02 January 2006

Fear is all around*

(My homage to the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme "Love is all around")

I'm always complaining that, in the United States, people constantly want you to be afraid of something. The TV news always has teasers like: "Are chemicals in your microwave hurting your family? Find out at 11 p.m."

You can buy stuff to protect you from anything. Kids can't ride bikes without helmets. Supermarket cashiers wear latex gloves (gloves are cleaner than hands?) It's basically a fear-based economy.

I bought a small desk lamp the other day that had FOUR warning labels stuck round its cord. Things like "Do not use in the bath or shower..." The main danger with the lamp was that I might have sliced my hand whilst trying to cut the warning labels off.

All this fearmongering works incredibly well. My mom chastized me for leaving my purse in my locked car for 5 minutes in her very, very safe neighborhood where everyone knows and watches out for each other.

Our bathroom at work has a pile of crumpled paper towels on the floor next to the exit door. Everyone is so frightened of germs that they won't touch the handle with their bare hand (yet they are apparently unaffected by the social stigma of being found out as the kind of person who throws trash on the floor in an office).

When I was in Mexico, I found the blithe approach to possible danger alarming, yet funny and refreshing. People get hurt, people die, life is dangerous. Why clutter up the place with a bunch of warning signs and protective devices? Rusty rebar just at the height to poke your eye out jutted from the sides of buildings. Sidewalks were interrupted by gaping holes just in case you were in the mood to break an ankle. Buses squealed along with almost non-existent brakes. That was just life.

I knew when I moved out of white suburbia to the poor, densely populated side of town, I would encounter more danger. Did I worry? Yeah, but I know myself. If I wasn't worried about crime, I would be worried about something else, like global warming - that's just my nature - so it really wasn't a net gain of fretting time in my brain.

So here's my daily jolt of fear. This morning at 2:18 a.m. I awoke wondering "Gunfire, or fireworks?"

It had to be gunfire. It lacked that big BOOM BOOM BOOM quality of the high-powered firecrackers that people set off around here.

I heard about 3 or 4 shots. The dog did too. She cowered on the floor next to me, trembling. She would NOT make a good hunting dog.

I was wondering if I should call the cops. What would I say? "I heard shots. I don't know from where or why...?"

Then I heard six shots in a row, very even. Pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow. I got my cell phone and called the police and said "This is kind of unspecific, but I just heard a bunch of gunfire."

The dispatcher sounded flustered and excited. She said that they had been getting a bunch of calls. I didn't hear anything else until some sirens about 5 a.m. The dog cowered the whole time, which is unusual because she is always sleeping next to me on the bed.

But it's morning now, and we're ok. I'll go back to worrying about global warming any minute now, especially since my dad called to warn me that the river, which is right across the road, may flood any time, and that I should have my car packed just in case I have to evacuate.
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