Fear Itself

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And, of course, the boogieman.”
—Pat Paulsen
My car was wearing more dirt than a pitcher’s mound the other day, so I decided the time was apt to run it through a car wash. After selecting the $8.99 Super-Duper, Bubbler-Scrubber, Master-Blaster—with wax—I began to inch the car forward.

Suddenly my passenger—a guy named Joe—spoke up and grabbed for the car door. “I’m getting out,” he said shakily. “I’ll meet you on the other end.” He leapt out and left me to ride solo through the car wash.
Climbing back in afterward, Joe sheepishly apologized. “I’ve always been freaked out by automatic car washes,” he said. “I’m not all that crazy about the Great Wolf Lodge either.”

Joe can’t remember when he first became phobic about such things, but he thinks it may have stemmed from childhood when his older brother stuffed him into a washing machine and turned it on. “I guess you could say I became quite agitated.”

Joe’s fear has a name: Amaxohydraclaustrophia. (The condition sometimes also triggers a fear of long words—which is an actual phobia called sesquipedalophobia.)

Joe’s phobia breaks down like this: Amaxo—fear of being inside a car; hydra—fear of water; and claustro—fear of being in a confined or small space.

I’ve got that one: Claustrophobia. At least I think I do. I remember as a kid trying to crawl through the opening of a narrow drainpipe after my playmates had preceded me. But something stopped me from getting through. Was it claustrophobia? Or was it my large rear-end? I never knew for sure.

The technical definition of a phobia is “an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of particular objects or situations.” Of course a healthy fear of certain things make sense.

Like if a wild dog attacked you. Or a lion. Or consumer TV reporter Jesse Jones.

It’s when a fear seriously disrupts your life that it becomes a full-fledged phobia.

Like an enochlophobic person that never can go to a Seahawks game because of their fear of crowds. And perhaps they also have the fear of loud noise: ligyrophobia. Not to mention the fear of high-priced stadium food: gouge-o-phobia.

There’s the ichthyophobic fellow whose fear of fish forces him to steer clear of Ivar’s.

And the ablutophobiac—who has a fear of washing and bathing. This is particularly common in eight-year old boys.

But true phobias are not funny. Especially to people with geliophobia—the fear of laughter. This is just the opposite of a comedian’s fear: sedatephobia, the fear of silence.

My aunt had a life-long fear of frogs (batrachophobia)—and was so freaked about every frog from bull to green—that she couldn’t stand anything remotely connected to them. That included toads, salamanders and newts. (She couldn’t bear hearing the name of former house speaker Gingrich. Plus she had a strong dislike for the French.)

My mom’s fear of snakes was so great that she couldn’t even watch a TV show that featured one. Her dislike of everything wiggly even extended to caterpillars and earthworms. And I can never remember her fixing a meal of spaghetti.

I remember once taking my dad to a pro basketball game late in his life. As we made ourselves to seats up high in the stands, he suddenly froze and announced he could go no farther. That’s when I discovered that he had a crippling fear of heights (acrophobia). He stood 6 feet 6 inches tall—so I couldn’t help wondering how he could even bear to stand up.

Turns out it all stemmed from an incident from his childhood when he nearly fell off a waterfall—and hung 100 feet by one hand until his dad came along to rescue him. He was afraid of heights ever since. Still, it never kept him from repeatedly telling a silly joke: “I have a fear of giant ogres,” he would say. “I have Fee-fi-phobia.”

As for me, I tell my kids I’m afraid of eating artificial Vietnamese noodle soup: Faux-pho-phobia.
They like Grandpa’s joke better, I fear.