Remember that post I wrote a while back about my top 5 totally irrational fears and phobias? It actually started out as a list of 10, but the deadline snuck up on me so fast I had to cut that bitch in half. Here’s the second half…
As human beings, we are subject to certain basic fears. Lots of people are afraid of flying in airplanes or standing in crowded elevators. Others are afraid of things like snakes or spiders. Regardless of their source, our fears serve to keep us away from danger and remind us that no matter what we achieve as a species — no matter how tall our skyscrapers, how ingenious our inventions, or how far we explore into outer space — we’re really all just a bunch of scared, shit-slinging zoo monkeys.
Chances are, you and I share all the same phobias — only I have a few more. And by a few more, I mean supplemental fears which are not only freakish in their specificity, but also absurd and unnecessary. These are fears I have always had, but which have grown far worse since I began my life as an American expat in Germany:
Phobia #5: Eye Drops
Look, I’m an artist and a writer. I’m naturally protective of my eyes and my hands because, without them, I wouldn’t be able to make a living; I’d just be a blind, handless trophy husband. That’s why I recoil in comedic fashion whenever something comes close to my eyes, like umbrella spikes, pencils, butter knives, hot dogs… basically anything shaped like a dick.
I refuse to wear contact lenses based solely upon my fear of anything touching my eyes. And you know that machine that gauges the pressure inside your eyeballs by shooting a tiny puff of air into them? That thing makes my eyes water before the air hits them, and then when it does, I flinch so hard I shake the whole table. Scares the shit out of the optometrist.
But you know what really sucks for me now that I live in Germany? Eye drops. I never had to use them before, but the pollen over here is both foreign and plentiful, resulting in spring and summer allergies so strong I am forced to use them if I want to open my eyes in the morning.
Of course, I can’t really say I “use” eye drops; it’s more like I hold the evil little bottle over my eye and stare right at the droplet, waiting in agonizing anticipation for it to fall. Then, when it does, I slam my eye closed so it splatters all over my eyelids and runs down my face like a porno. The only part of the fluid which ever enters my eye is that which has been caught in my eyelashes, so my use of eye drops is really more of a daily accident I now call routine.
Phobia #4: Crowds of People
Good Christ I hate being around large crowds of people. Concerts, festivals, conventions — it doesn’t matter; they’re too bright, too loud, and they present way too many social factors for me to consider all at once. And they have so much potential energy! God, it freaks me out. What if they all got mad? Like, at the same time? The way I look at things, every crowd I see is just one emotional trigger away from becoming a riot.
Let’s say there’s a fire; am I the only one who considers the sheer impossibility of so many people passing through the fire exits simultaneously? Forget the flames and the smoke — you know you’re gonna get trampled to death first. And what are the odds at least one person in any given crowd has a gun? In Germany, that number is thankfully much lower than in the States, but still, even here, I’m certain at least one dude is packing heat. And how can you possibly relax when, as a statistical certainty, some small percentage of the crowd has a serious mental illness? Clearly I have one, but all I’m gonna do is talk shit about it on this here blog. What about the violent schizophrenics? Hell, the drug addicts? It only takes one tweaker to ruin your day. That’s all I’m saying.
Okay, I feel like I’m not getting my point across. Like, I can’t possibly explain just how fragile a crowd of people can be. Imagine you’re at an Elton John concert. You’re drunk. You’re having an awesome time. Then some asshole decides to start screaming right in the middle of “Tiny Dancer.” A high-pitched wail which pierces right through the music. No reason, just some crazy dude losing his shit. Even a short yelp will put the entire crowd on edge. But a prolonged scream? At the very least people will be alarmed and start looking for the nearest exit. Hell, Sir Elton himself might even stop playing the piano until security got there. But that sort of thing almost never happens. Why? Because most of the time we all behave ourselves. But that’s just the thing: It all hangs in such delicate balance! I simply cannot relax. Large crowds of people both frighten and exhaust me.
