I’m not sure how I feel about psychoanalysis. As I understand Dr. Freud’s brainchild, you talk to an analyst for years on end about your dreams and your emotions, about your siblings and your parents -- paying particular attention to your mother -- and by digging your way down to the very depths of your subconscious, you ultimately come to discover the source of your various fears, phobias and neuroses. That is, assuming you live long enough. For all I know, it actually helps people -- and I’m not just referring to the psychiatrists who have their mortgages and their children’s orthodontist bills to worry about.
The reason I’m skeptical is because I have what some folks might regard as unnatural fears, but I know perfectly well from whence they come, and knowing all that makes absolutely no difference.
For example, I will not change a tire. And, what’s more, nobody can make me. You see, once, when I was eight or nine, I was standing around watching one of my older brothers change a tire in our garage. Suddenly the jack slipped and the car crashed to the cement floor. I was certain that Ted had been crushed. If not dead, he had certainly had one or more limbs severed. Happily, that wasn’t the case. Somehow the car had fallen at such a fortuitous angle that he was able to crawl out from underneath without a scratch. So far as I’m concerned, if a jack can slip once, it can slip twice. The way I look at it, there’s only so much luck to go around in one family, and I believe Ted used up the Prelutsky’s entire quota that morning.
Next we come to the matter of heights. When I was an adolescent, I used to think I might enjoy growing up to be a stuntman. I can’t imagine why, but at the time it seemed like a swell idea. In preparation for this career, I used to climb up on the platforms of the billboards in my neighborhood. I’m not certain how high those platforms were, but certainly they had to be at least five or six feet above the ground. Anyway, I would jump off and then roll on the grass as if I had been shot off a horse’s back. Very odd, I grant you, seeing as how I didn’t even enjoy watching westerns.
So how was it, you’re no doubt wondering, that I came to dread heights? Well, at the age of 16, I went on my first roller coaster. To this day, I don’t know whether the metal bar that is supposed to keep you in place is supposed to lock securely. What I do know is that my bar kept rising up, and I kept trying to force it down. By the end of that nightmare, which may have lasted no more than 10 or 15 minutes but felt like 10 or 15 years, I was physically and emotionally drained. If I were ever captured by the enemy, all they’d have to do is threaten to put me on a roller coaster and I would sing like a canary. In fact, I’d tell them all I knew about troop movements going back to the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Finally, we come to my fear of tools with moving parts. In the seventh grade, I was required to take woodshop at John Burroughs Junior High. In order to make a bookend, it was necessary to employ a band saw. This, in case your life has been one long strawberry festival and you’ve been spared being introduced to this Satanic device, is an electric blade around which you manipulate the piece of wood you’re sawing. In case you still don’t get the picture, your hands are in extremely close proximity to this totally malevolent moving blade. If you’re still wondering why I have this terrible dread of electrical t
ools, it’s probably because I neglected to mention that our instructor, Mr. Bailey, was nicknamed “Fingers Bailey,” and it wasn’t because he had more digits than your average Homo sapien, but because, all told, he only had four, maybe four-and-a-half of them left.
Now you obviously had to tip your hat to the guy. Here he was still teaching woodshop in spite of those occasional mishaps he’d had over the years, still showing us boys how to work that damn band saw. Talk about getting back in the saddle! Talk about insanity!
Being, even at the tender age of 12, an uncommonly rational human being, I figured if the resident expert had lost five-and-a-half or six fingers along the way, I’d probably lose an arm, a leg, two ears and my nose, if I got within a dozen feet of that diabolical contraption.
Of my own efforts that semester, I can only recall that I spent a lot of time doing things with sandpaper. I guess I must have gotten reasonably proficient with the stuff because I managed to wrangle a gentleman’s C out of old Bailey.
The only other thing I recall was that Mr. Bailey insisted on calling me Vishinsky, although I never knew if that was because he thought all Russian names sounded alike, thought he was being amusingly droll or actually believed that the Soviet Union’s foreign minister had signed up for his class.
The good news is that I have come to terms with my trio of fears. Fortunately, I have had no trouble whatsoever avoiding contact with band saws and roller coasters for the past half century. And as for flat tires, that’s why I belong to the auto club. Not only is Triple A much cheaper than psychoanalysis, but go try to find a classic Freudian who provides towing.