Fear Itself

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i am in las vegas and i am afraid. i am afraid that i am dying. no, the adage that living is to be dying all the time is not what i am talking about. that's not the kind of existential fear i am experiencing at the moment, standing in line at the sbarro's pizza in the corridor between the north and central halls of the las vegas convention center.

just now, my anxiety has climbed on top of me. too much noise. too much unsteady unpredictable movement in my field of vision. too much bourbon last night. too many more hours of unrelieved boredom on the show floor looming unbroken in front of me before i can lurch back to the hotel and bury my head in the pillows. a couple of unsatisfying phone conversations with my boy back home, and the resultant doubts about how i have chosen to make a living and the toll it takes on our relationship. i am still smoking. when in the fuck am i going to grow some balls and stop this infernal self-abuse?

i can't focus. vision swimming. surely it's a stroke.

distant sounds are piquantly loud, but i cannot for the life of me understand what the sbarro's line guy right in front of me is saying.

"a spinach stromboli, please," i labor to say, guessing from historical cues that he probably wants to know what i would like to eat.

he looks at me as if he is waiting for me to speak.

i cannot look at him directly. 

i was not prepared to have to appear normal more than once. 

"i'll have a spinach stromboli, please," i try again with herculean effort.

"excuse me?"

maybe i just said, "oil and roll me, please." slurred speech? yep, this is a stroke.

i'm going down in a pair of khakis and a polo shirt with a logo on it. another business casual casualty. how ignoble.

maybe i will just turn on my heel and walk. walk and walk until i can walk no more. that seems as rational as anything right now. 

but then i remember that, quite possibly, this difficulty may not be the result of an impending stroke. perhaps it's just low blood sugar. i count the hours and labor and stress since a meager breakfast. yeah, that could be it. i'd take a diabetic coma over a stroke or heart attack at this point. maybe it is imperative that i make my need for food explicitly known.

this is my third attempt at masking the freaking out that is going on behind the placid exterior, and i'm pretty sure i'm tapping the extent of my normalcy reserves.

with studied nonchalance i say to him, "spinach stromboli, please."

the lights in my periphery appear to dim and then surge. i try to narrow my focus by staring at the counter. the urge to flee is getting harder to resist.

after a few awful seconds, the guy says, "spinach stromboli? i think we're out... let me check."

ohmyfuckinggodiamgoingtostartscreaming. this is not how i had it planned. no more contingencies left in the normal bank. we're into extra time here.

i try to reason with myself. "you have experienced panic attacks before. you always survive. you just have to get back on top of the fear. you are not going to die. not here. not now, anyway.  fucking calm down. relax your shoulders, for chrissakes; you'll cut off the blood flow & give yourself arm pain, which you will interpret as a symptom of heart failure. slow your breathing; in through the nose, out through the mouth. you're hyperventilating. that's what's wrong with your vision..."

but i am not listening. fear has muddied the playing field. reason can not gain any traction.

i close my eyes. then i look up. i cannot come up with a plan in the event that there is no spinach stromboli.

thankfully the sbarro's kid is a pro.

he returns from a spin to the oven and says, "no, sorry, we don't have any spinach stromboli," and then, mercifully, on the next beat he adds, "i can get you a slice of spinach-mushroom, though." his hand is directed at a pointilist thing that my left eye could possibly, given the context, render as a slice of pizza.

"yes. thank you. yes, that will be fine."

salvation at sbarro's.

so, as per usual, i survived the panic attack. number forty-eleven hundred and six and counting. 

i got my blood sugar back up. 

i hit the reset button by sitting quietly in a dark corner of the convention center and going keith richards catatonic for a few minutes.

none of my worst fears came to be. not one. the fear and anxiety that actually caused my brain to malfunction, that allowed me to believe all the illogical outcomes-- once i allowed my body to get out of the grip of fear, i escaped the grasp of broken thinking, too.

it's a nasty loop. but i know A) that there are things i can do to avoid falling in to the cascading loop or, failing that, B) i have strategies to get myself out of the loop and C) the zoloft i used to take carried a heavy load and maybe i should send some flowers and begin the process of making up.

the country in general, or our contemporary society as a whole, may not be so lucky. 

the province of fear allows no reason. it denies alternate explanations of the world around us. it bends the information we receive into parcels of facts that confirm our worst suspicions. it narrows the vision and clouds the ears until it mangles our speech and dulls our comprehension. it isolates and kills.

and that, in my humble opinion, is where we are at--as a country, as a society.

until we can find a quiet spot and reboot our collective brain, the damaged organ that tells us we have much to fear, i don't suspect we are going to be able to hear one another or see the world as it actually is.

it's been 26 years since i owned a television.

periodically, in hotel rooms, i check in to see what's on. passing through swing states during the elections this fall, i wanted to see what the campaigns looked like to the majority of people. tv is still the primary source of information for most americans, after all. 

it made my head hurt after an hour. fear was the theme. and i'm not just talking about the political ads. sure, i was led to believe that this Obama fellow was a duplicitous sinister alien tainted by the stain of Otherness and that the Romney guy wanted to eat our grandparents, but all the other ads were similarly anchored to anxiety.

worried looking guys about my age grimaced because their dicks were failing them. harried wives suffered torments at night because of insomnia. almost all the car ads revolved around the envy between neighbors. in beer ads, the fools drinking the wrong brand end up ostracized and alone, like their idiot friends in the tech ads who had the bad fortune to purchase the wrong devices.

