I have come to the conclusion that the single greatest phobia among Americans, as I have never been to Bali, is the clown. Clowns are always men (even when they’re women), and of course some of you know that my sister had a handmade clown in a chair in her room and it used to talk to me at night. Let us close the curtain on those events.
The phobia’s technical name is Coulrophobia, which means get the hell away from me you hideous thing with three sets of teeth. The history of the clown dates back to the 16th century, and was synonymous with the Fool or the Jester; these figures were often encouraged to behave outside the boundaries of civilized behavior and to act obscenely. They are also associated with Hermes, the Trickster archetype, who deceives and robs; he breaks taboos and disrupts the fabric of society; he shows no restraint and acts out sexually. Clowns are allowed to do anything they want, and while we can see they are adults, they behave like the worst children in a second-grade classroom. They are lawless; they are sinister; and our psyche protects us from the upside-down Hell they try to put us in by MAKING us afraid of them. Why did John Wayne Gacy dress as a clown? Because, as one author put it, They wear masks and they have access to children.
A certain someone I love is absolutely terrified of midgets, or Lollypopguildaphobia. There is very little scholarship on where this phobia develops, although most sufferers relate it to a traumatic event in their childhood, such as seeing a midget. This certain someone is so super-freaked that her brother once played a trick on her by inviting her to a bar, and as she stood at one end a midget came running at her, swinging his arms wildly. I believe this is one of the funniest stories I have ever heard, especially when Meg (whoops) goes ghastly pale and woogy while telling it.
The fear of crocodiles is also quite common. That is because they are monstrous dinosaurs who move as fast on land as in water, and their jaw strength is by far the strongest of any animal on the planet, at 5,000 lbs. per square inch, as opposed to a Great White shark, which is only 400 psi, or a hyena, which is 1,000 psi. There is a crocodile in the Australia zoo which is 130 years old, and if that isn’t an example of something going drastically wrong, I don’t know what is.
My daughter is the only person I know who is absolutely petrified of bulls. She can’t even say the word. She has had no bad experience with a bull and indeed I don’t know that she’s ever been near one. Whereas those of you who have read Zippy know I was tortured by one for an entire day, starved to death, and lost my shoes and socks, and still I don’t care about them. They do have alarmingly large penises, and that is insanely upsetting.
As I have mentioned before, Scott is stricken with terror by any animal that moves laterally, such as a snake or a hermit crab. We cannot even go there in conversation. He also is profoundly disturbed by women on the subway in New York who wear sneakers to work and then change into dress shoes.
My son is afraid of crowds, because he is very wise.
Lots and lots and lots of people hate birds. No one ever hated a bird until Alfred Hitchcock had them attack Tippi Hedren, which is the real reason Augusten wants me to dress like her.
No sane person in this world does not hate a rat. A rat is a cosmic error of such grave proportions, if the planet blows up the rat will be the reason. Just read Joseph Mitchell’s essay called “Rats” in Up In The Old Hotel and tell me if you don’t feel your sanity snapping just a wee bit.
My daughter is also terrified of all bridges. Perhaps I need to speak to a professional about her.
As for myself, I am afraid of very little, except when what should be outside gets in, like a bat, or a goat. I don’t mind mice outside, but in the house they are Satan Incarnate. I don’t fear snakes, spiders, or bugs; I’m not afraid of vicious dogs or dead bodies or flying. I cannot abide a dentist, however. And I get a creepy feeling in the pit of my stomach when something that is formerly attached becomes unattached, like a missing button or a broken lid. THIS IS WRONGNESS. I cannot bear to see a hair unattached from a head, and if I’m washing my face and water runs down my arms I nearly begin screaming hysterically. Other than that, I am absurdly brave.
Oh, and then of course there are these precious little creatures, for whom every day is the Teddy Bear’s Picnic, according to Brent Bill: