Friday, June 26, 2020

Insight: To Fear or Not to Phobia

When I was younger, not much scared me. I wasn’t the type to be easily frightened by what could be lurking in the shadows or under my bed at night. Yet as my life has progressed, I have developed a certain phobia which I’m cautiously about to share in an effort to better understand what makes me uncomfortable as an adult and perhaps why they do.

And contrary to what my wife will say, no it’s not an irrational phobia about home redecorating.

When I was about 10 years old, my mother took me to Seabreeze Amusement Park near Lake Ontario in Irondequoit, New York one summer afternoon. The main attraction there was an old wooden roller coaster called the Jack Rabbit, which is the fourth oldest in the world and the second oldest continuously operating roller coaster in the United States.

My mother told me one of her greatest fears was riding the “Jack Rabbit roller coaster” because it featured a drop of about 75 feet and she had a fear of heights. I watched as visitors to the amusement park climbed aboard the roller coaster and they screamed out as it suddenly dipped and twisted on its wooden tracks. There and then I developed a phobia about roller coasters that lasted nearly 38 years.

On a trip home to attend my high school reunion in 2001, a group of my friends and I decided to visit Seabreeze Amusement Park to see if it remained as we had known it growing up there. Smack dab in the middle of the park, I stood at the entrance to ride the Jack Rabbit and decided it was finally time to conquer one of my longstanding phobias.

Turns out, riding the Jack Rabbit wasn’t all that bad. Yes, it was a steep drop, but I had fun and didn’t lose my lunch overboard when it made its climatic run down the tracks.

Even though I was able to overcome my phobia about roller coasters that day, I still am not crazy about heights. Recently my wife and I were watching an episode of the “ER” television series and it included a scene where a distraught patient had climbed out onto a ledge on the hospital roof and a doctor also ventured out on the ledge to prevent the patient from jumping.

Just watching that scene made my stomach churn and I closed my eyes as the television camera looked out beyond the ledge to the ground 12 stories below. I’m also creeped out by old photos of workers sitting on a girder eating lunch when the Empire State Building was under construction in New York City or another famous photo from the 1930s of a woman standing on the eagle at the top of the Chrysler Building.

I suppose helicopters should go on my phobia list too, but for me that’s an offshoot of my apprehension about heights. In 1981, while serving in the U.S. Air Force in Arizona, I was asked by my commanding officer to survey a crash scene of an F-15 Eagle aircraft that had gone down in the desert south of Phoenix.

As a member of the emergency response team, I had to get on a helicopter that was headed to the crash site. This particular helicopter had its doors removed and the only place for us to sit were on metal benches in the back. It also didn’t have seat belts, instead, you had to tied yourself in with ropes attached to the frame.

As the helicopter banked both right and left over the crash site, I clutched tightly at my ropes, fearing that if it loosened, I would tumble out the open door to certain death waiting several hundred feet below. Only when the helicopter landed back at the Air Force base did I feel safe again and tossed away the barf bag I was issued prior to takeoff.

On several occasions over the next few years, as a military journalist I had the opportunity to cover “incentive rides,” or F-15 flights given to outstanding enlisted aircraft mechanics or other military members recognized for top achievements. The person being awarded the “incentive ride” would climb into the back seat of an F-15 and the pilot would take them for a thrilling flight across the Arizona skies.

The first time I covered one of those events for the base newspaper, I noticed a large plastic bucket filled with water waiting on the flight line near where they aircraft was supposed to land. I asked what it was for and was told it was a surprise and to wait and see.

When the flight landed and the person receiving the “incentive ride” was back on the ground, he bucked over and threw up all over himself from having pulled 2 or 3 Gs (or Gravitational Force Equivalent) as the airplane accelerated to Mach 1 during his time in the air. The bucket of water was thrown over him to wash away his vomit and I was informed that it was an Air Force custom to have it handy for those not very experienced at pulling Gs on a regular basis like F-15 pilots were.

In 1983, having been awarded the Tactical Air Command “Journalist of the Year” award, my commander let me know that if I wanted, he could arrange an “incentive ride” in an F-15 for me. Having witnessed and reported on a number of those, I was well aware of how they turned out for the recipient and I politely declined his offer.

So at this stage in my life, it’s safe to say that you won’t find me rock climbing, bungee jumping off a bridge, hanging out on a sky deck hovering over the Grand Canyon, or laughing it up while free-falling 130 feet to the ground aboard Universal’s “Tower of Terror” in Orlando, Florida.

In my opinion, some phobias are best tackled from the all-to-familiar living room sofa. <

–Ed Pierce

Friday, June 19, 2020

Insight: List of pet peeves continues to grow

It seems the older I get, the more pet peeves I accumulate.

Just this past weekend, another one was added to the list while driving on a Maine highway. A driver in a SUV ahead of me stopped on the two-lane highway and signaled that he was turning left, so I came to a complete stop immediately behind him.

