Monday, October 10, 2005


In Which I Am In Search Of Peace Of Mind...

So, back from seeing my perfect little niece, who spent the weekend making goo-goo eyes at old Uncle Monkey Face, which was enormously satisfying, especially in light of the fact that my in-laws secretly think I am a Bad Influence on children (although I, and I'm sure every reader of this blog, cannot possibly imagine why). They can't stand it when I am the only adult asked to sit at the kids' table or to play a manic game of Run Around the Room Until Someone Stuns Himself on a Table Leg (a game I invented, by the way).

But with Grace firmly ensconced here in the States now, my extended family needed something new to worry about, and my influence on children isn't nearly sufficient for their purposes. Luckily, we're apparently on the verge of a viral pandemic, so they spent the weekend agonizing about which of our family would be struck first by the Asian flu. Or Avian flu. There was some argument about what name to give our doom.

While I can agonize about pretty much anything pretty much any time I want, I have to say I've outgrown--or perhaps burned out--my brain's ability to live in fear of the Next Great Disaster. With so many daily disasters to be anxious about--did the check clear? Is that a lump? Will she find the crystal thing I broke even though I hid it really well in the basement?--freaking out about the doom of our time is a hobby that I can no longer properly indulge, sadly.

When I was a kid, though, it was quite another matter. To be sure, there were plenty of daily worries then that could have impacted my life, or ended it. Car accidents. Financial ruin. Nuclear war. Oddly, I never worried about that stuff.

I worried about killer bees.

I'm probably dating myself by...well, by starting any paragraph with the phrase "I'm probably dating myself," but...when I was a kid I was a mesmerized by the show In Search Of....

Note I said "mesmerized by." Not "in love with." Not "a fan of." Because, if truth be told, the show tended to scare the living shit out of me.

But I couldn't not watch it because every week, host Leonard Nimoy gravely told of some new area of unexplained mystery that sucked me right in. Moth, flame. Me, In Search Of....

Those of you alive at the time (and really, I don't need to know if you weren't) may recall that the 70s was a boom era for catastrophe. In Hollywood, every other film was a disaster epic. We seemed to be on the cusp of destruction whenever we turned on the news. In Search Of... was rather a lot more subtle than the evening news in its pronouncement of End Times, but in a way that made its impact all the more resounding. When the weird, funky synthesizer music started and Leonard Nimoy narrated the sequences of soft-focus footage of mysterious phenomenon, you were at first lulled into a sense of false security, which generally ended about five minutes in. Then the synthesizer music turned all ominous and jangly and the soft focus images cut away to a stark piece of black-and-white footage or a particularly hair-raising still image and you knew the end had come, or was more or less on its way.

I still remember the episode "In Search Of...Killer Bees" in which Leonard gravely intoned warnings about the Africanized bees who could swarm a person and sting them to death in less time than it took me to lace up my shoes. I can see in my mind's eye a close-up picture (close enough for me, thanks) of a corpse, a horrible species of fear etched on his dead face, with Leonard providing the helpful voiceover, "They found 80 bees in this man's stomach."

Still chills me.

I wouldn't say I had a pathological fear of bees, but I knew how much it hurt to get stung. When I was 4, we were picking blueberries up on the hill my folks own and out of nowhere I felt this zinging jab in the side of my head, somewhere between my ear and my temple, a pretty sensitive spot. I howled and my father's response to this was not to comfort me, but to scoop up a handful of mud and, without preamble, slap me upside the head with it, which was just adding insult to injury. Not wishing to duplicate the experience (although I am forced to admit the mud did help), I thereafter adopted a policy of not being in the same square mile with any bee if I could help it. And that was after an encounter with just one ordinary honeybee, never mind 80 berserk super bees (who wouldn't just sting you to death, mind, but would then visit upon you the indignity of traveling to a jamboree in your stomach, no doubt stinging you all the way down your throat as they went).

