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Archive for the ‘phobia’ Category

Flying in air-planes is unnatural. So is jumping out of them, or falling off a bridge on the end of an elastic band, or base jumping, which I take it is some form of sport whereby you jump off a cliff into a black abyss below and hope your parachute opens before you make a ‘you shaped’ impression on the rocks four miles down. It reminds me of the old adage “if God wanted us to fly we would all have propellers and a Boeing engine strapped to our butts”. I mean – how bizarre is it that we willingly ascend to 36,000 feet [the height of Everest without the snow, ice, Yetis and frozen bodies] and sit there watching a movie with a drink in our hand while we whiz across the continent held up only by air. Think about it. At least in a boat you will keep on floating even if the engines cut out, but a 747 out of gas over Gander – oh my.

 

I was on a flight from Oahu to Maui once listening to the flight attendant extol the virtues of the airline and the fact that in all of their 20 years flying between the Hawaiian Islands they had never had a crash. Now – I’m no mathematician, in fact I have to take my shoes off to count to twenty, but doesn’t that mean, statistically speaking of course, that we were just about due to plunge in a flaming ball into the sea at any time now? Too bad planes can’t fly ten feet in the air – or at least no higher than the nearest telephone pole. I don’t know about you but I would feel a whole lot safer. And if they could put an automatic vodka dispenser in the back of the seat in front of me that would go a long way to calming my nerves too. Mind you, I once got my nerves so fortified with alcohol combined with Gravol [please don’t try this at home] on a flight to St. Lucia that I had to spend the first four days of my holiday hovering over a Caribbean toilet and the second four laying in the sand under a palm tree groaning.

 

There is also a big difference between commercial pilots of the ‘Air Canada’ type and commercial pilots of the ‘Caribbean Island Hopper’ type, many of whom were no doubt trained on float planes with one float missing over the jungles of Brazil. One such pilot carried me and a dozen others across the sea to an island off Barbados once. The plane itself was painted bright purple with orange flowers and the pilot was dressed in a t-shirt with a picture of Che Guevara on the front. This should have given me some pause but I was in a holiday mood brought on by several large rum and cokes. Now, if you have ever flown in an Air Canada jet you will know that the pilot taxis the aircraft carefully out to the end of runway seven left and politely waits his turn to rev up the engines and proceed at the correct speed to achieve lift-off. Not so with Caribbean Queen Airlines. We were barely in our seats before the pilot gunned it down the taxi-way, popped a wheelie onto the runway and roared off into space vertically. And the minute the wheels left the tarmac and we were ascending at an angle of 85 degrees the flight attendant hopped out of her seat and started liberally dispensing drinks from the trolley that she pushed ahead of her up the incline with outstretched arms and heels dug into the carpet. There were lots of takers.

 

Airports in the Caribbean don’t bear much resemblance to LAX or YYZ either. Many of them, because there’s not a lot of room for runways, cross the islands diagonally and have open sea at either end sometimes combined with steep hills and cliffs, with the result that the pilot has to navigate at near stalling speed and just the right angle of attack through what appears to be a very narrow opening. There is not much room for errors in judgment because the reef waits at either end. The airport on the island of Contra Dora is like that [off the coast of Panama] and so is the airport at St. Lucia. The other problem is that relatively few aircraft use the runways unlike La Guardia for instance that handles hundreds of aircraft arriving and leaving every 30 seconds or so day and night. In St. Lucia when I was there, which was admittedly quite a few years ago, the locals used the main runway as a thoroughfare to get from one side of Castries to the other. There were kids and adults, sheep and goats strolling here and there among the palm trees and the hibiscus until a warning klaxon started blaring and everyone scattered scant seconds before the island hopper appeared and screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust beside the terminal. I didn’t find that all that disturbing but what I did find slightly unsettling was the sight of the rusty old pump-action fire engine with the flat tires parked in front of the cemetery handily located on the edge of the cliff right before the runway dropped off into the sea.

