The Fear Factory

fearI was thinking about childhood fears the other day. Yes — I’m kind of fun like that.

It happened when I was looking at some old family photos and came across this gem from a visit to SeaWorld:


What the heck even is it?   What is  that growth on his face and why is he wearing a captain’s uniform?  I can’t believe I got that close to it – my brother must have double-dog dared me.

Fear is a funny thing when you’re a child.  You fear a lot of things – but usually not the things that are likely to actually cause harm.  I remember I was afraid of clowns,  spiders, storm drains, and Peggy – the scary, fat neighbor lady who was always yelling at her kids  and whose house smelled really, really bad.

Death was also a pretty big fear, although I didn’t know that much about it other than I was pretty sure it would hurt – a lot.  In my single digit years, I was convinced that when death came for me, it would likely arrive in one of the following packages:

Piranhas : Like so many unfortunate incidents from my childhood – I blame my brother.  He would spend  hours watching episodes of Speed Racer.  From my observations of the more murdery version of NASCAR that they apparently enjoyed in Japan, I quickly learned that finned killers could be lurking in virtually any body of water.

A face not even a mother could love

You could be taking a dip in the local lake, crossing a trickling stream, or even taking a bubble bath, and suddenly – like zombie synchronized swimmers – they would pounce. Thirty seconds of roiling water and blood-curdling screams later, and all that would remain of you would be your bones, picked clean and bobbing on the water’s surface like scattered pieces of white-washed driftwood.

Quicksand: Slate journalist Daniel Engbar tracked every appearance of quicksand in film. (Don’t ask why, just be grateful.) According to him, I grew up during quicksand’s peak era – the 1960’s – when 1 out of every 35 movies featured it in some way. You’d think, based on its popularity, that we were losing people by the thousands to this granular menace.

quicksand1Of course, any wily yet wary child who has ever gone exploring — whether it be deep in the Amazon jungle or in the slightly creepy woods behind a suburban cul-de-sac — is always on the lookout for danger. What appeared to be a puddle of mud only a few inches deep, might actually turn out to be a bottomless vortex of death . It was common knowledge that – once in the quicksand’s grasp – no one could save you. The more you struggled, the deeper you’d sink, until finally just your panama hat would remain, sitting – an ominous farewell – atop your makeshift grave.

Apparently, B.C. stood for “Babe Central”

Hot Lava: Again ( an ongoing theme here ) movies fed this particular fear. To be more specific, 1 Million Years B.C. did. Back when prehistoric cave women looked like a ridiculously hot Raquel Welch in a perfectly ripped animal-skin bikini. Back when caveman fought dinosaurs, even though dinosaurs were extinct over 60 million years before the first humans ever joined the party. And – as if constantly battling dinosaurs and other prehistoric tribes didn’t suck enough – they also had volcanoes and their pent up anger issues to deal with. At any time, hot magma could envelope vast swaths of the earth’s surface, indiscriminately taking out any living thing in its path.

I remember facing a similar fate . Surprisingly, it was a common childhood occurrence – usually when my brother and I were extremely bored. The floor of the living room would suddenly transform into a churning sea of molten lava. It could kill you in a literal hot second, but (as long as your Mom didn’t yell at you to stop messing up the room ),  we  knew that by leaping from sofa to coffee table to scattered cushions to chairs, we’d remain safe from the seething cauldron of rust colored shag carpet below us.

Flying Monkeys:
Flying Monkeys were also at the top of my list, because  – duh…The Wizard of Oz. Granted, I never witnessed them actually kill anything, but they certainly did a good job of dismembering the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, which wflyingmonkeyas pretty brutal to watch as a child. The Wicked Witch’s minions were also horrifying for several other reasons. They were blue, and wore red lipstick, which was weird. They dressed like cute little organ grinder monkeys in their caplets and fez hats, but anyone could tell by looking at them that those were apes, baby. Oh yeah… and they could fucking fly. Need I say more?

Bees 101 – Keep your mouth closed

Killer Bees — The horrifying, yet inevitable arrival of killer bees was a frequently invoked fear throughout my childhood. Scientists genetically engineered these stinging mofos in Brazil back in the 1950’s to produce more honey. And then … like what always happens in every scary movie  or book — when will we ever learn?… Oops! Some idiot let them escape.

I figured the killer bees would arrive in a massive black cloud darkening the Southern California sky, preceded by an ominous, buzzing rumble like thunder. People would run screaming for cover, bees mercilessly dive-bombing them like kamikaze pilots. Nothing could stop them. I shuddered at every news update of their relentless migration north – reporters breathlessly describing various killer bee sightings like they were witnessing the Rapture. It might take weeks, months, or years — but I knew that they were coming. And apparently they were extremely pissed.

Army Ants: Like Killer Bees, Army Ants’ strength is in their sheer numbers. The ant’s individual capacity for self sacrifice is its strongest suit of armor, when it embarks upon the take-no-prisoners, military operation of relocating a restless queen. When these ants are on the march, they are a moving river of black death. Anything that stands in their way gets devoured in short order. I don’t know about you, but I’d take one good chomp to the jugular over a thousand stinging nibbles any day.

Come on Chuck – we all know that you were a big NRA guy, but a gun is not that useful here…

I remember watching The Naked Jungle with Charlton Heston. In the movie, his character desperately tries to protect his Cocoa Plantation from a 2 mile wide, 20 mile long column of these vicious marauders. Watching the movie, all I could think about was what kind of moron decides to homestead in the Brazilian jungle? Apparently the same guy who didn’t realize he never left earth and isn’t actually on an alien ape planet, and the same guy who didn’t realize that a food called Soylent Green is probably not made from anything remotely related to soy, and might even be jankier than hot dogs.   Next time, I would suggest buying a sugar cane plantation in Hawaii, instead of opting for the Darwin special, Captain Dumb Ass.

These days, I’m almost 100% sure my demise will not come from any of my childhood fears — although they could separately, and especially in unison,  be the makings of one truly epic obituary.

The only volcanic eruption I ever experienced was with teenage acne.

I couldn’t find a recent recorded case of death by quicksand unless <insert any politician’s name here> drowning in their own bullshit counts.

The last time a flying monkey scared me was  a year ago in Costa Rica, when they were howling in the tree tops overhead and flinging their feces at me and some other hapless tourists. Not fun, but not exactly life threatening either.

Killer bees? There have been approximately 1,000 deaths since the late 1950’s. Nothing to sniff at, but as far as I know, they haven’t descended like a biblical plague quite yet.

Piranhas—meh. Maybe one death is reported a year, but even that number may just be manufactured publicity for the next Syfy channel movie starring Lorenzo Lamas as a hunky marine biologist and Tiffany as an esteemed scientist researching genetic mutations in fish .

As far as I can tell, after reading my list,  the only thing  I actually have to fear is Brazil.  Quicksand? Check. Volcanoes? Check. Monkeys? Check. Killer Bees and Army Ants? Check, check.

Brazil – you apparently have all of my childhood bases covered. We can all agree that Carnival, your spectacular butts, and a never ending supply of Victoria Secret Angels earns you a certain amount of goodwill from the folks up north. But really — enough is enough. Time to stop scaring little children.



My Six Year Old Self