Traffic coming from the other direction made the driver in front of me have to wait and so I had to wait for him to turn left as well. However, two other drivers behind me decided to go around me, as well as the turning vehicle in front of me, by barreling on past us using the small gravel shoulder on the roadway to our right.

All at once the driver in front of me made his left turn and as I slowly hit the gas pedal to move forward, another car trying to race past me suddenly attempted to swerve back into my roadway lane. I braked and let that driver in, but why do drivers do that?

This happens a lot in Maine and in my opinion, is dangerous and risky operation of a motor vehicle. Where could these people be going in such a hurry that they couldn’t slow down and wait for a few seconds for the driver to turn?

That’s a personal pet peeve of mine and I hope that someday, a pedestrian walking on the roadside shoulder isn’t run over by an impatient driver choosing to pass other cars on the right.

That incident prompted me to think of other pet peeves that get under my skin.

Among those are smokers who throw their discarded cigarette butts on the ground or better yet, flick them out their car windows. I once knew a man in Florida who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and he told me a story about driving on the interstate with the windows to his car rolled down one summer and he flicked his lit cigarette out the window at 70 mph. Some 10 miles or so down the road after doing that, he smelled smoke and saw flames coming from the back seat of his 1978 Buick. Apparently, the lit cigarette he flicked out the window landed on his back seat and caught the upholstery on fire. He said he immediately pulled over and watched as his car went up in flames before the fire department could arrive and extinguish the blaze.

Lately a number of social media posters have joined my pet peeves list. I understand the desire to post a selfie photo after a new hairstyle or announcing a new relationship, but why show the world basically the same photo only wearing different clothes every day for a week straight on Facebook in the same exact pose? Has your face changed that drastically in 24 hours that I wouldn’t notice?

Then there are the people who feel compelled to post photos of what they are about to eat for lunch or the lavishly decorated cake they are bringing to Aunt Martha’s 79th birthday bash. Aren’t those Spicy Black Bean Fish Tacos with Grilled Zucchini getting cold while you pose them so perfectly for all your friends to drool over on Twitter?

Lastly, internet photo gallery marketing ploys drive me crazy. These are usually placed below or to the right of the news story or article you are reading online and are intended to grab your attention with a catchy headline such as “See what the cast of ‘The Sopranos’ looks like today.”

Then you have to click through hundreds of “Then and Now” photos just to get to the cast member you originally wanted to check out. I usually give up after clicking through 40 photos or so without ever getting to view the actor or actress I thought would certainly be shown sooner. And why they would even include actors or actresses that died 10 years ago in a “Then” and “Now” gallery escapes me.   

I happen to fall for this scheme a lot, which is probably why marketers tend to use this tactic frequently, and I suppose it’s all about click-bait that can be used to promote internet advertising.

When I was young, I used to listen to my father discuss his current pet peeves over Sunday dinner and I vowed that I would never find myself becoming irritated over such little annoyances. Time sure has a way of changing perspectives. <

—Ed Pierce


Friday, June 12, 2020

Insight: Handy advice for my younger self

I must admit I’m probably the last person you’d want to take advice from. Been wrong so many times about so many things that it tends to make me forego wading in with an opinion even if I only have the slightest hint of self-doubt about the topic of discussion.

Then again, at my age the person I’m probably most qualified to offer advice to is my younger self, having lived through and survived some questionable decisions I’ve made in my lifetime.

So here I’ve compiled a list of advice I’d give to my younger self and in no particular chronological order…

** It’s probably not wise to tack Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris baseball cards to the spokes of my bike just because I disliked the New York Yankees. In excellent condition, those 1965 Mantle and Maris cards could be worth more than $500 each in 2020.

** Refusing to watch James Bond films growing up and for much of my adult life simply because I didn’t like the thought of spying or spies is not a great idea. Turns out “Skyfall” with Daniel Craig as Agent 007 is one of my top-3 all-time favorite movies ever and led me to go back to watch as many James Bond films as I could find.

** Commit to spending more time with Mom and Dad. As a kid, the last thing I wanted to do was to hang out with my parents. My mother would insist that I sit down and watch the “Lawrence Welk” television show with her on Saturday nights and I hated every minute sitting through that horrible experience each week. My father was an awful cook and frequently embarrassed the family by putting ketchup on everything from steak to oatmeal to chicken noodle soup. But what I wouldn’t give today to go back and sit on the sofa with my mom and pretend to like the Lennon Sisters or cut into a thoroughly burned broiled sirloin steak prepared by my dad.

** Appreciate more the natural beauty of where you live. Many Americans, and I’m in this group, have never just stopped for a moment to admire the scenic charm of their surroundings. Get out and explore why Maine is nicknamed “Vacationland” by so many instead of trudging through the day to day routine of work and never taking in the splendor of such a gorgeous locale to reside in. Same can be said for previous stops I’ve made along the way in New Hampshire, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Washington, D.C., Germany and New York state.

