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.