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Weekly Alibi Fear of Flying Cabbages

By Captain Opinion

FEBRUARY 21, 2000:  One of the dark secrets about humans is that we always need something to be afraid of. If we're not worrying about our impending doom, we're not happy. And if there isn't any impending doom out there, we'll invent some.

Americans are a perfect example of this phenomena. This is the most prosperous, most secure and freest period in this nation's history. We won the Cold War and no longer have to worry about the Russkies lobbing giant missiles armed with frozen cabbages over the Arctic Circle at us. We've just set the record for the longest economic expansion in the nation's history. The stock market is booming, fifteen-year-olds are millionaires, companies that haven't yet made a dime of profit are the darlings of Wall Street, crime is way down, cars are more reliable than ever and we are now all free to pursue our national pastime of shopping 24 hours a day, including major holidays.

With all this prosperity, you'd think we'd be happily boozing and flirting all day, laughing at each other's bad jokes and tossing Krugerrands at the homeless. We're not. Instead, Americans are brooding over things like super germs, flesh-eating bacteria and improperly seasoned food. Shrinks' offices are full of people seeking treatment for anxiety attacks. The mind doctors have an explanation for this. They say that when rational fears -- things like nuclear war, starvation and being caught wearing dirty underwear -- vanish, we invent irrational fears to take their places.

Well, not me. My fears are well-grounded in rationality and feardom and I will never replace them with modern, irrational fears. Here are some things that have given me the spooks all my life:

· Nikita Kruschev's dentist. This fat, balding, gap-toothed commie used to make me cringe. You could stick an intercontinental ballistic missile between those front teeth. I was raised with a respect for proper dental care and hygiene. Nikita's smile was scarier than any thought of nuclear war.

· Fidel Castro's barber. This strutting, cigar-chomping commie dictator's beard was, and still is, way out of line. How many tons of food crumbs, dried sauces, bugs, birds and snakes are in that thing? A trim now and then and a shampoo would help. Image is everything in today's world. If Fidel had a neatly-groomed beard, he would present a more positive image to the world, and the naive people who think Cuba is a bastion of freedom would gladly check themselves into his prison cells. Can't his barber see? If our economic embargo of Cuba has deprived the barber of clippers and scissors, perhaps he could fashion some from the many 1953 Chevrolets still cruising Cuba's roads.

· The "Up With People" singing group. I dived under the couch when I first saw these smiling, perky, fresh-scrubbed young people on the tube. Here we were in the middle of the Cold War facing nuclear winter, the threat of being sliced to pieces by trillions of shards of nuclear bomb-propelled glass and the prospect of a Russian diet of dehydrated beets, and they were singing happy songs. Ma and Pa were never that happy, neither were brother nor sis, auntie nor uncle nor anyone in the neighborhood. As kids, Pa told us that if we laughed too much we'd wind up in the nut house. I'm still afraid of these people, their loving tunes and message of love, compassion and understanding.

· Bass fishermen. It would be insensitive to say these people scare me because most of them appear to have Southern accents, so I won't. The idea that men would make careers out of racing across lakes in high-speed boats, throwing in a line, reeling it up and then racing away again is enough to make anyone shudder. That people could corrupt the art of fishing into something so hideous is shocking. Real men fish for bullheads on the shore of a lake with a bamboo pole, coffee can full of fat, slimy, juicy nightcrawlers, a couple of cheap cigars and a 12-pack of beer. They plop themselves down on the shore, impale a worm on the hook, throw the line in the water and leave it there until the 12-pack is empty. There is real excitement in fishing like this, especially if you get a bite from a big one on the 11th beer and get dragged into the water by an angry bullhead. But the real thrill of bullhead fishing comes after catching them. You have to hit them on the head with a hammer, nail their heads to a board and then rip the skin off their bodies with long-nose pliers before you can eat them.

No bass fisherman ever did that.

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