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Al Martinez

Ticking off a list of worries that prey on one's mind

August 13, 2007|Al Martinez

I worry a lot. I worry about the world, the nation, L.A. and eating fish imported from China. No one worries more than I do about whatever there is to worry about. And that worries me.

"Don't worry about it," my wife, the calming Cinelli, said the other day as I was peering skyward and worrying about possible falling meteors. "You're a newspaper columnist. You're supposed to worry. If you didn't worry, you'd be a hod carrier."

There are no gradients with her. Either a columnist or a hod carrier. So far this month, I'm still a columnist.

I can't help worrying. I come from a long line of worriers. My mother was always looking out a window to check for earthquakes.

"You can't see an earthquake coming," I said to her once when I was in high school and knew everything.

"You just wait," she said. One day when she wasn't looking we had a 5-pointer in Oakland. "I should have been watching for it," she said.

The other night I hurled the cat Ernie across the room. He sleeps on our bed and during the night his tail brushed my face. In my daze, I thought it was a black widow. I flailed. Ernie went airborne. He landed, shook himself and growled angrily. I apologized.

I've worried about black widows ever since a friend was bitten on the eyelid by one while she slept. Her young son entered her bedroom during the night and said, "Mommy, there's a crab on your eye." She spent six days in the hospital.

"Another tick?" my wife said sleepily when I flung the cat.

A few nights before, just as I was ready to crawl into bed, a bug crawled across the sheet and onto Cinelli's arm. I gave it a good smack.

"What in God's name are you doing?" she demanded, jolted awake.

"I think a tick crossed our bed," I said.

"The next time you see a tick you damned well better just yell 'Tick!' and not whack me again, or I'm sleeping in the other room!"

Ticks cause lyme disease. I'm not sure what that is, but there's a good possibility I could catch it. It's worth a worry.

My sister Emily worries too, but she does something about it. She prays. She had a sneezing fit once and had heard that every time you sneezed, your heart stopped. So she sneezed and worried and prayed. Only my sister Mary doesn't worry. She's always cheerful. Emily thinks Mary exists in a parallel universe. Mary thinks Emily would be better off to quit praying and have a vodka tonic instead.

The reason I bring this up, in the event you might be wondering, is a Time magazine article I saved from last December that says Americans worry about all the wrong things. For instance, citing figures from the year 2003, the author points out that we should be worrying about alcoholic liver diseases, from which 12,360 died, instead of fatal dog attacks, from which only 32 met their maker.

Though I may fret about both dog attacks and liver rot from having a drink now and again, it is a comfort to realize that, no matter what Time magazine said, in terms of violent death, one is far less likely to be torn apart by a martini than by a Rottweiler. But hold the olives. In 2003, 875 Americans died from choking on food. You never can tell about olives.

I worry about every danger that is popular at the time: hantavirus, West Nile virus, mad cow disease, the avian flu, E. coli bacteria, etc. The one that really got to me was the flesh-eating bacterium that causes necrotizing fasciitis. The very name chills my heart. I didn't leave the house for a week when it was number one on the 11 o'clock news. It would be bad enough, say, to be killed by a shark, but to be slowly eaten by something you can't even see would be beyond horror. Though the flesh eater has vanished from media attention, I still lie awake at night pondering the agonizing question of whether, if I had the disease, I would opt for amputation or just watch as the bug ate my leg. I asked Cinelli what she'd do. She said, "You're crazy, get out of my face."

It is a kind of paranoia, I guess, to be burdened by so many forms of phobia. I don't fall into any one category due only to the fact that I worry about all of them at one time or another. I am the victim of a kind of uberphobia.

Time magazine mentions almost in passing that 594 people died in the study year from falling out of bed. I hadn't worried about that before, but I will now.

Twenty-two were crushed by stampeding crowds. I avoid soccer games for that very reason. I go to the Music Center instead. Opera fans rarely stampede.

"Just be careful on the teeter-totter," Cinelli said, scanning the magazine piece. "Three people died at playgrounds in 2003."

Oh, my God! Pray for me, Emily! (Fix me a drink, Mary.)

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