And this fear has only worsened here in Germany, what with all the Christmas markets, fairs and festivals going on. There’s a major social gathering going down in every German city, all year ’round. There is no escape, especially when your spunky German wife insists upon attending at least one of these powder kegs per year. God dammit, just thinking about it now has me reaching for the Xanax. “Oh yes, you beautiful, wonderful little pill… take Daddy away from the bad thoughts.”
Phobia #3: Things Falling from the Sky
Do you ever look up at the sky when it’s sunny, bright blue and cloudless, and think to yourself, “Wow, there is absolutely no ceiling there. A little atmosphere, sure, but really nothing between my soft, fragile skull and the chaotic universe beyond?” The Earth is being pounded by meteorites all the time. Just look at the Moon, with all its scars and pock marks. Over the years, that thing has taken a real pounding, and the universe is not a gentle lover. No, the universe is a dangerous, violent bitch, just flinging shit in all directions. When I look up at the sky, I cannot stop thinking about which chunk of cosmic space debris has my name written on it.
This fear actually extends to anything dangerous hanging over my head, like construction equipment. The economy in Germany seems to be doing pretty well, so there’s always new construction going on. I can really only speak for Hannover though, when I say I can’t walk across the Kröpcke without passing beneath a lot of scaffolding, a few ladders, a crane and a bucket full of bricks. How qualified is that dopey bastard in the hardhat to be hoisting a slab of concrete over my head? Not nearly enough, I say, and that’s why I pass beneath construction zones as quickly as possible, shuddering and reciting a silent warning: Motherfucker, if you drop that thing on my head I will haunt you so hard. I will haunt you until you die.
Phobia #2: Doorknobs
It may surprise you to know I do not have OCD. I don’t wash my hands a thousand times a day or anything, but I do hate touching doorknobs — especially the ones in public restrooms. I will seriously pull my sleeve up over my hand and use it to open the door rather than allow that sullied metal to touch my skin. My wife just laughs and shakes her head when she catches me doing this. Oh sure, it’s cute now, but imagine seeing me do this as an 80-year-old man; you’d be forced to assume I’ve gone senile. “That poor old bastard — his brain is just riddled with dementia. He probably wipes poo on the mirror too…”
No, you assholes, I just don’t like having dirty hands. I keep them clean and my nails trimmed down to the skin, the way God intended. My problem with touching doorknobs — or really any object utilized by the general public — stems from my lack of basic knowledge in the subject of biology. How many germs are on the average doorknob? What is their half-life? Is it possible for germs to infect one another, so you’ve got the flu, filled with measles, filled with AIDS, like a Russian nested doll?
Screw it. I just avoid the problem entirely. Hell, with my sleeve-over-the-hand technique, I can urinate in a public bathroom without touching anything but my own pink wiener. And since my hands are always clean — and my wiener is easily the cleanest thing on earth — why bother washing my hands at all? My hands are probably cleaner because I touched my wiener.
How has this phobia worsened as a result of living in Germany? Well, my wife and I don’t need a car. We use our bikes in combination with Germany’s awesome public transportation system. And if you’ve ever ridden an U-Bahn train, you know it’s impossible to do so without touching a few door-open buttons, or grasping one of those straps or poles for standing passengers. This is where my sleeve technique fails me; if I try to hold onto a shiny metal pole with a layer of slippery cotton in my fist, I will lose my grip and fall down onto the even filthier train floor. Now I’m being laughed at and infected with viral hepatitis.
Also, on the S-Bahn, where you sometimes have to climb a few steps, it’s expected you help women with strollers board or exit the train. This means, in order to be a proper gentleman, you have to touch the handlebar at the front of the stroller… right below the filthy baby. You know the little demon farts all over that thing. Just all day long. Probably does it on purpose.
