Once upon a time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Catchy, but wrong. We also have all that really scary stuff to worry about. What I find curious about fear is that so many of the things that terrify some people don’t even make other folks bat an eye. For instance, I have a relative who served honorably in Vietnam and doesn’t think twice about soaring around in helicopters, but turns to jelly at the mere thought of driving on a winding road.
Whereas some people quake at the idea of going up in an airplane, others parachute out of planes just for the heck of it. What’s more, they pay good money for the privilege. Go figure.
Aside from having to listen to political speeches and really scary movies, the thing that invariably brings out the yellow in my complexion is finding myself in a high place — be it a mountain top, a tall building or even the back of a horse. I’ve always said it’s probably a good thing that I’m short because if I were any taller, I’d probably get vertigo every time I stood up.
Otherwise, I am basically fearless. It’s not that I’m oblivious to the dangers that surround me, but that I’m aware that the odds are in my favor. For instance, living here in Los Angeles, I’m well aware that we’ve become world-famous for our home invasions, our pit bull attacks and our frequent freeway shootings. But there are several million of us potential victims out here and, therefore, I can’t help but like my chances.
And so far, so good.
Like everybody else, I keep hearing that the next earthquake will turn Nevada into a state with a coastline, but it seems like I’ve been hearing that for most of my life.
Part of my fearlessness, I acknowledge, is mostly a matter of temperament.
Maybe I suffer from a low metabolism. But some people seem to crave the drama of impending disaster, almost like a heroin junkie craves his needle. These are the people who were convinced that when the clock struck midnight ushering in the year 2000, the banks were going to crash, dogs were going to get up and walk around on their hind legs, and civilization, such as it is, was going to come tumbling down.
Such people, who seem to have Chicken Little as their role model, stocked up on a year’s supply of water, buried gold in their backyard, and armed themselves to the teeth just in case their friends and neighbors came sneaking over to swipe their powdered eggs.
I’m simply not the sort who panics. That’s not to say that I am entirely without contingency plans, just that they don’t involve Armageddon. For instance, being afraid of heights as I am, I’m a bit of a nervous Nellie when it comes to elevators. No sooner do I step inside one of those death traps then I begin picturing cables snapping overhead.
Having an option, I’ll usually use an escalator or take the stairs. But that’s not always feasible. So it is that I have formulated a plan just in case I should find myself in an elevator plummeting towards the basement. I intend to keep jumping. I figure if I’m in mid-air at the point of impact, I have a good chance of walking away intact.
Those of you who are scientifically-inclined and feel obliged to set me straight as to my chances of winding up as anything but a human flapjack will kindly keep it to yourselves.
Recently, I regret to say, I have had to add a second item to my list of fears. And, of all things, it’s my toothpaste. As a rule, I don’t wear my reading glasses when I’m brushing my teeth. But, as luck would have it, they were perched on my nose the other morning. Which was why, for the first time ever, I noticed there was a warning on my tube of Crest. In small, but bold letters, it said, “Keep out of reach of children under 6 yrs. of age.” Then in a smaller font, it stated, “If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”
I experienced a combination of very unpleasant emotions. First, I was confused by the change of font size. Was the entire warning directed towards little children? Were only they being warned of the lethal hazard because only they were likely to sit down and consume an entire tube of the stuff? But what about the children who are old enough to brush, but not old enough to read?
But, then, right on top of the confusion came fear. What if the change in lettering meant that even adults such as myself were at risk? How much was too much? And how soon is “right away”? And why are they sticking poison in toothpaste in the first place?
And in the second place, how can you tell until it’s too late that you’ve consumed too much? Wouldn’t it be like alcohol where people have different tolerance levels? And should we all have the local Poison Control Center on speed-dial just in case we forget to rinse? And is there anything a layman can do in case one of our loved ones, in a fit of despondency, decides to end it all by over-brushing?
I suppose the only good thing about such a tragedy is that at the funeral, people viewing the remains are likely to say, “He looks so life-like…and don’t his teeth look nice and shiny?”
Finally, if I can’t trust my toothpaste not to poison me, who or what can I trust?
Can I trust my fork not to poke me in the eye? How can I be certain that my shoes won’t jump in front of a truck? Does my dog really like me or is he just working on establishing an alibi before murdering me because I’ve put him on a diet?
There is of course a lesson to be learned from my tale of woe. Just as you should never run in the house carrying a pair of scissors and you should never do your own electrical work, you should never, but never, wear reading glasses in the bathroom.
A question for readers: what are you biggest fears?
Television writer Burt Prelutsky is the author of Conservatives Are From Mars, Liberals Are From San Francisco (101 Reasons Why I’m Happy I Left the Left).