In Which I Evaluate Some Phobias


As this is a time of year to celebrate what scares us, let’s review some phobias.

The Fear that You Will Not Find Any Of These Greeting Cards Has The Right Tone to Send. The most common fear of all, outranking fears of death, falling to death, public speaking while dead, and dentistry while dead (receiving or performing). Take comfort. The last greeting card with the right tone was a Father’s Day card last sold in 1992. Just write something nice and apologize for the card being too flippant or too gushing and, I don’t know. Include some stickers or a ten-dollar bill or whatever. You’re fine.

The Fear that You Will Need To Handle The Toilet Paper While Your Hands Are Still Wet. It happens to us all, we’re in the shower, we need to something unsuitable for the shower, we have to face the consequences. Very good phobia, combining as it does a plausibly common scenario and an inconvenience we somehow take to be embarrassing. I’m not rating these, but seriously? Four out of five, unless you have that extra-soft toilet paper in which case five out of five.

The Fear of A Hole. Not the fear of any hole, mind, or the fear of particular patterns of holes like you see in morels or something. Just the fear of that one Hole. You know the one. But the world is huge, like, almost Earth-size. What are the odds you’ll ever be near that one Hole?

The Fear that You Know Something Almost Everybody Is Wrong About But Can’t Find The Blog Entry That Would Prove It. Endemic to know-it-alls, and terrible because then you feel this thing like shyness or reticence about correcting people. For me, this manifests with where I heard raindrops actually fall with the pointy-end down, round-end top, the opposite of the way we draw them. SEND HELP or at least good citations. Wikipedia doesn’t count.

The Fear that We are Running Out of Halloween Puns. Common and understandable. But we don’t need that many Halloween puns, and since there’s normally a fifty-week gap between times we need to use them, they’re not likely to be overused. If you do need some more, you can listen to some old-time-radio horror show like Inner Sanctum Mysteries and restock. They’ll be as good as new.

The Fear of Clowns. I am told this one is common and if that’s your thing, fine. I’m not feeling it, though. People will argue the point and say, like, isn’t the Pennywise the Clown from It scary? And, like, I guess so. But the scary thing is Pennywise is an immortal unstoppable supernatural monster out to rend the flesh of his victims. Would that be less scary if it were manifest in the form of Bob Newhart? And now that I’ve said that I’d like to see it. I figure it would have to go something like this:

“Hey — hi? Hi, up there? I — no, look down. No, not — over here, in the drain. … Yeah, the sewer. Hi. Uh, you look like a nice kid, what’s your name? … Joey? … Geordie, sorry, I thought you said … oh. Joey. … Not Joey. Could you say it slowly? … Yeah, maybe if you spell — look, Geordie, Joey, whatever … hey, would you — well, I’m in the drain for good reasons. … All right, I’m in the sewer for good reasons. … … What are they? … … Well, uh … they … hey, have you ever tried going in the drain? I don’t mean that kind of going! I mean entering, visiting in the drain. Have it your way, the sewer. Yeah. It’s better than you’d think. … No, I said think, not stink … okay, yes, have … have your little giggle. Yes, it’s very funny … I mean, it’s not that fun … Look, would you like to come down here and I can … give you a toy boat and, uh, rip your arm off and maybe give you a balloon. What? Repeat that? Give you a balloon. See? … Oh, before that … ah, there was a toy boat … Between those? Between the toy boat and the balloon … … … Look, it’s really neat down here, I promise. … Like, we all float down here. Jo … Geor … Sport-o, you’re a kid. Kids like to float, right? … … Well, yeah, it is mostly a lot of water here in the drain. … Yes, in the sewer. … Yeah, pretty much everybody floats in any water. Well, you got one over on ol’ PennyBob there … uh … hey, Georbie(?) … Are there any other kids up there? Could you put one of them on, please? … … … … He — Hello?”

All right, yeah, that is less scary. The clown thing must count for something.

I do not recommend any of these be put on a Phobia Improvement Plan.

A Greeting


Oh, hello there, intrusive thought about that time in US History 1945 – Present (512:335) back in 1993 when I fumbled trying to make my point and came out sounding fantastically and even fanatically naive. How long has it been since you took over all my cognitive skills? Has it been four — no, no, you’re right, it’s only been three and a half hours. Good to see you again. Thanks. You’re going to be visiting through next Thursday? Great, great, really glad for that. Thanks.

Also Alarming Me, These Days


We’ve got a pen that’s missing its cap. It hasn’t done any of the unauthorized pen activities that a capless pen might do, such as dry out or draw all over the tablecloth or something. But still, it’s sitting there and making me over eight percent more anxious than you imagine it would make me. We need to add some kind of alarm system for this contingency. If we had an automatic system worrying about this then I wouldn’t have to do anything about it.

A marker pen sitting out, without a cap, on the tablecloth.
Also, while picking up a coffee mug that was right at the edge of the table I managed to knock over the glass that was in the center.

