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.

If I Were To Find Myself On The Constitution-Writing Committee


I got back to thinking of my old childhood fear. I mean the one I wrote about last week. The one caused by my misunderstanding. I mean about parliamentary governments. Back when I didn’t understand the difference between “the government has fallen” in a parliamentary government and “the government has fallen” in any given Latin American country that had decided a United States corporation should pay a tax, prompting the United States to send in some helpful young men with guns who would correct their mistake. But as a kid I misunderstood when I heard how Italy had, at that point, had more governments than years since World War II. Got the background?

So here’s what I said, describing what the young me thought about all this:

I tried to imagine how you could write even that many different constitutions. If I were on the constitution-writing committee of the Provisional Government I’d run out of ideas of what to even do differently. About four governments in I’d start submitting what we used three Republics ago and hope nobody noticed. I’d be so scared I forgot to update the number and someone would ask me why this was the Constitution for the 52nd Italian Postwar Republic when we were on the 54th.

And then just today I realized what I should do, in that case. I should look at the person who noticed me reusing the old constitution and say, “You’re wrong!” (In Italian, if I spoke Italian, although if they’ve put me on the Constitution-writing committee they’re probably willing to put up with some of my eccentricities, like not being able to speak Italian and being very afraid that the restaurant staff resents the way I said “gnocchi”.) “This is the 56th Italian Postwar Republic!” Or 57th, or whatever. Any number that wouldn’t be either of our Republic counts. The point would be to confuse the matter about just how many Republics there had been. Ideally, my accuser would realize it’s so very easy to lose track of how many governments we’ve been on, and demonstrate sympathy. Or if there were several people accusing me, we might get a good argument going between them about the count. Maybe I’d say it was the 58th. I could sneak out in the confusion.

Ah, well. It’s decades since I’ve had to worry about this particular scenario, now that I know a little more of parliamentary governments. But it’s always nice to work out what you should have said in a situation however long it takes. The French have a word for it, l’esprit de l’escalier, which is three or arguably five words. I don’t know what the Italians call it. You’d think something in Italian, but what the heck, I call it something in French. And I don’t want to brag about the two years in middle school and two years in high school I spent learning French. But when I was in France for a week a couple years ago, you know who got us successfully through every social interaction? My love, who had a couple years of Spanish in high school. All I could do was affirm that the convenience store with the really great four-cheese paninis was closed on Tuesday even though its name was 24/7. All I could suggest is that maybe they meant to promise the store was open three and three-sevenths of the days of the week. There was something we weren’t understanding, and it was in French.

Also the long-time reader may have started to suspect I don’t have any life-coping strategies besides “create a distraction” and maybe “hide underneath the bed”. This isn’t so. Hiding under the bed is a privilege I temporarily have because we had a rabbit who quite liked rooting around under there and we wanted to have a chance of accessing her in case we needed to. When I talk about handling something by hiding under the bed, I am talking about hiding metaphorically underneath an allegorical bed. And good luck finding me there. I don’t even promise that there is such a thing as a bed, and I’m not sure I want to confirm to any of you that I’m here, either. I am also able to procrastinate until I can write a thoughtful enough memo, which is different from merely creating a distraction because I will either get to a point you admit is good or I’ve gotten all literary in this discussion about how to set up Microsoft IIS.

In any case, I am content to have this ancient fear resolved, and what have you done this week that was nearly as good?

Belarus Diplomat Delivers Warning From Dream World


I want to thank whoever at Reuters created this headline, because it’s one of the best I’ve seen in ages:

Belarus diplomat worries topless, mayo-throwing women could disrupt U.N.

Specifically, in a discussion about opening up the Conference on Disarmament discussions to the general public the Belarus delegate worried about what this could do to security and allegedly, according to the official summary, said, “What if there were topless ladies screaming from the public gallery throwing bottles of mayonnaise”. Reuters doesn’t say what the answer was, but then, what kind of answer could you give besides “hope the sergeant-at-arms hasn’t run out of catsup”? The correct answer was given by Mexico’s representative: since the public was already allowed to attend plenary sessions, “in theory [they] could already drop mayonnaise onto delegates”. Also there were only two people watching right now, anyway.

Actually, Reuters doesn’t even say who the Belarus delegate was, so I can’t swear that this isn’t entirely a prank put in to see if anybody’s reading the summaries. But if it did happen, then, I have to suppose that Belarus has gotten a warning from the dream world about a future in which Disarmament Conferences are held much closer to a Roy Rogers’ Fixin’s Bar, which is good news for the people trying to bring the Roy Rogers franchise back from being just four stands in service plazas on the New Jersey Turnpike. It just feels like the sort of thing you wouldn’t fear unless you had some specific reason to, though, doesn’t it?

Yet I can’t help feeling a little sad. I can’t convince myself that the guy from Belarus wasn’t making a really sly, snarky joke — I mean, the specificity of topless women with mayonnaise is suggestive — and then Mexico’s guy didn’t realize it and answered flatly. If that’s the case I hope the Belarus guy just went home with that smug feeling that comes from making a joke so deadpan that nobody realizes you’re joking.

Fear of What Have You


I don’t know when it was online advertising figured that the biggest possible selling point was to show a picture of nobody particular and declare that some big and somewhat annoying organization, like auto insurers, fears him. I’d like to know how this got to be so popular; I imagine someone went around to advertising agencies saying marketing directors feared him. Now I saw one that says grocery stores fear him, and I just can’t help but think: boy, there seems to be some kind of subject/verb disagreement in “… some big and somewhat annoying organization, like auto insurers, fears him”. All my normal methods of studying this don’t seem to give me a satisfying answer. If I strike “like auto insurers” then the sentence reads perfectly well, but I want to put some example in, and the proximity of “insurers” and “fears” looks like a number mismatch even if I keep reassuring myself that it isn’t, and that’s keeping me up nights. But I can’t change that to say it’s “an auto insurer” fearing him because I don’t know an auto insurer that fears him. I don’t even know who he is. I feel like I should take the sentence out back and diagram it. I’m scared to try.