Now, here was Leonard telling me a whole swarm of super-bees--unstoppable killer super-bees-- were buzzing up from South America at a rate that would have them in the United States by 1990 and overwhelming the country by 1998. At the age of 9, 1998 seemed like an impossibly long time away, but it still worried me. Among the many odd notions I carried in my head--such as a fear of killer bees--was a certain fascination with the idea of being alive when the year 2000 arrived. The year 2000 was shorthand for The Future(!) for most of the 20th century and I longed to see it, flying cars, moving sidewalks, lunar colonies and all. Now Leonard was assuring me that my homeland was going to be invaded by killer bees--and I understood that to mean that the bees wouldn't just cross the Mexican border at that time, but actually head straight for my house, showing up as a massive tornado of buzzing death, ready to envelop me and, of course, fill my stomach. And it would all happen two years before The Future. It seemed a terrible shame. And a cause of enormous concern for me as a little Magazine Lad.

Not that you lacked for causes of concern when you watched In Search Of.... Every week, Leonard and his team scoured the globe for something new to upset you: Volcanos (they could sprout up anywhere! Look what happened at Vesuvius, still active by the way), earthquakes (it was all too easy to imagine that once California went into the drink, the rest of the country would crumble away like a brownie on the edge of a plate. And living at the exact other end of the U.S. was a comfort? Hell, no! It just meant I'd have the longest possible amount of time to watch destruction approaching). UFOs were a specific worry, as we had friends who lived in nearby Exeter who claimed to have witnessed some particularly lively extraterrestrial activity in the mid 1960s. I also remember making a personal resolution to avoid any artifacts removed from King Tut's tomb, lest any part of his curse accidentally rub off on me and I find myself subjected to some bizarre death, perhaps being accidentally suffocated in my own closet, or finding a cobra lurking in the toy boxes under my bed. You weren't safe anywhere when a curse tagged your ass. In Search Of... taught me that.

Looking back, I realize now that the show did me a kind of favor too. The mid- to late 70s were a particularly tumultuous time for my family. Construction jobs were hard to come by in New Hampshire and my father went through a series a short-term jobs, each one ending in lay-off, each one causing my family to sink into financial straits a bit more. Ultimately, my father started working away in Maine and Canada and we would only see him every other weekend, a real sea-change for our family. Somewhere in there my mom injured her back and had to be hospitalized for a time, forcing my brother and me to be boarded with a succession of friends and relatives. Uncertainty filled my life, but as a kid, what could I do about it?

The funny thing is, all our domestic upheavals scarcely registered on my personal Richter scale. I was far too worried about killer bees. Or Bigfoot suddenly deciding to migrate east. Or a meteor wiping out my town like a giant celestial eraser. When you're a kid, you can't really control the forces that shape your life, all you can do is be swept along. And worry, of course. You can always worry. But focusing all my anxiety on something truly overwhelming and uncontrollable was almost comforting. After all, who had time to worry about where your dad was working or which relative you'd be staying with, when at any moment you might all be tipped into the ocean by a tectonic hiccup? What did it matter if you didn't have any money in the bank? It wasn't as though you could bribe the killer bees not to sting you when they finally turned up (in 1998!). In its own way, In Search Of... provided an excellent coping mechanism for me and a way of putting all of my tiny little worries into perspective. I'm so grateful it was there to scare the crap out of me.

If that makes any sense.

Incidentally, In Search Of... also taught me one other thing: the inherent dramatic value that dots of ellipsis can provide to almost any story. Even mine...

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to take my kids to the clinic. I may not be able to stop a pandemic flu, but by God I can get flu shots.

Oh I'm sure once they get to the clinic, my kids--especially Thomas--will be worried about how much the shot will hurt. I suppose I should be honest and tell them that yes, it may sting a little.

But not nearly as much as having 80 killer bees in your stomach.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

First Comment! I rule! I just wanted to say I had the same fear and that stupid made for TV movie they did around that same time did nothing to curb my fear. Did you see that movie? The bees were living in an Old church tower and anyone who happened by got attacked like they were hanging around waiting for people. I also waited around for new of their arrival into our fair country. Still am ;)

Is that word verifier new?
Ellipses are dangerous in the wrong hands...
Leonard Nimoy as the host, no wonder you were freaked out. That man was created by God to scare little children. As you were terrified from In Search Of, my weekly dose of fear came from Unsolved Mysteries. Robert Stack was a creepy Mother Fucker. I don't care if he was just the host. I think he was possessed by the same thing that has control of Stephen King.
I agree that Unsolved Mysteries was the most nightmare inducing but impossible not to watch shows, and that Robert Stack was my creepy-voice-narrator-guy, until I realized that he was also the voice of Ultra Magnus in Transformers, then he was just a transport truck that turned into a big robot.
Here in Asia, the flu you referred to is known as either Avian Flu or Bird Flu; however, the next time a flu comes around, I think we should call it the American flu (or North American flu, not wanting to upset the Canadians by leaving them out). I have contacts with the media here, and I'm sure they'd be more than willing to help out. ;)

BTW, killer bees arrived in Arizona a lot earlier than 1998. They must have hopped on to an express bus or something.

