Fear Itself

Yesterday I found myself, for a split second, succumbing to irrational fear, and it reminded me of the potency of this primal feeling, as well as why Republicans rely on it so much.  It defies logic, it overrides rationality, and it evokes reflexive action out of all proportion to the real world circumstances.  What happened was, I got into an open-topped freight elevator, and when I hit the “up” button, and urge to duck and cover came over me; the sounds and sights reminded me of a long-ago experience that I now realize is still waiting to be tapped by the right stimulus. (No pun intended, natch…)

More than twenty years ago I was hauling theatrical sets to storage, as I always did, to the big warehouse where we kept them, riding in the giant, open topped freight elevator, when suddenly a horrendous crash occurred, accompanied by a hail of debris of my smashed platform clattering all around me.  Then silence.  I looked up, and it appeared that the end of my raised floor section, which was hanging out of the top of the elevator, had hit and unusually protrusive structural beam, and shattered on contact.  It was made of 2 x 6′s and plywood, and it broke like a walnut.  Worse, I was stuck between floors several feet below the floor above, with no apparent way to climb there, and at least eight feet above the floor below.  The elevator had stopped working, and I was alone in an empty warehouse.  I slid the gates open, and looked down into the abyss, contemplating my options.  The elevator was just below the 8th floor of an old, ten-story former factory with two subbasements, and each floor was at least 14′ high, so the bottom of the shaft was well over 100 feet straight down.

I’m not especially afraid of heights, but I certainly was a bit then; there was never any traffic in the building, which seemed to hold nothing but emptiness and giant pallets of canned Menudo, oddly, and the likelihood that some kind stranger would come along and save me was, essentially, nil.  The jump involved in escaping wasn’t too difficult; I was a fit 20-something and could certainly do it, but one false move and I’d be below sea level and maybe on the news, but as a corpse.  Why not?  Knowing that if I thought about it any more I might chicken out, I just went for it.  I landed a couple feet from the shaft, probably harder than necessary in the interest of getting as far from it as possible, and ran downstairs to the doorman at the front office, who sighed and reached for a ladder, which seemed suspiciously handily located, in retrospect.

When we got to the floor below the elevator and climbed back into it to try to get it going, he pointed out that I’d let the piece of wood that held the mechanism in place fall out, and that’s why the elevator didn’t work, silly.  Like I was some kind of dummy, which I was, of course, and further hinting that if we didn’t find it, the elevator would never move again.  We stood amid hundreds of wood fragments, and I helpfully suggested that one of them might work, but he seemed determined to find the actual, OSHA-approved piece of wood they’d been using, which he finally did, and popped it into position, and the elevator sprung to life.  I went about loading my sets and left, albeit a tad worse for wear.

All these years later, that old warehouse has been renovated into office/loft spaces, and the inner east side industrial area it occupies has become almost hip, but the sight of that building has never ceased to remind me of that scary day, and when I pressed the button on the elevator pictured above, I winced as the hydraulics powering the not-very protective roofless box ground it into motion.  Never mind that this was a sleek, modern (comparatively..  1963 instead of 1903) contraption that didn’t appear to require pieces of wood stuffed into it to work; and I had a dumpster to hide behind if the shit happened to hit the fan, I was, on a completely instinctive level, scared.  Of something that happened 20-some years ago.  Fear is a powerful thing, indeed, even for someone as disdainful of all superstitions as myself;  no wonder politicians love it so much.

Bonus sunrise from CHNN yesterday morning, a bit before I got in the elevator:


  1. Annice says:

    Now we just need to work on getting our elevator’s in our complex working properly! The fear of being stuck is always back in my mind…

  2. retzilian says:

    That kind of fear memory is such a normal reaction, we don’t really have any control over it unless we can train ourselves (or get used to something) or become inured to it.

    Back in high school, I started running home during a thunderstorm (I only lived about 2 blocks from the high school) and a bolt of lightning hit a utity pole about 5 feet in front of me. The blast was loud enough to make me jump, but the lightning also struck a power line, which broke and fell in front of me, sparking in all its buzzing glory.

    Scared the pixx out of me.

    I was lucky not to have been hit by it and cut in half or something, but a bit of spark hit my head and singed my hair. Ultimately, that jolt killed a strip of pigment in my hair and I have an albino streak that runs from my left eyebrow across my hairline. Since I’m mostly blonde, it isn’t really obvious unless you know it’s there.

    Still, for years (YEARS) afterward, I jumped or froze involuntarily at the sound/sight of loud lightning. And we get a lot of that here in Cleveland!

    It’s ok to be frightnened by something that can KILL you! It’s irrational to be frightened by phantoms.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, having received a few pretty good electrical jolts in my life from much smaller forms of power than a street line, you had plenty of reason to be afraid. Funny, isn’t it, that what really kills people violently and before their time are “accidents” such as these. OSHA and NHSA have saved more lives than the Department of Homeland (!) Security could ever hope to, but everyone’s all askeert ’bout them terrists, despite the vanishingly small likelihood of one’s dying at the hands of one.
      The other thing about real fears is that they encourage caution and can be mitigated, contributing to both sanity and security. Made-up fears can never be conquered, so while they make great politics, they are by nature insoluble and thus helplessness-inducing, laying the grounds for despotism. Like that Nazi said, “It works the same in every country.”

  3. meremark says:

    There’ve been times … I don’t remember. And likely there is little care if I did, or do. Or don’t.

    I didn’t even know I was dead, probably, is why I don’t remember. However the old memory bank is rife with place-and-time occurrences in which I found myself alive and the surprise was vivid and indelible … really, almost every morning, waking.

    So far I figure Heaven believes in me. They must practice a catch-and-release rule and I’m not grown to minimum dimensions yet, or something. Been there, but I’m not done here.