Phobia #1: Russians
There are cool people in every country and there are shitty people in every country. We’re all just human beings in the end, so I try not to make generalized statements about anyone based upon nationality. However, I’m gonna go ahead and do that right now by admitting Russian people scare the shit out of me.
I’m talking about Russian nationals; the ones born and raised in the Motherland. Men and women. Young and old. I am equally afraid of them all. Why? Because of Rocky IV. Just kidding. It’s because 99.9% of my experience with Russians — in America and in Germany — has been scary.
When I was younger, my friend and I were accosted by a Russian man wielding one of those huge, round bottles of wine that cost like $2. I once dated a Russian woman who turned out to be an unapologetic gold digger (but she was hot, so fuck it, right?). Her mother was a mail order bride — clearly miserable — with visible disdain for her American husband. I knew another guy — this one closer to my age — who married a Russian mail order bride and she absolutely hated his guts. (To be fair, I didn’t like much him either, but this young woman would later go on to commit manslaughter by driving over a hobo. I am not joking.) I listened as a Russian contractor told one of my co-workers he could custom-build a 2,500 sq.ft., 2-storey, 4-bedroom house for her under $100,000 dollars — and he whispered it to her, so you just know he was full of shit. That, or the materials were stolen. Anyway, a few years later I had two Russian men knock on my front door and try and intimidate me into moving the fence behind my house, claiming it was over the property line — and they wanted me to move it within 24 hours. (It was totally over the property line, and I was legally required to move the fence, but my point is they were dicks about it.) Here in Germany, I’ve seen countless drunk Russian men on the U-Bahn hassling people and outright daring them to say something about it. I went to a party last summer and there was a Russian guy there — 6′ 7″ and built like a brick shithouse — who, upon hearing I was from America, tipped his head back to swallow a shot of vodka and declared: “I do not like America.” Holy shit, nothing makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end like a slurred Russian accent. Sounds like they’ve got a mouthful of marbles.
So I’ve had a bunch of unfortunate encounters with Russian people. Is it fair to judge them all based upon my own personal experience? Of course not… but in general, Russians do seem pissed. Like, pee-yaa-HISSED. Maybe it’s the long winters. Maybe it’s the decades of economic struggle. Maybe it’s because they’ve got a James Bond villain for a president. I don’t know.
But now I want to talk about that 0.1% of my experience which wasn’t scary. Like the time shortly after I arrived in Germany and began my mandatory German language course. One of the other students was a woman from Russia. She was maybe 5 feet tall, in her late 60s, married with kids and grand kids, and she had — pound for pound — the biggest tits I’ve ever seen in my life. Seriously. I was concerned about her lower back, hauling those sweater puppies around all day. Jesus Christ. Anyway, she was smart, nice, and she took the class seriously. She even helped me sign up for the next class after the school lost my file. She was by far my favorite person there.
Then I went to a different language school, where I met another awesome Russian. This time it was a dude, in his mid-30s. He also took his language studies seriously, but he had a very chill, very subtle demeanor about him, and I greatly enjoyed his dry sense of humor. After our teacher had introduced the theme for the day — say, wild boars posing a serious threat to motorists in Berlin (this was an actual theme, by the way) — we would be asked to discuss it together in small groups. My Russian buddy turned to me and asked, “Are you threatened by wild pigs in America?” I laughed, shaking my head. He then turned back around, saying, “In Russia, we are more threatened by bears.” I loved that guy.
Here’s my point: I am afraid of Russian nationals, but I still reserve a very narrow, very jaded place in my heart for the nice ones. So, Nostrovia! (And I know I spelled that wrong, you angry sons of bitches.)
Given the oddity of my phobias — especially where they have been exacerbated by expat life in Germany — I must award them with a solid 4 out of 5 Merkel Diamonds:
I look forward to hearing from you.
P.S. If you’d like to read the first half of this post, you can find it here: The Top 5 Weirdly Specific, Totally Irrational Fears and Phobias of an American Expat Living in Germany.