by the end of each ad, though, the relief was readily apparent. if there isn't a pill for it yet, there is a product you can buy that will make your neighbor's ride-pride flag, that will make you the life of the party, that will make you seem smarter and hipper than everyone else.

in thirty seconds, you are told that you have a problem, that a solution to that problem exists, and that solution can be purchased. if you watch an hour of television, you are subjected to that logical construct, what, like 18 times?

and it's difficult to question the first assumption--that you have a problem--because the content between the ads, the shows themselves, fairly throbs with fear and paranoia as well. and i haven't even gotten to the news programs. in the engine of the sit-coms, the dramas, the series on commercial television, the crankshaft of almost all the plots is people treating people poorly. i wince when i see the obligatory guileless dunce on one of these programs. i want to shout at him: "for the love of god, man, don't trust her! you are a television character. she HAS to fuck you over in the next twenty-two minutes!"

as for the "reality" shows, from the jersey shore to the rednecks with the duck call company, the duplicity and back-stabbing isn't even disguised. it is the sole point of the show.

so, if a person just watched these programs and their concomitant commercials a few hours every day, it would be understandable if they got the feeling that they are inadequate and that the people that populate their real lives operate with intent to malign them.

personally, i don't believe that. i have a comparatively drama-free existence, and aside from an anxiety disorder that is impossible to ignore, i don't feel that there are any voids i need to medicate. if i am lacking anything in my life, i haven't been paying close enough attention to discover it. 

from my periodic check-ins, i have determined that my life has nearly nothing in common with the people flickering on the screen in front of me.

but then there is what are called the "news" programs.

if the other shows needle you with precision pricks of fear and paranoia, and you at least have the hope of healing once you crawl away, the "news" is like a broad sword blow to the back of the skull. a normal person couldn't take much of the "news" and not come away a little screwy.

what the hell is this crap?

when did this happen?

am i deluded? has my brain gone soggy? i swear i remember a time when the "news" used to have the appearance of journalistic integrity.

maybe because of saturation and the competition of the web with its minute-by-minute cycle, there is no room for actual reporting any longer?

maybe it has something to do with the fact that three mega corporations own like 75% of all media in this country, and their shareholders demand monetary results, not an informed citizenry?

wait, no, strike that. that sounds paranoid.

after a sampling of what the rest of the country watches--even TRUSTS--as "news", i have to conclude that i HAD NO EARTHLY IDEA THAT I WAS LIVING IN SUCH MORTAL PERIL ALL THIS TIME.

in the world described by these programs, my neighbor downstairs is a cannibal; the older guy in the suit next door is a child molester; the friendly special needs bagger at the grocer is likely to gun down me and half of my fellow shoppers any day now (going out in my coveralls with an onion, five cans of cat food and toilet paper is better than the khakis and polo scenario, at least) because (you know) he's not right; and if donnie the bag boy doesn't get me, asbestos, CO2, radon, aspertame, the chemicals in my carpet, moldy drywall or whatever this week's "silent killer" is will swoop in to finish me off soon enough; i'm getting ripped off every time i swipe my debit card; someone is living a lavish lifestyle in belarus on my stolen identity from that same debit card; there's probably a dead baby in my trash can at the curb at this very moment (the mom is a "person of interest"); my brakes will probably fail sometime in the next week; killer bees are making their way to my hometown (no really really this time); i'm not going to get out from my upside down mortgage anytime soon, even though i rent; my son is either dealing guns or meth; or he's pimping his fellow fourth graders; or he's going to get shot at school by donnie...

or he's going to get shot at school by donnie.

all of this, i suppose, including getting shot at school by donnie, is possible.

it would suck if any of it came to pass, and my human sympathies go out to anyone who has experienced any of the above.

i don't think i am particularly privileged or even savvy, but honestly, this reality seems pretty remote to me.

i keep my eyes open, and i'm just not seeing it.

since sandy hook, more people have died from gun violence in chicago than died at the school on that day.

i didn't see that on the "news". the "news" deals in exciting aberrations, not commonplace events with complex underpinnings.

when i bring this up to my liberal friends, and ask why gun violence wasn't so central to their consciousness before a bunch of white innocents got wiped out, they get defensive and sputter tangential excuses, the kind of ill-logic that a person under the thumb of fear at a sbarro's counter might fall prey to.

when i see an NRA-approved meme on the social medias i always ask, in essence, "who, exactly, is coming to get your guns? be specific. under what federal provision or executive order do they claim authority? cite first person sources. if they show up in the next hour or so, please let me know what agency is in your driveway (look on the side of the door). after an hour, i'll probably be in bed and can't help you, but i'd like to know when i wake up." 

in twenty-something similar posts, i have only had one response. 

Dale said, "the DEA is in my driveway now, robert."

godspeed, Dale. flush it. now.

i think we can all agree that, in this country right now, we need to have a dialogue. we need to ask serious questions about the second amendment. should it stand as a firewall against tyranny, or can we accept that it was mostly a political sop to southern slave owners in the 18th century who needed the "militias" mentioned therein to guard against slave rebellions and the related marketplace interruptions.

we need to have a dialogue. we need to assess acceptable levels of risk when placed on the scale opposite personal freedom.

we need to have a dialogue. we need to consider when one person's personal freedom impinges on another's personal safety, and all that other "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" hippie shit.

we need to have many dialogues, none of which are possible if the opposing sides come to the table addled by fear, unable to see anything but the logical extension of their narrow paranoid imaginings.

because when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

and until we get back on top of the fear, we will remain blind to all the other tools in our toolbox.
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