Romare Bearden, Mother and Child (1977)
October 5, 2002:
Partial catalog of her fears:
Water shortage. California faces massive death and destruction from immanent
breakdown of the aqueducts.
Authority. Cop behind every tree. Once insisted I was in danger of
being ticketed because my windshield needed cleaning. This was a matter of some anxiety to her:
the fine I'd have to pay for the dirty windshield.
Identity theft. Drove her to buy a new television: she felt that
carrying $700 cash was less risky than paying by credit card. Conversation that day:
"I've been thinking of taking out an insurance policy against
Carjacking. White-knuckle panic if the doors aren't yet locked before we leave the garage.
Car theft. Stopped shopping at Stonestown, five minutes away, after reading
that Stonestown's parking lot has the highest incidence of car theft of all Bay Area
malls. Drives to Hillsdale instead, 30 minutes. Context: her car's a 1988 Honda
hatchback with a rusted-through roof and two inches of cigarette ashes coating the interior.
Asked her whether poorly-maintained 1988 Honda hatchbacks are popular targets for car
thieves. Didn't follow the question.
Flying. The 9-11 events now provide rationalization, but this was always the case. She feels
it's safer to drive from San Francisco to Seattle than to fly. Context: she's become so physically
weak she can no longer carry a purse. Yet she believes she's safer fifteen hours behind the
wheel than 90 minutes in an airplane seat.
Life near the ocean. "I don't want the thirty-five-mile-an-hour crosswinds blowing through
the house.." The what? As though California were the Arctic Circle.
Newspapers pander to these artificial
anxieties for the same purpose as Madison Avenue: sell product. Something of her
inability to rationally calculate risk follows from the mediocrity of her news sources:
the local San Francisco papers, before them the local San Diego papers.
Is that all? No. Her loneliness surely contributes. She's the most self-isolated person
in the world. Just like her girlhood, locked in the closet. Now in retirement her apartment
is merely a larger room.
Sometimes I feel her fearfulness leads me toward foolhardy behaviors.
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© 2002-2013 Mark Phillips.
All rights reserved.
This writing is fiction. Please don't confuse it with reality.