In '95 or so, I discovered that the apartment I lived in had bees buzzing around the inside of the walls. Being the good do-be, I notified the apartment management, who got some beekeepers in to get rid of the bees (turned out that another building in the complex had the same problem, so it was a 2-for-1 special that day). Anyway, they eventually ripped open the drywall and killed a ton of bees (there was a huge pile of dead bees in the corner of my living room when I got home). There was also supposed to have been a ton of honey inside the walls as well; the bees had been there for some time. Somehow, some of that honey had gotten smeared on another wall in my living room. One night, I looked over at that wall and noticed that the wall was moving...or so it seemed. Actually, it was a ton of ants who had been attracted to the honey. And being the smart do-be that I am, I left those ants alone. A few days later, all the honey was gone, and the ants never returned.
a) there's a Discovery Channel documentary that you should not - under any circumstances - watch

b) I was always terrified that everyone on Unsolved Mysteries was watching it through the window with me. Why did I keep watching? Um...not sure.

I'm so glad to hear that I wasn't the only child freaked out/fascinated with In Search Of. Lord, I had the same fear about killer bees. Heh.

And I wouldn't tell Thomas about the shot. Remember, he jumped out of the car last time!

(ok- showing age here) Dark Shadows with that creepy Barnabas Collins-

And who could ever forget those magical notes of da-dum.... da-dum... JAWS!

Its a wonder we (70's kids)are all not paranoid freaks. Vampires to the left of us, major man & woman eating sharks to the right. Is there no where to hide? : 0
I was always disappointed with "In Search Of" --- they never gave the definitive answer to the mysteries and when I was a kid I was all about the definitive answer (yeah, lot's changed there)
My friend who lives in Phoenix actually had an experience with killer bees to be remembered...there were thousands of them in a tree behind his house, he had to call out the exterminator. Evidently they can infest houses and do all kinds of damage, and they have been known to kill dogs who were kept in the backyard, but human fatalities are rare. I think they don't do well in cold climates, though.
>friends who lived in nearby Exeter

Small world. I grew up near Derry in the 70s.

Did you watch Creature Double Feature on channel 56, too? That was my main source of nightmares.

I watched In Search Of, too, it's just that my parents were consummate nerds so I've associated Leonard Nimoy with logic and science from day 1. Not scary. Godzilla, though, he was scary.
Leonard never said anything about blue fleece being secretly dangerous, did he?
Jaws! (I second that emotion, kfarmer.) And...Sleestaks!
I once kept my husband up for 2 hours one night talking about what we should do in case of being trapped in some sort of nuclear holocaust and how we would cope with nuclear fallout. Not the same as killer bee's but I can sympathize with the obsessing thing. And being terrified.

Just wanted to stop in and tell you that this is a fabulous blog, by the way. Excellent stuff. This is my first time here, and I'm hooked.
Your writing is always amusing and stellar (as you know - you make a living at it). Thank you for bringing some laughs to my day.

I had a similar obsession/phobia growing up. As I lived in California, it was earthquakes. A particularly unthinking fourth-grade teacher mentioned to us on the day of a slight tremor that the "Big One" was eventually coming and every building would collapse and we'd all end up on the continental shelf of the Pacific. After that, every time I walked into a building I checked out the exit situation. Every time we drove somewhere and parked, I made sure we were not near power lines. For about a year and a half I scared myself to sleep every night with fantasies of my class in school decimated by falling playground equipment.

Then, for some reason, it stopped. I haven't really had much anxiety since. Perhaps if we get it over with when we're young, anxieties in later life aren't quite so frightening. And six years later, when we had the large Northridge quake that broke freeways and things, I found myself yelling at my family to stand in the hallway away from the ceiling lights and, when the rocking stopped, to grab their shoes from the hall closet and the gallons of water from the garage. I must have been channeling my fourth-grade anxiety monkey and finally putting it to use.

And I'd forgotten all this until I read your entry. Thanks for the chuckles.
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