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Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself Redux

THE ONLY THINGS I've really been afraid of is Clorox, boredom and being afraid. Any of you who run a home know what I mean about Clorox. It is insidious and destructive. One spot of it can ruin a dark, expensive garment, eat through porous surfaces and rot others. As for boredom, those of you who have personalities that require constant entertainment and stimulation can relate.

Being afraid of boredom is the reason I live in New York City where it is your own fault if you are bored. Up until now everything has been pretty much under control in the fear of fear department. But, a week ago Tuesday my fear of fear kicked in. Being of cheerful mien and optimistic nature I believed fervently, as did my solid German-American ancestors, "Don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles you." Now, after the nation's 911 disaster I am surrounded with people troubling trouble and "what if-ing" themselves into a mental state that requires triple-sheet relief.

Yesterday on Oprah - yes, time stops around here when Oprah has something interesting going on - after all, she has a highly paid staff to search out and present what we make a living examining - the national Zeitgeist. It usually involves what Oprah views as universal low self-esteem among women but that's okay. Someone has to tell women that the size of their thighs really isn't worth the thought they give them. Her guest this time were two pretty young Florida women who, though they admitted they led self-involved lives, had failed the do something about the two quiet young men who lived in their condo complex. These two men never spoke to the women even when they passed in the breezeway or parking lot. They went about their business of being whatever they were as was their right. Then their faces popped up in the newspapers as the WTC highjackers. These two women were suffering terrible guilt. They agonized about their futures, said they couldn't sleep, cried all the time and couldn't eat. That's troubling trouble and making oneself afraid of being afraid.

I have an otherwise reasonably sane friend who kayaks on the Hudson River in the shipping channel, dates a series of socially dangerous men and has traveled alone through parts of the world that have no plumbing. She is convinced that someone is going to drop a light bulb filled with anthrax or some such killing substance into a car of the F train she rides to work. This week she has been taking cabs. That's troubling trouble and being afraid of being afraid.

I know someone else who works on the 64 floor of the Empire State Building. You need not ask what her problem is. No matter how I try to convince her that a plane isn't going to crash into her office at coffee break she won't listen. She is afraid of being afraid.

Here is where my fear of being afraid kicks in:

Up until 911 I would have said the same thing to anyone who worked in the World Trade Center.

Something absolutely impossible and crazy and scary as hell has happened to us all and it makes me afraid of being afraid. I have always believed the odds on lightening striking, planes crashing, manholes opening up under foot are on my side. When my husband got on a plane to go to Hong Kong or London or Moscow, I knew he would make it there and back. No problemo. When a son decided to drive back and forth across the country at break neck speed I considered it an adventure for him and in no way a threatening or worrisome event. When anyone I love goes for a medical checkup I just assume everything is going to be okay and all they need is to lose weight.

Having friends who are afraid doesn't help. Neither does the TV. Seeing our mighty armed forces leaving for places unknown, getting E mail from our E mail army here at LDot from folks who live near air bases and naval installations reporting the nonstop activity doesn't either.

What is rattling is not being able to picture who and what they are racing off to destroy. All we're ever shown is a gaggle of malnourished, rag wearing men with scruffy beards standing around leaning on sticks with rocks in the background. Occasionally we see them piling onto an ancient bus groaning under roof top bundles of more rags. This is an army? This is mustered and armed troops?

Strobe Talbott tells us that these are the oppressed and starving, of that I have no doubt. Yet, their leader wears monogrammed Gucci shirts and has his shoes made from a mold of his feet in a schnitzy shop on Bond Street in London. He and his 30 or so brothers went to schools like Harvard and own co-ops in downtown Boston. His advance, shock troops lived in our country for years, bought and drank Johnny Walker Blue and spend considerable time stuffing twenties into the G-strings of hard working girls in a Florida equivalent of the Bada Bing Club.

I don't know. I'm confused. Where is their headquarters? Where's their flag? What's their national anthem? We are told they are a generation of unattached, dangerously bored young men with nothing to lose and seventy black eyed virgins to gain if they wrap their hips in grenades and walk into the Starbucks at West 86th and Broadway, their fingers on the pin. And, after 911 such an event could happen.

It's a terrible new world out there but we've all got to live in it. Our leaders are right. If we don't, these strange new subhumans have occupied our land and captured us. So, here is what I can control.

I can simply not bring any more Clorox home and let my whites just yellow - no biggie. I can carefully avoid situations and people when the real threat of boredom looms and rent a movie. I think, if I really put my mind to it I can control being afraid of being afraid. I think I'll start by turning off the TV. Then, I'll call a couple of friends who refuse to be afraid and just hang with them until I know who and where these nut cases are. If they are right here, I'll deal with that then. If I don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles me I won't be afraid of being afraid.

Lucianne Goldberg

-- Anonymous, September 20, 2001

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