 

At one time I worked at a major airport and therefore was witness to a number of ‘incidents’ that the general public would never know about. These usually involved leaking jets of the ‘Russian Airlines’ type that were made to park well away from the main terminals surrounded by very large yellow fire-trucks with their hoses at the ready just in case. In general however working at the airport gave me a great deal of confidence in the safety procedures and protocols that exist in Canada. Did you know for example that there are vast underground operations rooms that track and monitor each and every aircraft landing and taking off in addition to the state of the art control towers and the air and ground NavCan systems. Always practicing and prepared for any emergency there are people working around the clock to make sure no disaster ever occurs in Canada. The knowledge makes ‘white knucklers’ like me sleep better the night before a flight but it still can’t beat the odd rum and coke – or even better – a large dose of Valium. If God had meant us to fly and all that….

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Do you suffer from irrational fears or phobias? Well – many of them are not all that irrational. Fear of flinging yourself off a tall building is probably not irrational, neither is fear of jumping in front of a moving train, or fear of leaping out of an air-plane sans parachute. But I’m talking about those kinds of fears that have no explanation; fears so bizarre that even the sufferer finds them ridiculous. I was watching a TV show one morning that dealt with that very subject. I think it was Springer or Maury or Oprah – no it couldn’t have been Oprah – maybe it was Doctor Phil. Anyway, this program dealt with people who not only suffered from the common or garden fears i.e. fear of clowns, fear of falling through the cracks in the sidewalk, fear of kittens, stepping into a pit of vipers that sort of thing, but did you know that there are people who are terrified of cotton balls? Cotton balls! It must be really easy to rob that woman – just come at her with a cotton ball. Someone else was scared of being attacked by teddy-bears. Would that be assault with a cuddly weapon? Sorry.

 

It started me thinking about my own irrational fears. By the way there is apparently a difference between a fear and a phobia but I’m too lazy to look it up so let’s just use ‘fear’ as a blanket term – although I guess turning the light switch off and on 40 times before leaving a room and patting the dog 10 times and not 20, and putting your underwear on backwards for luck probably falls in the phobia league, unless you are also scared to death of light switches. Fear of flying is probably a phobia while fear of being sucked to your death out of the window during depressurization is probably a fear – and a big one. And that reminds me of the movie Snakes on a Plane, have you seen that one? It has an entirely valid premise. The bad guys sneak a huge crate containing about a zillion venomous snakes plus a forty-foot boa constrictor on to a plane to polish off the good guys, right under the unsuspecting noses of the baggage handlers. Airport security must be going to pot at that airport. When certain flowers come into bloom right in the middle of the flight and while they are in the middle of nowhere out across the Atlantic or the Pacific or something [the finer details escape me] the smell so enrages the snakes that they burst out of their crates and proceed to reek horror and mayhem not to mention a few rather nasty looking bites on the passengers, who are comprised of the usual angelic looking kid, the flying nun [sorry], the guy with the guitar and the failed alcoholic ex-pilot. I didn’t like flying before I went to see the movie – now I can’t even get on a plane without my anti-snake bite meds and a jumbo box of anti-histamines.

 

Flying must be the all-time biggest fear for most people, followed closely by crawling through confined spaces in the dark, especially when they lead into caves with bats under mountains and that sort of thing. Even the sight of a plane gets me sweating but I hear that that is the sort of thing that psychologists do to get you through it – take you to airports and make you look at planes before bundling you aboard and having the pilot take off quick before you can fling yourself off the ramp. I am what is known as a ‘white-knuckler’, that’s someone who physically holds the plane up in the air by force of will alone, as the finger shaped indents in the seat rests can attest. Once on a flight to Europe the flight attendant asked me if I wanted “Coffee or Tea” – I thought she said “We are plunging into the sea” and was half-way into the luggage rack before she hauled me back by my seat belt.

 

I must admit that being alone in a house during a thunderstorm is not my favorite thing either. Forget those horror movies, it’s the banging and crashing and almighty flashes that scare me witless and drive me to the basement. My mother was worse – she would go all around the house turning all the mirrors to the wall on the premise that lightening would ricochet from mirror to mirror around the house like an electrical ping-pong ball before striking you dead, probably while you were in the shower.

 

Come to think of it most of us are scared of something or other even if it’s just the neighbor’s dog. What makes you cringe? And please don’t say kittens bearing cotton balls because I’ll push you under a ladder if you do.

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