On Paper Tigers, Pink Dildoes, and Manholes

Ever since I was old enough to properly clutch a pack of Rolaids, I’ve been a nervous wreck. My fears have run the gamut. From some mild OCD about numbers, to full fright about being in the back of retail establishments, I’ve worked up a sweat about a lot of different shit.

I learned a lot during those times of my life. Biggest lesson of all? Don’t fail your fears, and your fears won’t fail you.

sumatran tiger - BMFTLIf you aren’t ready to handle the consequences that come with actively debunking your shit, if you aren’t prepared to stand tall and bitch-slap your paper tigers right in the face, you need to abide by their demands. Strictly, consistently, no mistakes. Stay home. Flip the light switch three times every time you walk by the fridge. Whisper, “I love God” whenever you feel evil. Don’t drink soda with a six on the can lot number. Do whatever it is you have to do. If you don’t, your anxieties, phobias, and compulsions will track you down. They will find you and exact a high price for your lack of dedication. They will fuck you up hardcore.

I started carrying the Rolaids everywhere when I was seven. I was terrified of getting sick. I didn’t want to puke and I didn’t want anyone else to puke. When I had them with me, I never threw up one time. Never saw anyone throw up either. Boom. Perfect. But after a few years, I got brash, overly confident, started running around without my Rolaids.  I thought I could get by without them, that I was just being a silly kid. That winter my brother and I both got the stomach flu.

I got it a day or two before him. By the time he yakked all over the kitchen table at dinnertime, I had been feeling better. That’s how the job of cleaning up Sal’s puke got delegated to me. I got the mop out, I got the bucket filled, I got to work on the big puddle of what looked like Tuna a la King. I never noticed the puke-chunk off to the side of that puddle, but it took me down. The heel of my shoe caught on it and I started to slide, losing one leg out from underneath me. I couldn’t grab onto anything fast enough to save myself and ended up doing the splits right into yak lake. I was wearing my sweet-ass cherry red school pants too. Tragedy. Should have had my Rolaids with me. I made it through though. Even the pants were recovered in the end. As awful as the experience was, I learned I could slip in my brother’s vomit and live. Important lesson.

In my twenties I decided I would travel alone. I was going to start small, a train trip. Figured it had to be a lot like driving, and I didn’t mind driving. I hopped on a train in California that made it to Nevada before the brakes failed. We got held up with repairs and three days later the porta-potty style toilets were starting to look full, I was still picking human hairs off my Amtrak issued blankets, and we still hadn’t made it to Chicago.

My uncle had given me a travel gift before I left. I didn’t open it until well in to the trip. I was savoring the anticipation. I thought it was sweet that he had given me something for my brave voyage. The box was a small and completely wrapped up in layers of duct tape. Nor surprising given his sophomoric sense of humor, but it was just months after 9/11 and no one had an issue with me bringing this suspicious looking package onto a train. When I did finally open it, inside one of the packed coach cars, I found a small can of Diamond brand roasted and salted almonds, a romance novel, and a neon pink dildo – batteries included. No amount of quick repacking of the box contents, or enthusiastic offers to share the almonds with those nearby, could spare me. People were taken aback. I was mortified. There aren’t a lot of places to hide an awful romance novel on a crowded train, but I made sure I kept it tucked away the rest of the trip.

The last meal served on that train was one that might have been fed to hostages. We were all assigned group numbers. Once your group was called, you were packed into the dining car and seated at the small tables bolted to the floor. Lukewarm plates of Dinty Moore beef stew were slid in front of each person, accompanied by a flimsy plastic spork.

By the time I got to Chicago, my connecting train to Boston was long gone. Amtrak put us all up in a hotel in the city for the night. Two men followed me from the lobby to my hotel room.  They wanted to know if I wanted to go down the street with them and have a drink. They knew a place. I declined and tried to settle into my room. There were broken tiles in the shower and a cracked mirror over the sink. The sliding glass door had a broken lock. I thought about the men that had a little trouble taking no for an answer earlier in the hallway. That night I slept for what felt like about four minutes, in the fetal position, clutching my purse under the lamplight from the nightstand and the glow of the television.

The next day I was so grateful to be given the last seat on a flight to Boston, I almost completely forgot that the train trip was partially borne out of a fear of flying. The plane didn’t crash. Claustrophobia didn’t stop my heart. I arrived safely and had a great visit. I also flew home.

manhole BMFTLNow we have Ms. Faal. She’s afraid to leave her house. For any reason. The article doesn’t really tell us why she did it anyway, but she did. And of course she promptly fell right down a goddamn manhole. We could speculate that it’s someone else’s fault for not properly capping the hole, she shouldn’t have been fucking around with pallets on the street, or that there was an equal chance that it could have happened to anyone else, but that’s bullshit. She broke the rules. She left the house. She paid.

If I could talk to Ms. Faal, or Faaaaaaaaaaaaal! as I like to refer to her, this is what I would tell her:

That’s the very kind of fuckery you’ve got to expect when you throw obsessive irrational levels of caution to the wind and tell the gods and goddesses of your fears to kiss your ass. Be ready. It’s not comfortable, it’s not always safe, at times it can lack dignity and involve flourescent colored dildos and falling into manholes, but you survived. You made it through. You can come out the other side of this stronger. You can take this in stride and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, be a more fearless, vibrant, take-no-shit version of yourself. You’ve got your potency and power back! Good for you!

You’ve got to hang on to as much of that as you can. Cling. Be vigilant. Make protecting it the new object of your obsessive compulsive desires. You will need all that power and courage to muster for the next time. There’s always a next time.