I continue to slack on the List of 9 – as mentioned before, the "trivia space" of my brain has been absorbed with my upcoming website/app L.A. Street Names, while pop culture lists are now so pervasive that it's nearly impossible to think of a theme that hasn't already been done to death – so personal lists are all I have to offer right now. Anyway, I've lately been thinking about what it means to "mature": studying my friends' states of mind over the past two years of Covid and other dramas, I'm honestly not sure if we're designed to become more afraid of things as we age, or less afraid. For me, I'm shooting for the latter. So here are nine things I used to be terrified of, but eventually got past.
- Lighting fires. As I kid, I greatly enjoyed playing with hot candle wax... but ask me to light a candle? No way! I was certain that I would set myself on fire if I tried. (Maybe this fear is what led to my film 20 Matches.) It wasn't until my early twenties when I finally mastered the art of striking a match, after watching an older neighbor act like a complete ninny while trying to light his own barbecue.
- Rollercoasters. I went to amusement parks many times as a child, but rollercoasters were always too fast, too high, and too likely to fall off the tracks and kill everyone on board. (I had an active imagination: maybe blame the 1977 movie Rollercoaster. or even the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster", with its "murder scream" of urban legend.) I'm not sure how old I was when I finally rode one. 19, perhaps? Now I enjoy the thrill, even if I have to hold on to my glasses.
- Cockroaches. I never even saw a cockroach growing up. I only started encountering them during my last semester in college, when I moved into a seedy apartment. Those were tiny roaches, but they moved so fast and seemed so aggressive! I swore their intent was to skitter up my pant leg and chew up my genitals. Then a dudish classmate of mine simply said, "They're not scary, they're just gross and they eat your food." Seeing cockroaches now merely as a rival for resources, I could suddenly deal with them. Thankfully, my current home is roach-free.
- Mustard. In another list, I mentioned that I hated mustard until I was 42. "Hate" isn't quite the right word: I was afraid of mustard. When I was much younger, the smell of mustard made me gag a little, so I convinced myself that eating it would make me vomit. I avoided it for years, lying to people that I was "allergic" because that was easier than explaining my true feelings. Of course I love mustard now.
- Alcohol. I used to take sips of my mother's strawberry daiquiri at the old Peppermill restaurant, but when I felt a little buzz after a couple of hits of one when I was 12, I supposed that it was the start of becoming a drunk, so I swore it off for over twenty years – the same twenty years when most people are at peak alcohol consumption. (I started drinking at 33.) Looking back now, as a casual imbiber, I honestly can't say what I was most afraid of: becoming an alcoholic? a drunk driver? or just a mainstream dullard who needed booze to have fun?
- Dead animals. Nobody likes dead animals, but they really frightened and disgusted me until I routinely had to clean them up in my thirties, as my old cat Cricket (R.I.P.) was such a proficient killer. I still don't like them, but the gore no longer intimidates me.
- Singing or dancing in public. No one ever caught me at a school dance or a choir recital. And look: I do not dance or sing well. Even today, I'm still more likely to sit things out than to pick up a mic or hit the dance floor. But I have indeed sung karaoke and cut the occasional rug over the last 25 years, and when I'm at home with just my wife and cats, I'm a real song and dance man.
- Baring my body in public. No, I don't mean full monty nudity – I still won't do that. But as someone who was unbelievably skinny from puberty until my 30s, I couldn't bear to swim or sunbathe around other people. I wouldn't even wear shorts! But now I'm simply too old and too married to care what people think of my imperfect body. Which way to the pool?
- Donating my organs to science. Once I'm dead, I can't worry about doctors cutting me open and tearing out my bits and pieces. So why should I worry about it while I'm alive? Yet worry I did – when I got my driver's license at 18, I affixed the little "Organ Donor" sticker to it, then pictured myself dead on an operating table and got so upset that I tore the sticker off. For many years, I refused to be a donor. But it's not a sticker anymore, and I'm not freaked out by my own mortality anymore. Liver, heart, eyeballs... come and get 'em! But please wait for me to die of natural causes first.