January 16, 2010



The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version IV) is filled with the thousands of mental illnesses, disorders and neuroses currently available. One of the more interesting choices is Lachanophobia, an irrational fear of vegetables. Current research indicates that less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the population suffer from Lachanophobia. The book also lists Blennophobia, the irrational fear of slime. A slightly larger population segment suffers from Blennophobia, about 1/5th of 1 percent of the population. Sadly, I am one of the 1/2000th of 1 percent who suffer from both.

Years ago, my friend Michael and I went out sailing on a very large lake in Wisconsin. We were on a little sunfish sailboat, and it was a very windy day. It wasn’t long before our boat capsized, and we discovered it was great fun getting it right again. Soon, we were deliberately capsizing the boat, trying to pearl the front end to get the boat to cartwheel. and in general enjoy trying to drown one another.

During one of these capsizings, the boat went all the way upside down, rudder-up. It was difficult to right it, and when we got it righted, we saw why: the sail came out of the water hanging from the mast in shreds. Apparently we’d hit a submerged bramble or tree or something.

There was no way that sail was going to work again. There was nothing for it but to swim the boat to shore. Trouble was, we were a long way out. We jumped in, and I pulled on the cleat in front, doing the side-stroke, while Michael pushed from the back, kicking his legs.

This went on for what seemed like hours. We grew cold and tired, our arms were hurting. Hell, everything was hurting, and the shoreline never seemed to get closer. We got pretty crabby, no pun intended.

Suddenly, I felt something brush against my leg. My first thought was: this is not good. I really don’t like touching things underwater—tall weeds, I would have to say, being the worst. A nightmare, in fact. I can’t explain this, but there you have it.

I said “There’s weeds or something down there.” Michael was very concerned for me. He said “Shut up and keep pulling.” Then a bunch of somethings brushed my leg. “That’s it.” I shouted, and I scrambled onto the boat. Michael said “I’m not pushing your sorry ass, get off the boat and pull!” I said “There’s no way I’m going back in the water if there’s weeds. Not going to happen.”

Michael jumped on and moved forward, cursing. I was ready. We grappled and twisted, yelling foul names and pounding on each other. He got me off balance and knocked me into the water. I went in deep, into a LOT of weeds. Very, very tall weeds. “Wisconsin Killer Weeds,” I believe is the technical term. I screamed underwater, and swam back up in a desperate panic. Michael stopped me from getting on board, so I wrapped my arms and legs around the bow, refusing to loosen my grip. Michael kept yelling “You’re totally psychotic!”, trying to pry my fingers apart and using his feet to try and scrape me off the boat like a barnacle.

We argued and fought, screaming and laughing ourselves sick out on that cold windy lake for a long time. We no longer cared about getting the boat back, we were so focused on causing the other person misery. Finally, I heard a sound. “Knock it off!” I yelled to Michael, who was busy gnawing on my knuckles to loosen my death grip. We went quiet and I turned and saw, far off, three men standing on the shore of the lake. They looked like bugs, but we could hear them yelling something. “WHAT?!?” Michael yelled, and we hear a voice across the water calling “Saaam Duuuufff!!!”

Michael said to me, “Sam Duff?!?” I was half underwater, clinging to the boat while those cursed weeds were still tormenting me by brushing against my back, but I said “Never heard of him.” Michael stood up on the boat and shouted “There’s no Sam Duff here!” And we heard three faint voices yell in unison, “STAAAAAANNND UUUUUP!”

I unwrapped my feet from the boat and swung them under me and immediately hit soft sand. I planted my feet and stood up — we were in three feet of water.

The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version IV) lists another interesting irrational fear: Phronemophobia—the fear of thinking. Now, when I’m lost in worry, I can remember to just STAND UP. Sometimes the water is nowhere as deep as I thought.

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