Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Epiphany of Fear

As is so often the case something in my real life brought to mind something from a cartoon. 

Remember the Charlie Brown Christmas special?  There is the scene where Charlie Brown goes to Lucy at her psychiatric stand to seek answers.  Lucy rattles off a list of phobias, everything from cats to crossing bridges.  When she gets to pantophobia, the fear of everything, Charlie Brown yells, “That’s it!” sending Lucy spinning into a snow bank.  I found my “That’s it!” phobia the other day, katagelophobia.  Luckily I was alone at the time so I did not send anyone spinning into a snow bank. 

Katagelophobia is the fear of being ridiculed or embarrassed.  Now at first glance people who know me might be a little confused by this notion.  I have, quite on purpose, done things that would embarrass many people.  I have performed in plays as characters with pretty embarrassing attributes.  I did stand-up comedy at an open mic night at a real comedy club (not even filling my allotted three minutes and apologizing at the end of my truncated set).  I have been the mascot for a minor league basketball team wearing basketball shorts and cowboy boots, at the same time.  I have been a parent of teenage girls which means I was an embarrassment to them by doing things like breathing and being in the same room in which they were currently residing. 

The thing about the above mentioned situations which made them not embarrassing for me had to do with the fact that I was in control of what was happening.  If I choose to do something which might lead to embarrassment I can handle it better than a situation that comes up more organically from circumstances.  For example, I truly hate going into big city style delicatessens.  I have an abject fear of ordering something stupid which compels the sandwich aficionados behind the counter to mock me.  “He wants mayonnaise on that! What an idiot.”  This doesn’t come into play when I go to Subway.  Those “sandwich artists” are as interested in their work as a septuagenarian is interested in the latest musical release from Lil Wayne (I had to look up the name of rap artist for that last joke). 

Way too much of my self-image is wrapped up in being smart.  This also works into the katagelophobia.  There have been times when I hold forth with some sort of pontification (now, gentle reader, don’t be too shocked by this) then I find out I am horribly and irretrievably wrong.  I’m not talking just a little bit wrong but “Dewey Defeats Truman” wrong, Snape is a bad guy wrong, there’s a viable reason Kim Kardashian is famous wrong.  The embarrassment I feel when it dawns on me that I was so very wrong is entirely too debilitating, especially considering just how often there is “wrongness” put forth into the world – just ask CNN. 

Really, it is ridiculous.  The other day I was having a simple conversation with some co-workers and we were discussing a set of television commercials we found funny.  We then talked about the fact we couldn’t remember what the commercials were plugging.  Anyway, I was rather determined to contradict one person’s statement about what company was being advertised.  Fast forward to the next day when I saw one of the commercials and it turned out I was patently wrong.  I couldn’t get to sleep that night.  I can pretty much guarantee none of the other people in the conversation remembered or even remotely cared that I had arrogantly disagreed, but that didn’t stop me from e-mailing the person I had disagreed with and admitting my mistake.  It is easier to admit mistakes than put up with others pointing them out when you are katagelophobic.  (That is a self-diagnosis.  I have not, as of yet, sought professional help for my problem.)

Another manifestation of how this phobia impacts my life is I have become less and less able to do things I have not done before, simple things, for fear of showing ignorance and being mocked because of it.  Being a Kansas boy I took my first ever taxi cab ride last summer in New York.  I spent the entire ride in a half panicked state worrying about what I was supposed to tip the guy, oblivious to the fact he almost got me killed by ignoring the septic cleaning service van hurtling toward us.  (That would have been one heck of an obituary.)

Christopher Pyle is more likely to do another horrific stand-up comedy performance than he is to try ordering food from the new sushi kiosk at Dillon’s.  You can mock him at  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not everything needs to be enhanced

Since paying attention to the important news of the world often creates a sense of…a sense of (what is the phrase I’m looking for?) a sense of utter despair (yeah, that’s it) there are times I only allow myself to look at the fluff news items which pop up on the internet.  
The other day I saw an article about a man who purchased what he was told, and his eyes believed, was a pair of toy poodles.  When he took his new fluffy doggy friends to the vet for a checkup he found out he had something other than canine companionship.  He was now the proud owner of two ferrets. (What does one call that? Ferretine companionship?)   Not just any ferrets, but two ferrets that had been raised from birth on a steady diet of steroids to increase their general size and hair teasing and blow drying to increase their general fluffiness.  
Ferrets on steroids?  Who comes up with this nefarious plan?  Is some guy actually sitting around his living room one afternoon thinking:   “Hey, I know what I’ll do. I’ll get a couple of newborn weasel-like creatures and pump them full of steroids so they grow to abnormal size.  Oh, oh, then I’ll wash their hair over and over but never use any conditioner whatsoever so they have split ends all over their bodies.  This will mean I will have two giant frizzy ferrets. Oh, boy!  Then I will sell them to some unsuspecting rube at the local bazaar by convincing him they are actually toy poodles.  Yep, that makes perfect sense. I am totally doing that.”
Maybe having steroid-ridden ferrets for pets is better than toy poodles.  Can a toy poodle chase rats, mice and rabbits out of their burrows?  Can a toy poodle perform the weasel war dance? What’s a weasel war dance and will it replace the Harlem Shake?  A weasel war dance is described by Wikipedia as “a frenzied series of sideways hops and bumping into things” which serves as an invitation to play and almost anything would be better than the Harlem Shake.  Are toy poodles crepuscular?  Wait, what in the name of William F. Buckley is crepuscular?  Well, besides being darned fun to say crepuscular means ferrets sleep 14 - 18 hours a day and are only active around the hours of dusk and dawn.  There are frequent days I myself longs to be crepuscular.  
This could be the beginning of a whole new industry in pet services. In sports the press often refers to steroids and the like as performance enhancing drugs or PEDs (or sometimes Tour de France Juice). PEDs could now be pet enhancing drugs. Think about it. Gerbils the size of Rottweilers would be cool. However, you would need one of those plastic tube habitat things as big as the tubes at Chuck E. Cheese's to accommodate your cute not-so-little Gerbzilla.  A canary on steroids might be neat.  If nothing else you could scare the kitty litter out of the neighbor’s cat who keeps waking you up in the middle of the night yowling on your backyard fence like Pavarotti with an ingrown toenail.  
Why stop at sports and pets? Let's look at getting performance enhancement into more walks of life. First we need to decide just what performance enhancement would look like in different fields. Would the PED heighten what the person was supposed to be doing or would it enhance what they typically do? That is a genuine danger.
For example, let's look at insurance salesmen. A PED could make it so the salesman clearly and concisely explains the different plans available and kindly matches your needs and budget with the proper product. Or, he could become the most insufferably insistent and preternaturally boring person who ever plunked himself down on your couch, drank your coffee and proved as likely to leave as the odor of a skunk which died in the crawlspace under your kitchen.  
If PEDs were used simply to enhance what we already do they probably need to be controlled more stringently than other drugs currently outlawed.  Sure they can help a baseball player who already has amazing hand-eye coordination and strength enough to send a nine and a quarter inch spheroid 390 feet onto Waveland Avenue send even more balls out of the park but used in other situations the results could be catastrophic. Just think what would happen if we enhanced the current skill set shown on a regular basis by politicians.  We are back to the phrase utter despair.
Christopher Pyle thinks if he used PEDs he would definitely become crepuscular.  He can be reached during the hours around dusk and dawn at