In Which I Explain My Work-Related Anxieties


Me, thinking: “So, in a Star Trek style universe you kind of have every intelligent, spacegoing species having that thing it’s best at. Like, Vulcans are the best at logic. Zakdorns are the best strategists. Klingons are the best at hollering at fake swords. Deltans are the best at 70s-style sexy sex sexing. Ferengi are the best at sounding like YouTube commenters. Pakleds are the best at making everyone else feel better about their own abilities but also kinda awful for feeling like that. Cardassians are the best at honeypot intelligence sting operations luring Federation spies into captivity. But how far does this specialization go? Like, is there a species that’s the best at practical jokes? A species that’s the galaxy’s greatest prank-phone-callers? A species of unmatchable pumpkin-carvers? The quadrant’s naturally greatest bird-watchers? The best house-cleaners in the known reaches of space? A species that’s the go-to people for watching old game show episodes while sighing and feeling like they can never be as happy as that first year out of college again? A species that’s unmatchable in their ability to read Wuthering Heights? A species that just draws the best comics? A species that’s the greatest at actually watching DVDs from the library before it’s time to return or renew them? A people who can make microwave hot chocolate taste the least weird that it can possibly taste?”

Also me, thinking: “Have I checked my work e-mail this week?”

How The 11:00 Conference Call Turns Out


10:45. You set your cell phone on the table. Turn it on. Stare at it anxiously.

10:55. Wonder if there’s enough time to read all of TrekBBS before the call starts.

11:00. Watch entire minute pass without the phone ringing.

11:01. Elation: you have avoided being called into the conference call. Elation gone when you remember they probably haven’t excused you from the call, they’re just saving up to have you be even more in the conference call.

11:04. Realize that you have a need to go to the bathroom more intense and more urgent than any other need you have ever felt in my life. It’s the way you might feel the need to move your foot if it were underneath the rear tire of a truck holding a lump of neutron star, although with less of the mass of three Jupiters pressing down on your foot and more a wondering if you could hear the phone from all the way in the bathroom.

11:10. Wonder if they’ve forgotten you.

11:15. Send e-mail to someone supposed to be in the conference call to see if they’ve forgotten you. Kind of hope that they have, except that might encourage ideas of maybe they don’t need you for non-conference-call things. Wonder if maybe you should’ve been running March Madness pools so they’d want you around for that at least. It’s desperately far from March. It’d look odd if you started talking up next year’s anytime before June 22nd. The conference call will probably be settled by then.

11:25. Phone rings. This call is to warn you the real call is running about a half-hour late but they didn’t want you to worry.

11:32. You’re worried.

11:38. It may be preferable to explode from bathroom-related needs than wait for the call.

11:40. They call. The conference call is starting, except two of the participants have to finish up other calls that have been going since the late Middle Ages. These calls are cherished, handed down from a long line of mid-level management, to be someday handed down to levels of mid-level management not yet imagined. They cannot be discharged or dismissed lightly. You might be on hold. Suddenly you appreciate hold music: listening to something you don’t want to listen to provides reassurance that you are remembered to exist by telephone systems that are not aware you exist.

11:43. Everyone is able to talk with everyone else and would like to explain how glad they are that everyone else is glad to be there, and doing well, and all agree that it’s been far too long since we had a chat like this, and we’re looking forward to the way we’ll smooth out a couple of little issues.

11:46. The conference call enters that condition of being pretty much the same as guiding your parents through updating their digital camera’s device drivers only your boss is listening in.

12:02. The phrase “the button marked SUBMIT in the upper right corner” is proven to be either intolerably vague or to not refer to anything the other people on the call have ever seen.

12:05. logmein is summoned.

12:07. Emergency e-mails to people who thought they were going to lunch already establish that logmein would have worked except we had the password wrong, the capitalization wrong, and some kind of domain thing wrong.

12:18. You apologize for needing to step away for a moment, which they take to mean that you need the bathroom, which you do, but you use the moment to step outside and berate a chipmunk who proves to have a perfectly good understanding of the limits of Ajax-enabled web technology blah blah blah and why yes, it does have to have Internet to work.

12:29. All agree this has been about the greatest and most productive conference call since the idea of communication began and we’ve done enough of it, and hang up before anyone can suggest otherwise.

1:04. You emerge from the curled-up ball of yourself that was underneath the table weeping.

2:45. You finish editing the things you needed to get out of the conference call into a series of four questions, e-mailed to the other main party, with the explanation you need to know which of the two options for each question they want before you can do anything.

Three Days Later, 9:15. The e-mail is returned with the note, “That’s great, exactly that! Thanx for understanding.”

Eight Days After That, 3:23. The suggestion is floated that maybe we just need one more conference call to sort it all out.

Why I Shouldn’t Run A Department Store


I don’t see that I’m in any imminent danger of having to run a department store, even a discount department store, but I sometimes worry about being put in charge of personnel management of one, like I think most of us do. I’m thinking that if I ever do have to pick who to hire for one, though, that I’d go looking for people who had been convicted of shoplifting in the past, because that way I’ll know that if any of my employees do start stealing stuff, we’ll see them.

That’s a terrible reason to hire someone, of course. But there’s other benefits to hiring the most incompetent shoplifters you can find, by which I’m thinking of break room stories. Imagine overhearing, like, “Oh, man, I was totally trying to shift that 42-inch flatscreen from electronics to the back room, then into my friend’s car, but we got the timing all crossed up and instead swiped the futon out of my apartment and set it up as an endcap in children’s vitamins.” Wouldn’t you like to see a department store run with the goal of making things like that happen? No, of course not, and my pointing out how I would run things means I should be safe from any corporate headhunters looking to catch me by surprise and put responsibility for an Jamesway or a Steinbach’s on my shoulders. I can’t take that kind of pressure.