** Save your money and avoid costly fashion trends and fads. Orange and black plaid flared bell bottoms, red platform shoes, a bright yellow leisure suit, a pink Miami Vice sport coat, green satin MC Hammer parachute pants and any shirt made of rayon will be the subject of family jokes and humor and many laughs down the road when looking through old photographs and albums.

** Tell my friends more often how much they mean to me. Joe Pagan started out as a copy editor that I would call at the newspaper after games ended in the late 1990s to dictate stories about prep football, prep basketball and prep soccer. His willingness to laugh at my jokes and offer candid opinions about how to improve my writing made us close friends. Through the years as I advanced in my career to eventually lead a newspaper as a managing editor, Joe was a valuable source I could turn to for rational advice and someone who was always in my corner and championed my career in newspaper management. Sadly, Joe suddenly passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage in 2017.  I never told him that my career would never have taken off like it did without his encouragement and support and for that, I’ll certainly have to live with my regret.

** Realize some battles aren’t worth fighting. As I’ve gotten older, certain issues do not seem as important as they once were. The art of compromise doesn’t come easy to me, but it’s much easier now to avoid arguments over sports, what’s being served for dinner or the color of a new sheet set than in years past. Was it worth losing my cool because there were not two available seats together and nobody would move over one space to let my wife and I sit together when we went to see the film “Nighthawks” with Sylvester Stallone at the theater in 1981? In retrospect, no, it would have been courteous for someone to do that for us, but about 30 minutes into the showing, the movie was so bad that a man in our row got up and walked out, creating an empty seat so I could then move and sit next to my wife.

We all wish that we could wave a magic wand and go back in time to avoid making silly decisions or to visit with departed friends and family. If I had known then what I know now, life would have been easier. But isn’t the point of our existence to grow and learn over our lifetime? <

Ed Pierce

Friday, June 5, 2020

Insight: Did I just hear that?

I wonder if anyone out there is like me and sometimes has difficulty discerning exactly what words or phrases that a band or singer mumbles in a popular song.

This began for me decades ago, and I’m positive that my hearing is fine, it’s just that on occasion what I think I heard a musician sing turns out not to be the correct lyric after all.

Recently while driving to work, the 1970s song “Sister Golden Hair” by America came on the radio in my car. This is an example of one of those songs that always makes me wonder, what exactly did the singer sing?

The line in that song I stumble over goes like this: “I been one poor correspondent, and I been too, too hard to find. But it doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind.”

Every time I hear that song, I think America is singing: “I’ve been one two or despondent and I’ve been so so hard to bind.”

And I must confess, I actually saw America perform this song live in concert at some point in the 1970s and I still get the lyrics wrong each time I sing along when it shows up on the radio.

Here’s another one I’ve misheard for decades and it’s from the tune “Dancing Queen” by Abba.

The line I thought I heard them sing in that song was “See that girl, watch her steam, digging the dancing queen.”

Found out just last year that the actual lyric should be “See that girl, watch the scene, digging the dancing queen.”

When Nirvana first appeared in the 1990s, I scratched my head about their lyrics seemingly whenever singer Kurt Cobain opened his mouth.

In Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I always hear this line: “Here we are now, in restrainers” when it should be “Here we are now, entertain us.”

When I was in college in the early 1970s, I belonged to the RCA Record Club and I signed up for it specifically for the initial offer to get 12 vinyl record albums for $1.99 or something like that. After receiving your first shipment, all you had to do was purchase eight more albums in subsequent months for the full price. If you didn’t like what the album that was shipped to you that following month by RCA was, you could return it and have another one shipped out.

Among the albums I received and purchased was one by Johnny Nash and it was the album’s title song called “I Can See Clearly Now” that I always got wrong.

I thought Nash was singing “I can see clearly now Lorraine has gone.”

After listening to that album constantly, a few years later I discovered the actual song lyric is “I can see clearly now the rain has gone.”

The song “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John is another one I have a hard time with.

When I first heard that song, I thought I heard Elton John singing “I used to be a hard-beatin’ photon one” and I wondered what that could possibly mean.

Turns out the actual line is “I used to be a heart beating for someone.” Go figure!

Another one that always irritates me is Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.” If you’re over the age of 40, it’s almost certain that you’ve heard that song at some time or another in your life even if it’s just as the annoying background music played in the supermarket while you’re shopping.

For years I’ve thought a line to that song was “Joy to divisions that the people see,” when the actual lyrics are “Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea.”

Michael Jackson was the worst to decipher for me, especially his song “Beat It.”

I recall buying Jackson’s album “Thriller” in the 1980s and then listening to “Beat It” over and over again to try and understand what in the world he was singing.

In my mind, I heard him singing “Beat it, beat it, no one wants to beat a peanut” and thought it was very odd songwriting for such a popular song at the time.

The actual lyrics are “Beat it, beat, no one want to be defeated.”

Got a tune that you’ve gotten the lyrics wrong for years? Trust me, you’re not alone. <

—Ed Pierce