A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


OK, I’ll admit it: I’m afraid of being frightened.

Sure, I used to watch “Nightmare Theater” on TV with my buddies every Friday night, and I could do a swell imitation of the announcer’s bone-chilling “Niiiiightmaaaaare” introduction.  But I only saw as much of Boris Karloff and Vincent Price in all those scary black-and-white movies as one could see through eyes clenched shut.

Oh, and while we’re at it, I might as well confess that I didn’t walk out on “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” at the Queen Theater because I had a stomach ache, like I said.  I walked out because Bette Davis scared the Jujubees out of me.  I’m not kidding.  She made me so nervous it felt like a whole box of Jujubees was clotting in my kidneys (interestingly, I understand she had the same effect on each of her several husbands, one of whom died mysteriously – read “Jujubee poisoning” – in 1943; but I digress).

And remember “Mechanized Death,” the horrifyingly bloody movie they used to show in driver’s education classes in an attempt to scare students into a life of automotive piety?  Remember that one kid who sat on the back row, the one who made such a clattering thump when he passed out and tumbled out of his desk while bad actors were moaning and fake blood was pumping out of plastic tube arteries on screen?

Yep.  That was me.

I just don’t like scary stuff.  I avoid spooky alleys.  I close my eyes through the Stephen King section of the book store.  I make my children answer the door when the trick-or-treaters come by on Halloween.  And I refuse to look into the mirror until at least mid-morning.

The way I see it, reality is scary enough as it is.  Why interject artificial malevolence through movies, books and episodes of “Ozzy Osbourne”?

You want scary?  Just tune into the nightly news.  Here’s a story about fires raging out of control in California.  Then a story about car bombings in Baghdad.  Then the stock market report.  Then a story about a chemically impaired driver swerving off the road and plowing into a family out for their evening walk.  Then a story about the kidnaping of a 5-year-old boy.

See what I mean?  Scary.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to avoid real life scariness as it is for me to avoid the artificial kind.  Scary stuff happens.  Sometimes it happens as a result of bad choices we’ve made.  Sometimes it is imposed upon us as other people make bad choices.  And sometimes it just . . . you know . . . happens.  The interesting thing to me is not the scary stuff itself, but how people react when it happens.  Being something of a ‘scairdy cat,’ I’m especially intrigued by confidence and courage in the face of fear.

For example, during a news report of the California fires I saw an interview with a man whose home had been destroyed.  He indicated that the fire moved so swiftly he only had time to evacuate his family and get them to safety.  The fire claimed everything in their home, including a box of priceless family photographs he had gathered and was preparing to organize.

“It’s a good thing this happened before I got them organized,” the man said, a hint of a smile on his lips.  “If it had happened after I’d gone to all that trouble I’d REALLY be upset!”

Now, I don’t know that guy.  It could be that he’s as much of a wimp as I am.  But after all he’d been through and all that he’d lost, to still be able to smile and joke . . . well, I’m betting he didn’t pass out in driver’s ed.

And he’d probably spit in Bette Davis’ eyes.

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--- © Joseph Walker  


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through