Everybody’s scared of something.
I don’t care how big and bad you are — even if you crush empty beer cans on your forehead or spend your summer vacation in Montana wrestling grizzlies — there is something out there that makes your back hair stand at attention and your knees wobble worse than a 95-year-old drunk behind the wheel of a 30-year-old El Dorado.
To paraphrase 70s singer Jim Stafford, “you might not like spiders and snakes,” also known as arachnophobia and ophidiophobia, respectively. Maybe you have acrophobia — the fear of heights; xenophobia — the fear of foreigners; or perhaps even panphobia — the fear of everything.
There are several things I’m afraid of. I hate, hate, hate giving blood, as it makes me nauseous and prone to passing out like some girly man. I would never make it as a junkie. However, I did, with the help of 11 frozen margaritas, overcome my fear of needles on July 1, 1997, just long enough to get a tattoo on my shoulder at a semi-sleazy parlor in Savannah, Ga. Forever perched on my right shoulder I now have a bright red phoenix rising out of blazing orange flames, which are consuming the aforementioned date. The date that’s etched into my skin for eternity? It marks the day my divorce to my first wife was finalized.
You might say I was just a wee bit bitter.
My other big phobia, which I have also conquered to some degree — and without the consumption of alcohol — is the fear of water. This may strike some as ironic, as I am an avid fishermen who hits the rivers and lakes and ponds in the most unstable of all boats — a kayak. However, I’m not afraid of being on the water, but rather, in the water.
Like many, my water phobia can be traced to an incident that happened to me as a child; when I was only 4-years-old, my mother was giving me a bath while I was playing with my favorite toy — a battalion of tiny, purple, plastic Martians armed with ray guns and sporting antennae that were nearly as long as their little bodies. When the bath was over, Mom pulled the drain, and, catastrophically, all my plastic space men went down the pipe with the sudsy water. Mom says she can still, to this day, hear that terrible wail I let loose as I watched those miniature Martians sucked into the Lumberton sewage system.
I didn’t get over my fear of being in the tub with the plug pulled until early puberty.
My fear of water was also compounded through genetics; my mother has been terrified of taking a shower ever since she saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” — and its infamous Janet Leigh/Anthony Perkins slasher scene — at age 14. Even today, as she enters her sixth decade on this planet, she refuses to take a shower if there’s not someone in the house. If she’s alone, she takes a bath and then washes her hair in the sink. She’s even been known to bribe a hotel maid or two to stay in the room until she finishes her shower.
I too was influenced in my fear of water by a famous film. When I was 12, I saw “Jaws” at the theater and it changed my view of the ocean forever. You can spout off all the stats you want about it being far more likely that I’ll be killed by lightning or stabbed to death with pruning shears by my wife — or ex-wife — than be mutilated, spindled and folded by a man-eating shark; I refuse to go into the surf over my knees, and I even get nervous swimming in large lakes; after all, many sharks, especially the bull shark, have been known to adapt to fresh water. Who knows if some liquored up Bubba caught a baby tiger shark down in Cherry Grove, S.C. — which, I may add, still holds the world record for a tiger shark at 1,780 pounds, caught, coincidentally, the same year I was born, 1964 — and let it loose in Lake Waccamaw where it’s grown to gigantic proportions on a diet of largemouth bass and tossed watermelon rinds and is just waiting for me to fall off my water ski and into it’s ravenous jaws?
And then there are gators.
As someone who used to live within an hour’s drive of the Okeefenokee Swamp, I know a little something about this nation’s largest, reptilian predator. I used to pelt 10-foot gators with rocks to chase them out of my favorite fishing holes on the Altamaha River, so they’ve probably got some sort of contract out on me. Remember the old “candygram” skit on “Saturday Night Live” in which someone would knock on the door and say “candygram,” and Gilda Radner or Jane Curtain or Lorraine Newman would naively open the door only to be devoured by a “land shark?” I can see the same thing happening to me with a gator pounding on my door with his tail, yelling “pizza, hot pizza, get your pizza here,” or “supermodel here, who wants to date Heidi Klum?” I would, of course, answer the door, as no man can turn down sausage pizza or supermodels, where I would be greeted and grated by a walking alligator briefcase with 300 serrated teeth.
It’s just a matter of time.
And now, compounding my fear, is the discovery of giant squids washing up on the shores of Australia or being snagged by Japanese zoologists. The Beatles sang “eight arms to hold you” in their ditty “Eight Days a Week;” what about eight arms to crush you?
And you’re always reading about some fisherman in the Carolinas or Florida catching a pihrana in a local river or lake, most likely dumped there after it outgrew its aquarium. If these voracious fish can skeletonize a live cow in minutes, as Marlon Perkins gleefully informed us on “Wild Kingdom,” just think what a school of the critters can do to a live editor.
Want to know the worst of it? Despite my fears, I actually worked as a lifeguard for a summer at the Pinehurst Hotel — now known as the Carolina Hotel. There was an outdoor pool in which I played David Hassellhoff — albeit a mini-me Hassellhoff — while a not-quite-Pamela Anderson-looking-bartender served me free, frozen margaritas from the poolside cabana.
If anyone had gotten into serious trouble in that pool, I probably would have just waited until they sank to the bottom, then fished them out with the skimming net. It wouldn’t have been a totally lost cause though; I knew CPR, and I probably had enough alcohol on my breath to bring the crew of the Titanic back from the dead.
So, if you ever see me wearing a lifeguard’s whistle at White Lake or Jones Lake or Myrtle Beach, be afraid.
Be very, very afraid.
—Tim Wilkins is the editor/general manager of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached at 862-4163, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.