around barefoot, you'll step on a nail and get lockjaw!" It was terrifying to me as a child, and I became irrationally afraid of getting tetanus.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@bubblegumculture: We weren't EVER allowed to walk around barefoot in the house. We always had to have shoes on. One time my older brother stepped on a toothpick, and it broke off in his foot, so we all were very, very cautious. Also, if we were ever outside, my dad would remind us to always put on our shoes. If not, pinworms would burrow up through our feet and get into our intestines. It took me AGES to be able to walk around my apartment barefoot after I moved to the city.

Jen said...

You know, I'm beginning to think my parents didn't love me that much or at least weren't overly concerned about my well-being. I don't really remember any dire warnings from my childhood. I ran around barefoot inside and outside all the time.

Oh, my mom did tell me not to go to bed or out in the cold with wet hair. I did it anyway.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jen: Now is the moment when you reveal that you do, in fact, have worms.

Jen said...

@Beth: Heh. I don't think I have worms, but I don't know for sure. Do you know the symptoms?

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jen: Blindness. Urge to live underground. Sudden loss of limbs. Fear of chickens.

Jenn said...

Hmm, now I wonder if my mom didn't love me enough since she didn't say much beyond: Don't talk to strangers and look both ways before you cross the street. I ended up alright I guess, though I probably should've been warned from having sex with random people. Thanks Mom.

Speaking of farming incidents, what kinda freaked me out was in that movie "The Man on the Moon" where Jeremy (or Jason?) London reached over his tractor to get his hat post-coitus and then ended up all mangled and dead. I felt bad for the guy and figured his family probably taught him better. Go figure.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jenn: I refuse to ever see that movie. I used to have nightmares about falling under farm equipment. A girl I knew in college had a sister who was run over by a farm implement. It's such a truly scary thing.