Saturday, June 09, 2007

Your Fears are Probably Just as Fictional as Mine

Today Leanne and I took the convertible over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Rafael. We went to an Italian Street Painting Festival. In Italy, I recall the chalk art as large, 3D, unearthly creations by hunched over Italians, only looking up to yell for an espresso. Because that's how they roll in Florence.

I don't know what I expected to see when I sipped on my Italian beer and watched pretentious artists walk around with black chalk on their faces like they were taking on an Ash Wednesday mass-going maration. But I will tell you what I did not expect to see: a snake. A real, live, fat, snarly-eyed snake! Noooo sireeee.

It's a running joke among friends (and legend among the San Francisco comedy scene) that the only thing that scares me more than snakes, is the Incredible Hulk. Yes, the fully fictional, sometimes animated action "hero." This very deep and real fear of the Hulk made me cringe at bus advertisements and billboards that lorded over my apartment in the city. And just when I'd thought that he'd gone away since the torturous four-year season in the late seventies, he reappeared some twenty five years later bigger and weirder than ever.

In 1978, when The Incredible Hulk television series aired, I was barely four years old, and just starting pre-school. Looking back, this was probably the age where I started to negotiate what feelings were to other people on a basic level (smile=happy, crying=sad, etc). I lived one of the most northern parts of Washington State, and because cable pretty much didn't exist in certain areas, we got only Canadian channels. This means, depending which way the tinfoil bent, we got all the crappy Canadian networks (CBC) and commercials (Zed's, anyone?). Since I grew up on a farm and spent a lot of time with my sister, we didn't really spend much time with the television, so my imagination filled in the gaps for much of what I could not understand. I assumed that everything around me was real: plants, animals, parents. So for television to tell me that a man could turn into the hulk because he was exposed to too much sun and scientist chemicals, did not compute.

It was also during this time that my father worked at a cement plant. It was a scary, dirty place with punched out windows that filtered shifts of men with grey lunchboxes through a side door. Smoke churned out the top, and industrial sounds reverberated from it's shaky sides. My Dad worked really hard there as a welder. He showed us big fire pit ovens of spitting sparks as he approached with his shovel and welders mask. He wore white t-shirts under a dark blue uniform covered in soot. It was a factory for nearly heroic people who could manage something as fluid as fire. That's what I thought then.

When the Hulk aired, I could only absorb what I saw: a man in a lab mixing things, getting struck by "rays" and becoming superpowerful when he became angry. The Hulk wore white t-shirts like my Dad and was exposed to a lot of light, so why didn't my Dad turn into the Hulk when he got mad? This kept me up many a four-year old night. I asked my Mom, who said, "You can't believe everything you see on television." But what about the news? That was real. What about the advertisements for real stores? My Dad said, "It's just make believe." But why would they make that up? Why not make up fun stuff, instead of scary stories about widowed men who get mad and turn green? Did all men have these powers, or just Dad's, scientists and strong guys who wore white t-shirts? I became suspicious of men everywhere, thinking they might just have some superpower that I might not know about. I kept hanging out with my Dad, waiting for him to turn into the Hulk. Of course, that would never happen.

Fortunately, in 1982, the television show went off the air. I was already on to my next big fear--snakes. I wasn't a queamish kid, either. I had witnessed calves being born, my dog Molly have her puppies, and seen pieces of a coyote carcass that the animals had gotten to in the middle of the night. But snakes were unexpected and were cropping up whenever my guard was down. They slithered out of hay bails, or around my flip flops in the garden. They whipped themselves around the sides of the barn faster than I could move away. In the summertime, Jamie (who later became James) and I rode our bikes with salt in our pockets to sprinkle on slugs. That was one of my favorite things to do. But if I saw a snake in the road, or in the fields by the creek, forget it. I was doomed.

I realize this fear is just as unreasonable as my once fear of the Hulk. Although I would never go to see The Incredible Hulk movie, I wouldn't freak out at pictures. But snakes have this awful effect on me where I can't seem to even look at a photograph. The worst is being at a movie when they appear and saying to the person next to me, "Just tell me when it's gone." Or, if David Letterman has the animal guy on with a snake I am screwed because then I can't get to sleep.

Today at the art fair, I was standing near a wall and checking out the art, and Leanne says, "Ohmigod. Did you see that lady? She's got a snake around her neck." A million thoughts raced through my head, something of a fight or flight situation was on my hands. I could feel my body stiffen, "Where?!"

"She was over there. I don't know. She's just wandering around," Leanne said.

We were talking to a rocker guy with intellectual glasses who was telling us about a local band, and I knew that this interruption was rude. "I'm sorry, I am terrified of snakes," I said. He nodded. Right then, Snake Lady walked toward us with a shiny green snake kinked over her shoulders. I felt like all the blood was flowing through my body the opposite direction with a sudden jerk. "Oh, shit!" I said, and fell back as far as I could into the brick wall. There wasn't anywhere for me to go, and I know I must have looked a fool.

"Tell me when it's gone!" I told Leanne.

There's just no way to look cool after that. Leanne could tell I wanted to get out of there. "Let's not go that way," I said, pointing into a massive crowd.

"Because there's a certain snake there?" Leanne said.

"Yeah. That kind of freaked me out," I said, and threw my plastic beer cup in recycling.

The rocker guy looked a little shook up. "Me, too," he said. "It should be illegal to carry those things around."

Let me know when you run for office. And tell me where to sign.


Anonymous said...

Did you take that picture of the chalk art? The picture makes the street fair look much more cool that it really was. I like it. :)
Leanne (aka. anonymous)

jaynel said...

The picture is from the website. Our pictures are ok, but sort of lame.

Maybe it's because I spilled beer on their chalk art???